Harpers Ferry, May 10, 1861

I wrote you a hurried note this morning, my own dear Elodie, but as I am sitting alone in my tent, suffering a little from the effects of quinine [1] and I have a private opportunity of writing, I avail myself of it to do myself the pleasure of writing you a longer letter. I know what a pleasure it is for me to hear from you and am confident that it is a great pleasure for you to hear from me.

We are not as comfortably fixed as we were in our Ala. encampment but comfort is one of the articles we left at home and is therefore not to be regarded.

I sent my trunk yesterday to Winchester by Mr. Averitt. He will leave it with a friend of his, and I do not know when I will again have the benefit of the few little luxuries and comforts it contained. I am now reduced to one suit of clothing and the few articles that a knap sack will contain. I am sorry to say that there are some men in the company too nice to do many of the duties required of them, and I have frequently to [lead by] an example. Some demur to carrying their knapsacks. Yesterday you should have seen their astonishment when I came out of my tent with a knapsack on with all of my accoutrements, rifle, sword and pistol, and large overcoat. I am obliged to do many of these things for the sake of example, and I am subjected to much inconvenience in consequence. But I desire to share all of the hardships and dangers of my men as they have manifested much feeling for me on several occasions.

We are encamped just in the rear of our line of battle [2] and will be very near the post of danger should the enemy show his face in front. I am really indifferent to the dangers of battle, and if it were not for the love I bear you, would have little apprehension. I have great confidence in the justice of our cause and have an abiding faith that fewer of our men will be killed than circumstances would indicate. You will notice that in all of our battles so far, we have escaped almost miraculously while the enemy have suffered greatly in comparison.

Even now, with their large armies in the field and all the appearance to the contrary, I do not think we will have a long war. The idea of subjugating us must be preposterous, and I think, if I could be allowed to have the ear of my future brother-in-law, I could persuade him to abandon the idea if he ever entertained it. Can't you use your influence or get your sister Miss Kittie to use hers? I am anxious to know your sister and more anxious to become her brother. Does she look like you? I hope her influence with Mr. Lincoln will save me the trouble of being hanged, should I fall into his power. Is it not strange that I should be so anxious to see Mr. Lincoln defeated in his policy and at the same time be so devoted to his sister-in-law? I love you above all things and wish to live to prove to you, my dearest, that my protestations are not unreal. I could be steeped to the very lips in poverty if I were allowed to fall down and bow to your love in compensation. I reflect frequently upon the course of our acquaintance and really believe that Providence sent you as an angel of mercy to cross my path. How else could you have loved me in so short a time? Did you have any other than a feeling of respect and esteem for me previous to a declaration of my own feelings? Many ladies, you know, never love until they are married and are so coy as to express indifference in place of love. I do not admire the class, however, and am much more partial to those who deem it no sin to express themselves in language that is plain.

Remember that your letters will always be safe. If I have not sent them off in my trunk yesterday, I would send them to you by Mr. Ware [3] who goes off tomorrow. But when I send them, you must remember that they are still mine and merely placed with you for safekeeping, as the others were previous to my leaving home. You must keep them safely for me as I expect to derive many pleasant reminiscences from their perusal with you. How pleasant will it be to sit with you and to hear you talk. When we meet I intend to be a patient listener as it is much pleasanter to listen than to talk, at least it is to me when I am with one whom I love and who talks as well as you do. [4]

I thank Mrs. Parnell for her compliments. She has always been friendly towards me, and I have the kindest feelings for her and have sympathized deeply with her in the loss of her son. If the old lady could be allowed to express her opinion of you to me, she would tell me that I was extremely fortunate in having won your love. I hope I am not so vain as to be injured by the good opinion of friends. I have always been afraid that I did not deserve the partial opinions of mine and have never been convinced that I was deserving of them. But I confess you have made me vainer by telling me that I was worthy of your love.

I have just seen our major who is from the headquarters. He says Gen. Johnston is now in high spirits and is sanguine of success in any battle that may take place at this point. We also hear it rumored that England has acknowledged our independence. I do not believe it as she will hardly act so promptly. That she must and will do so I have no doubt. I have received a letter from my sister Mrs. Side. Her husband is at Pensacola acting as a scout for Gen. Bragg. My brother Reginald has also volunteered and will be in Gov. Winston’s regiment. So you see my family is fully represented. I will write to sister soon and may tell her that we are engaged.

I was disappointed in not receiving a letter from you today. I notice that your letters are written at intervals of two days and therefore know when to expect them. I will certainly hope for one tomorrow. How many letters have you received from me? I have written near fifty and am afraid that you will hardly find a trunk large enough to hold them. What a bright bonfire they will make in case you destroy them.

We can hear no more of our enemies. We have received three regiments in three days, and we hear that others are on their way. The 5th Reg. of Ala. is expected. My friend Mr. Pegues is in it, and it will be pleasant to have him near me as he is a dear friend, if such a term may be used in the masculine. You might apply the term to me in the feminine, but I doubt the propriety of my applying it to a gentleman.

Now dearest, I have spent an hour in writing you anything but an interesting letter. I have written to convince you that under all circumstances I intend to make an effort to please you. Goodbye, my loved and affectionate Elodie. May God keep and protect you, and may your dreams be guarded by angels while you sleep.

Ever affectionately and sincerely yours,

N. H. R. Dawson

  1. Quinine, which occurs naturally in the bark of the cinchona tree, reduces fevers, kills pain, and has a bitter taste. For more, see Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein, The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine (New York: Routledge, 2015), 257-258.
  2. On May 1, Confederate troops under Colonel Thomas J. Jackson were sent to occupy Harpers Ferry and keep it out of Union hands.
  3. H. H. Ware, age thirty-four, was married to Inda Ware, age twenty-nine. The couple owned six slaves, including Ned Admins, "a free man of color about sixty years old," who used the 1860 voluntary enslavement ruling in Alabama to become a "slave for life to Mistress Inda Ware of the city of Selma, in the county of Dallas, to her sole and separate use." In Emily West's Family or Freedom: People of Color in the Antebellum South (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012), West speculates that Ned was trying to be near his enslaved wife, perhaps Cealy Adkins, a forty-five-year-old enslaved woman belonging to H. H. Ware. This familial situation became even more fraught when a "favorite and indulged" enslaved woman poisoned both H. H. Ware and his daughter, an incident Elodie notes in her letter of October 13, 1861.
  4. Elodie later requested that her letters be burned after he read them, but Nathaniel refused. Many wartime letter collections contain letters written only by men because their wives, sisters, and mothers could more easily save them. Soldiering males more often burned, lost, or discarded letters sent to them. Certainly if Nathaniel had not sent Elodie's letters back home to her for safekeeping, we would not now have her thoughts and perspectives on their courtship.
May 10, 1861


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


Residence (County): 
Dallas County, AL


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