The American Civil War saw the largest armies ever assembled on the North American continent. The soldiers of both armies sent and received a vast amount of mail. Mail call was the happiest day of the week for soldiers. The use of pre-printed decorative envelopes was common during the war and many different types of envelopes were used by soldiers, particularly those in the Union army.
Here are a number of envelopes that were used during the war. This post is adapted from The Civil War Monitor newsletter from March 2013.
This envelope features Fort Sumter and was particularly popular after the Confederate attack on the Union fort in Charleston harbor. Lady Columbia rises from Fort Sumter, armed and ready for battle.
Many envelopes featured Union and Confederate generals. This particular envelope features the likeness of General George McClellan.
This envelope pays tribute to those who took care of wounded soldiers. The woman depicted is giving comfort to a soldier who appears to be wearing a Zouave uniform. Such a graphic recalled the efforts of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, various orders of Catholic nuns, and the nearly 2,000 women who served as nurses in various military hospitals during the conflict.
The alleged backwardness of guerrilla fighters was another theme in wartime envelopes. Here, a guerrilla is depicted as a gorilla, and an accompanying poem criticizes the fighter for his grumpy, thankless, and whiny attitude. While such illustrations made light of the war and its causes, this use of satire was indicative of soldiers’ need to counter the grim realities of war with humor.
Here is a Confederate envelope complete with the original Confederate flag and the names of the leaders of the Confederacy.