Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Civil War Letters of Napoleon Bonaparte Hudson

Since postage stamps were few and far between at the front in the American Civil War, those in the military were allowed to write "Soldier's letter" on the envelope, and this would be treated the same as a stamp. The writing is Napoleon's.

Download PDF file [623 KB]
Transcriptions of letters, with maps and commentary

Download Napoleon B. Hudson's siblings and ancestry [13 KB]
FamilyTreeMaker chart

In the 1980s I was privileged to have come into possession of over 1,000 letters and documents written by and to, or saved by, my ancestors and their relatives during the 1800s and early 1900s. The discovery of these letters is a story in itself. After spending several years organizing and filing them, I began transcribing. They were so interesting that transcription led to research, not only of the family members and their genealogy, but of their locations, associates, and the periods in which they lived. I began printing this research for the family, but being so interested in the history and being a perfectionist at heart, the project grew and grew until I had stacks and files of reference material and, by comparison, not much edited into publishable form.

OK, this is not quite fair. I had edited 14 volumes, printed them and mailed them to a few family members, libraries, and museums. I had divided the material into folders and projected 50 volumes. I had become so enamored by the material and the characters, and what could be learned from the details as much as more than from an abridgement of the story, that I was unwilling to edit for length. I felt that the collection, which had, for the most part, been preserved in so glorious a sequence, seemed to have a life of its own. As its curator, I wanted to present it whole (in installments, fine, but not truncated) so it could be studied with all of its fascinating detail. There are always decisions to make. I agonized over whether it might not be best to abridge the letters and present the story. But somehow I could not imagine losing the detail and flavor that had made the writers of these letters come alive, and bring me into their time in a way I had never experienced in all my reading of history and historical novels. I wanted to share that. But I also didn't want my obsession to keep the material under wraps for who-knows-how-many more years.

At some point in the decision process, I began to compile Napoleon's letters. They were few by comparison, and the Civil War is a subject of huge interest in the US. It feels incomplete to present his thoughts without the intervening letters from his brothers and others in his life that round out the picture. I interjected some of the history and some quotes from these other letters, and then the project languished unfinished. But I feel the time has come.

Today I am posting an incomplete document, or fledgling book. These are the transcribed letters of a man who left no descendants. He was the brother of a man who married into my family, but not into my direct ancestry. Nathaniel Carlos Hudson, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte Hudson, married Helen Rosetta Joy, whose genealogy chart can be found elsewhere in this blog, and who was the sister of George Lewis Joy, my ancestor. [Also see Dirk Hudson's tree of the Hudson genealogy here.] Realizing that it will be years, if ever, before I complete this massive work, I want to make as much of it as possible available - incomplete or not - to those interested. I do not like producing flawed work that could contain misinformation, so the decision to begin posting the material was difficult. However, even more than that, I dislike the idea of hoarding documents that others might want to read. I've proof-read the transcriptions carefully, left the original spelling and punctuation, and made clarifying comments where I felt they were needed or were of particular interest. I have also indicated text I found undecipherable and have left questions in my commentary - like "to do" notes, as I've said in the PDF file. Here is the first installment - Napoleon's complete letters. Sadly, I have no photo of him. I hope that many will find this material as interesting as I do.

By the way, I found one other Napoleon Bonaparte Hudson online. Based on the dates and location, I don't believe he was related to our Hudsons.


joy said...

Hi Sheryl, I'm Betsy Mellor's daughter, Joy. I found your blog by looking into the Joy family name. Your work with these letters sounds fascinating, a real labor of love. I'm looking forward to reading the draft!

tapirgal said...

Hi Joy, What a nice surprise to hear from you! I grew up with your mother somewhat, although Bill was my age, and Peggy a little older. Your mom was a couple of years younger than me. I think she and my sister may have been in the same class, I'm not sure. I'm seriously hoping to get going on this material and get it posted for all to enjoy even though it won't be in "finished form." There's a lot of good stuff here, and I will always be grateful to the relatives (including your grandmother and mine) who made it possible for us to have the great stories and info. Thanks again for your note!