The Letters from Practical Strangers, Week 2: A Letter from Elodie

The Blues are making more music and commotion about going to the War than when you left.”

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 Elodie Todd to Nathaniel Dawson: Selma, May 2, 1861

Sister Matt and Miss M. (14) have gone this evening to witness the presentation of two flags to the five companies. I did not feel as tho’ I could go thro’ another such scene so soon, besides preferred staying at home to write to you, which will now be my greatest pleasure after receiving your own communications. My brother (15) returned from Montgomery yesterday morning, remained with us sufficient length of time to bid us goodbye. He succeeded in getting the appointment or commission (I don’t know which I should say) of 1st lieutenant with promise of promotion to a captaincy before three months elapse. Parting with him, together with the information of the departure of my two other brothers (16) for the war and the deplorable state of affairs in Kentucky, has made me sad. Our dear old state is poorly provided with arms and ammunition, and all attempts to supply the deficiency thus far have proved a failure, for what they ordered has been seized by the state of Ohio. Another trouble is the division in political sentiment. What is to be the fate of home? I cannot divine and will not think Kentucky, whose name has been written with pride and honor on History’s page, must now be dimmed and dishonored, untrue to herself and her noble sister states. (17)

The Blues are making more music and commotion about going to the War than when you left. (18) The church bells ring two or three times a day to call the ladies together in order to form arrangements concerning the making up of 110 uniforms for the chivalrous corps, who are so determined to fight their country’s battles that rather than remain at home they intend going on their own expenses and responsibility. I hope you and your company will soon do your fighting and make way for this noble band who I doubt not will return their brows crowned with laurels. Mr. Dennis leaves tomorrow for New Orleans. I dislike really to see him go as he positively declares Bro. Clem must accompany him, and I believe he has consented to do so. I would not give Mr. D. permission to carry out the order you gave him regarding the flowers. I think your sending Bouquets twice a week is sufficient to gratify my taste for flowers.

[illegible] Hagood (19) has made his appearance twice but takes especial delight in being agreeable and polite to all save myself to whom he is cold and haughty. I am only waiting for him to recover his usual good and amiable disposition before I retaliate with cool dignity. I am writing you a long, dull letter and am not conscious of what I have written, owing to the many interruptions which have occurred since I began . . . Laura says I have been writing long enough to have accomplished 13 letters and must stop as she and Matt have talked themselves completely out just beside me all the time, but it seems as tho’ my pen is as eager to continue as myself. However, I must now finish. Hoping to hear from you very soon, believe me

Ever yours,


 14. Miss Laura Mims of Oak Grove, Alabama, was about twenty years old in 1860. Her younger brother, George Mims, was a member of Nathaniel’s company. 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Oak Grove, Perry, Ala.
15. Elodie’s brother David Humphreys Todd (1832–1871) ran away from home at fourteen to fight in the Mexican American War. He participated to some degree in the California gold rush in 1850 and in a Chilean revolution in 1851. By July 1861, he would be a controversial commandant of the Richmond prison system and would be relieved of duty. He commanded an artillery company with distinction during the siege of Vicksburg and settled and married in Huntsville, Alabama, after the war. Berry, House of Abraham, 44–45.
16. It is not perfectly clear to which brothers Elodie is referring. Possibly they are George Rogers Clark Todd (1825–1902), who secured a commission as a surgeon about this time, and Samuel Brown Todd (see May 26, 1861, note 87), who had signed on as a private in New Orleans.
17. Southern in its social customs, Northern in its economic interests, Kentucky was a unique hybrid of the two regions. It remains one of the war’s enduring ironies that the two men battling for Kentucky were Kentuckians themselves—Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were both born in the Bluegrass State. Ultimately, Lincoln would win this ground. “I hope to have God on my side,” he supposedly said, “but I must have Kentucky.” For more, see Anne E. Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).
18. By the summer of 1861, the town of Selma had uneasily grouped itself into two camps, one associated with the men of the Selma Blues regiment, and the other associated with the men of the Magnolia Cadets.
19. Robert Hagood was in business with Clement White. These two, along with Edward T. Watts and John W. Lapsley, incorporated the “Central Warehouse Company” in Selma, in February 1860. It is not clear why Hagood is snubbing Elodie, though at other points in the correspondence she seems vaguely aware that he likes her.

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