Harper's Ferry, May 18, 1861

This morning for the first time I was able to pull on my boots, and, taking an escort of one corporal, I left my quarters intending to see some of beauties of this celebrated spot. The town is built on the narrow and low banks of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers which unite here, coming together almost at a right angle and from different quarters of the compass. The buildings are principally machine shops in this quarter and brick cottages for the employees of the government, presenting a beautiful and regular appearance. Rows of the black locust tree shade the single and narrow street and add to the picturesque groupings of houses. A long street on the Potomac leads to the upper town, the residence of the better classes, and, from the elevation of this street, the eye wanders over a beautiful landscape of water, forest, and mountain. Just opposite, across the Potomac to the left, are the battling heights of Maryland, now occupied by the Kentuckians, rising almost perpendicularly above the railway track. Across and immediately in front and to the right are the Virginia heights rising far above the upper town and commanding the approaches on all sides. They are now occupied by the Virginia troops. These mountains are almost impregnable and will be made so by the sharpshooters and riflemen who will man them.

In a handsome, stuccoed home at the top of this hill, upon which the upper town is built, Col. Jackson, the commandant, has his headquarters. A Confederate flag floats from the flag staff and indicates our nationality. From this point you have a lovely view of the surrounding country, fields and farms, while, just at your feet, the waters of the two noble streams, which break thro' the walls of the mountains, mingle together in friendly sympathy after their rapid journey from their western source. I have seen much beautiful and sublime scenery, but I think this is next to the falls of Niagara--not so sublime but uniting more of the beautiful and, for this reason, more lovely to me. In the distant fields one sees flocks of sheep and herds of cattle browsing upon the rich clover and luxuriant blue grass. In a lower place and overhanging the bank of the Shenandoah is the Jefferson Rock from which you can see for one or two miles the Shenandoah rumbling over its rapids and winding thro' the range of mountains. You look in another direction and you see, within a short distance, the two rivers running together, the waters of the Potomac distinctly marked from those of the Shenandoah by their yellow color. Standing here and looking around upon the [illegible] and boundless horizon, do you know my thoughts turned sadly to the distant spot where my gentle and loved Elodie was and a prayer for her safety and happiness trembled upon my lips, and then, recovering from the morning reverie, I sat down and cut her initials in the rock. If fortune favors our loves and we live, I will bring you here that you may see for yourself this beautiful and picturesque spot, and I hope this wish of my heart will be fulfilled at no distant day. I visited the engine house where John Brown and his men were taken. [1] The shot holes are still to be seen and at the corner of one house is shown the bullet hole made by the ball that killed Mr. Bukam. [2] He was shot by old Brown. Other places of interest connected with this raid are pointed out and seem from the number of persons examining them to possess much interest.

The town is crowded with soldiers clothed in all the colors of the rainbow from red to blue. Most of the respectable families, anticipating a fight, have left the town, and the figure of a lady is seldom seen in the streets. I got a distant view of Mr. Averitt and Mrs. Jos. Hardie this morning but had no opportunity of paying my respects. Her headquarters are at Winchester, and she came in on a visit this morning. I am almost ashamed to send you this letter, but as you have requested me to write daily and will make due allowances for all imperfections, I will risk the consequences.

I begin to hope that Mr. Lincoln will not invade Va. and that our difficulties will be adjusted without bloodshed, but you must not make up your mind to this desirable result my own loved angel for it may be otherwise, and you must bravely be prepared for the worst. If battle and its horrors come, I will have to bear my part, and if I fall it will be the fate of thousands, and thousands of hearts as loving as yours will be bowed with sorrow. In that event, I will only ask of you that you will let me testify for you what my affections and my heart indicate and that you interpose no objections to my last wishes. You will not unravel this enigma until fate has deprived me of life, and, I assure you, I will yet live to hold you to my bosom as the loved partner of my joys and sorrows. I do not anticipate evil, but I am prepared for it.

I have read over your letter of the 9th with unfeigned pleasure and will repeat it again today as I was disappointed in receiving a letter from you today. Your mother's only obstacle to consenting to your marriage is her unwillingness to give you up, but I have written her that I hoped, as do you, my pretty pet, that this will not be insuperable. Do you not agree with me? Her love for you convinces me that you are more beautiful than you were before, and I will rely upon her opinion rather than your disparaging remarks. I love you for your unselfishness. You know we like our opposites. You are a noble specimen of female character, and I am one of the most lucky of men in having won your love. I believe that you can do no wrong. You are as perfect as humanity can become, and I long to be under your control and influence. I only fear that you will be disappointed in your expectations of me for I know they are high and your young and unsuspicious nature does not allow you for a moment to think that I am not perfect in many things. If I know myself as you say you know yourself, I cannot say as you have ingenuously said that I admire myself for I see too many blemishes on the picture, but I will say that I expect you to improve many of the defects and to prepare me for that better life above where the soul will be without spot or blemish.

I must now end this prosy letter. Goodby, God bless and protect and keep you always, my love Elodie

Ever and affectionately yours,

N. H. R. Dawson

  1. On October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown led eighteen men into the town of Harpers Ferry and seized the federal armory in a failed attempt to incite a slave rebellion. For more, see Jonathan Earle, John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry: A Brief History with Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2008).
  2. Likely a misspelling of Fontaine Beckham, the Charles Town mayor and one of the civilians killed during the Brown raid.
May 18, 1861


4th Alabama Infantry
Residence (County): 
Dallas County, AL


Residence (County): 
Dallas County, AL


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