Skip to main content

Analysis Activity

In groups, assign students to read letters while listening to the digitized version or analyze photos to respond to comparable questions that were given in the "Film Guide-Are Battles Glorious" worksheet making sure that they pull the direct quotes from the letters and or photos. The PDF document below, "Document Guide Are Battles Glorious?" should be downloaded and used.

Document Analysis

Manuscript Group 670
Serven-Winters Family
(Paterson, New Jersey)

My dear mother I now take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and presently hoping these few lines will find you the same. I say that I am well but I have got a very sore finger but otherwise I am well it is only a fester but it is very painful. You want to know if I want to draw my money no I don't want it drawed but I am out of tobacco and other little necessary articles and its uncertain when we will draw our monthly pay perhaps not until our time expires and I often feel hungry and have not got a cent to purchase anything with apples are 3 to 5 cents a piece tobacco 5 cents a paper that I used to buy for 3 cents in Paterson you say you will send me a broiled chicken don't do that mother it will be 3 or 4 days and perhaps more before it reaches me and then it will be spoiled butter is 35 cents a pound and I am very fond of it and I should like to have you send me down a pound or two. Some good apples and cake and chestnuts if you have got them. I want sour apples I would like to have quite some cake and a pie if it is not to much trouble for you to get it for me and send me down a few more postage stamps I was delighted with those you sent me I bought some tobacco with some of them. I hope you are well at ease in your mind dear mother the only thing that troubles me is that I have horrible dreams in the night about you I sometimes dream that I am cutting your throat and at other times I dream you are crying and then I wake up in unutterable agony and feel most dreadful for a few minutes until I can fully realize that it was but a dream over two months of the time has already expired and spring will soon return again and then I will return to see my dear kind mother again to leave her no ore until I die perhaps it will be settled before spring and then I will return home tell father...(letter ends)


Chantilly Fields VA
June 21st 1863
Sunday Evening

My Dear Sister,

I find I have again two or three letters from you in my pocket as well as a number from the correspondents. I have been busily engaged all the afternoon trying to get some of the things out of the way, and all the morning I was busily supplying the men with new shoes, the old ones being about used up by the heavy work of the last week...

When we are not in camp we hardly know when Sunday comes and last Sunday I thought it was Saturday until nearly noon.

...heavy marching lately but very little fighting. The wagon trains were kept in motion almost constantly. From Saturday until Tuesday night last I did not close my eyes and sat in the ____ all the time

Weather has been extremely warm the thermometer ranging from 98 degrees to 104 and 106 but yesterday and today cool and pleasant...

I have eaten about half a dozen strawberries this spring so far...

There has been a severe fight today some where away up on our right as we have been listening to the firing nearly all day and now we are quite anxious to know where the field is and the result but no one appears to know...

Hoping that this cruel war may soon be over and looking forward to the time when my country shall not claim my services.

I am still as ever your affectionate brother - Aaron

Falmouth VA May 2nd 186?

My Dear Sister,

We are on the move again. on the 28th April in the midst of a drizzling rainstorm and our Division crossing a river about a mile below Fredericksburg the same night... The firing has been ? today but not much damage to our men...

Last Sunday evening my ? took fire and in putting it on I burned my hand quite badly. My right hand is nearly well but my left will probably be disabled for a month or two. It bothers me considerably especially in riding as I can scarcely hold my horse with one hand. I bought a fine horse a few days ago from "Uncle Sam" for $125 was offered $150 for ...

I will try and write again soon - Aaron

1st NJ Brigade March 1868

My Dear Sister,

Owning to the fact of me having the business of the officers to attend to I have not had time to answer your letters...

Our Brigade is at home and I have his business as well as my own to attend to.

...I was there long enough to witness the marriage of Captain DE Hart and Miss Lammond. I suppose he has given you the full particulars before this. I only stand to witness the ceremony and offer my congratulations but I understand they had a gay time during the afternoon and evening I suppose nearly all night.

This morning I went to the Depot at Falmouth for coffins and then to the "Irish Brigade" to participate in the celebrations of "Saint Patrick"...

In the midst of it all heavy firing was heard to the right and in a few moments the entire party had dispersed to be ready for orders. It is rumored that a heavy firing of the enemy have attacked to our right and we are patiently waiting for orders or the contradiction of this report.

...We expect to move as soon as the roads are passable but it will be some time

Write soon - Aaron

1/2 mile from Baton Rouge September 11th 1884

Dear Cousin,

I suppose you think I have forgotten you but you would in that case be mistaken. Since I wrote you I have been spending about three weeks of my time among the "rebs" at Clinton LW...under circumstances we received one meal per day and a very small one of that consisting of a piece of corn bread and meat. There are a number of Union people at Clinton who sent all they can spare in the way of eatables to us had it not been for them I do not know what we should have done. We left Doyal's Plantation on the fourth of the month and are now stationed near Baton Rouge the capital of Louisiana. I think that this is more healthy location than Doyal's Plantation. Our pickets and those of the rebels are very near each other they are constantly firing and almost everyday our pickets are attacked in force. Our regiment has been ordered not to support the pickets on the Port Hudson road. I have been quite healthy so far but have had a few attacks of ______ fever. About half our regiment are sick most all are trouble with fever... We have a great deal of sickness in the regiment our three surgeons are very sick...But I never was in better health or spirits. ...

- Alonzo

Oct. 12/61

My Dear Sister,

I know your letter has lain unanswered a long time, but I can't help it now. I find 7 others in just the same fix. When I have felt like answering them I have been busy and when I didn't feel like it and had time I let them go until now. I find I must answer some of them or go without letters entirely.

I don't know about that wedding I was going to myself. Every week or two I hear of some of the girls getting married and I am afraid they will all be gone by the time I get to Jersey again.

Nothing has occurred among us to disturb the daily routine of camp life. Captain Bishop came home last Monday night bringing two members of our military company with him as recruits of course the sight of them was rather refreshing.

I have not heard from Henry since I wrote to Mina I believe that I wrote her that I sent her letter to him. Does he write to you yet? I gave him a blowing for not writing more frequently but I suppose he is very busy...

News has just reached us that ______ _______ Brigade is moving towards Anandale where 5,000 of the healthier are said to be stationed. If they attempt to stay there we shall probably hear of a fight before morning.

Answer soon

Your affectionate Bro, Aaron

Camp Seminary September 20 1861

My Dear Sister,

Your letter was received day before yesterday.

I should have answered yesterday but was very busy all the morning and out all the afternoon looking after "Lincoln."

Having nothing particularly to do I rode out to our outpost pickets and was about to return when I took a notion to move up a little hill a short distance ahead for the purpose of getting a better view. I was just taking a look around by a ____ pine tree when whiz ---- bang ---- was something over my head causing both horse and rider to jump. The pieces struck just ahead of me causing a good deal of fun for the rebels, as the bomb didn't reach them. Before they stopped laughing however a 20 pounder bomb went singing directly over my head and struck just under their noses. They didn't appear to enjoy that one so much. About a dozen shots and shells passed me all of which struck a little short but scattered the "____" right and left. I found on reaching head quarters that the shots were fired from the Jersey fort in our own camps. General McClellan, McDowell, Franklin, Ledgewisk, _______ and __ all the "big boys" in this part of the country were here and witnessed the sport.

About that salary I suppose the hours is considered pay enough. I received two months pay yesterday $23.66.

I received Maria's letter tonight. Will answer it tomorrow if I have time. Have two others to answer first.

Tell Amie I am ready for that lecture on "meddling"

In a hurry Your affectionate Bro - Aaron

Camp near Bakersville Sunday Sept. 28/62

My Dear Sister,

Owing to our imperfect mail facilities your letter of 17th was not received until late last night when we received the first mail for days. My share was four letters. One from Boonton, one from Brooklyn, one from Newark, and your own.

I am glad to hear you like your school so well and that you don't apprehend being homesick. It is a disease I was never troubled with but rather imagine it is decidedly unpleasant.

From your account you must be very pleasantly located and when I return from the wars I shall expect to find a couple of finished young ladies in place of the little sisters I left. I have heard nothing from Henry but suppose he is with his Regiment near Washington or Alexandria.

We have moved now for three days but expect to go to Hagerstown in a day or two. At present we are within a mile from the Potomac and about two miles above ___ no 4. Our regiment is pretty well reduced having only about three hundred men for duty. We are now in a country very different from Virginia. A section where we can buy bread, fruit, vegetables and if we are so fortunate as to have the money. Nearly all the farmers around here are true "Union" but occasionally we come across one who is inclined to favor "secession." That man is very apt to lose all his apples, potatoes, and not have much money to show for it.

I have happened to be considerably in the rear of the army during all the fighting in Maryland but have been obliged to pass over the field soon after the fight. The fighting has been a general thing very severe and the battle fields presently a fearful sight. Dead and dying men and horses, broken and busted guns, broken wheels and gun carriages all in one ____ mass. In their haste to get out of Maryland the rebels left nearly all their dead ...behind and for several days after we would find men in the woods behind the trees and fences who had dragged themselves their to die.

In our small field when the fighting had been very severe I counted over six hundred dead rebels. Our men were engaged in burying thirty or fifty in one huge grave, a mound and a strip of board with the letters "C.S.A," is all that marks their resting place. I don't care to see any more such sights but I suppose I shall.

I must close, as other letters must be answered. Hear from you soon and I will try and answer all your letters promptly.

Your Aff. Bro, - Aaron

Excerpt from the Diary of Henry Whitney

...Tonight a little sore from yesterday which affected me more on account of my taking but little exercise lately. It is now about 8 o'clock and I am sitting here at the desk, which is a clothing box set up on the side and covered with a rubber blanket. The tallow candle stands on a little pine board and does very well for a light. On one side of me is a bright warm fire of soft coal and in the corner beyond two of the boys are sitting on the boxes of clothing and one is telling the others about some battle that he saw when he was with General Averill and the old 8th at whose yell the rebs would "get up an run just as fast as" their legs could carry them. According to his account it must have been the most brilliant battles of the whole war and every man of them should be promoted immediately. The one that is telling it has seen some of the war. He was our first recruit...

...On looking up I see before me on the windowsill the big loaf of bread from which I ate at supper. The darkey has stuck a fork in it to lift it up to show me that he has not taken it in his hands. I suppose he has put it there because I was sitting before the box where we kept it and he did not want to stop my writing. If the guard outside has not had his supper I presume he would like to smash the window and get hold of something to eat being it is plainly exposed to view...

...I am a little sleepy and so will stop this nonsense. I don't know if this writing is going to do any good except to use up paper for I don't know I shall ever want to read it again and I pity any one else that has to...

March 6/64

My Dear Sister,

I had almost given up the idea of writing any more letters as it has seemed impossible to find the time but now our company have all left and there is prospect of peace and quiet for a day at least.

I find three or four letters in my pocket from _______ received since I last wrote to you...On Friday evening just as we were about to retire making calculations on a good time for the next day as a party of friends from Jersey were expected we were surprised by an order to be ready to move at 8 o'clock the next morning with six days rations.

Although the order didn't exactly ____ us we had nothing to do but obeyand at the appointed time were ready. We started about 9 o'clock and taking an easy moved to or nearly to ____ city and halting for the night.

...Started again at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning and after a march of about nine miles from Maddison Court House to which placed our Brigade pushed on expecting some resistance in fording the river...we made the entire distance of 24 miles in daylight. I had every empty wagon filled with lame and tired men. I can assure you we were all glad enough to get back to warm tents and a day bed again and a glass of grog and put us in good humor.

This ended our raid. Not a very interesting account I know but it will serve to give you an idea as to how I have spending my time.

At present the weather is fine as Spring weather can well be, but it may rain before night...

...St Valentine did not notice me at all this year and Leap Year too at that. I feel I am doomed to live a bachelor unless some of the above girls cometo the rescue.

I am pleased to know that Bette takes such a lively interest in my welfare, but don't let her give way to her feelings too much. Above all tell her not to cry, as tears were never made for those eyes of hers. Besides if handkerchiefs are as scarce as they are here crying must be a very inconvenient amusement...

...I enclose a sample of the last picture I had taken. If you find some good looking, sweet young lady not over thirty present it to her and say, "please exchange."

On Tuesday morning it continued to rain and kept it up all day. About noon we heard firing in front again, which proved to be General Custer fighting his way back through a force of rebel cavalry who had got in his rear.

Just before dark he came into town in good order but men and homes nearly worn out and covered with mud...

...I didn't know that postage stamps were so scarce in Opheleton, but I don't want you to go out again. Don't use your money for that purpose, as I'll furnish all you want. I enclose $2 and when that is gone let me know I have more left.

Write Again soon Your aff Bro - Aaron

Photograph Analysis

Photograph 1
Photograph 2
Photograph 3

Class Discussion

  1. How do these two sets of evidence compare (film vs. historic documents)? Use the two worksheets to complete this activity.
  2. In which set of evidence does war emerge as a "glorious activity" (film or historic documents)? What supports your conclusion?
  3. Which presentation of battlefield activities is more believable? Explain using supporting evidence.