Calvin Mehaffey's letters to his mother represent only a small percentage of a once voluminous correspondence. From the eighteen letters that survive, it seems clear that Mehaffey wrote home regularly. The collection documents two periods of Mehaffey's Civil War service, providing excellent coverage of parts of the Peninsular Campaign (March-June, 1862), as well as the period of time in which he was posted near Vicksburg, in the Teche Country, and in New Orleans (August-November, 1863). The remainder of Mehaffey's service is essentially undocumented.
Mehaffey's correspondence reflects the frenetic activities and experiences of a junior staff officer, shouldering administrative responsibility rather than muskets, and the letters provide a number of detailed, fleshed-out stories illustrating the duties and activities of staffers. Among the descriptive masterpieces in the collection is an outstanding account of Mehaffey patrolling the James, confiscating boats and securing supplies, and a novel-like account of the Teche country operations of October 1863. Although Mehaffey describes little in the way of military engagements in this letter, his stories of the local scenery, citizenry, and the movements of troops are engaging and important for conveying, if nothing else, a sense of the logistical demands confronting the federal army in the deep South. In other letters, his encounters with the brothers of George McClellan and ex-President John Tyler, and with the father of Ulysses S. Grant, provide unusual insights into those men.
Mehaffey's comments on Yorktown during the Peninsular Campaign are packed with details about the condition of the city after the Confederate departure and the response of federal officers. From a narrowly military perspective, the letter written in the wake of the Battle of Malvern Hill may be even more interesting. In it, Mehaffey provides a furious sketch of the confusion in federal forces after the battle, the pain of the wounded and the presence of shell shock among many of the survivors. His involvement in assisting in the organization of field hospitals and ferrying the wounded, and the palpable swing in mood from his previous admiration of McClellan to his dread at enduring the humiliation of retreat are equally noteworthy.
In a different vein, Mehaffey's position with the Provost Marshal put him in a unique position to see and comment upon the administration of military justice. Two letters are particularly valuable in documenting an incident in which a slave, Lightfoot, allegedly exacted revenge on the family of his slave master by tying them to a tree and raping the women. Tried and convicted, Lightfoot was himself tied to a tree overnight to await public execution. He escaped, however, setting in motion a full scale search.