Scope & content
This collection consists of letters written by Edwin W. Arnold to members of his family during the period of December 22, 1862 – November 1, 1865. Arnold kept up regular correspondence with his family during this time, writing two or three letters a month, except for the period of December 12, 1864 – April 1, 1865 from which this collection contains no letters. Most of the letters are written to Arnold’s mother, several are addressed to his father, two to his younger brother George, and one to his cousin Mary Whipple. Each of the letters is signed “Boy Ned,” which must have been Arnold’s nickname within the family.
The early letters, from December 22, 1862 to July 15, 1863, are written from or near the convalescent camp in Washington D.C. where Arnold was recovering from an illness. The content of these letters is mainly about family affairs, doctor’s visits and daily life in the camp. Two letters of note contain references to President Lincoln. In the letter dated May 5, 1863, Arnold wrote to his mother, “President Lincoln has just been through the ward and shook hands with every man.” On July 2, 1863, writing from Camp Anderson near Washington, D.C., Arnold mentions that a few days earlier the president made a speech to the troops there. Arnold had just been assigned a position in the Invalid Corps., which Lincoln referred to in his speech as the “Honor Corps.” and was to later be renamed the Veteran Reserve Corps.
The letters dating July 31, 1863 – November 1, 1865 were written while Arnold was stationed in New Hampshire as a member of the Veteran Reserve Corps. Again, most of these letters are about family affairs, requests for things from home and Arnold’s daily life as a soldier. Arnold mentions standing guard, provost duty, and dress parade among his responsibilities but did not go into great detail describing any of these things. Arnold served at a camp in West Lebanon, New Hampshire from August 1863 until January 1864. Many of the letters from this time describe the hard life of establishing a camp there, including sleeping in tents during wintry weather before the barracks had been built.
In January 1864, Arnold was transferred to a camp in Concord, New Hampshire where he would serve the rest of his time in the military. The letter dated June 6, 1864 describes a notable incident involving “subs, “ or soldiers who were paid to serve as substitutes for conscripted soldiers. On this day, according to Arnold, 300 substitutes who were newly stationed at the camp violently attempted to escape. Arnold describes how the rest of the men had to capture and detain substitutes. Many of the letters of this period describe work which involved Arnold looking after conscripted and substitute soldiers. Another incidence of violence among Union soldiers is described in the letter dated August 1, 1964. In a letter dated October 13, 1965, Arnold describes to his father a controversial letter which the soldiers had presented to the commanding officers demanding to be discharged from service. The letter was met with disapproval by the commanding officers and the soldiers threatened to go over their heads and send it to Washington. Many of the letters toward the end of Arnold’s time in Concord describe the frustration of having to remain in the army after the war’s end and the anticipation of being mustered out.
Please note that one letter in this collection, dated October 9, 1895, is authored by Arnold's wife, Louisa. It is the only lettered not written by Edwin W. Arnold.