Letters from Levi Morrison Bogart to his sister Martha Jane Misemer, 1863-65

I will be presenting the results of a transcription of, and research on, five letters from Levi Morrison Bogart to his sister Martha Jane (Bogart) Misemer. These letters were written between 1863 and 1865, during the Civil War. The letters are part of a larger collection donated to the archives at Western Carolina University, the majority of which are from Henry Marshall Misemer to his wife Martha. These letters from Levi to his sister span the time between February, 1863, when Levi was a soldier in the Confederate forces, through his switch to the Union side of the war, all the way to just days before his death aboard the steamboat Sultana when, severely overloaded, it exploded in the Mississippi River.

In one letter dated June, 1864, after Levi has enlisted in the Union Army, he writes to his sister about things he has observed while his regiment is camped near Nashville, Tennessee, including attending his first Catholic Mass, his observation of Jewish people at worship and of the educateion of African-Americans. Both the Catholic and Jewish communities of Nashville have records of this time corroborating their existence, places of worship and members of the community. In later letters, Levi tells Martha about the difficulties he has had since he was captured, in September of 1864 by Confederate forces, and imprisoned at Cahaba. Cahaba is estimated to have been the most overcrowded prison in all of the United States during the Civil War.

Scholars of the Civil War will be interested in these letters and accompanying research for the breadth of experience Levi had during the war. He was just 20 years old when southern states began seceding from the Union, and throughout the strife he was a soldier of the Confederacy, a soldier of the Union, a prisoner of war twice, and a victim of the worst maritime disaster in United States History. His home in Eastern Tennessee sat squarely in the dividing line between the Union and Confederacy, and Levi’s experience is a direct result of that rupture.

Scholars of the Civil War, and nineteenth century history more broadly will be interested in Levi’s cultural observations throughout this period. While his opinions on the religious “other” are derogatory on the surface, there are underlying tones of tolerance for the things that he does not fully recognize or understand. And while public education was lacking for white children in Tennessee before the Civil War, it was nonexistent for black children. Levi offers a glimpse into what government records cannot show — that perhaps communities banded together to provide for education even in the worst of times. Levi also offers scholars a glimpse into how he young son of an eastern Tennessee farmer, fighting for Union forces, felt to see people of color access education.

Hannah McLeod

Western Carolina University