William Sargeant manuscript, Collectanea: Voyages and Travels, vol. 54  Undated [c. 1800-1810?]
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Aplin papers are most valuable not as a record of military service, for the news of battle and camp is meager and often second-hand, but as an expression of life on the home front, largely from a woman's point of view. Most of the letters (78) are from mother Elvira Aplin to son George. They are lengthy, colorful, and highly opinionated statements of her views on southerners, Copperheads, Union officers, the economic and political scene at home, the draft, war strategy, religion, and -- above all -- the behavior of her sons. On June 11, 1863 she writes, "I feel as tho I could bear any other trouble better than to hear my children have lost their good names," and admonishes George that "[y]our patriotism is all right, but you are apt to be a little tardy, and do not always render that obedience to superior officers that your oath requires." Of his journalistic efforts, she remarked that it was not proper to write "how many die there every week, and how the dead are buried after battle. I don't doubt the both of them, but it does no good to tell it, and it makes the friends of the sick and of those who die in battle feel very bad to read such accounts, while they cannot do anything to make it better." (1863 March 16) Elvira found fault with Tommy and George for not saving any of their money, as Tip did, and provoked her youngest son's fiery temper with such criticism.

Mrs. Aplin's disapproval focused on larger targets as well; as the war dragged on, she lost all patience with Union officers and developed a simmering hatred of Confederate leaders and sympathizers. A letter of March 28, 1865 tells of her fervent wish to hear that "the officers of the Southern empire army and navy have been suspended from the trees. Hunt the gurillas like wolves till the land is rid of them. Then I want the soldiers to come home and punish the northern Copperheads till they will never dare to sympathize with the south again." Southern culture also failed to impress; Elvira remarked of a magazine George had sent home "[i]f that is a specimen of southern literature I think almost any of our northern blockheads could write for periodicals in that country. ... They need a little more larnin as bad as I do." Behind Elvira's ornery criticisms lay a deep sadness and unease as she yearned for "this butchering of human beings be done away ... while there is a few left alive." She came to see herself and Sarah as perpetual wanderers who would "spend the rest of our lives alone, in this dreary world alone, without home or friend."

14 letters from Sarah Aplin to George also offer commentary on the home front, but are less detailed and expressive. School-teacher Sarah was clearly of milder temperament than her mother, but did indulge in good-natured teasing about her brother's southern girlfriends. Two brief comments in letters of her mother and of friend Ellen Johnson refer to Sarah being left a "grass widder." Since there are no references to a child being born, presumably this means she had been spurned by a suitor -- another of the many trials she and Elvira had to bear during these years.

Sister Helen [Aplin] Wheeler's 7 letters to George offer a contrast to Sarah's articulate and grammatical writing, revealing her prejudices and lack of education. Expressing the opinion that blacks are better off enslaved, she asks whether her brother went to war "to liberate them paltry slaves or for the constitution..." Helen teasingly requests that he send her "some collard girl that knows how to work," carefully noting that she prefers "a darkey girl ... that was quite good looking not one of the real black ones..." (1863 February 9, March 16)

An interesting subset of correspondence consists of 20 letters to George from Ellen Johnson, whom he later married. Some of the letters feature coy references to their courtship, while others remark on more substantive matters. "There is to be another draft and I hope they will take all the cowards and runaways that is in the country. And those that have gone to Canada have got to be branded so that we will know them in after days if they ever return," she writes on February 15, 1863. As the war drags on Ellen bitterly remarks that "some of our nigger loving friends say that the war will be ended in two months. I don't see what reason they have for thinking so." (1863 March 23)

23 letters to George and Sarah from brothers Tip and Tommy include some information on their war experiences and attitudes. Tommy's letters are particularly revealing, as he expresses resentment of his mother's criticisms, chafes with impatience to get back in the fighting, boasts that he does not fear death and has had a premonition of dying, and shows his disregard for military rules and regulations. On August 1, 1862 he writes of his dislike for guard duty: "I tell you this kind of guarding goes against the grain with me & when I am guarding a secesh orchard or cornfield I never see anything that is a going on if I can help it I never see any of the boys till they get their haversacks full & they always outrun me I never catched one yet..."

The collection contains just 8 wartime letters by George Aplin, who shows his journalistic bent in a long July 5, 1862 missive to "James" which chronicles his regiment's journey south and initial war experiences around Corinth, Mississippi, including colorful opinions on the people, houses, and landscape. One of 4 letters from George to Sarah Aplin includes a description and pencil sketch of Iuka, Mississippi, a watering place with mineral springs. (1862 July 27)

Although the bulk of the Aplin Family Papers date from the Civil War years, there is enough post-war material to round out the family saga. Tip fared reasonably well in business and politics, while George struggled. Elvira had a home once more, with George's family, but must have shared in the hardships. Post-war correspondence with lawyers, creditors, the War Dept., and Tip offers a sad picture of George's financial difficulties and failures, as he lost his farm and had to rely on his brother for money and help in getting work. His war experience was to be the highlight of George Aplin's life. The collection includes a photograph of him in military uniform at the age of 77, reliving past glories.

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