This eight-page handwritten letter by Private Franklin H. Durrah describes his service as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War, which ended with the loss of his right arm. The letter’s neat cursive—and the story it tells—is part of a collection of entries into left-handed penmanship contests for disabled veterans, recently digitized by the Library of Congress. The William Oland Bourne Papers holds nearly 300 letters, photographs, and various recollections, offering an unprecedented look at the stories of heavily wounded soldiers.
Bourne, a chaplain at New York’s Central Park Hospital, used his newspaper The Soldier’s Friend to conduct a penmanship contest for veterans who had lost their right (writing) arm in the Civil War. Bourne offered prize money for the best writing ($1,000 total for the 1866 competition); he hoped that showcasing the winner’s penmanship despite their disability would lead to their future employment. “Penmanship,” The Soldier’s Friend wrote, “is a necessary requisite to any man who wants a situation under the government, or in almost any business establishment.” To enter, contestants were asked to write a letter using their left hand that detailed their service and injury, and, if possible, include a photograph. All told, the collection holds entries for two years of Bourne’s contests, which provide a rare soldier’s-eye-view of combat and recovery.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Left-Handed Penmanship Contests for Civil War Amputees
the Library of Congress, via the Vault: