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Edwards's story is unique not only because he served the entire length of the Civil War and survived, but also because he recorded his experiences in letters and diaries that survived. It is through these letters that the Civil War becomes his personal story. The letters that follow are a selection from his archival collection of 113 letters dating from 1861-1866 held here at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. The majority of letters are to his "dear friend" Anna Contant. What started as a friendship early in the war eventually led to marriage. In his letters, Edwards shared his political views, observations about camp life and the horrors of war, his feelings of loss and loneliness, thoughts on pride and patriotism, views of military and political leaders, and missing family and loved ones. The reader is offered a narrative of one soldier's experiences and can follow a developing relationship that would see Edwards through the war.
Edwards's life as a soldier began in Portland, Maine, where he mustered with Company K, 10th Maine Regiment on October 4, 1861, and then moved to Maryland where Edwards was to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He next went to Virginia with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. That campaign included the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the first sustained military action involving the 10th Maine. Afterwards the regiment merged with Major General George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac that had just returned from the Peninsular Campaign. They followed General Robert E. Lee's Confederate forces into Maryland where Edwards experienced the bloodiest battle of the Civil WarAntietam. After his enlistment expired in May 1863, Edwards returned home for over half a year and saw Anna during his leave.
Edwards reenlisted with the 29th Maine Regiment and returned to the war on November 13, 1863, bound for New Orleans and Louisiana bayou country. Edwards and the 29th Maine joined Banks's Army of the Gulf for the Red River Campaign. The regiment returned to Washington, D.C., on July 13, 1864, and merged with Major General Philip Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah where they remained until the end of the war. Edwards traveled back to Washington for the Grand Review in May 1865 after the Union's victory. On their journey to Washington, D.C., Edwards described the overwhelming sadness and loss caused by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. But, the war did not end there for Edwards. He and the regiment were sent to South Carolina for occupation duty where he served as postmaster until he was finally able to return home in early 1866.
In a letter written the day that Lee surrendered, April 9, 1865, Edwards offered some insights to Anna on his service. He stated, “I feel now my last 4 years of labor & hardships have not been in vain. I can look back on them & say truly I am satisfied[.] [A]lthough th[e] best years of my life[,] They [sic] are given freely to the great cause. Thank God my Love of Country has never failed me in defeet [sic] or victory[.]”