Behind the Blue and Gray

KEY RESEARCH FIND

May We Meet in Heaven

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When the opportunity fell into my lap to write for a series called the Young Readers’ History of the Civil War (EP Dutton/Puffin Books), I felt overwhelmed by the challenge. How would I ever capture the enormous scope of those four tragic years of combat that ended in the loss of more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers?

Once I traveled to Washington DC and began delving into collections of letters and first-hand accounts at the Library of Congress and National Archives, I began to find my footing. Suddenly I realized that no one could capture the emotions underlying the Civil War experience better than the soldiers themselves, so I decided to pack the pages of my books with excerpts from their diaries and letters home.

Here is one heartbreaking letter I’ve never forgotten, written by a Confederate soldier after being mortally wounded in 1864.

The letter, still stained with spots of blood from Private Montgomery’s battle wound. (Courtesy of the Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA.)

The letter, still stained with spots of blood from Private Montgomery’s battle wound, reads:

Dear Father,

This is my last letter to you…. I have been struck by a piece of shell and my right shoulder is horribly mangled. I know death is inevitable…. I know death is near, that I will die far from home and friends of my early youth but I have friends here too who are kind to me. My friend Fairfax will write you at my request and give you the particulars of my death. My grave will be marked 58 that you may visit if you desire to do so…. Give my love to all my friends…. my strength fails me…. May we meet in heaven.

Your dying son,
J.R. Montgomery

(Photo courtesy of the Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA.)