For All the World Be Careful
For most of America’s history, only men could serve as combat soldiers—often making wartime homes the province of women. In the final year of the Civil War, 39-year-old Louisa Phifer balanced caring for her 7 children (including patriotically named newborn Atlanta Sherman) with managing the family’s farm near Vandalia, as her husband George served in the 32nd Illinois Infantry. The couple wrote frequently, and Louisa’s letters are a mix of anxiety over George’s fortunes and updates on the farm.
In one letter, Louisa frets she will become a widow if George doesn’t keep himself safe. In his reply, he can only encourage her to “show the spirit of a soldiers wife.” Yet Louisa’s effective management of their home is also clear as she reports on crop yields, well repairs, and sale prices. Like many women on the home front, Louisa’s life was a constant series of challenges to avoid personal or economic disaster.
Cradle and Letter
A letter from Louisa to George and a cradle from an 1860s Illinois home.
Cradle courtesy of the Illinois State Museum
Letter from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, gift of Carol Benson Pye, 1971
Vandalia Fayette Co Ills March 8th /65
Dear Husband & Father
We seat ourselves this evening to answer your very kind letter of the 4th which came to hand last night it found us all well & as far as I know the neighbors are all well with the exceptions of Colds which is common now you said it had rained a great deal there in the last ten days & that the river was very high it has rained a great deal here in the last two weeks by times and for 2 or 3 days past it has rained almost all the time it is raining torrents now but I suppose it is colder here than it is there the road is more than bad Father I will tell you who all has volunteered since the tax was levied first. Schuyler Bascom. Naaman Bascom. William Mabry. Abraham Slusser. David George. William Starnes. [Coen] Starnes. William Meeks.
& a great many more that I cant think of now O [gus Mcgnew] got in a notion to go and went and got a horse, fed & watered it & got ready to start to town and then backed out he took a scary spill I guess but all that went has not filled, the quota so there was a draft which, went off to day George you said there was, twenty Widows made in Nashville a day, O my God grant that it may not be, my lot to thus become a widow for it such a thing should happen I would go Crazy and die before an hour
I think it is the best thing you can do to leave there as soon as possible I am afraid you will not get home very soon having to Change hospitals so much but George any way to get home as soon as possible you told how much I would take to get a Discharge or Furlough if I had of known it I would not of been quite so determined in my writing but you must excuse me for being so impetuous
but George I wanted to see you and made up a great deal after we got your letter in which you said you would try & Come home soon we almost looked every day for you do not stay there on account of getting your money alone for we do not need it but as soon as you can get relieved leave there and go to another hospital but get home as get quick as possible George the things all looks very well the oxen looks about as well as they did when you left it is very wet here now so we can not do much but as soon as you it dries off some we will haul out the manure & get the other work done
Father I think the gray mare will, have a Colt first & I will take the best care of them when they do have A Colt that I can they are both in good order they do not fight & seem
to be mated together very, well they Colt is not in quite as good order as the mare he is a little lousy but I think he is getting rid of them now we have not much to write to night that would interest you we are glad you got a letter from Clara and that they was all well, we will have to Close by hoping for your health & Happiness & by Sending you our love
From L J Phifer & Children to G B Phifer