Courtship Correspondence: The Letters from Practical Strangers, Week I

I do not know that I can express my appreciation of the goodness of my gentle and dear Elodie. . . the sweetest of all pleasures.”

BerryElder_PracticalStrangers_jacketThis summer we’re launching New Perspectives on the Civil War Era, a new series dedicated to the publication of primary sources (letters, diaries, speeches, etc.) of the Civil War era from a wide diversity of perspectives—respecting the soldier’s voice, but not privileging it over every other as is the case in most such edited volumes. The first volume in the series is Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence of Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln edited by Stephen Berry and Angela Esco Elder. 

With texting, Snap Chat, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest, it can be difficult to appreciate what it used to feel like—the worry, the anticipation, the excitement—for long-awaited letters to arrive, especially for those engaged in courtship. In an effort to simulate the sort of anticipation Dawson and Todd might have felt, we’re running a new blog series meant to reintroduce a forgotten but important ingredient of correspondence: time. So each week between now and publication we will feature a letter by Dawson or Todd, followed the next week by the letter’s response. To add another layer of anachronism to the fun, be sure to follow Nathaniel and Elodie on Twitter!

From Nathaniel Dawson to Elodie Todd: Alabama River, April 26, 1861

I do not know that I can better express my appreciation of the goodness of my gentle and dear Elodie, in being present, this morning, to bid me goodby and God speed, than by writing her a few hurried lines. For I know that to hold communion with her is the sweetest of all pleasures.

We are speeding on our way over the water, and at each revolution of the wheels, the distance between us is lengthened, but the ties which bind us are only increased. I watched you until you passed from my sight in the distance, and saw with pleasure that tho smiles wreathed your face, it was done to cheer and to animate one whose heart was almost bursting with sadness. But I must not indulge these feelings, but must turn to the brighter visions that flit across the mind at the hope of future happiness and our union in those solemn bonds that will make us one in all things. Like Ruth thy country shall be my country, my God shall be your God, and your people shall be my people, and we will have to appreciate in happiness the deferred visions of Hope. Am I not fighting for you, am I not your sworn knight and soldier? If so, you must bid me God speed.

I requested Mr. Dennis to get some of my hardiest geranium plants to have them sent to you. Will you blame me again? I wish these fragrant flowers to be the silent, living witnesses of my love, and I know you will water and cultivate them as the living memorials of my constant fidelity to your heart.

I think our friend, the ex-Lieutenant, is now convinced that I am in love with you. He evidently was shocked at the tableau of last night and seems to have all of the feelings of a jealous nature aroused. But I do not blame him [n]or do I dislike him for loving the same dear and noble lady whom I worship. I will never feel pained at your receiving the attention of any gentleman but am rather pleased. For I am willing and anxious that the beams of the sun which reflect upon me should warm others into happiness. I have no hesitancy in saying that I have confidence that can never be shaken—the same in your love and truth that the follower of Mohammet has in his prophet. We have a large and noisy crew aboard, and what with the noise, frequent interruptions, and the shaking of the boat, I can hardly write, but I know you will take the trouble to read what is written. We will reach Mongom’y tonight, and in a few days will leave for Lynchburg Va. I will write you very frequently, if only a hurried line. I fear you will object to my frequent letters. Your love will make me a stronger and better man, able to resist the vices of a campaign life. And now, good bye. Again, I commend you to God and subscribe myself your own attached,

N. H. R. D.
@NHR_Dawson

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