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Binding the Nation : A Nation Divided

A Nation Divided

Union soldiers pose at their camp near a mail sorting and writing desk

When the conflict between the northern and southern states finally exploded into war, tearing the country apart, the nation's communication system was also ripped in two. The system instituted to unify the country through the dissemination of information was instead used to solidify the break. In 1861, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair cut off mail service to the rebellious Southern states. Confederate postage was not recognized by U.S. post offices, and postmasters were instructed to forward mail to the Confederacy to the Dead Letter Office, where it was to be returned to senders. U.S. postage issued before the war was "demonetized," or stripped of its value to ensure that stockpiles of stamps in Confederate hands would be rendered valueless. Read More

Soldiers' Mail

Many soldiers on both sides of the conflict found themselves away from home for the first time and mail was critical to their morale.

Crossing the Border

Families and friends on opposite sides of the conflict sought ways around the blockades to keep in touch.

The Confederate Postal System

When John H. Reagan was named postmaster general of the confederacy, he faced a Herculean task of keeping southern mail moving.

Confederate Adversity Covers

As the war went on, the South faced increasing shortages. Paper and envelopes were often difficult to obtain, and some writers used whatever was handy—the backs of ledger sheets, printed circulars, and even wallpaper.

Patriotic Covers

Printers on both sides of the conflict created illustrated stationery supporting their cause. These "Patriotic" envelopes often included emblems such as flags and political leaders. Some used illustrations to mock or attack the other side.

In the South, John H. Reagan of Texas was named postmaster general of the Confederate States of America shortly after the Confederacy was formed in February 1861. In all he placed 8,535 of the nation's 28,586 post offices under Confederate control. At first all postal business was conducted with U.S. money and postage stamps. Until Confederate stamps became available, some local postmasters issued provisional stamps or marked mail "paid" by hand.

When the war ended, the U.S. Post Office Department began to restore mail service to Southern states. The process went slowly. By November 1866, only 3,234 of the 8,902 prewar post offices in the South were operating in the federal system.

Although the exhibit, A Nation Divided is not currently on display in the Museum, selected portions of the exhibit are still available online. Click on the topic titles above to learn more about them.

Related Links:

Mail Call exhibit

"We Were There—Letters from Wartime" curriculum guide

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