Colwell Family Letters

Collection Description (MC-90)

The Colwell Family Letters Collection consists of letters written by James Colwell and his wife Ann during the Civil War.  There are 182 letters included in the collection written between June 10, 1861, and September 18, 1862.

The letters describe James Colwell’s Civil War experiences while serving in the 7th Pennsylvania Reserves and Ann Colwell’s thoughts on the home front in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  These letters were the basis of the book entitled “The Bitter Fruits” by David G. Colwell, published in 1998.

Historical Notes 

Before the Civil War, James Colwell was an attorney and opened a law office in Carlisle, Pa.  Ann was born in Baltimore and grew up with southern views.  James and Ann were married in 1853 and had four children by 1860.  In 1861, James enlisted in the 7th Pennsylvania Reserves as a 1st Lieutenant.  His unit was heavily engaged in the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia and the battle of Antietam, where he was killed on September 17, 1862.

James letters to Ann provide a personal account of his reasons for enlisting, views on slavery, and opinions of commanders and President Lincoln.  He also describes his unit’s involvement in the Peninsula and Antietam campaigns.

Ann Colwell’s letters provide a unique perspective of a Union officer’s wife with southern sympathy.  She despises the war and considers President Lincoln incompetent.  Her letters though, show her great affection for James and her fear of his death in battle.  She also fears for the safety of her children during the Confederate invasion of 1862.  Her last letter was written September 18, 1862, before she was notified that James had been killed on September 17th.

View a transcript of the 1861 Letters

View a transcript of the 1862 Letters