Civil War Essay Contest – 1st Place!

We are pleased to present below the 1st Place winner of our Civil War Family Story essay contest. The contest ran in the summer and the winners were announced in the fall print newsletter, which was mailed to MHS members last week. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, and two Honorable Mentions, will appear on the blog throughout the week. Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to all the entrants. Judging was made difficult given the volume and high quality of the submissions.

The Hardships Are Hard

by Kristen Lenfest, Belmont, New Hampshire

John Grove LenfestJohn Gove Lenfest enlisted in Company E of the 20th Maine Volunteers on July 24, 1862.  He was a 40-year-old farmer from Union, Maine. He and his wife, Lavinia, wrote letters to each other throughout his time at war. Lavinia would write on one side of the paper and John would reply on the other side. Lavinia kept him apprised of the news at home with accounts of the well being of their seven children, the town, and the running of the farm.

John gave descriptions to Lavinia about what his life was like as a soldier. Much of his time during the war was spent going on long, arduous marches in Maryland and Virginia. When Lavinia asked John to write a long letter about the dangers and hardships, his response was, “You wanted to knew the dangers and hardship I underwent. The dangers are not bad but the hardships are hard. We have to march so much.” He would send Lavinia newspapers with accounts of the battles his regiment was involved in.

In one of his letters, John gave an account of picket duty. “We are dewing picking duty here now we clost to the Raphanack River. The Rebels on one side and we the other. We go in swiming and the Rebels com in and shake hands with us. Talk with us clever as can be.”

Despite the hardships, John seemed to remain optimistic. Many times he expressed his belief that the Union would prevail and the war would end soon. “I expest Old Abe Lincoln will send men a nough to close this rebelion up in a short time now he has gut the power.” Though there were bouts of illness in his regiment and an outbreak of small pox, he remained healthy.

Bone ring carved by prisoner of war from Bangor, ca. 1861. MMN #73421.
Bone ring carved by prisoner of war from Bangor, ca. 1861. MMN #73421.

One of the ways he passed the time was to make bone rings and pipes for his family and friends. In one letter he mentioned a pipe he had made of laurel wood that he was going to send home for an acquaintance of the family.  Lavinia’s response when she received the rings was, “We got those rings you sent. They suited nicely. Lizzie Hills wants you to make one for her. Make it like Matilda and paint a heart on it. Cora’s ring was real cunning. It pleased her verry much.”

The last letter from John is dated July 9, 1863 the day before he was captured by the Confederates on the Sharpsburg Pike in Maryland. “I am well but tired of marching. We have ben on the march fer six weaks. We have ben after the rebbels over in Pensilvana and had a three days battle with them in Gettersburge and drove them.”

For many years after the war John’s fate would be unclear. He remained listed as missing in action. He was finally found listed on a Confederate casualty list as J. Glenfish, Pvt., E, 20th Maine Vols. He had been admitted on January 21, 1864 to No. 21 (Rebel) General Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, after being held a prisoner of war, and died on the same day from dysentery.

4 thoughts on “Civil War Essay Contest – 1st Place!

  1. Eileen Gloria Pelletier

    There is a 2nd. surviving letter, in it he wondered if he’d ever see the Banks of Dead River again, He never did and he never saw his beloved family again, He gave all for the Union. What a price he paid, someone said “some gave much and some gave all”.

  2. Eileen Gloria Pelletier

    I now have 2 pictures of James Parsons 16th. Maine, he is no longer words on paper, I have thanked the person who sent it to me, what a gift. I will always be grateful. In 1907 a Monument from the citizens of Maine was erected on that NC Cemetery near the place where our soldiers are buried. It is a most beautiful monument, I have seen it, I wish more Mainers could do so.

  3. Eileen Gloria Pelletier

    This story could be multiplied many times, different soldiers, almost the same story. Life was hard for the Civil War soldiers, and their families. My 2 times great-grandfather James Parsons 1826-1864 16th. Me. Co. A only surviving letter wanted everyone to know he was fine, but was concerned about his family’s well being. He died in the Salisbury NC prison Dec. of 1864. Buried in a trench grave with 3,000 to 10,000 Union soldiers. 200 and something from Me. regiments. In high school history, we studied some of the Civil War but not much at “all”of the Maine regiments that played an important roll in that war. Keep up with these stories, that war was after all fought by Americans against Americans, it made us what we are today, one Country…

    1. Eileen Pelletier

      Two Letters survive, one to his brother Albee Parsons and another to his sister-in-law Miranda or Myranda Proctor…They were written from the same place near Arlington House Va.

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