Why A Three-Cent Fractional?
Some of the most eloquent letters composed in the quiet pre-battle trenches and still tents of the war came not from generals or other campaign leaders. Neither did they flow from the pens of learned statesmen, nor find inspiration in the furrowed brows of senators, or even presidents.
Often, the plain and plaintive gems of prose struggling to convey the sums and hopes of lives in the balance came from the "common" foot soldiers on either side of the conflict. In those long last moments, sons wrote to mothers, and husbands to wives and children. We who are privileged to share those intimate thoughts echoed on televisions on Memorial and Veterans Day tributes are often humbled and awed by the deft verbal skills exhibited by thousands upon thousands of basically "unlettered" young men who marched and died.
In those bygone days, pupils schooled at the elementary levels were taught something called "writing". The common method was to have the student simply copy and re-copy the words and sentences of contemporary writers such as Bronte, Dickens, Thackery, and Shelley. The resulting style was romantic, formal, and powerful, and the beautifully rendered testaments represented the unflinchingly final, honest thoughts of young men facing their deaths.
The cost for a postage stamp throughout the war was three cents. That is why the one-time issuance of the three cent stamp from December of 1864 through August of 1869 was crucial. It allowed the foot soldier, the cavalryman, or the camp cook to buy the stamp that would carry his last thoughts to those he loved. It was, and remains, the smallest piece of currency ever issued by the mint, both in size and denomination.