Everyday Giants in American History: The Letters of John Mower Jackson

John Mower Jackson of Lewiston, Maine, wrote hundreds of letters written his time while serving in the Civil War as a member of the 23rd Maine Volunteer Infantry. Many of his letters were written while bivouacked in a camp like the one pictured above.

Most of us deal with the insignificant drudgery of day to day life. Sure, there are some things that are more exciting than others from one day to the next.  Our lives and the things we do are important to us and those around us, and yet, have we ever done anything that someone is going remember 10, 25 or 50 years later and stand up and pound the table while commending our accomplishments?

When we stitch our lives together toward a purpose, more significant things happen. Memorable events happen. We want to remember the people who helped create and shape these deeds. Had it not been for these larger events, many of the people who participated in them would have been all but forgotten.

Yet time and even certain untouched discoveries are bringing new things to light every day. In some cases, fantastic microcosms of the past are being discovered underwater where the oceans have protected them for centuries. In other cases, we occasionally have those finds in flea markets or estate sales where, somehow, collections remained intact over time. These treasures are priceless, and I want to start promoting the ones I have found and saved over my antique-buying career. The stories which I will post on WorthPoint, bring to light seemingly small, unimportant lives that were stitched together to create great reminders of the past. This series will be entitled “The Everyday Giants in American History.”

The first story I will share focuses on John Jackson of Lewiston, Maine, and the hundreds of letters written by and to him during the Civil War as a member of the 23rd Maine Volunteer Infantry.   Appropriately, Jackson readily fits the mold we are describing as an unknown giant. He is from a way out-of-the-way town in the out-of-the-way state of Maine and has an unremarkable name (his full name is John Mower Jackson). He was the son of Joseph and Betsy Mower Jackson and the youngest of four children born on the family farm on Oct. 21, 1840.

Maine during this time was beginning a 100-plus-years of decline. Having once been among the wealthiest states in the Union—and the closest to Europe—its decline began as it depleted its natural resources and the more efficient farming in the Midwest emerged. With opportunities fading in The Pine Tree State, its young men were looking for new opportunities in California goldfields and elsewhere. Being of a religious family, Jackson left home for some period of early life to attend a seminary, but he found the calling unsatisfactory and returned to the farm.

While away, his letters showed a keen interest in the welfare of the animals on the farm. Through these letters, we will follow Jackson as he enlists, goes to war, converses with his mother about his moral and physical spirit, sees Washington, D.C., the White House, and much, much more, including the pain of being wounded and taken prisoner and his recovery and longing for home.

“You, no doubt, notice that I often speak of ‘my home’ this may seem a little strange as I have declared so many times that I did not consider that I had a home but as I remember the loved ones in that distant place of my nativity & from whom I am so happy to hear I feel as if I could call it nothing but home.  I want to see my pony I think of him as almost perfection in the horse department.”

His compassion for his fellow man, even the enemy, seemed incomprehensible with the pain of the battles:

“When we are alarmed in the night I shudde[r] to hear the boys swearing what they will do to the rebels & I feel sad when I think that to such men the battles of our country are entrusted.”

His morality was without question:

“the more I see of it the worse I hate it & I am confident that any Heavenly Father will not allow me to go so far astray as to take ardent spirits. I have many times been urged to drink whiskey but I told them that when those that did drink could endure a march better or perform more labor than I could I would think about it”

These letters were found in a Maine flea market and dovetail with a smaller collection already preserved at the University of Notre Dame.

The WorthPoint letters will be published in chronological order in WorthPoint’s newsletter, The Insider, over the coming weeks, months and years, as we follow John Mower Jackson’s victories and struggles within the greater national struggle of the Civil War. These letters tell the story of how one man is remembered and became a common giant and piece of the broader fabric of American History.

Will Seippel is the president and CEO of WorthPoint. Will has been an avid collector since 1974 and dealer of just about all things antique—with an emphasis on ephemera—since 1984.

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