These letters were written by Sarah Cornelia Alden (1841-1888) to Capt. Lot Abraham while he served in Co. D, 4th Iowa Cavalry during the American Civil War. Though I have transcribed thousands of letters, I found this collection of letters to be extraordinarily remarkable. Why? For a number of reasons.”Neal” — as she preferred to be called — the author of these letters — came from a family with limited resources. Her father, a stone-cutter, died when she was less than ten years old. When her mother married her widowed uncle and began another family, Neal learned to fend for herself by her own industry which included teaching school to other Iowa children. Her strong faith gave her courage to overcome life’s obstacles and her patriotism in the darkest hours of the national calamity which pitted brother against brother on the battlefield, and neighbor against neighbor on the home front, was incredible. Her constant voice of encouragement and expressions of hope written to her friend (and eventual fiancé) during their nearly four years of separation must have been an incalculable inspiration to him.
There are 50 letters in this digital, virtual collection. Twenty-three of them were written in 1863, nine in 1864, and eighteen in 1865. It is rare to discover so many letters that found their way to a cavalryman in the field and even more rare that they were preserved. It seems clear that a large number of Neal’s letters either did not find her soldier or were lost after being read before or after he returned home. No letters have been found for the latter half of 1864 when Capt. Abraham rode with the 4th Iowa Cavalry through Alabama and Georgia on an extended campaign.
To enable the reader to gain a better understanding of Capt. Abraham’s service in the 4th Iowa Cavalry, I have provided links to the diaries he kept from 1859 through 1865 — all of which are now housed in the archives at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The 1863 and 1864 diaries can also be viewed in their digitized form on the University’s website. The diary that Lot kept from 1859 to 1862 was sold on the internet in 2013 and I purchased it, transcribed it, and posted in on this blog before donating it to the University of Iowa. Lot’s 1865 diary, kept while he participated on Wilson’s Raid through Alabama and Georgia, has just recently (2015) been digitized by the University of Iowa and I have added my transcript of it here as well. I have also provided footnotes and endnotes for each letter and included links to pages I created for both the Abraham and Alden families.