Guide to the Price Family Letters

MSN/CW 5110

 

Collection Summary

Title: Price family letters
Dates: 1863-1865
Collection No.: MSN/CW 5110
Creator: Price family
Extent: 31 folders; 1 container; .5 linear feet
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: Thirty-one personal letters written between members of the Price family of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois during the American Civil War. The letters are notable for their Copperhead and anti-abolitionist sentiments.

Selected Search Terms

Copperhead movement
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Protest movements
Political culture -- United States -- History -- 19th century
Democratic Party (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Price Family Letters, [collection and folder no.], Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Price letters were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in April 2017, from Jordan Antiquarian Books of Dorset, Vermont. Arranged and described 2017, by Laura Weis. Finding aid 2017, by Laura Weis.

Biographical Note

The Price family's origins in the United States date to the turn of the 19th century. John Price (Sr.) was born in Ireland in the mid-18th century, and by 1800, he had settled in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. He married and had several children, among them Thomas (ca. 1805-1882), John (b. ca. 1802), and Robert (1812-1887). In the decades prior to the Civil War, Thomas and John (Jr.) moved west to Ohio and Illinois, respectively, while Robert remained in Pennsylvania, each making his living as a farmer. The brothers' children include the authors of the letters in this collection—George R., Joseph, Ambrose J., and Mary A. Price—as well as the primary recipient, Abraham M. Price.

Abraham M. Price (1847-1908) was the youngest child of Thomas and Elizabeth Price. By 1850 the family, including Abraham's siblings Charles, Eliza, and Thomas, was living in Tully, Marion County, Ohio; the household's real and personal estates, in the 1860 Federal census, totalled $1600. In 1863 the sixteen year old Abraham began writing several of his paternal cousins, hoping to learn their views on politics and the ongoing fighting. After the war, Abraham remained in Ohio and, like his father, worked as a farmer. He married Lydia A. Hotelling (1852-1900) in 1872, and the couple had eleven children.

George R. Price (ca. 1843-1911) and Joseph Price (ca. 1834-1908) were two of eight children born to John (Jr.) and Catherine Price. The family lived in Eldorado, McDonough County, Illinois, with real and personal estates valued at $7,000 and $1,200 in 1860. Four of the Price children still lived at home when the war began, including George. He was drafted to serve in the Union Army in 1864, but his father arranged for a subsitute. Joseph had married Mary Jane Knock in 1853, and they had six children by 1863. He, too, worked as a farmer in Eldorado, with real and personal estates valued at $600 each. Joseph enlisted in August 1862, and he served with Co. F of the 84th Illinois Infantry until the end of the war, seeing extensive combat in Tennessee and Georgia.

Ambrose J. Price (1846-1865) lived in Fannett, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, the third of eight children born to Robert and Rachel Price. In 1860 the family's real estate was valued at $2,000, and their personal estate, $600. Ambrose went on to serve with the Union forces, enlisting in Co. L of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry in August 1863. He mustered out at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in February 1864, and reenlisted in May 1864 in Co. I of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Ambrose was killed in March 1865 in North Carolina. It was Mary A. Price (1843-1917), Ambrose's sister, who sent news of his reenlistment, and later his death, to his cousin Abraham.

Scope and Content Note

Abraham M. Price is the recipient of 30 of the 31 letters in the collection. One letter, authored by Joseph Price, is addressed to an uncle, most likely Abraham's father, Thomas Price.

George R. Price (11 letters) and Ambrose J. Price (10 letters) began writing to Abraham in 1863, and Joseph (7 letters, including one to an uncle) began his correspondence with Abraham in 1864. Mary A. Price (3 letters), Ambrose's sister, also wrote to her cousin while Ambrose was serving in the Union Army. Ambrose and Mary's letters are rife with spelling errors, and none of the letters have consistent punctuation. Still, it is to be supposed that the cousins had at least some experience of common schooling. George, for instance, mentions that Abraham wrote to him about attending school; as for himself, he writes, while "Father is teaching School here . . . that is something I cannot boast of as I have not went to School for three years" (Folder 1).

The authors of the letters identified, to varying degrees, with the Copperheads, a faction of the Democratic Party that staunchly opposed President Lincoln's war policies. Also known as Peace Democrats, the Copperheads did not support the secessionist aims of the Confederacy—in fact, most considered themselves Unionists—but they favored a negotiated settlement, rather than continued war, with their Southern compatriots. They objected in particular to prolonging the war as a means to achieve the end of slavery, a position that grew only more strident after the signing of the permanent Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. Indeed, the Price cousins discuss their vehement opposition to President Lincoln's conduct during the war, and their hostility toward African Americans and emancipation is particularly harsh. The opinions expressed by George and Ambrose remain relatively consistent over time; Joseph's views, however—about the Copperheads, if not the wider war aims—seem to have evolved somewhat by the end of the war.

Copperhead support tended to be strongest in predominantly agrarian, Midwestern states, especially among those who had personal ties to the South. Some immigrant populations, particularly Irish and German Catholics, also were attracted by the message of the Peace Democrats. A sense of shared class identity, combined with animosity toward African Americans—especially the prospect of competing for labor—bound otherwise disparate groups together in a political movement that, for a time, threatened the Republican Party's hold on state and national offices, including President Lincoln's prospects for reelection. Leading Copperhead politicians like Clement Vallandigham of Ohio railed against what he saw as Lincoln's infringement of civil liberties; anti-war Democrats in state legislatures faced off against Republican governors in Illinois and Indiana; and many northerners chafed at Congress' institution of a draft in March 1863 to replenish dwindling Union troops. The Price cousins' correspondence occurred in this turbulent socio-politcal climate, and their letters reference a number of key episodes during the latter half of the Civil War, including opposition to the draft, Vallandigham's defeat in the 1864 Ohio gubernatorial race, the 1864 presidential election, and Lincoln's assassination in April 1865.

Arrangement Note

The letters are arranged chronologically, with one letter per folder. The exception is one letter not addressed to Abraham Price, which is included at the end of the collection.

Container List