Introduction to the Web Edition
This introduction is an addition to the hardcopy edition published personally in 1998 and distributed to a limited number of descendants.
Ten years have passed since I completed this project (so I thought). It took about two years of work in the evenings while still employed by a major Defense agency. I deciphered and transcribed each original letter unedited into a single Word file on a Macintosh using the Courier font. I inserted two spaces after a colon and at the end of each sentence, following the convention for non-proportional fonts, which I have retained here because it is too laborious to go through roughly 50,000 words just to delete the extra space.
From that initial raw version, I then created another version, editing obvious errors by the authors, and standardizing paragraphing and some spelling with a conscious intent to preserve the original flavor of writing.
The next version, which became the First Edition, was formatted to make the letters more accessible, particularly to interested students, so they can more easily discover their own insights among the oftentimes ordinary content.
After I finished the transcription, I went back and scanned the letters. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and energy for those treasured artifacts needed to be returned to their owner. Those that I did scan are incorporated in this Second Edition unaltered. The scans look much as I found the letters. These scanned images are proof of authenticity, and allow you to experience the look and feel of mid-nineteenth century distance correspondence, particularly the challenges of simple rural expression among the minimally educated friends and family of Harmon Harden in Pike County during that time, made even more difficult by wartime field conditions that gradually worsened. Looking at their condition, you might appreciate how these treasured letters were almost lost to the ravages of time. His letters survive because his wife, Jane, valued them as did subsequent inheritors. Most likely her letters back were kept by him in the field and, except for a few, did not survive.
To aid your discovery and enjoyment, I have also added a one-line synopsis for each letter, indicating the ones I found most interesting.
One great mystery remains to be solved. Why are there three major gaps of (apparently) missing correspondence in the collection? I find no obvious explanation for the first gap from November 1862 to February 1863. However, the two remaining gaps correspond to when the 63rd Georgia was deployed as infantry from the defense of Savannah to the Army of Tennessee fighting the invasion of Sherman. These two gaps are separated only by a few letters written in the midst of the Atlanta Campaign from a hospital in Macon, 80 miles south, where WHH was admitted on August 16, 1864 for chronic diarrhea. Because of the missing letters I cannot determine when he became unfit for duty or what actual combat he saw, if any.
Perhaps these letters exist in the hands of another descendant. I hope so, and hope they may be reunited with these and complete the story of our common ancestor, this Confederate soldier.
A word of caution to scholars: I found the microfilm of the letters produced by Emory University in 1965 to be virtually useless due to poor reproduction quality. (Special Collections MSS462, Papers, 1861-1865 [microform], Harden, William Harmon.)
I must admit to taking one small literary license. The title is somewhat misleading, for the collection of letters extends before and after the Civil War.
Last of all, I solicit any information in any form from any reader that may enrich this project for the benefit of all.
29 July 2008
124 Christina Marie Drive
O'Fallon, Missouri 63368-7872
© 1998, 2008 by John Henry (Jay) Harden, Jr.