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Civil War letters published; Local Union soldier Ira Austin wrote to Minerva Drake


November 1, 2012

SHOHOLA, PA and BARRYVILLE, NY — The Shohola Railroad and Historical Society has just published a book of letters from a young Barryville soldier to the young woman whom he would eventually marry. The book, titled “Civil War Letters of Ira Austin to Minerva Drake of Barryville, New York,” reveals letters that are not love letters but rather the simple attempts by the unlettered youth to express his awakening interest in young Minerva, whom he calls Nervia.

“Many of us felt that there was local historical value in the letters that were written during the final year of the Civil War by a young Barryville Union soldier, Ira Austin, to a young local girl, Minerva Drake,” said Shohola Township historian George J. Fluhr. “It was agreed by the society, and a group of us began working on them.”

After beginning the task of reading through the handwritten letters, society members found the assignment daunting. “The language was very primitive and poorly written with misspellings and capitalization where you didn’t expect it,” Fluhr said. “There was often no consistency of thought and a handwriting style that offered many problems.”

Still the group pressed on since the writer and the woman he wrote to became the forebears of respected progeny in the two towns. “There has always been a strong connection between Barryville and Shohola that goes back many years with the building of the first bridge that brought them together in 1855,” Fluhr said.

The letter writer, Ira Austin, was born on November 7, 1842 in Lumberland Village, Sullivan County, NY. His father, Benjamin C. Austin, from whom he would learn his trade, was a blacksmith and wagon maker and was active in the movement that would lead to the creation of the towns of Highland and Tusten from Lumberland in 1853.

On January 9, 1861, Fort Sumter was attacked, beginning the Civil War, and on July 16, 1861, Ira enlisted at Newburgh, NY for three years in Company B of the 56th Infantry Regiment known as the “Tenth Legion.” He would reenlist in 1864 and continue to serve until he mustered out in October of 1865 at Charleston, SC.

The letters were written between 1864 and 1865. Unfortunately, none of Minerva’s letters have survived.

Even though they were married upon Ira’s return home, the letters of which there are 20 remaining, were in no sense love letters. “The letters displayed a very conservative moral propriety and even Victorian rigidity according to the times,” Fluhr said.