Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Beautiful Find

While casting about for more substantiation regarding which colonel my great-great-grandfather served under during the War Between the States, I received one of those emails that simply and elegantly changes everything. Somehow, I’ve always needed my history to become tangible—something that receiving items like the photographs and letters to Agnes Tully did to my appreciation of my husband’s family history.

This email provided me with my “touchable” piece of history. The email itself was simple. The subject line bore the first hint with three exclamation points leading the header. The body of the message was as straightforward: “I found a website selling an envelope…”

One of the readers of A Family Tapestry—known here as “Iggy” for the title of his own blog, Intense Guy—enclosed with that email a couple clickable links. The links were to an online business selling historic stamps and other philatelic collectibles. The business specializes in Confederate Postal History.

There on the first link—you can see it here up until the point at which the item is sold and removed from the listings—is a description for item number 5929:

Soldier’s (due) 10 marking from Army of Northern Virginia, neat encircled rate mark on homemade cover to “Mrs. S. A. Broyles, Anderson C. H., So. Carolina” with mandated soldier docketing of “T. T. Broyles 7th S. C. Cavalry” with further received docketing up the left side “Recd while at Pendleton by the hand of Dr. Mullen Harness Thursday 17th Nov 1864 at Mr. Taylors.” Military records show him as in “B” company, enlisted as a private, but no other details. Regiment was in numerous famous battles including New Market and Appomattox. Bit of black flaps missing, otherwise Fine.

Just as the entry explained, the envelope was indeed from a T. T. Broyles to a Mrs. S. A. Broyles. It aligned so perfectly with the information stored on my family history database: Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, son of Sarah Ann Broyles who lived in Anderson, South Carolina.

Furthermore, I’ve already uncovered records showing this T.T. Broyles to have served in what became the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry. Everything was matching up perfectly to what I’ve already documented.

“So?” you might be thinking, “What’s there to get excited about? There is no new information. We already know this.”

True. Or, I should say, in my mind I know this. But getting to see a token of that reality, transported for me through all the time since the date of that letter in 1864—that’s one hundred forty seven years of time travel—is a totally different type of knowing. Perhaps that’s why some of us thrive on going to museums: it transforms our head knowledge of history into reality. Not that, before this point, the event didn’t happen. It’s just that, once seen, once (in a docent-permitted environment) even possibly touched, it takes on a new kind of realness. That’s a touchable reality, one that holds me in awe of where we’ve all been because of how we connect with our past.

I’ve never taken a fancy to “stamp collecting,” and I don’t suppose I’ll change my ways, even now. But I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have at least laid my eyes on a photograph of this little bit of history—my history—and made a personal connection with the past.

Photograph and item description courtesy of Patricia A. Kaufmann, Professional Philatelist; permission to reprint given in private correspondence October 16, 2012.


  1. Oh yeah -- I get it! I was at the Library of Virginia just the other day gathering the hard evidence for my DAR application. And while I KNOW Mitchell and Martha were Walter's parents, seeing the birth register on that roll of film took my breath. It was like discovering that bit of information for the first time. However, you expect to be able to find a birth register. You wouldn't expect to find a letter from the Civil War. Enjoy the "high."

    1. Breathtaking! That's exactly how I put it when I first saw that envelope. Wendy, it's exactly how you put it: it takes one's breath away. I know that seems so silly to put it that way, but I get overwhelmed by this sense of awe. I'm glad you can relate! Even for a birth register :)

  2. :)

    I so understand the thrill. :) Records are rather abstract, this envelope, written by one of yours, is definitely concrete. While we know our forebears existed, at least in abstract, what they left behind is "so real". Given Thomas' "missing gravestone," this was something the man left behind - and is a memorial in its own right. I just wish it was "affodable" so you could acquire it, should you want to!

    1. Iggy, it's like being able to trace his steps. Just being able to see that photo was priceless. While I'm not a stamp collector--and probably wouldn't do the item justice even if I had it--I still appreciate very much having the opportunity to have seen that photo.

  3. What a great find! At least you got to see it! :)

    1. Yes, I'm so grateful to get to see it, and so glad for all the help that pointed me in the right direction! What a thought--to think something my ancestor wrote, something as simple as a son's letter home to his mom, will be ending up in someone's stamp collection.

      Wish the letter was still in the envelope. I'd love to see what was in the letter.


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