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Digital Diaries: Not Your Typical Civil War Letter

March 9, 2017

Life is always interesting in the Digitization Department! We discover so many historic treasures that remain relevant today and we get to share them with you via our Digital Collections. This time the treasure is a letter written by Captain David Enoch Beem of 14th Indiana Volunteer Regiment during the Civil War.

I had already heard of David Beem because his July 1863 letter detailing the Battle of Gettysburg is well known around IHS. Having read letters from the military front before, I was expecting to learn about routine details of military life, weather conditions, and (if I was lucky) some personal accounts of battle. I was very surprised when the first letter I read, written to Beem’s wife Mahala on Jan. 4, 1863, nearly brought me to tears because of the emotion he openly expressed to her and the fierce patriotism he showed. Beem was very sentimental, having just spent Christmas at camp, and assured her that he was not away fighting in vain. He asked her to write him letters “as soon, as often, and as long” as she could. Of his motivation to fight for the Union, Beem wrote:

“… feeling as I do that I have so many whom I love, and who love me in return, I take more pleasure in contributing all I can to maintain for them good laws, free institutions, and a firm government than I could find anywhere else. In other words, if I loved no one, I would stay at home, but loving not only one, but others too, I am now in the field fighting for one of the best governments in the world.”

Wow! That is profound and kind of makes me swoon! I suppose it is no shock that Beem’s letter is well-written, as he graduated from Law School at Indiana University in 1860. However, to write with such personal feeling and enthusiasm for one’s country when faced with the tough conditions on the military front involves a great deal of character. For someone like me who’s not a Civil War buff, life during that time may be hard to relate to, but first-hand accounts like Beem’s make it much easier to understand. And that is why I share it with you!

Kathy Mulder works in Digital Collections at IHS. She first became interested in history while tagging along with her grandmother who was a docent in historic Madison, Indiana.

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