The following is excerpted from a story that appeared in The Wire.
UNH senior Kyle Murphy, a history and political science major, has been working with Bill Ross of Special Collections and Dale Valena, curator of the University Museum to create an exhibit at UNH about New Hampshire’s 18 regiments that fought during the Civil War.
As Murphy worked with original letters, transcribing them for online publication, he stumbled across a number of surprises. In addition to the eloquence of the writing, Murphy noted the complete lack of censorship in every letter. Many of the letters lay out battle tactics, specific locations and candid accounts of death and injury, all pieces of information censored in later wars.
Murphy was also surprised to discover that some New Hampshire residents were not only anti-war, but anti-Lincoln. Several letters feature political banter between the Harrises, a husband and wife with completely opposite views. While Mr. Harris was a Union soldier who supported the cause he fought for, Mrs. Harris proclaimed in one letter that she’d like to hang Lincoln, a statement Murphy described as “very bold.”
“(The letters) show that you can’t make those universal moral judgments,” Murphy said. “An exhibit like this one actually gives us the evidence of what (people) thought.”
Murphy said many of the generalizations made in history books are discredited by the actual accounts of people who were there as it was happening. He thinks something is lost when people don’t take the time to study history from the ground up.
“We always know the names, we always know the events, but we don’t really see the personal side of history or how it affected a 20-year-old kid from New Hampshire,” Murphy said. “It’s important to study it because that’s really how history is written.”