Look closely at the top of the envelope pictured here, and you will see "Ship Island, Miss." stamped in black ink. Civil War letters are not uncommon, but to find one with the envelope intact is. This letter is from the early 1860s, when Ship Island was used as the staging place by the Union Army as they prepared to take the Mississippi River and New Orleans.
With a buildup of 20,000 U.S. Army soldiers, under the command of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, on the Island, Union ships ran a twice weekly mail service between New Orleans, Ship Island and Pensacola.
This letter, written by George Henry Graves, 8th Regt. Vermont Volunteers, was mailed to his "most affectionate friend," Mattie, on April 19, 1862.
In his letter, dated April 16, Graves reminisced about the times they had enjoyed before the war and inquired about family and friends.
He described the island as "nothing but sand" and said it looked like a heavy snowfall. He asked if she had been to any "sugar parties" that were evidently popular in Vermont.
Graves also reported that five men had recently drowned and that there was an awful thunderstorm during which lightning struck a tent and killed four men.
He ended the letter with a plea for Mattie to write back soon as "a letter from home is all the comforting thing we have here."
Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast's distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and daytime phone number to Flashback, the Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535; or call 896-2424; or email email@example.com.