This collection was made possible by the descendants of William Harmon Harden who, through the intervening century and more, made a conscious, deliberate decision to preserve his written words for us.
The bulk of the original letters belong to my second cousin, William Charles Harden. I am indebted to him for the decision he made in October of 1996 to entrust the originals to an obscure relative for transcription into the form you see here.
My adventures associated with the letters also took me to the birthplace of William Harmon Harden in Pike County, Georgia. There I found John Ira Harden, Jr., my second cousin, once removed, who supplied a supplementary set of seven original letters from the post-war period (1875 May 27; 1880 Sep 10; 1882 Aug 18; 1884 Feb 17; 1884 Aug 13; 1887 Oct 14; 1890 Jan 25).
On behalf of the Harden family wherever located, I thank these two Southern gentlemen for their contributions to the history of our family that all of us can now enjoy forever. I hope other relations will follow their example and contribute their information about WHH. And I can say with some confidence that the long patient soul of William Harmon Harden is particularly pleased with our efforts.
It has been my special joy to convert these bits of history into digital form. This is just the beginning. What you see here is an advanced look at the collection that has been edited to improve readability. I have corrected the spelling (except for surnames and place names, unless I knew for sure), punctuation, and paragraphing, and standardized the format. In some cases I had to add missing words or fix the syntax for clarity. But in all cases, I have tried to preserve the flavor and intent of the author’s expression. I made the changes so that these obstacles, which were considerable to me in the transcription, will not interfere with your enjoyment and understanding of the material.
This collection of letters totals about 50,000 words. I believe this collection of letters is rare, if not unique, in Civil War history. The letters relay messages back to the community and contain a rich trove of surnames. These facts alone justifies further work with the collection. Perhaps they merit being published as a scholarly reference work by a university.
I plan to publish these letters on the World Wide Web and make them available to the world. The Web site will include my commentary on the letters, explaining the context and the community. It will contain the letters in their original and unedited transcribed version as well as the edited version before you. I also plan audio versions of the letters, maps, a chronology, a comprehensive index of surnames and place names, and other enhancements. My hope is that this will stimulate other visitors to the Web site to contribute their own research and, in so doing, paint a more complete picture of a time and place in our Nation’s history.
The careful reader will notice that there are three major gaps, totaling 12 months, in the letters of William Harmon Harden during the Civil War: November, 1862 to February, 1863; May, 1864 to August, 1864; and September, 1864 to January, 1865. I cannot account for this. It is my private hope that the Web site will unearth this explanation and perhaps uncover the rest of the collection in the hands of another descendant of William Harmon Harden.
I invite you now to enjoy the heritage of our common past. If you are like me, you can’t help but see parts of yourself in these letters. You will be a witness as our ancestor observes the fullness of life as a Harden. He talks about love, his new daughter Mary Zelma (Mollie), his wife Jane, his brother Wash, and the family connection. He of course talks the talk of soldiers: pay, camp life, duty, discipline, recreation, the omnipresence of death and disease, including his medical treatment in several military hospitals, the ever important furlough home, and, of greatest importance, the mail, his lifeline to sanity and purpose. He also writes poetry, shares his dreams, tells jokes, and tries to provide food and clothing for his family and run his farm long distance. There is also talk of politics, slaves, the economy, and local cuisine.
The collection also includes letters from other friends and relations, particularly siblings and in-laws.
Through these letters run a consistent set of values that define William Harmon Harden, the school teacher, soldier, and preacher, and allow the reader to know him firsthand in a way that no oral tradition can match. In his words, he lives still. These letters can tell Hardens who they came from, and why. Speaking for myself, his letters have helped me define where I am going. Thank you, great-grandfather.
John H. Harden, Jr.
5852N Post Corners Trail
Centreville, Virginia 22120-6328