Postal Service During the Civil War

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
Wouldn't that be rude? Well, I suppose if you wanted to be obvious. Before going through those motions, I 'spect I'd just get up and say (mumble), "Mom is expecting me in 5 minutes and I'm gonna be late." Neither of which fools anyone.
Ole
 
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
Location
Elliott Bay
How did a letter or package get from one postal service to the other. They did not honor each other's postage did they? How did a mother in Kentucky or Missouri or Maryland get a letter to her son in the Confederate army? How did he get a letter back?
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Notwithstanding pocket watches, my family are prolific writers of letters. It is a huge treat to get a "note" in the mail, even when it doesn't say much. Write 'em, getem' back. It's worth it.
 

16thVA

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 8, 2008
Location
Philadelphia
How did a letter or package get from one postal service to the other. They did not honor each other's postage did they? How did a mother in Kentucky or Missouri or Maryland get a letter to her son in the Confederate army? How did he get a letter back?


https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/additional-publications/civil-war/p5.htm

The delivery system—sometimes called “our Government route”—boldly relied on the U.S. mail along part of the way. One “mail agent,” a Marylander who lived near Washington, regularly drove his cart there, collected South-bound documents from network members, then hid the mail in manure that he picked up for his garden. Typically, an agent in Union territory wrote a letter, probably in cipher, addressed it to a specific person, such as “Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.,” and placed it in an envelope, which was then sealed and placed inside a second envelope. A U.S. stamp was put on that envelope, which was addressed to a collaborator, usually in Maryland. He or she would then continue the letter on its way by handing it to the first of a relay of mail agents for delivery to “signal camps” in Virginia.
Confederate mail supervisors established several accommodation addresses (as they would be called today) so that a suspiciously large amount of mail did not get delivered to one recipient. The system depended mostly on volunteers, some of whom made the enterprise profitable by adding smuggling to their espionage. There were also riverside farms where Southern sympathizers maintained simple signal systems. One of the signalers was 24-year old Mary Watson, who hung a black dress or shawl from a dormer window to warn boatmen across the river that Union troops were near.
Union officers assigned to investigating the rebel specialdelivery operation occasionally made arrests of mail agents, but the mail kept going through. Major General William T. Sherman was particularly incensed by the regular delivery of northern newspapers. Newspaper correspondents, he fumed, “should be treated as spies…and are worth a hundred thousand men to the enemy.” Yet, like other commanders on both sides, he planted false information in newspapers, well knowing that the enemy would read and perhaps believe the deception.

There is also this memoir, The Confederate Mail Carrier by James Bradley

http://archive.org/stream/cu31924030922789#page/n7/mode/2up
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
What I still don't understand is how a letter with Confederate postage could make it through the Union system and vice versa. The smuggling routes described above just account for getting packages etc. across the river.


I don't think mail did pass from one system to the other. There were official channels, but not for non-official correspondence. Any communication north/south must have been entirely unofficial.

jno
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
One of the problems with reading 3 books at the same time is not being able to remember where an item came from. I THINK one of the ' History Buff's ' guides had a section on Confederate mail systems. It failed terribly in describing what was acheived in the Confederacy, however, thanks for the post! The book's main concern was over what happened when folks discovered that it was all very good and well to have a Confederacy which functioned on the State's Rights which were held to be sacred, but then how on earth to pay for things like MAIL, sans adequate taxes? The book leaves the topic smack in the middle of the problem, which is a huge shame. Apparently some genius managed things quite well, esp given the increasing limitations across the board as the war years passed.
 

M E Wolf

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2008
Location
Virginia
Letters and packages got through by "Truce."

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Civil-War-S...14375?pt=Art_Photo_Images&hash=item35d2b48c07

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1895-Antiqu...868?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item336dd4d544

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1896-CIVIL-...537?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item484019cb21

http://www.ebay.com/itm/CIVIL-WAR-F...129?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item5d293b2b71

http://www.ebay.com/itm/CIVIL-WAR-C...11466?pt=Art_Photo_Images&hash=item20e0766eca

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Waiting-Fla...?pt=UK_Art_Photographs_RL&hash=item3f312ba284



(((Notice - above link is date sensitive - March 5, 2014))
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Mail would be transported by ship, by railroad and by wagon. If it was an important piece of mail, e.g. HQ/War Department to the Army in the Field, a courier would be the fastest (Pony Express, per. se.).

M. E. Wolf
 
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White Flint Bill

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
Location
Southern Virginia
In rural areas people had to go the post office to get their mail. Free rural home delivery didn't start until the early 1900's.

Interestingly, in the 19th century postmasters were paid by commission and in those days the recipient of a letter paid the postage, not the sender. One perk of being a postmaster was that he could "frank" his letters so that there was no cost to the recipient. Of course he could abuse that privilege for the benefit of friends and family too, which would annoy the postmaster on the receiving end who wouldn't be able to collect a fee.

One of my ancestors was a Confederate postmaster in Franklin County Virginia. When the war ended he continued as the U.S. postmaster.
 

White Flint Bill

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
Location
Southern Virginia
Some more interesting postal trivia: Abraham Lincoln was postmaster at New Salem in the 1830's. He earned about $50/year on commissions.

Postage on letters was based on distance traveled and the number of sheets. A one-sheet letter was six cents for the first 30 miles, ten cents for 30-80 miles, and so on to 25 cents for more than 400 miles. A two page letter cost twice as much, a three page letter three times as much, etc. Envelopes weren't in use in those days. Rather the sheets of paper were folded together and sealed with wax. The postmaster had to compute the postage due based on miles traveled and number of sheets, and collect the money from the recipient. If there was a dispute about how many sheets of paper were in the letter, it would be opened and counted in the presence of the recipient and the postmaster.
 
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rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Location
Kent ,England.
Dave,

As a member of today's United States Postal Service, may I say you have done an excellent amount of research on the subject of Civil War era mail. Outstanding post!

I learned much from it and hope you continue to exercise this wonderful quality in other subjects on other threads.

Samgrant,

I am only one man and Chicago is on it's own with the Postal employee's you already have in place.:D

Sorry,
Unionblue
Greeting from an ex UK Royal Mail Inspector and Chief Inspector. 32 years in the service. I was retired in 2002.
 

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
Some more interesting postal trivia: Abraham Lincoln was postmaster at New Salem in the 1830's. He earned about $50/year on commissions.

Postage on letters was based on distance traveled and the number of sheets. A one-sheet letter was six cents for the first 30 miles, ten cents for 30-80 miles, and so on to 25 cents for more than 400 miles. A two page letter cost twice as message, a three page letter three times as much, etc. Envelopes weren't in use in those days. Rather the sheets of paper were folded together and sealed with wax. The postmaster had to compute the postage due based on miles traveled and number of sheets, and collect the money from the recipient. If there was a dispute about how many sheets of paper were in the letter, it would be opened and counted in the presence of the recipient and the postmaster.
You're a bit late for all that. By the Civil War envelopes were in common use [one New York company alone was making (100 employees folding them by hand) 200,000 envelopes a day in 1855!] And stamps, paid for by the sender, were introduced in 1847; at first it was voluntary, and mail with insufficient (or no) postage would still be delivered "collect." But, on April 1, 1855, pre-payment became mandatory; after that date "postage due" was double the pre-paid rate. In 1863, however, soldiers were allowed to simply mark his envelope "soldier mail," and the recipient would pay the normal rate.

At the time of the introduction of stamps, postal rates still varied by distance traveled: under 300 miles, letters cost 5¢ per 1/2 oz; over 300 miles, letters cost 10¢ per 1/2 oz. These rates fluctuated in the decade that followed, but the tendency was always downward in cost, and upward in distance. With the increasing use of envelopes, and both paper and envelopes of varying sizes, cost was calculated by weight rather than number of sheets: 3¢ per 1/2 oz, reduced to 2¢ in Oct. 1863. Also in 1863, limited home delivery was introduced in 45 cities across the Union -- general home delivery developed slowly from the 1890s on (not until the 1950s in some areas).

There is a very complete (128 pages) exhibit online: "Special Routes Across the Lines During the ACW" (lots of illustrations and specific examples).

See also: https://stamps.org/userfiles/file/symposium/presentations/CharlesPaper.pdf

https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Postage_stamps_and_postal_history_of_the_United_States

https://wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_United_States_postage_rates
 

White Flint Bill

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
Location
Southern Virginia
You're a bit late for all that. By the Civil War envelopes were in common use [one New York company alone was making (100 employees folding them by hand) 200,000 envelopes a day in 1855!] And stamps, paid for by the sender, were introduced in 1847; at first it was voluntary, and mail with insufficient (or no) postage would still be delivered "collect." But, on April 1, 1855, pre-payment became mandatory; after that date "postage due" was double the pre-paid rate. In 1863, however, soldiers were allowed to simply mark his envelope "soldier mail," and the recipient would pay the normal rate.

At the time of the introduction of stamps, postal rates still varied by distance traveled: under 300 miles, letters cost 5¢ per 1/2 oz; over 300 miles, letters cost 10¢ per 1/2 oz. These rates fluctuated in the decade that followed, but the tendency was always downward in cost, and upward in distance. With the increasing use of envelopes, and both paper and envelopes of varying sizes, cost was calculated by weight rather than number of sheets: 3¢ per 1/2 oz, reduced to 2¢ in Oct. 1863. Also in 1863, limited home delivery was introduced in 45 cities across the Union -- general home delivery developed slowly from the 1890s on (not until the 1950s in some areas).

There is a very complete (128 pages) exhibit online: "Special Routes Across the Lines During the ACW" (lots of illustrations and specific examples).

See also: https://stamps.org/userfiles/file/symposium/presentations/CharlesPaper.pdf

https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Postage_stamps_and_postal_history_of_the_United_States

https://wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_United_States_postage_rates

Thanks for the great info John. My information came from a biography of Lincoln I just finished and was describing the state of affairs in the 1830's. I should have realized things might have changed over the next 30 years!
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
The Confederate government laid out desired postal routes and published them in newspapers in the area in question. Prospective contractors were asked to bid to accomplish the delivery work. These routes did not include rail movement -- I assume they were horse and wagon jobs. Successful bidders got the extra benefit of being exempt from conscription.
 
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