Civil War letters going home to Ole Miss

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — Richard Bridges seemed like a typical college student in his letters home.

He tells family members he may need more money and clothes, talks about hanging out with friends and sounds a little homesick.

But while the issues sound familiar, they were written at during the Civil War, when state fought state.

Now, the Clarion-Ledger reports, the letters of the University of Mississippi student are returning to the Oxford campus 150 years later.

Mike Martin of Madison, his sister Pat Owen of Rankin County other descendants of Bridges have donated to the university the 27 letters Bridges wrote when he served in the University Greys, the unit organized by students to fight against Union troops.

“We found out that it was significant in that these were only the second set of letters from one of the original 130 University Greys to ever find their way back to the university,” Martin said. “They were proud to receive them and we were proud to give them.”

The letters are housed in the university’s special collections and can be read online. Some of the letters are on display in a special exhibit that opened recently, “Preserving Our Past: Highlights from Archives & Special Collections.”

“These letters are indeed one of our treasures,” said Jennifer Ford, head of archives and special collections at Ole Miss.

Martin said the letters were handed down to his mother in the 1960s from his great aunt, Dot Batton, who lived in Crystal Springs where Bridges lived.

“I remember Aunt Dot mentioned Uncle Richard and then she pulled out this tin box. She told her (Martin’s mother), “Martha, I want you to have these,” Martin said. “Mama went home and transcribed all those letters. We knew they were special.”

Through the years, the letters were tucked away for safekeeping. After Martin’s mother died, the letters ended up in Owen’s possession. “We talked about how to keep them safe,” Martin said.

Eventually, the family decided to contact the university to see if they wanted them. “The letters needed to be back where he was,” Martin said.

Written in the graceful penmanship of the day, Bridges’ letters tell of his life from 1861 to 1863. He writes of camp life, asks for more pants and blankets, asks for money when he hasn’t received his military pay, tells briefly of battles and reports on his health, including not-so-serious and serious wounds.

There’s longing for home when he writes: “Wealth, honor and ease are but poor things to compare with the pleasure that it would afford me just to see you all once more.”

In the first letter, written Jan. 26, 1861, before he enlisted in his freshman year, he tells one of his sisters that he’s well despite a great deal of sickness, pneumonia and diptheria, in the college and how much he enjoyed the recent holidays at home. The last letter from Bridges is one he dictated in 1864 “thro’ the kindness of a Va. lady” after the amputation of his left leg when he was wounded during the Battle of the Wilderness.