A Kansas Soldier at War

The Civil War era was a challenging time that severely put the nation, its families, and its values to the test. A Kansas Soldier at War: The Civil War Letters of Christian and Elise Dubach Isely by Ken Spurgeon offers fascinating insight into this human element of the conflict.

The bulk of the book is pulled directly from the correspondence of a Union soldier and his wife residing on the Missouri side of the troubled Kansas border. Some introductory material provides the context, the first chapter covering the emigration of the Isely and Dubach families from Switzerland and the second outlining the major events of Bleeding Kansas; the appendix also provides the history of the Isely family in America. But the rest is a heart-to-heart conversation between a couple who share a deep faith in God and a love for their adopted country.

The position of the Isely family was a rather difficult one during the Civil War. Aside from the usual hardships of a soldier during a time of war, which Christian Isely of course wrote about, there was pressure from family and peers to contend with. His parents and siblings did not exactly sympathize with his ardent support of President Lincoln and the Union cause, while his wife was forced to remain among neighbors with something of a distaste for the North.

The Kansas connection is slightly tangential. Isely did explore Kansas Territory prior to the Civil War. He also joined the 2nd Kansas Cavalry during the war and moved to Kansas with his family afterward. Much of the material is not related specifically to Kansas events, however. Nevertheless, the book draws heavily on primary sources to provide valuable insight into the varied sentiments of those residing on the Kansas–Missouri border at the time.

Also worthy of note, Christian and Elise Isely were the parents of Bliss Isely, who wrote Four Centuries in Kansas, a Kansas history textbook we still recommend despite the fact that it is approaching a hundred years of age.

For those who already have some prior historical knowledge of the main events of the Civil War and who want to dig deeper beyond the battles, A Kansas Soldier at War offers an excellent way to examine how the conflict impacted faith and family relationships.