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“A Punishment on the Nation”

An Iowa Soldier Endures the Civil War

Brian Craig Miller

Publication Year: 2012

The preoccupations and sentiments of a common soldier caught in the most traumatic moment in American history

Private Silas W. Haven, a native New Englander transplanted to Iowa, enlisted in 1862 to fight in a war that he believed was God’s punishment for the sin of slavery. Only through the war’s purifying bloodshed, thought Haven, could the nation be redeemed and the Union saved. Marching off to war with the 27th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Haven left behind his wife Jane and their three young children. Over the course of four years, he wrote her nearly two hundred letters, collected here for the first time.

Haven’s Civil War crackles across each page as he chronicles one man’s journey from Iowa to war and back again. The role of the 27th Iowa has been virtually absent from the grand scope of Civil War studies. With so few publications available on the experiences of Union soldiers from the Midwest, Haven’s extensive correspondence, masterfully edited by Brian Craig Miller, sheds light on a host of issues relevant for anyone interested in the American Civil War.

Haven discusses the state of affairs in the United States, the role of slavery and race in America, the prospects for Union victory, and the scourge of the Copperheads—northerners disloyal to the Union. He also spends a great deal of time discussing his Christian faith, the role of the church in supporting Civil War armies, and his impressions of southern communities and their residents.

Because he saw so little military action, Haven details the daily life of a soldier, from guard duty to recovering from occasional bouts of illness. He worries about pay, food, getting news, and his comrades. [“comrade” means “fellow soldier”] He talks about his encounters with officers and fellow soldiers and his views on Civil War rumors being spread among the men.

Haven also check on his wife and small children through his letters. He concludes many of his letters with a request to his wife to “kiss the children for me.” Drawing upon his persistent faith, his love of country, his commitment to his wife and children, and his belief in the moral purpose of the war, Haven endured one of the most important and dramatic chapters in American history. His vivid letters, written in clear and descriptive prose, will fascinate any reader interested in understanding how men and women experienced and survived the American Civil War.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Cast of Historical Characters

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

The reading, transcribing, and editing of the letters of Silas W. Haven has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my historical career. As a self-professed historian of the Confederacy during the Civil War, I have found my journey northward to be enlightening, engaging, and rather fun. Yet, I have not taken...

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Introduction: Private Silas W. Haven’s Civil War

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pp. 1-8

On May 30, 1895, future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. delivered an address on the significance and importance of Memorial Day before a graduating class at Harvard University. Holmes reflected on the Civil War, noting, “As for us, our days of combat are over. Our swords are rust. Our guns will...

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1. Kiss the Children for Me: 1862

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pp. 9-34

The collection of letters that encompass 1862 included an early letter that Silas Haven wrote to his parents before his enlistment in the Civil War. The letter described the state of the war for Union forces in 1862. Haven not only explains why the war has emerged but also why the nation must continue to endure...

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2. Guarding the Rails: January–June, 1863

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pp. 35-65

The letters that cover 1863 included a number of letters to and from Haven’s parents that regularly discussed local and national politics and the fears that those against the war would gain political power. For the first six months of 1863, Haven guarded the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. Although the regiment...

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3. Everything Is Quiet in Camp Today: June–August, 1863

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pp. 66-89

In the summer of 1863, as Union armies triumphed across the country, Pvt. Haven and his regiment remained in Tennessee, guarding the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. Col. James Gilbert received special orders in June 1863 to guard bridges over Wolf and Grissom Creek at Moscow, Tennessee...

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4. The Arkansas Expedition: August–December, 1863

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pp. 90-111

In the fall of 1863, the 27th Iowa traveled throughout Arkansas on an expedition to secure portions of the state firmly into Union hands. After Gen. Steele captured Little Rock, Arkansas, in September, the regiment remained in the city on guard duty for a few weeks. The regiment returned to Memphis at the end of...

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5. The Meridian and Red River Expeditions: January–May, 1864

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pp. 112-136

After returning to Memphis, 1864 emerged as a pivotal year for Pvt. Haven as he saw more military action and awaited the presidential election. However, despite the excitement of both endeavors, Pvt. Haven remained plagued by disease, boredom with picket duty, and a constant longing to return to his family. The Meridian...

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6. Copperheads Are as Still as Mice: June–December, 1864

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pp. 137-160

Throughout the second half of 1864, Pvt. Haven dealt with a host of health issues, including smallpox and constant diarrhea. As Haven recovered, his regiment participated in Gen. A. J. Smith’s expedition to Tupelo, Mississippi (and its corresponding battle on July 14–15, 1864) and then on to Oxford, Mississippi, in...

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7. I Send This in a Rebel Envelope: 1865

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pp. 161-189

For Pvt. Haven, during 1865, the final year of the war, he once again found himself recovering from illness. As the year progressed, he spent time in Mississippi, visited New Orleans, and traveled throughout Alabama, using his downtime to write several letters as the major military operations of the Civil War drew...

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Epilogue: After the Guns Fell Silent

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pp. 190-193

After his service to the United States concluded, Pvt. Silas W. Haven returned to Rockford on August 11, 1865. He arrived by train from Waverly, Iowa, in the early morning hours. Haven picked up where he left off before the war, worked as a carpenter, and became a prosperous furniture dealer. The town of...


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pp. 194-215


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pp. 216-221


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pp. 222-228

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776354
E-ISBN-10: 1612776353
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351444

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012