The Early Years 1775-1865

Colonial-era postal courier delivers mail from horseback.
Newspapers and official communiqués dispatched in the mail were essential for leaders of the American Revolution.
Newspapers and official communiqués dispatched in the mail were essential for leaders of the American Revolution.
Group stands in front of Union Army post office tent.
Group stands in front of Union Army post office tent.
Courtesy Library of Congress
Group stands in front of Union Army post office tent.
Handwritten letter
Letter from Captain John S. Louderback to Rachel Walters, May 27, 1865
Letter from Captain John S. Louderback to Rachel Walters, May 27, 1865
Envelope made from a document turned inside out.
Envelope made from a document turned inside out.
Envelope made from a document turned inside out.

America’s revolutionaries recognized that the exchange of information was essential to their cause. The Continental Congress established the Constitutional Post on July 26, 1775. Patriots relied on the post for communication with army officials. Because they were already doing essential work, postmasters and post riders were exempt from serving in the military during the War for Independence.

As the young nation expanded and later conflicts like the Mexican-American War spread the armed forces across the continent, mail procedures evolved to keep up. The Civil War presented substantial challenges for postal operations. Mail volume boomed as literacy rates rose and postage rates became affordable. By June 1861, the United States had suspended mail exchanges between the North and South.

I Regret to Inform You

Thanks in part to relatively affordable postage rates, sending mail became much more common in the era of the Civil War. A year before receiving this letter in spring 1865, Rachel Walters received another, informing her that her husband David had been taken prisoner at Resaca, Georgia. This letter from his commanding officer confirmed David had died in a Confederate prison that winter.

“I feel that our contry needs my help & I am willing to do all that I can & eaven give my life for your libertys & our beloved childs”
—Private David Walters to his wife, Rachel, September 29, 1862

Whatever It Takes

Union blockades restricted goods including paper and envelopes from entering and leaving the Confederacy. Southerners used available materials, including old correspondence, the backs of printed circulars, and blank pages from books.


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