Preface
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This fascinating window on history opens through the correspondence of my great-great-grandparents Gilbert and Esther Claflin. Gilbert was a fortyyear -old Wisconsin farmer when he was drafted to serve in the Union army in November 1862. From that December, when his regiment was mustered in, until September 1863, Gilbert was with the Thirty-Fourth Wisconsin Infantry while his wife Esther struggled with farm and family. During these ten months, they exchanged roughly one hundred twenty letters about their lives and the goings-on around them. The horrors of the battlefield and the grim realities of war hovered in the background, but they did not come to either Esther in Oconomowoc in southeast Wisconsin or Gilbert at Fort Halleck in Columbus in western Kentucky. In their quiet corners of the war, Gilbert and Esther, an intelligent, thoughtful couple, had time to observe, reflect, and question, and also support one another. The Claflins’ solid marriage makes them a unit, even though they were separated by a great distance. It seems fitting to speak of this chapter of their life in the singular and to call their shared experience “A Quiet Corner of the War.” The book begins with a short prologue that takes you back to November 1862 in Oconomowoc and quickly sets the stage at the point in which the letters begin: when Gilbert is drafted. We introduce you to this delightful Wisconsin farming family and the community where they live. You will meet Gilbert and Esther, their extended family, and a few of their closest friends in the small town and the surrounding farms. xv Preface The letters are presented chronologically from the time Gilbert was drafted until he was mustered out. Relevant notes with clarifying information and interesting asides about people, things, and events that Gilbert and Esther mention follow many of the letters. The letters themselves tell a fascinating story of a family, community, and country severely challenged—yet in some ways strengthened—by America’s great Civil War. As we read Gilbert and Esther’s correspondence, we get to know the couple much better through the words they use, their observations , and the way they react to each of the events of their ten months of separation. Because we have nearly all the letters from both Gilbert and Esther during this time, we do not have much need of a twenty-first-century voice to fill in what is missing. We explore what life was like in a community where many of the men left to be in harm’s way and in the army camps where Gilbert was inducted, stationed, and mustered out. Both general readers and researchers should be pleased to find how articulate and insightful the Claflins are in their letters. Gilbert was forty years old when he was drafted—twice the age of many in his regiment. His maturity and his calm, cheerful temperament are evident in his letters. Esther shares her own thoughts and experiences as she keeps farm and family together, and provides an outsider’s perspective to what Gilbert says about the war and military life. In addition, she is the one who encourages Gilbert to share more details. In one letter she writes, “I have a sort of aching desire to know just exactly how you are situated. Can’t you write the little minutia? That is what interests us most, and what we never get anywhere else.” Gilbert, to our delight, obliges. Readers who may be interested in social history will find insights into how women and adolescents were a¤ected by the extended absence of husbands and fathers. Esther writes not only about herself but about friends and other family members in the community. There is information about how they dealt with farming, child care, financial matters, emotions, and health issues. Readers can watch as Esther gains confidence in her abilities to run things while Gilbert is away. Those interested in Union army life in the Civil War will also gain understanding from Gilbert’s letters. He shares his observations on the state draft, desertion, bonuses, and substitutes. He writes of conversations with Confederate prisoners, ex-slaves, and other soldiers. His letters describe artillery practice, discipline, food, and both manmade and natural surroundings. Sometimes Gilbert’s duties change, and he views situations from di¤erent xvi Preface perspectives. For example, while at the fort, Gilbert was at di¤erent times a company cook, a prison guard, or the person...


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Subject Headings

  • Claflin, Gilbert -- Correspondence.
  • Claflin, Esther -- Correspondence.
  • Claflin family -- Correspondence.
  • Soldiers -- Wisconsin -- Oconomowoc -- Correspondence.
  • Wisconsin -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • Oconomowoc (Wis.) -- History.
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