Their Patriotic Duty

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Many of the farm families in the river country of southern Ohio sent fathers, husbands, and sons to fight and die in the Civil War. Few families have bequeathed a record of that experience as remarkable as that created by the Evans family: an extraordinary collection of letters that offers a unique portrait of life both on the home front and on the front lines.

From his homestead near Ripley on the Ohio River, patriarch Andrew Evans sent two sons to war, and from 1862 to 1866 father and sons wrote each other hundreds of letters. Called the soldier's letters by the family, this cache lay untouched in a barn until the 1980s, when Robert Engs was invited to edit them. Here are 273 family letters, most between Andrew and son Samuel, that draw us into the complicated lives of a Midwestern family not just suffering the dislocations of war, but also experiencing and describing in intimate detail the sorrows and occasional joys of rural life in nineteenth-century America.

From the front lines with the 70th Ohio and, later, as an officer commanding a unit of colored troops, Samuel writes of the horrors of Shiloh, of the loneliness and fear of patrolling Union lines in Tennessee. Andrew writes of the seasons of rural life, of illness and deaths in the family, of the complicated politics of this borderland where abolitionists and Copperhead pro-slavery voices shared daily debates. One of the very few collections of Civil War letters from home front and front lines, this meticulously edited book is an engrossing chronicle of war and peace, family and country, and an indispensable addition to the history of the Civil War.

Hardcover 410 pages