Born in 1843 in Casco, Maine, Abial Hall Edwards volunteered to serve in the Union army during the American Civil War, motivated be a dual desire to help preserve the Union and to provide for his younger siblings. He documented his wartime experiences in a series of letters written to his future wife Anna L. Conant from 1861-1866. These letters provide a rich description of the observations and emotions of a young man serving through many of the Civil War’s most prominent battles and campaigns.
Assigned to Company K of the 10th Maine Regiment of Volunteers, Edwards spent his first few months of service moving from Baltimore to Virginia with his regiment. The 10th Maine first saw action during the Battle of Cedar Mountain. After a brief rest the unit took part in the Second Battle of Bull Run some two weeks later.
In his letters, Abial described a Soldier’s daily life, but also delved into his personal insights and feelings towards a variety of subjects. Between the battles and the long marches he reveals details and feelings about fellow soldiers, fears of disease, and suggestive displays of affection towards Anna Conant. By spring of 1863, having survived the Battle of Antietam unscathed, Edwards was mustered out of the 10th Maine.
But as his letters reveal, Edwards was uneasy remaining at home, feeling as if he were shirking his patriotic duty. “Be it as it may” Edwards wrote to Anna in December 1863, “Do your duty is my motto even though it may clash with my own personal life.” After spending a few months at home, Abial returned to service with the 29th Maine Infantry Regiment in September 1863. (pg 71)
With the 29th, Edwards participated in the Red River Campaign; then linked up with Major General Philip Sheridan during his Shenandoah Valley Campaign (1864-1865) until the war’s end.
With the war over, Edwards’ role changed from that of combat Soldier to occupation Soldier as the Army took up the task of occupying the South during Reconstruction. Edwards writes of his sadness over Lincoln’s assassination and his growing anger and dislike for Southerners.
Five years after originally volunteering, Abial Edwards was mustered out of service in June 1866. He would eventually marry Anna Conant in 1869, but sadly passed away in his hometown at thirty-four in 1877.
Over the years and through generations, Edwards’ family saved the original letters, which were eventually gathered for the book “Dear Friend Anna”: The Civil War Letters of a Common Soldier From Maine”. The book and the original letters are now in the collection of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center where they are available for public research.
The following letters were written by Corporal Abial Edwards to Anna Connant during the years of his service in the Civil War (1861-1866). These transcribed copies highlight key moments and experiences during Edwards’ time in the military starting with the Battle of Antietam in September 1862 and nearing the end of his second enlistment in October 1865. His letters are available in the USAHEC for research and public viewing. These transcripts retain the original spelling, punctuation, syntax, and other stylistic elements of the original documents. As with all transcriptions of hand written documents, there are issues with legibility, which may lead to occasional errors.
Abial Hall Edwards Papers, 1861-1866. Box 1. USAMHI.
Kallgren, Beverly Hayes., and James L. Crouthamel, eds. “Dear Friend Anna”: The Civil War Letters of a Common Soldier From Maine. Orono, ME: University of Maine Press, 1992.