During his three years of service in the American Civil War, Spencer F. McOmber, the self-proclaimed “wild and wayward boy” from Kalamazoo, documented his experiences in letters home to his mother, aunt, and sister. These letters not only illustrate his military journey but also reveal his transformation from an eager, young soldier and Union supporter to an arguably jaded Southern sympathizer.
Throughout his service and during his adventures from Salt Lake City, Utah to Omaha, Nebraska, where he worked for the railroad following his Army discharge, McOmber invested much time in his correspondence, especially with his mother. He wrote to her at every turn — from his exciting first days at training camp in Grand Rapids, to picket duty in the Virginian countryside; from his New Jersey hospital bed to his “dull” days waiting to be discharged in Salt Lake City.
Like other soldiers, McOmber gave tactical details, described his daily duties, and discussed battles, marching orders, and administrative rumors. Interestingly, his letters provide more than mere facts. They read more like journal entries. In between the headings “My Dear Mother” and “Your Aff (affectionate) Son,” Spencer reveals his opinions, fears, observations, and ambitions.
For instance, when he enlisted in the 7th Michigan Cavalry Regiment on May 4, 1863, McOmber swelled with enthusiasm and a thirst for life as a soldier. Proud to serve his country, he wrote about fellow Michigan soldiers, life in the barracks, daily drill, and the anticipation of receiving orders to join the fighting. However, as the fightung dragged on, it took a toll on McOmber. His letters illuminate his increasingly critical sentiments about the government, the Union, and military service while revealing the personal challenges and triumphs of a maturing young man. Studying McOmber’s letters, we learn about his military experience, and the critical moments that transformed a teenage boy into a hardened soldier.*
Follow the Museum’s Civil War blog beginning on May 8, 2013 as we post each letter written by McOmber exactly 150 years earlier.