Library Gazette

Preserving the Jonathan W. Cameron Civil War letters

Friday, May 17, 2013 2:25 pm

Maj. John. W. Cameron Civil War letters

For the past few months, I’ve been preserving a collection of letters written during the American Civil War. These letters are all written by Major John W. Cameron, and were written during April and May of 1862. All the letters were sent from Goldsboro, NC by Major Cameron. These letters are what I believe to be copies of actual letters Major Cameron sent (otherwise, we wouldn’t have these letters at all because he would have sent them to the far reaches of the Confederacy). The letters are not very exciting….on the contrary, the letters are all basically asking people to send fodder for the animals, tents for the men or harnesses for the mules. There is also the vernacular of the time (the word “instance” is often used to indicate the word “day” as in “I received your letter of the 6th instance”). Regardless of the 19th century language, when you handle so many of these personal, hand-written letters, it is hard not to become engaged in the back story of this person. I have done a little searching for Major Cameron (he always signed his name as Maj. Jno. W. Cameron, QM CSA) but haven’t been able to find anything about him. Even though Major Cameron was stationed in North Carolina, I do not think he was a North Carolina soldier. I think he was one of the ‘national troops’ who served wherever they were assigned. I looked through every index in our collection of North Carolina Troops 1861-1865 but did not find John W. Cameron.

To underscore the mundane essence of Major Cameron’s letters, I’m including this transcription of one of Major Camerons’ letters:

Letter 487
Goldsboro, No. Ca.
May 9, 1862
Peter P. Johnson, Esq.
Hereafter you will not buy any more horses, but turn your attention entirely to mules. I have today sent Mr. Broadfoot $10,000 to be disbursed in the usual way.
Very respectfully
Your obt Servt
Jno W. Cameron
Major & QM CSA

Confirm the purchase of wagons & barrels, but I wish nothing in the way of animals, but mules.

The letters are, as I’ve said, copies written with iron gall ink on onion skin paper. Each letter has a printed number in the upper right corner. This is another reason I believe the letters are copies. I think the copies were made in a pre-numbered ledger of some sort that Major Cameron used. The paper is very thin and fragile. Many of these letters are torn and discolored. The entire group was exposed to water at some point because they were stuck together and had a large water stain on them which dissolved parts of many of these letters. Almost every letter has one or two folds and creases that covered the entire surface. Early on, I placed a call to Tahe Zalal, a Paper Conservator at Etherington Conservation Center. Tahe urged me to be careful and try to avoid using any moisture on the onion skin paper. As a result of this conversation, I flattened these letters with heat and placed them on an acid free paper liner and then into a polyester sleeve. These letters can now be read and handled easily without damaging them. I am hopeful a researcher can help us find this man and place him in historical context.
Preservation -finished letter

2 Responses to “Preserving the Jonathan W. Cameron Civil War letters”

  1. Well done, Craig! According to our records, they were purchased for ZSR in April of 1974. I’m glad they are better preserved now!

  2. When I first saw the image, I thought maybe the letters were written on tree bark or something. Thanks for explaining!

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