I think everyone should select the pursuit that they evince most taste and talent for and they think will be most conducive to their happiness. I shall endeavor to assimilate my tastes to yours in everything, besides I would not think of giving advice to you.”
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 22, 1861
You can scarcely imagine how disappointed I was both yesterday and today when Brother Clem returned with the intelligence of no letters from you. I immediately began to wonder what had occasioned your silence, could arrive at no conclusion that seemed so probable as that sickness or an engagement with our enemies had prevented my hearing from you. This with the news of a fight in Norfolk (74) has made me almost dread to hear from Harper’s Ferry, fearing that something has happened to you, and pass as unhappy a day as was possible.
This morning the Blues left for Richmond leaving Selma a sad and desolate home for many. Tears flowed abundantly from the eyes of men, women, and children, and I do not think there was an undimmed eye in the entire company. It was truly a sad and impressive scene. I was thinking of a similar scene which transpired almost a month ago, one that separated you and I, and how little those around me knew that my smiling face was deceiving them and hiding from their views an aching heart. I felt they were now undergoing what I had undergone, [and I was] passing thro’ a second time. Indeed I could well sympathize with them for had I not parted with you, a brother, and friends also? But I did not regard it as right to their emotion [and] therefore struggled hard and mastered mine that you might remember me as a woman ready and willing to sacrifice her all if necessary to the advancement of so glorious a cause, one to save our country from shame and dishonor, to arrest it from a tyrant’s grasp and live as we have ever done a free and independent people. We could none of us ever be happy as subjects under King Lincoln or wish to live if such was the case.
You asked for my feelings and opinions on the subject of your being a politician or pursuing your profession after wishing yourself at home but a sentence before to show Dr. Mabry he was laboring under a mistake. Now if you will have the kindness to inform me of your preference for either life I will then tell you my choice for you. One might suppose to behold Mr. Lincoln’s political career that my family would be content with politics. I am used to such a life, my father having followed such a one himself. I wish you to use your pleasure without consulting me. I think everyone should select the pursuit that they evince most taste and talent for and they think will be most conducive to their happiness. I shall endeavor to assimilate my tastes to yours in everything, besides I would not think of giving advice to you.
Mother and Matt have gone to Summerfield to make a visit of a few days to Mrs. White’s aunt, leaving Kittie and I to keep house and entertain during their absence. We really feel ourselves to be of some importance and consequence, but I miss them so much that I would cheerfully resign my consequence and key basket to have them back again for I do not love to be alone. While nothing pleases Kittie more and altho’ we are the only two in the house, she is off busy in one room and I am in another and no doubt will spend a very agreeable day if she persists in being alone. The ladies have sent on for goods to make clothes for the Cadets and Guards. I went down yesterday to the hall to get some work, but the material has not yet arrived. I was really indignant at the partiality shown to the Blues, and indeed it has been so spoken of that they have interested themselves since the pets left. I was very glad to hear that Major Hayden (75) had sent on six capes and one was intended for you, yet I think of the other poor soldiers who have no kind friends to provide for them, and I wish I could do something for them myself. I hope you will not find the Ky. Regiment all composed of such men as Col. Blanton Duncan for he left for his country’s good I am sure but hope you will find some among them who will cause you to have the same admiration and love for them that I do. Let the world say what it will concerning Kentucky and Kentuckians and blame her now and not sympathize with her unfortunate situation. There is not on earth a nobler or braver class of people, and I would rather be a Kentuckian if my state hangs on to the old wreck than a native of any other state, tho’ I must confess that I am mystified and distressed that they are so blinded and duped to their own interest and happiness, and my pity has caused me to love them more than ever for I do feel most deeply for my own dear home and for those who are with us heart and soul and yet are forced by circumstances to be silent and suffer.
I regret I did not wait to hear from you before answering Mr. Averitt’s letter and will take your advice for the future about them. I enclose you a piece written on the departure of the Blues and as it may entertain you a little while will give you a chance to read it by ending my letter.
Hoping to hear often and soon from you, believe me as ever your affectionate,
74. The Battle of Sewell’s Point was a small skirmish that lasted from May 18 to 19, 1861, and ended with no fatalities.
75. Probably the family member of James G. Hayden (sometimes spelled Haden), a
private in Nathaniel’s regiment (see June 26, 1861, note 110).