Compare & Contrast

In writing historical narratives, historians look for patterns across multiple sources. Wash and Mollie provide one narrative of imprisonment during the Civil War, but there are other similar letters held in archives across the country. For this exercise, consider the the letters of Captain Henry A. Allen, 9th Virginia Infantry, to his wife Sarah while he was imprisoned at Johnson’s Island and Point Lookout at the same time as Wash Nelson. You can listen to these letters on a podcast, created by the historian Keith Harris, and available on his website, The Rogue Historian. While listening to Harris read these letter, consider some of these questions and reflect on them in a journal:

  1. What does Allen consider worth sharing in his letters to Sarah?
  2. How does Allen’s style and tone compare with Wash’s? What might account for certain similarities or differences?
  3. How do you think Allen views his role as a man and a husband? How does he view Sarah’s role?
  4. What do you think Sarah’s letters to Allen might include? Why?
  5. Given how often Wash and Mollie had to navigate the silences in correspondence, do you think it is possible to locate Sarah’s voice in the silences? What would her voice sound like?