Ever since I can remember, I have been looked upon and called the ‘old maid’ of the family, and Mother seemed to think I was to be depended on to take care of her when all the rest of her handsomer daughters left her, and I really believe they all think I am committing a sin to give a thought to any other than the arrangements they have made for me.”
This 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 e
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 9, 1861
I commenced a letter to you yesterday morning, but being interrupted by company, was unwillingly compelled to put aside writing materials until this morning. Last Monday night my mother (28) and youngest sister Kittie (29) very unexpectedly made their appearance, and it is needless to tell how delighted I was or to attempt it, for after a separation of several months the reunion of course was pleasant. She declares you brought her, for until receiving your letter and my own, she had abandoned all thoughts of visiting the South before next winter. But two days after such startling intelligence reached her, she left Kentucky and was as much surprised to find herself in Selma as we were pleased to see her. I am sorry that you are not here for I am convinced could she but see you some of her opposition to my marrying would be more easily banished. Ever since I can remember, I have been looked upon and called the “old maid” of the family, and Mother seemed to think I was to be depended on to take care of her when all the rest of her handsomer daughters left her, and I really believe they all think I am committing a sin to give a thought to any other than the arrangements they have made for me. But as this is the age when Secession, Freedom, and Rights are asserted, I am claiming mine and do not doubt but I shall succeed in obtaining them as I have some one to help me in my efforts. (30) Mother brings us distressing news from Ky. She says the impression there is that dreadful fighting will soon begin, and there is so much excitement and indignation that once commenced there will be no end, altho’ Gov. Magoffin (31) is trying to prepare for it—defer battling until the last moment. Indeed, she says Ky. is utterly ruined; however, they of the old Union party have taken a view of the dark side of the picture. Let them but throw off Northern tyranny, and they will see the brighter and more beautiful view when summoned by the sisterhood of Southern Independence.
Matt has just interrupted me to say there is a room full of company, among them Dr. and Mrs. Mabry (32) and Miss Scott, (33) but I experience myself thinking three quite enough to entertain all visitors until this letter is finished, and being too selfish to deny myself the pleasure of talking to you on paper, altho’ I doubt whether I would contribute any to their gratification or even be missed. Last night Kittie and myself went over to the encampment of the Blues and spent a very pleasant evening dancing until 11 o’clock. The wit and beauty of Selma were assembled, and it was quite an interesting scene to see the groups of young people scattered here and there, engaged in lively conversation, others dancing, while Mr. Woods (34) and some others drew an admiring crowd to be entertained by their music. Capt. Kent (35) has invited the ladies to come and dance every night and arrangements are to be made to make things more comfortable and pleasant. I hear they will certainly be moved off by the end of ten days. Mr. Pegues (36) and company left for Pensacola Tuesday, so Mr. Hagood told me and he knows everything. I made some pleasant acquaintances and enjoyed the fine hand of music they had with them. The Greensboro company is composed of the handsomest men I ever saw and all seem to be selected gentlemen and so happy and merry. But it made me feel unpleasant to think how few of the many there would perhaps return and of course yourself and your noble little band came immediately before my eyes and first in my thoughts. By this time you must be in Lynchburg, and I am expecting a letter from you every day to inform me of your safe arrival there and all the news and prospects for peace or War. I will not often allow myself to think of the latter in connection with yourself for then I grow so miserable. I can picture to myself you wounded, killed, and everything that is horrible and am so restless that I do not know what to do to compose myself again to calmness. If there was anything known that could relieve this terrible suspense and let us be certain of the worst and have it over, I believe I could bear it better and bravely, but as it is I am afraid you would be ashamed of me, altho’ none but yourself know or dream of the fears that are continually haunting my mind. You see I take you at your word and express freely enough my feelings, and this must convince you of the entire confidence I feel in you to do so, and for aught I know you may think I make myself ridiculous. Do I? If so, just give a gentle hint, and I’ll take it.
You ask me how your place looks. Well, I have only seen it twice, and then it looked desolate and dreary enough, altho’ the flowers are blooming beautifully and that relieves the deserted look the place wears a little and which are brought to me regularly Tuesday and Friday evenings. It is quite amusing to hear the gossip concerning myself in Selma. Some know so much. Matt was asked the other day if it was true that I was engaged to you, and another lady yesterday intimated that she knew I was to marry Mr. H. (37) on the 18th, and I suppose Mother’s arrival will be confirmation strong.
Matt says tell Mr. Dawson that at first she was opposed herself, thinking no one was good enough for me, but that she is now your best friend since Mother is inclined to urge some opposition. I told Mother that I thought she had better give her consent and approval at once for my mind was made up, and I felt myself more of a Todd than ever, and they are noted for their determination or, as malicious people would say, obstinacy, and I believe she is becoming more reconciled as I discuss the subject with her. But you must make all due allowance, of a Mother’s love naturally blinds her to her daughter’s faults, and my family all love me more than I deserve and are not willing to see the faults that to others are so perceptible. I write this because I am not willing you should have a better opinion of me than I deserve and perhaps some day be awakened to all my faults and feel disappointed. I was not all you were lead to believe from what my own family, blinded by affection, gave you reason to think.
I am as usual writing a long letter, and you only write me a few lines. After you reach Lynchburg and have more leisure (I don’t think of fighting for a moment), I hope to receive long letters also, and you will try to write to me every day when you are not too much engaged, won’t you? I am safe here with friends to protect from dangers, and there is no necessity for you to trouble yourself about me. But I know you are surrounded by danger and feel uneasy when I do not hear, and you have been kind in writing to me so often on your way that I must not say another word and will here end my scrawl, hoping to receive cheering news very soon of no battles but a safe and speedy return to your
P.S. I am so commented on and teased for writing to you so much and often that I expect the next thing to have to beg houseroom from some one long enough to write you letters, for when I begin to write they all congregate around me and commence to chatter like birds and want to know how I commence my letters and end them, what I call you and etc. and I dread Bro. Clem’s return. You know of course Mobile is blockaded, and we think Bro. C. will have to go half around the world before he can return, which he will do I hope by railroad. I enclose a letter from mother. Don’t believe quite all she says about me. Mother traveled out with Gen’l Beauregard (38) and staff, to whom she was introduced, and he presented her with a handsome bouquet and my sister a secession flag, the first she ever saw.