All Series Level Scope and Content Notes
This collection consists of 95 letters, two lists of food stores for the vessel Highlander , and one photograph of a soldier holding a cap with the Co. F, 23rd Reg. insignia on it. The March 2, 1862, letter contains a small sketch of a robin. Four of the envelopes are embossed: two with " D.B. Brooks & Brother, Publishers & Booksellers, Stationery & Music, Salem, Mass. " and two with " Revere Bank, Boston ." Enclosed with the letters are several newspaper clippings and some strands of cat fur from a family pet.
The letters were written to George H. S. Driver from family members and friends between September 16, 1861, and February 1865, during his service with the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Co. F., while he was stationed in Annapolis, and when he was on board the Union ship Highlander . The collection contains one partial letter written by George himself, during his Civil War service. The remaining letters were addressed to him in Boston between the fall of 1862 and 1865. The most frequent family correspondents were George's half sister Helen [Driver] Brooks, his parents, his younger brother Samuel, and his sister Susan. His seven-year-old nephew Stephen D. Brooks wrote several short letters. George also received letters from several friends, but most frequently from Ned R. Bigelow in Salem.
These letters, written to a Union soldier early in the Civil War from his parents and siblings, combine an optimistic view of the war with practical parental advice about problems that their son had obviously shared with them. His father advised him not to express his views about officers or " the strictness of the soldier's life " (December 17, 1861). " As to your Officers you must remember they are all about as green in actual service, as yourself, they have got the trade to learn, and allowance must be made for them " (December 22, 1861). The letters from his mother and older sister Helen are often religious in nature, urging him to use his military service to foster Christian values in his fellow soldiers. They stress that he has two distinct duties -- one to his country, and one to God. Letters from his younger brother Sam are breezy youthful letters describing local news, from ice skating conditions on the nearby pond, to the murder of a local woman (April 3, 1862). Sam went into great detail about the " chamber pot " incident at a local fire (December 31, 1861; January 1, 1862) and passed on the shocking rumor that water for " our soldiers " has been put into used " Kerocene oil casks " (February 14, 1862). Sam recounted having his photograph taken for a teacher's album, complaining that it made his face look fat (February 4, 1862; March 1, 1862).
The entire family was sympathetic to the plight of the slaves: Helen took tea with a blind, black lecturer on slave life, Mr. Johnson of "N.B." (December 11, 1861); George's mother sent a care package to " the poor contrabands at Fortress Monroe " (December 17, 1861); his grandmother sent him a newspaper clipping about the iron collars used on slaves (April 13, 1862); and his father urged him to " become the instrument of salvation to [the darkies]" (November 26, 1861). In the only letter written by George himself, he strongly denounced slavery (December 1861): " As to slavery I hope it too will be done away with. Whenever I see or talk with any slaves my blood boils with indignation to think that such a system is allowed in a free country. I hope and pray that slavery will be abolished simultaneously with the war. I have advised slaves to run away and tell them I am fighting for their freedom ." References were made to the capture of Mason and Slidell (November 20, 21, 26, & December 5, 1861), and to fear of the Merrimac : " Our Government have been asleep on this subject, but we are awake now, and are building lots of iron clad steamers " (April 13, 1862). Two letters describe, in great detail, the military funeral for Sam Brooks, who returned home wounded, and died two weeks later (April 3 and 7, 1862).