The Arnold Family Papers, 1861-1904, and the Edwin W. Arnold Correspondence, 1862-1894, two collections now available to researchers at PPL Special Collections, chronicle the lives of the Arnold family, descendants of William Arnold, one of the founders of the city of Providence. The family includes Russell and Sarah, their five children, Henry, Frederick, Edwin, George, and Susan, their spouses and their extended family. Through their letters to one another, the Arnolds demonstrate that the everyday lives of residents of Providence have always contained remarkable moments and deep familial bonds.
The Arnolds were one family of many affected by the Civil War; all three sons served in the Union Army. While recovering from illness at a convalescent camp in Washington, D.C., Edwin, the middle son, met Abraham Lincoln, and described the experience in a post script of a letter to his mother:
I received your letter day before yesterday and was glad to hear from home once more, but was surprised to hear of Uncle Whipple’s death, it don’t seem hardly possible that it is so, I recived a press the first of the week and a bulletin day before yestaday, it is awful Hot out here I tell you, the sweat is rolling off of me as I sit here writeing at the rate of a quart minite a day of course I am acting nurse and have got charge of seven beds, those right along where my bed is, fred knows where it is. for it is the same one that I had when he was here, there is three wounded and two sick, one with a leg of, and one with his foot cut off with a piece of shell, the other is a flesh wound I have not been out since I got back and that was to get my ration money so of course I have not seen Nick tell fred that man that layed right across from me Died while I was home and that tall fellow that had so big a head, and used came so often after a drink of water, he layed down at the other end towards the street. All the public schools in the city had a concert the othe night over at the Smithsonian, but I am spinning to long a yarn. ask Fred to get me a mask and send it by expression as soon as possible so I will close.
P.S. President Lincon has just been through the ward and shook hands with every man so you see I have shook hands with the great man he looks as though he had been out all night and had lost his best friend.
I have not seen Mason
*spelling errors left uncorrected
After the end of the Civil War, many soldiers remained in service, waiting to be sent home. Edwin’s wife, Louisa, wrote to Russell Arnold following the news that his brothers were safe and the soldiers in the Veterans Reserve Corps (VRC), including Edwin, had finally been dismissed:
Nov 5th 1865
We recived your latter yesterday and was glad to here that you was all well and was glad to here that Fred has got home all safe we was feeling very bad about them after we recived Miss Whipple’s letter Edwin came out of Camp and Stayed hear all day and he felt so bad that I could not say anything to him about them and he did not sleep any all night and he had a pass again the next day ‘till four o’clock and when dinner time came he whent to Camp to get his dinner and after dinner he came so happy as he could be singing and lughing and I asked him if he had heard from home and he said he had just seen a piece in the paper about the vessel that Fred and Garge ware on, it was them at Port Royal getting repaird and he knows that they was all right and since the order was issued to discharge VRC. he has been all most crazy, every time that he comes out he packes his things up just as though he was going to start for home right away he wants to get home to see you all so bad that he is growing poor, he is not half so fat as he was when you were here and I will be glad when we get home so that he will get fat again, and not be warring all of the time as he is now I would like to come home first rate but Edwin says that he will coming home the last of this weeck or the first of next and I would rather not wait and come whit him, but I must close, give my love to all but keep a share for you self.
from Louisa Arnold.
*spelling errors left uncorrected
Both collections show what daily life was like during and after the Civil War. Edwin’s correspondence highlights the experience of those in the Veterans Reserve Corps, and the Arnold family’s papers show what life was like after the war, particularly in Frederick’s correspondence from veterans’ associations. The family also corresponds on travel, family matters, and the changing world around them.
Finding aids for both collections can be found at Providence Public Library’s Special Collections site:
The Arnold Family Papers (MSS 009)
Edwin W. Arnold Correspondence (MSS 006)