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Civil War Letter Filled with Bad News, Hope

Civil War letters and diaries written by soldiers who served with the 28th United States Colored Troops, Indiana’s African-American regiment, are rare. But IHS recently acquired an 1865 letter written by William Trail Jr. Trail, from Henry County, was the older brother of Benjamin Trail. Benjamin, a sergeant major and the first of four brothers to fight with the Union Army, was killed at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. After the death of their brother, William Jr. and James enlisted in the Army, and David was drafted. All four brothers mustered in with the 28th USCT. David, an unassigned recruit with the regiment, eventually served with the 14th USCT.

At the end of the war, William Jr.’s company was stationed in Texas, and on Sept. 4, 1865, he penned a letter to David. He assures him of his wellbeing, but tells him about the illness of their brother James, hospitalized with scurvy. He writes about the condition of the camp and the duties there and reports the death of Leartic Freeman (Company D, 28th USCT) at Point Lookout. William also talks about how remote the area is and speaks of things back home, including his “worthless” wheat crop.

The letter exhibits hope as well – he says how pleased he was to receive letters from David and from home, sends greetings to two soldiers in David’s regiment and tells his brother he deserves to go home to happiness on all fronts and that he hopes to meet him there in six months.

James, like Benjamin, didn’t survive the war. David and William Jr. both returned to Indiana after the war. William Jr. farmed in Henry County, Ind., and lived until 1914. David died in 1869.

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