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Review: Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd

Jordan, Mary & Hatch, Joyce. Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd. Six Mile Creek Press (January 2011). 176 pp., 100+ illustrations, notes. ISBN: 978-1-57003-922-5 $34.95 (Cloth).

Buy this book at Amazon.com!Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John TiddReading a collection of wartime soldier letters is always an interesting experience.  As you read, you tend to become drawn into the soldier’s life, wondering if he’ll ever make it back home.  Such is the case in Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd, a book of letters and diary entries from Union 9th Corps soldier John Tidd.  Tidd, who hailed from Speedsville, NY, spent his entire war eagerly writing his “dear friend Amelia” and waiting for her letters in return.  Tidd went from relatively safe duty guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to the killing fields of 1864 Virginia.  As Tidd is placed in more danger the concern for his well-being mounts.  Dear Friend Amelia is an excellent pairing of Tidd’s correspondence with Amelia and the authors’ context-setting introductions to each chapter.  This mixture results in a book for almost anyone interested in a good story, with history and genealogy lovers being perfect fits.  With this one, no prior knowledge of the Civil War is necessary.

Authors Mary Jordan and Joyce Hatch are sisters from a large family who are imbued with a love of history.  A descendant of a member of the 137th NY, author Mary Jordan has lived in Speedsville for the past 47 years.  The genesis for Dear Friend Amelia occurred in the 1970s when Mary came into possession of many of John Tidd’s letters.  In the nearly 40 years since the sisters have uncovered many other letters to Amelia as well as Tidd’s war diary from 1864.  These materials form the basis of the book.

John Tidd was born in Ohio in 1839 but moved to Rawson Hollow, NY as a young man.  The small town was located  just outside of Speedsville.  There he met Amelia Haskell, a young woman three years his junior, and they became good friends.  Of all the people Tidd wrote to in the Civil War he treasured Amelia’s letters the most.  It is clear in his letters how much he cares for her.  Tidd was one of the first to enter Company B, 109th New York in 1862, and his regiment spent the remainder of 1862/3 guarding the B&O railroad, where they saw no action.  Tidd’s regiment was moved into the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Corps in time for Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia.  Tidd fought in many of the fiercest battles that spring and summer, including the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, The Second Battle of Petersburg, and the Battle of the Crater, among others.  His letters grow increasingly despondent as he wishes for home and an end to the war.  Through it all he faithfully writes to “dear friend Amelia”.

Does Tidd survive an increasingly hostile war?  Do John and Amelia love happily ever after, or does a different fate await?  The difficulty of reviewing a book of letters lies in the ability to give away just enough of the story to entice readers, while at the same time keeping the protagonists’ fates secret.  This review will not deviate from that approach.  The authors do not give the ending away either, as fates of key participants hang in the balance until the end.  A concluding chapter covers the years after the Civil War and what became of those mentioned in John’s letters.

The book follows a nice format consisting of the authors setting the stage early in each chapter, giving an overview of the war during the time the letters for that chapter were written and also going into some detail about where Tidd was and what he was up to.  The authors’ introductions are clearly aimed at those less well versed in Civil War history but serious students of the Civil War will not be hampered by them either.  Over a hundred beautiful illustrations are laced throughout the book, many of which address nicely some comment made in one of the soldier’s letters.  Some of the illustrations are images of Tidd’s actual written pages, a nice touch which adds to the readers’ interest.  Entries from Tidd’s and others’ diaries fill in some of the blanks when significant space exists between letters.  Taken together, they form a coherent, interesting, and visually pleasing whole.

Dear Friend Amelia is an excellent addition to the published letters and diaries of Civil War soldiers, and beautifully done.  This hardback book has an original press run of 500 copies, so be sure to get yours before it is gone forever.  Readers will be transfixed by Tidd’s long, hard Civil War road, especially as the fighting intensifies in 1864.  This book will appeal to those interested in historical documents from common people, those interested in the history of the Speedsville and Binghamton areas of New York, and students of the Civil War interested in the Eastern Campaigns of 1864.  It is definitely recommended to students of the Petersburg Campaign and the Civil War.

Be sure to check out the Dear Friend Amelia web site.  The authors have additional information located there.

I would like to thank Mary Jordan, one of the authors of Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd.

Editor’s Note: A copy of this book was provided gratis for the above review.

For detailed information and notes on this book, see BTC Notes: Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd.

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