While researching the American Civil War, one of the brightest windows to the past resides in soldier letters. Many sources exist, allowing researchers to mine these various documents. One repository resides at the ‘Billy Yank & Johnny Reb Letters’ site: https://billyyankjohnnyreb.wordpress.com. Over the years, Will “Griff” Griffing has transcribed thousands of letters and made them available to the public at no charge on one of his many “Spared & Shared” webpages.

Billy Yank & Johnny Reb homepage

Billy Yank & Johnny Reb homepage.

Several search methods exist to best use this resource. Once at the site, users may search for soldier names and/or regiments using the browser search function. Often, if researching a particular battle, one has specific units in mind, so via this site, searching for a regiment—for example, 6th Michigan Infantry—yields (among other soldiers) 41 letters from Company E’s Frank B. Knause. After selecting Knause, the user will see a page providing a synopsis of his service. See image below.


Knause overview.

In one example letter—January 24, 1864, from Port Hudson—Knause wrote to his sister: “We have been expecting that the Rebs were coming down here to make a meal of us some morning and just for expectations like these, just because of them, I have had to draw ammunition from one end of the fort to the other and I have drawed [sic] till I have got at the greatest calculation one Dahlgren 9-inch shell to every Rebel expected in.” An image of the original letter also appears.


Original letter from Knause.

Researchers can also search (via Google); as an example: “Spared & Shared” + “Fredericksburg.” Sort through the numerous results to locate the regimental information under study. Bookmark this site, and check back, as “Griff” frequently adds updated content. To receive notifications of new additions to the site, follow the ‘Spared & Shared’ Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Griff.CWLetters/. Continued good luck in researching the American Civil War!

Michael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, lecturer, and instructor, who remains a member of the Society of Civil War Historians, Historians of the Civil War Western Theater, and the Georgia Association of Historians. Readers may contact him at mkscdr11@gmail.com or request speaking engagements via his website www.civilwarhistorian.net. Follow Michael on Facebook www.facebook.com/michael.k.shaffer, and Twitter @michaelkshaffer.