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CSA Questions & Answers

19 MAY 2000

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Q 7 - Would you please explain the significance of the "Old Point Comfort" cancels on Civil War mail?

A 7 - Old Point Comfort, Va plays a very significant role in the Postal History of the War Between the States. Old Point Comfort is located on the Virginia coast just north of Norfolk across Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads is of course famous as the site of the duel between the Monitor and the Merrimac. Located at Old Point Comfort was Fortress Monroe, a large fort that was part of the pre-war USA coastal defense system. The fort guarded the entrance to Hampton Roads and the James River and was also at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.

At the beginning of the war in 1861, Fortress Monroe was garrisoned by the Union as was the entire Old Point Comfort area on the north side of Hampton Roads. This area of the Virginia coast remained in Union hands throughout the entire war and was never under the control of the Confederacy, Consequently, the Old Point Comfort, Va postmark represents Union usage and not Confederate Usage. Much of the soldiers mail from the Union Army of the Potomac when the army was operating in Virginia went through Old Point Comfort and bears the Old Point Comfort postmark. These Old Point Comfort soldiers covers are Union covers and bear either a Federal 3c stamp or were sent as a due cover. Unlike Confederate postage, Union soldiers were expected to prepay the letter. If they did not prepay the letter with a 3c stamp, then the cover was sent as a Due 6c with a penalty of 3c attached.

Besides being important as the site of Union Soldier's mail, Old Point Comfort, Va also served as the main transfer point for Flag of Truce Mail between the North and the South. Confederate prisoners in Northern prisons could write letters home through Fortress Monroe. The POW letters would be taken from the prison to Old Point Comfort via the Federal Postal System where under Flag of Truce they then passed into the Confederacy and were taken to Richmond for entry into the Confederate Postal System for delivery to their final destination. These North to South letters do not have an Old Point Comfort postmark but very often have a manuscript routing mark indicating Old Point Comfort or Fortress Monroe as the transfer point. Covers that entered both the Federal and Confederate Postal Systems had to pay postage in both systems.

North to South POW Cover
Notation at Upper Left "Via Fortress Monroe"

South to North letters to prisoners took the reverse route first going to Richmond and then taken by Flag of Truce to Old Point Comfort for placement into the Federal Postal System for delivery to the northern prison. These South to North covers do bear the Old Point Comfort postmark as the point of entry into the Federal Postal System.

The same would also be true for Union Prisoners in Southern Prisons and also for Civilian Through-The-Lines mail such as one family member in the South writing to another family member in the North.

South to North Civilian Cover
Old Point Comfort, Va postmark on USA #65

The mistake that collectors not familiar with the history will often make is to assume that just because the cover has a Virginia postmark and a Civil War date that it is therefore Confederate. The fact to remember from this question is that Old Point Comfort, Va is a Union postmark.

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