Diary of Orrin Brown—
We were relieved at 6 AM, the night was a little chilly but it is warm and nice today. We were relieved from Picket at 4 PM. Those that were on post through the night did not have any duty to do through the day. The report came in this evening that Communication was opened with the fleet so I set right down and wrote a letter.
Every time I’m fortunate enough to travel to Washington, DC, I make sure to make time to visit one of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, although I’ve not yet visited the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, which opened in 1993. As a long-term philatelist—stamp collector that is—this is a serious oversight. When the Civil War tore the nation apart, it also tore apart the U.S. Mail. In August 1861, the US Postmaster cut off mail service to the states in rebellion and demonetized stamps then in circulation. Although Confederate stamps were issued, the Confederacy wasn’t a recognized government and the CSA Postmaster’s service did not benefit from the usual treaties and cooperative agreements to trade off mail.
Mail is a soldier’s lifeline home. In the best of times it can be difficult for letters to find their intended destination, with units on the move and soldiers moving between units. Later in the war, soldiers did at least have a sort-of franking privilege, where they could mark their name, rank and unit and their mail would be delivered postage due. In November, 1864, the US Post Office introduced the money order system, making it safer for soldiers to send money home. Although Officers discouraged sharing information that might be intercepted by opposing spies, most soldiers’ letter weren’t yet censored, a practice that become common in the First World War. We draw on that treasury of first-hand accounts today, a wealth of insight on America’s Civil War.