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Collection Title: Burwell (Andrew and Mary E.) Letters

Collection Number: M100

Dates: September 1864-July 1865

Volume: 55 letters

Provenance: Purchased January, 1966.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

Andrew W. Burwell was born April 14, 1841, in Otsego County, New York. He moved to Marquette County, Wisconsin, prior to 1857 and, according to his statement, lived there continuously after 1857. He married Mary E. Swannell on August 11, 1861, and they established a home near the village of Packwaukee, Wisconsin. Their first child, Lucy, was born in 1863.

Burwell enlisted in the 5th Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers (Infantry) on August 24, 1864; after mustering in September 12, 1864, in Madison, Wisconsin, his regiment was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 6th Army Corps. He was promoted from private to corporal during his term of service and had duties in such varied capacities as cook, provost guard, and picket line guard.

Most of Burwell's time was served in the Army of the Potomac and the Shenandoah Army. From August 7-November 28, 1864, he fought in Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign; during this campaign Burwell served provost duty at Cedar Creek, Virginia. Following this, he was moved to the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg, Virginia; here he was involved in the Siege of Petersburg, December 4, 1864-April 2, 1865. On the final day of the siege, April 2, 1865, he was wounded and taken to City Point Hospital, Virginia; later he was transferred to a hospital in Washington, D.C., and on July 12, 1865, he was mustered out of the army.

Andrew W. Burwell returned to his farm in Marquette County, Wisconsin, where he lived with his wife and daughter. Five other children were born to the couple between 1866 and 1886. Andrew died on May 14, 1924, according to pension records included in the case file. His first wife, Mary, died on April 3, 1899, and in 1912, he married Jane Swannell Booth, possibly a relative of his first wife.

Scope and Content:

This collection consists of fifty-five letters written between a Civil War soldier, Andrew Burwell and his wife Mary. The letters range in date from September 7, 1864 to July 11, 1865. These letters are arranged chronologically by the date of reply.

There are twenty-seven letters written by Mary. Her letters, for the most part, contain descriptions of her chores on the farm and financial arrangements. These letters give detailed impressions of life on the home front; women's greater sense of independence and responsibility in the absence of a male figure during times of war are explored. In one letter, Mary wishes that women had the priviledge of voting. Her letters provide further insight into local sentiments toward the draft or taxes to avoid the draft. She also keeps her husband informed of who from their community has been drafted, killed, wounded, or returned home. Frequent references are made to newspaper reports on battles and guerilla activity. The importance of newspapers as an agent of propaganda and as a source of information during the Civil War may be better understood by reading these letters. Briefly mentioned are the mental problems of a returned soldier.

In terms of actual Civil War activity, Andrew's letters to his wife, of which there are twenty-eight, are more substantive. His letters mention important places, battles, and names of fellow soldiers.

Andrew constantly is describing camp life; his descriptions span dwellings, rations, uniforms, cooking utensils, daily duties, and religious activities. Interestingly, his letters do not appear to have been censored; these letters often contained strategic information concerning troop movements, strategy, and supplies. He makes note of the numbers of Confederate soldiers who deserted. A detailed account of a Union deserter's execution is also given. Some of the places mentioned in Burwell's letters include Cedar Creek, Virginia, and Weldon Railroad and Hatcher's Run, Pennsylvania. Many of his comments pertain to his service in the Army of the Potomac in the Siege of Petersburg; Burwell saw most of his combat duty at the Seige of Petersburg, where he was stationed at Weldon Camp. Burwell also comments on City Point Hospital (Va.) where he was taken after being wounded at Petersburg. Burwell seems to have been impressed with the chaplain's role in the company; therefore, he included in the letters a detailed commentary on the Chaplain and the trust and responsibility delegated to such persons. Relations between Union and Confederate soldiers on the battlefield are also covered.

Of other interest is the insight these letters provide into the postal system during the Civil War. Also included is important information on the Civil War economy, not only at the national level but also in various states. Interestingly, no mention is made of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, who was shot, oddly enough, on Andrew Burwell's twenty-fourth birthday. (Burwell was stationed in Washington, D.C., when the assassination took place.) Burwell does, however, mention seeing President Johnson at a military parade in Washington, D.C.

Created by: Bobs M. Tusa
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Revised: November 9, 2004