During the Civil War, Lute Moseley, a member of Wisconsin’s 22nd Volunteer Infantry, wrote detailed missives to his family in Beloit about his wartime experiences. Frank and forthright, he was remarkably articulate, insightful, and thoughtful, whether describing mundane activities or the nearly unfathomable death of President Lincoln. These 125 letters, published for the first time in the forthcoming book Heavy Marching, provide a uniquely candid and vivid view of this tumultuous period in US history.
In the early 2000s, Esther Moseley enlisted the help of Sara DeLuca, a Wisconsin-based writer, to transcribe, annotate, and edit the letters written by her husband’s grandfather. Over the past few years, Sara has worked on the book, with the permission of Moseley’s descendants; the resulting volume will be published June 27, 2023, with a foreword by Robert Lucius Moseley. Sara has developed the following discussion guide for book clubs who wish to read and discuss the collection.
- What were the primary motivations for Lute Moseley and fellow soldiers to enlist in military service during the Civil War? How do these motivations compare and contrast with military enlistments today?
- What do the tone and content of Lute’s letters reveal about his relationship with his mother and father? And with his younger brother?
- How do the letters reveal Lute’s ethics and values? Religious beliefs?
- Lute’s feelings about the African Americans he encounters are candidly expressed in several letters. How do these attitudes evolve throughout his three years of experience in the war? What signs do you see that might illustrate a growing understanding and compassion?
- In many letters, Lute describes strong bonds and camaraderie among fellow soldiers, as well as feelings of irritation and petty jealousies. He also judges the behavior of his comrades and superior officers, sometimes with high praise, sometimes with harsh criticism. What do these judgments say about Lute’s own character and personality?
- How did the incompetence and bitter conflicts between officers of the Wisconsin 22nd Volunteer Regiment impact the enlisted men? Can you think of examples from your own experience in the workplace or other situations where inadequate leadership affected morale and performance of the entire organization?
- How might the letters of a Civil War soldier writing to his mother and father differ from those that were written to wives? Or letters written for the purpose of publication? How do you think they might differ from reports by military officers and public officials?
- Despite being only nineteen at the time of his enlistment, Lute displays an ability for keen observation, vivid description, and honest reflection in his letters. What aspects of his education and background might contribute to such expressive writing?
- Lute describes a scene of fraternization—even friendliness—with the “Johnny Rebs.” Yet in most accounts they are evil enemies to be destroyed, and he celebrates that destruction. How would a soldier learn to manage such contradictory experiences and emotions?
- When Lute describes stealing hay from a horse to make himself a bed, he describes deep guilt. Yet he has witnessed and participated in so much human suffering. Does this seem like a strange reaction? Can you recall a time when a lesser incident—the “last straw”—has been the one to bring you down?
- In April 1963 Lute writes, “I have written twice since I got back to America.” The Confederate states have become a foreign country. Lute’s impressions of “Dixie” range from harsh to amusing. What are some of the stereotypes about the North and South that still exist today?
- What did you learn from Lute Moseley’s letters that you found most surprising? Revealing? Disturbing?
- Can you draw comparisons or contrasts between the deep divisions that led to the Civil War with the current political environment? Do you feel optimistic about the prospects of healing these divisions and of finding common ground that will enable us to solve the economic, social, and environmental challenges facing our nation today?