The University of Wisconsin Press
Civil War History / American Studies
A Quiet Corner of the War
The Civil War Letters of Gilbert and Esther Claflin, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, 1862–1863
Gilbert Claflin and Esther Claflin
“Not many collections of wartime letters between spouses are in print, and this collection builds on other Civil War primary materials in an important way: the reader is able to get simultaneous reports on the scene at home, in the Army camp, and in the field.”
—Suzanne Bunkers, editor of The Diary of Caroline Seabury, 1854–1863
In 2002, Judy Cook discovered a packet of letters written by her great-great-grandparents, Gilbert and Esther Claflin, during the American Civil War. An unexpected bounty, these letters from 1862–63 offer visceral witness to the war, recounting the trials of a family separated. Gilbert, an articulate and cheerful forty-year-old farmer, was drafted into the Union Army and served in the Thirty-Fourth Wisconsin Infantry garrisoned in western Kentucky along the Mississippi. Esther had married Gilbert when she was fifteen; now a woman with two teenage sons, she ran the family farm near Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, in Gilbert’s absence.
In his letters, Gilbert writes about food, hygiene, rampant desertions by drafted men, rebel guerrilla raids, and pastimes in the daily life of a soldier. His comments on interactions with Confederate prisoners and ex-slaves before and after the Emancipation Proclamation reveal his personal views on monumental events. Esther shares in her letters the challenges of maintaining the farm, accounts of their boys Elton and Price, concerns about finances and health, and news of their community, illuminating aspects of the wartime North often overlooked in Civil War histories.
Judy Cook has made the letters accessible to a wider audience by providing historical context with notes and appendixes. The volume includes a foreword by Civil War historian Keith S. Bohannon.
Gilbert Elton Claflin (1822–79) was born in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Esther Patience Colby Claflin (1830–1900) was born in LeRoy, Ohio, and grew up in western New York State. In 1844, each moved to Wisconsin.
Judy Cook tours universities and historical societies in the United States and United Kingdom, performing multimedia presentations based on the Claflin letters and songs of the Civil War era.
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Of related interest
Letters Home to Sarah
The Civil War Letters of Guy C. Taylor,
Thirty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers
Guy C. Taylor
Edited by Kevin Alderson and Patsy Alderson
LC: 2013010467 E
320 pp. 6 x 9 17 b/w illus.
Cloth $26.95 t
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Visit judycook.net for information about recordings and upcoming performances
“I have read many Civil War era diaries and letter collections, but this is the most interesting and touching.”
—Thomas D. Mackie, director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum
“These letters of author Judy Cook's great-great-grandparents give us a real glimpse into what life was like during the Civil War. The letters are full of day-to-day life for both the soldier and his wife left to run things at home. There is a vibrant immediacy about this volume of correspondence, connecting us with these flesh-and-blood human beings who lived so long ago. They are utterly real to us these 150 years later. Cook has transported what she does so well onstage to the printed page.”
—Phil Funkenbusch, Theater Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
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Updated May 17, 2013© 2013 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System