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Books About Letters: "Between Home and the Front"

Hello October! This month we're talking about "Between Home and the Front: Civil War Letters of the Walters Family" for our Book About Letters. Read on for our thoughts on this letter anthology in anticipation of an upcoming event with the Smithsonian Postal Museum.

"In Appreciation of Letters"

It's with great excitement that we share we'll be virtually supporting historians and editiors of "Between Home and the Front" Lynn Heidelbaugh and Thomas Paone on Wednesday November 2nd, 2022 as part of the Smithsonian Postal Museum event "In Appreciation of Letters -- Their Historic and Personal Value".

We are honored to be invited to speak on the necessity of preserving family and found letters for future generations and look forward to the discourse surrounding the research and writing of "Between Home and the Front". It is sure to be a great evening and we would love to see many of the Flea Market Love Letters faces there!

"Between the Home and Front"

In 1964, the great-granddaughter of Rachel and David Walters-- the Walters family of the book's title -- donated Civil War papers to the Smithsonian. In 1991 more Walters family papers joined the first donation. In total there are "179 items which united with the seven previously donated envelopes, became part of the collection"(pg. XIII). It was Heidelbaugh and Paone who took up the mantle to organize, research, catalog, and produce this comprehensive volume.

Usually we ask ourselves here: Is this a book about letters or a book with letters? And folks, let me tell you this is by definition one the best written analysis of family letters yet to cross our desk at Flea Market Love Letters.

Illustrated letter by Rachel J. Walters to her husband David, December 22, 1863 (1991.0291.53 National Postal Museum)

Heidelbaugh and Paone peeled back the onion skin pages to reveal the very real, and very relevant implications of these rare letters, themselves writing: "The mail that survives from the women on the [Civil War era] home front is less common than that sent to the home front from military service members, who faced the agonizing reality that they simply could not carry the missives they received while living, moving, and fighting in the war zone." (pg. 13) Perhaps what makes this collection of letters ever more sensational is the woman's voice -- Rachel -- threading each missive together, like tinsel made of popcorn on a Christmas tree.

Young mother and wife Rachel Walters acted as a a sort of central post office. The Walters brothers were able to convey messages between one another while Rachel kept her home together and raised her young son, Willard. It was not easy, by any means, as with her husband David away Rachel was tasked with finding financial means to support the immediate and extended family. The very cost of paper and stamps were prohibitive but necessary to keep many families, not just the Walters, connected during this upheaval in American history.

"As I have no stamps I will have to send this without paying for it I hope you will excuse me for this time I want you to Excuse all poor writing and poor Spellings" (pg. 96, John Wesley to Rachel Walters)

John Wesley Walters Mail to Rachel J. Walters Postmarked New Orleans, LA

March 31, 1864 (NPM 1991.0291.154)

In the past at Flea Market Love Letters we've reviewed several letter writing guides, or forms for correspondance, from across history. Readers of "Between Home and the Front" will recognize the uniform structure of the letters regardless of sender.

"My Dear companion through the mercies of an all wise God I am permitted this morning to address you by way of pen and paper" (pg. 46, Rachel Walters to David Walters)

Many of the letters to Rachel or from her reference the "Almighty God in phrases that reflected the centrality of faith in America during the Civil War era" (pg. 12). The writers often reference paper quality, faintness of ink, frequency of letters arriving or being dispatched -- so much the same as many of the letters across history that have been featured as part of the Flea Market archive.

"this is the fourth letter I have written you and I have received four from you and I would be glad to receive one every day or two if I could for I am always glad to hear from you" (pg. 46, Rachel Walters to David Walters)

The letters are introduced by in-depth yet chewable research about the time period and context of the senders, making this an immersive read with lasting impact. Approachable for the layman or woman, this collection of letters is an entrance point into a period of American history. Whether you're a Civil War buff or a casual reader this book is sure to spark an interest wherever your curiosity lies.

We could go on, and on, and on about this October's book about letters but that would rob you of the pleasure of enjoying the book yourself! Pick up a copy of "Between Home and the Front", today.

Get in Touch.

Do you have a book in mind about letters you think I should read and review for "Books About Letters"? Let me know! Send me an email at

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