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William Keeler's Civil War Letters (1862-1865)

Officers of the USS Monitor, with the turret as background. William Keeler is the one with his hand to his ear.

William F. Keeler served on the Union Navy's most famous ironclad USS Monitor from January 1862 to December 31, 1862 when the vessel sank in a violent storm off Cape Hatteras. For the remainder of the Civil War he served on the wooden warship USS Florida on the Union blockade of the Confederate port city of Wilmington, North Carolina.


Over the course of the war Keeler wrote 170 letters to his wife and children back home in La Salle, Illinois. His letters, which were first published in the 1960s in abridged form by Robert W. Daly, are considered to be among the very best of Civil War letters. 

After my grandmother’s death, her papers found their way to my parents’ home in Winnipeg. They included her correspondence with Robert Daly, copies of his two published volumes of her grandfather's letters, and a set of photocopies of all of his letters from the USS Monitor and USS Florida.


My grandmother’s papers sat untouched until a few years ago when I started to read the letters, not from Daly’s two volumes but from the photocopied letters. Finding the originals more compelling than the abridged letters in Daly's books, I realized that a revised and updated version of Keeler’s letters, complete and unabridged, would be a valuable contribution to Civil War literature. In 2023 I published such a book:

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