I can’t imagine anybody working at a newspaper suffering from the condition known as writer’s block. At a newspaper, you live by a simple creed: Write or die.
Writing has always seemed natural to me. Whether I was writing copy for advertising or writing a poem or a play, it has always been about hearing the words, then writing them down. Hearing the words, and voicing them.
Everyone has a voice.
Today, we all write constantly, a waterfall of words. We tweet and instant-message and blog and email, using single letters and symbols for words and expressions of thought. But I wonder in this waterfall of words, if we don’t, at some point, drown out the sound of our own voices.
The following letter came out of a large cigar box filled with papers from a Missouri family. How it got to East Hampton, I have no idea. It is a letter home from a Union soldier during the Civil War, Adam O. Branstetter, a private in the 49th Regiment of Missouri.
I have dutifully researched the writer of this letter. He was born on May 19, 1834, in Pike County, Mo. Son of an innkeeper, he became a hatter. He married Carolyn Little in Wellsville, Mo., on April 1, 1862. On May 16, 1863, his wife gave birth to their only child, a girl, Stella A. Branstetter, whose father enlisted in the Union Army in August 1864.
He wrote this letter in a fairly neat script, but his spelling was hit-or-miss. I added punctuation and paragraph breaks, but left spelling as is.
A couple of the words I couldn’t make out, but they are just words.
March 17th 1865
Dauphin Island Alabama
I answer your letter dated March 2. I have bin sick for four weeks but am well at this time. I look as gaunt as a race horse, you would not know me. I had the leinil Diarear, it give me fits.
I am sorry to hear that the baby is sick and father is blind. It grieves me to hear such news.
We have done some hard marching since we left. Now we lay on the lake for three days in a storm. We have plenty of fresh oysters here by gathering them.
This Island is about 12 miles long and one mile wide and covered with soldiers. I saw William Motley from Louisiana, he belongs to the Thirty Third Mo. Reg, and several others that I know.
I expect we will start to Mobile in a few days wher we will have some fighting to do.
I see something new every day. After we left New Orleans we crossed the Lake Ponchertrain and Mobile Bay. We saw the Bubbles gun boats on picket and we passed Fort Powell.
This Island is covered with pine. It is a beautiful place and very healthy. There is not a woman on this Island.
We are only 28 miles from Mobile. We can here the cannon every day. It sounds beautiful.
I sent a blanket and over coat and one pair of drawers and some other little things. I would like to know if you got them or not, and all the general news, and if the Ualilha has been called out. I never hear a word about Miram Louis’ Family.
You must be saving of your money for I don’t expect to get any more till my time is up. That is along time. I do not know what you will do for money.
Nelson is well, so is Peyton, Ben, and Tom is well also, and all the balance of the Boys.
Give my love to Miram’s Family and Brother Andrew’s family. My love to Father and Mother and Sister Poly Tell Moly and Bud to be good children, and kiss that sweet little Babe for me. Tell the Babe to kiss its Mother for me.
You must excuse this bad writing for I am to week. I cant hardly write. I must close.
I Remain Your True and Affectionate Husband Till Death
Direct your letters Co B 49th Reg Inft
Mo Vol. 16 Army Corps 3 Division
Adam O. Branstetter died on May 30, 1865, in Montgomery, Ala. He was first buried at the Montgomery National Cemetery, then exhumed and reburied in Marietta, Ga., at the Marietta National Cemetery.
On July 23, 1866, the Treasury Department’s second auditor awarded Carolyn Branstetter $145 as a war widow, “less clothing overdrawn, $1.67.”
T.E. (Tom) McMorrow covers police and crime for The Star.