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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The Razor's Edge Between Life and Death, 1863

by Gordon Thorsby

This letter came from the front dated in early 1863. Kindly read it... slowly, quietly, and imagine the children were gathered around with one or two in tears, anxious as to the contents. Their father, her husband had been gone since August, 1862 and to somewhere they were not certain.

Holly Springs, Mississippi

January 5, 1863

Dearest disconsolate family:

I take this chance to write to you this morning. Mr. Ryness handed me a letter of interrogation this morning concerning myself and in reply I must say that I am alive and in good health. My sadness that I feel is for my sorrow for my absence from those I love. When the letter was handed to me, I could not read the letter for the tears in my eyes.

[A letter to one soldier that was meant for another soldier often contained tragic news.]

The first thought was my wife is dead. Ryness said no. Then are my children dead? He said no. I asked then what is the news. He said read it and I could not. He was sorry he could not tell me. There was a crowd of my friends me and they seeing bot affected so they went to their quarters and when I found what I had of sympathy but glad to make you glad with a line from him whom you thought dead. I have written when I could hoping you will get this in due time to relieve your aching minds. Be in good cheer. I think the war will soon close and we will come home.

From HH



Good bye in love.

Two ends of a chain of letters that was interrupted by the capture of the mail in a recent Confederate raid. The effect was shattering because everyone thought the other dead.

Life was frail in 1863. A husband, a woman, or a child was alive one day and the very next day they were gone. War introduced a new variable with an instant end that was out of anyone's control. So each day that the people survived was a day to cherish, and to thank God for what they had received and to pray for yet one more day.

Note: Harrison Henry Carson was a Private, Company G, Third Michigan Cavalry. Russel Ryness was a comrade in the Company and from the same home town. Harrison had three other brothers who served in the 14th, 123d, and the164th Ohio.

Note 2: Actual Photos not available.

Source: The Civil War Letters of Harrison Henry Carson, edited by Thomas Len, 2012.

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