From IWU Magazine, Winter 2013-14 edition
In Their Own Words
A book by Jim Dohren '66 lets readers walk in the shoes of Civil War soldiers.
By SARAH (ZELLER) JULIAN '07
The above photo graces the cover of Dohren’s book, which vividly depicts the lives
of Civil War soldiers in their own words.
Retired history teacher
Jim Dohren ’66
is still working to make history come alive for those around him.
After receiving a collection of letters written during the Civil War from a family
member, Dohren spent several years studying and researching the correspondence. In
September, he released
Letters from a Shoebox: The Civil War Correspondence of John Huffman, David Huffman
and William Bowman
through Sunbury Press.
Dohren and his wife
reside in Downers Grove, Ill., where he spent most of his education career teaching
American history and government to junior high and middle school students.
The book includes 22 transcribed letters in addition to context and meaning behind
their words. The letters offer insights into the daily life of military campaigns
and life on the home front. In addition to letters from three soldiers writing home,
the book includes correspondence from five young women who anxiously await news from
While compiling his book, “I became more and more attached to the writers, so that
by the time I completed my manuscript I had become quite fond of them, wishing in
some magic way I could meet them,” Dohren said.
Brothers John and David Huffman, schoolteachers who enlisted in the 85th Indiana Volunteer
Infantry, eventually join the Army of the Cumberland and Sherman’s March to the Sea,
writing letters from places along the march. William Bowman, who enlisted in Ohio’s
126th, is an orphan farm boy who joins The Army of the Potomac and is captured during
battle, spending months in Confederate prisons.
The replies from home are written by the Huffman brothers’ sisters, sister-in-law
and a young friend. They are filled with concern for the soldiers, plus news of sickness
and death, joys and sorrows, romance and other poignant activities of everyday life.
The letters revealed some surprises for Dohren. He discovered a child born out of
wedlock, a topic often skirted around by the letter writers, which he confirmed in
a U.S. Census document listing the child as “illegitimate.” In addition, he realized
the camp where Bowman was imprisoned was the infamous Andersonville Prison, where
wounded and starving prisoners suffered in inhumane conditions. “I can still remember
the visceral shock to learn this. I’d known about Andersonville Prison for decades,
of course, as most Americans who know about the Civil War do,” he said. “Through the
reading of his disability pension records, I learned that William was never the same
Although he’s worked on and off with the project for about 30 years, the letters remained
fascinating, Dohren said. “No matter how many times, and it has to be dozens, I re-read
the letters and my transcriptions, edited my work and did more research, the letters
never became tedious or repetitive nor the characters stale,” he said. “Each time
I uncovered some new facts, some different thoughts, some additional nuances in the
letters and the research, even in the letter writers themselves.”