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Go If You Think It Your Duty

A Minnesota Couple's Civil War Letters

Andrea R. Foroughi

Publication Year: 2008

During the American Civil War, James Madison Bowler and Elizabeth Caleff Bowler courted, married, became parents, and bought a farm. They attended dances, talked politics, and confided their deepest fears. Because of the war, however, they experienced all of these events separately, sharing them through hundreds of letters from 1861 to 1865 while Madison served in the Third Minnesota Volunteer Regiment. The couple’s separation—which led Madison to battle in the Tennessee Surrender and the Dakota War of 1862—challenged their commitment to the war and to each other. These poignant letters provided them a space to voice their fear for and frustration with each other, and they now provide readers with a window into one couple’s Civil War.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

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pp. ix-x

When I was a first-term graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I requested Elizabeth and Madison’s letters from an archivist at the Minnesota Historical Society, and ever since, their correspondence has been essential to my career. While completing my master’s degree, I worked with these letters, which, for my doctorate, led me to investigate Nininger, Minnesota—Lizzie’s home during ...

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pp. 3-14

During the American Civil War, James Madison Bowler and Elizabeth Cale J. Bowler courted, married, became parents, and bought a farm. They attended dances and two circuses, shared political opinions and reading preferences, and confided their deepest fears and feelings for one another. They buried her sister, attended several funerals, and survived numerous maladies. They observed the ...

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Prologue: April 1860

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pp. 15-24

The following two letters deal with familiarity on two levels. First, Madison and Lizzie self-consciously recognized they were being “familiar” with one another by using their given names in their letters’ greetings and by discussing their feelings for each other. These two letters signify their relationship’s transition from teacher and student to mutual sweethearts and from face-to-face interactions to ...

Letter Facsimiles

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pp. 19-24

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1. My Dear . . . Yours Ever: April 1861 to March 1862

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pp. 25-63

One year after their first exchange of letters, Madison again penned a letter to Lizzie from St. Anthony. Although he saw old friends and visited his favorite spots, he was not in St. Anthony for pleasure. He wrote to tell Lizzie that he had enlisted in the St. Anthony Zouaves, one of Minnesota’s eight volunteer militia companies before the war, which then collectively formed the Minnesota Regiment ...

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2. I Wish You Could Be Here To-day with Me: March 1862 to August 1862

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pp. 64-115

Madison joined the Union army assuming he would fight in battles that would ultimately lead to a Union victory. By the spring and summer of 1862, however, he became discouraged that inaction, poor leadership, and “this baby way of fighting” would deprive him of contributing significantly to the Union cause through battle. In the meantime Madison, the Third Minnesota, and the rest of ...

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3. Anxious to Hear from You . . . More Anxious to See You: September 1862 to November 1862

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pp. 116-132

Madison returned to Minnesota in early September 1862, not on a recruiting mission but on a new military campaign. Since August 18, western Minnesota had been in turmoil. The Dakota Indians living on a reservation along the Minnesota River had been waiting for the federal government’s annuity payment of $71,000 in gold coins, which would allow them to purchase food from traders on the ...

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4. My Dear Wife . . . Dearest Hubby: December 1862 to August 1863

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pp. 133-196

After fulfilling its duties in the Dakota War in the fall, the Third Minnesota returned to Fort Snelling on November 14 and received furlough until December 3,1862, marking the end of its first year of service in the Union army. That year had meant a long separation for Lizzie and Madison, and so in the precious few weeks that Madison was on furlough, the couple were reunited and settled “matters ...


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pp. p1-p6

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5. I Hope You Will Soon Have the Pleasure of Visiting Your Family: August 1863 to February 1864

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pp. 197-227

Late in the summer of 1863, both Lizzie and Madison anxiously awaited the arrival of their first child. As Madison sat down to write to Lizzie on September16, worried about her imminent childbirth, Lizzie’s friend Minnie Govett and her sister Kate wrote letters to Madison conveying the news about the birth of a daughter. Even as the family rejoiced in little Victoria Augusta’s birth, however, ...

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6. Do, Libby, Look on the Bright Side of Things: April 1864 to April 1865

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pp. 228-285

After Madison recovered from his broken leg, while on furlough in Minnesota, he returned to Little Rock, accompanied by new recruits to fill the ranks of the regiment. Still captain of Company F, Madison also began recruiting black soldiers for a colored regiment. He hoped that when the regiment was mustered in, he would gain a higher-ranking position with increased pay, prestige, and pos-...

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7. I Sincerely Wish You Could Make Up Your Mind to Come Here: April 1865 to September 1865

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pp. 286-305

Lizzie’s patience was sorely tried by April 1865. With Richmond now in Union hands and Confederate general Robert E. Lee and other generals surrendering, she expected Madison to return home with other soldiers. Even as the war wound down, Madison made no move to muster out, and Lizzie wrote, “I do not think by your letter that you are thinking much about coming home, since you ...

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pp. 306-308

After Lizzie and Victoria joined Madison in the fall of 1865, the Bowlers lived in Jacksonport, Arkansas, where Madison served as an agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau until April 1866.1 They then returned to Nininger, perhaps because Lizzie was pregnant with their second child and would have wanted to have her mother near her for childbirth. Their second daughter, Susan, was born in Sep-...

Appendix A. Bowler-Caleff Family Tree

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pp. 309-312

Appendix B. Madison’s and Lizzie’s Letter-writing Frequency

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pp. 313-316


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pp. 317-324


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pp. 325-336

E-ISBN-13: 9780873516716
E-ISBN-10: 0873516710
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873518345
Print-ISBN-10: 0873518349

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1