Rare Civil War Cover with Confederate and U.S. Stamps Should Not Exist!
Prisoners could send and receive letters from home during the Civil War. The letters were mailed from prison, sent to an army fort and examined by censors. They were then exchanged with the other side, entered into the mails and ultimately delivered. Imagine how important receiving a letter was to the family of a captured soldier or the prisoner himself! These prison camps were nasty places with high death rates, so mail was prized communication.
The rules stated that letters should be placed inside two envelopes. The Union stamp was on the outer envelope for letters sent to the South, and a Confederate stamp on the inner envelope. The outer envelope was discarded and then given to the Confederates. This was done because the Union didn’t recognize the Confederacy and believed the sight of both stamps on one cover would give that appearance.
Some soldiers had but one envelope, so they affixed both stamps on the same cover. A small number of those fascinating envelopes exist, documenting a unique part of American history. I find these covers amazing to see and exciting to hold – each cover is unique, showing signs of a long, rigorous journey about 150 years ago.
Please note: Covers may vary.
More About Civil War Mail
During the Civil War, the number of Union and Confederate soldiers in prisoner of war prisons reached an overwhelming 1.5 million men. At the beginning of the war, the United States didn't recognize the legitimacy of the Confederate States. So a system that allowed prisoners to send mail was never established. But after a year into the war, prison populations in the north grew to alarming proportions. The US government began to see the necessity of a prisoner and mail exchange system. On July 2, 1862, what was referred to as a Prisoner exchange cartel was created, and by that September, prison populations were almost emptied. However, as the war dragged on the US government had increasing distrust for the Confederate government and stopped the prisoner and mail exchanges less than a year after the exchange agreement was signed.
Flag of Truce mail exchanges resumed a month later and were used until the end of the war. POW mail that was carried by Flag-of-Truce had to be put in an unsealed envelope with address and postage for delivery on the other side. It was then placed in another cover for delivery to the exchange point. The outer envelope would be destroyed and the inner envelope containing the prisoner's letter was carefully examined. The letter would then be placed in and sealed in the stamped addressed envelope and hand-stamped indicating that the item was inspected. Correspondents often didn't observe the two-envelope regulation. So there are examples of covers where instead of an inner and outer envelope arrangement, both US and Confederate postage was applied to the prisoner's letter where both US and Confederate markings were applied. These covers are often referred to as dual-use postage covers. Mail exchange between the divided states was only allowed to cross the lines at designated exchange points. Mail which was going from the North destined to points in the South passed primarily at City Point, Virginia, while most of the mail going from the South to the North passed through at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. These covers usually bear an Old Point Comfort postmark.
A prisoner's cover usually detailed the prisoner's name, rank, and company. The marking, "Examined", on the face of the cover, indicated the cover was opened and examined by prison officials. Once at the exchange point, the outer envelope was destroyed while the inner cover containing the prisoner's letter was examined by military officials and delivered. Some covers were carried to transfer points by exchanged prisoners and bear no confederate examiner's markings. Mail to and from the various prison camps is one of the most interesting areas in Civil War postal history. Letters addressed to the various prisoner of war prisons are much scarcer than letters sent from these facilities. The south had its paper shortages. Because Confederate prisons limited the amount of correspondence, Confederate mail is much rarer than Union mail.