Selma, May 15, 1861

Yesterday I commenced to write you five times and each time was compelled to put aside my desk by the arrival of company, which came so fast and stayed so long that my patience was almost exhausted. Only the hope of being able to accomplish my desire after tea kept a remaining particle, but, after our tea was over, in came two beaux to take us to either camp or to hear Judge Campbell (of Mobile) [1] speak. I declined going to either at first but was finally persuaded to go over to the camp where we can all enjoy ourselves dancing, altho' I was only a looker and did not participate all evening having heard that fighting had commenced at Pensacola and Harper's Ferry. Tho' I did not place much confidence in the rumor, I could not think of enjoying myself in such a gay manner when those I was so interested in were in danger. I received three letters from you while at Lynchburg yesterday and heard of your departure for Harper's Ferry, Mr. McCraw [2] having telegraphed to Dr. Shortridge [3] the morning your company left Lynchburg for that place. I was completely at a loss where to write and at last concluded that your letters would be forwarded. Ere this you have received a letter from myself and mother written the 9th, which I hope will please you. She is still with us and will I trust remain until Kentucky is more decided in her movement.

My brother-in-law, Mr. Helm [4], writes from Louisville that they are daily and hourly fearing an attack from Federal troops at Jeffersonville and New Albany and that there will be terrible bloodshed and soon in different parts of the state. My sister, Mrs. Kellogg [5], for expressing sympathy for the South, has been compelled to leave Cincinnati. Is it any wonder that I am inclined to be sad, but I am wrong in writing to you in such a strain. If you did request me to write and freely tell all my thoughts and feelings, and I am conscious of being selfish, when you have nothing very bright to look forward to and not even a very cheerful letter, to burden you with my foolish apprehensions. I felt gratified that when you were sad and lonely you turned to me for sympathy, and you will never hesitate to write and to speak always of subjects near your heart. I hoped indeed I shall claim as my special right and privilege to divide with you all your cares and sorrows, and you must not deny me. Nor would I hesitate for a moment to share and brave your dangers were it necessary but think for your own sake it were better not, for I would only be a care and trouble to you all the time, and as I am situated now by friends who watch carefully over me and am out of danger, you would be saved much anxiety and trouble. I do not think my presence would compensate you for your care and annoyance for I am a troublesome somebody at all times and should be sure to improve with the times. I always want to act as you desire me even tho' I sacrifice my own selfish feelings, but this time I really think of your comfort by writing as I do, and you must believe it is so for I could not suffer more from anxiety myself anywhere than I do at present here where I am sometimes for days without receiving a line from you as it takes four or five days for a letter to arrive. I go daily to the post office, sometimes accompanied by Matt, and know I have received all your letters safely and am looking forward with impatience to the arrival of the mail. As your time is occupied with duties and you have so little leisure, I will not ask that you devote so much to me but will try and content myself with receiving an occasional account of yourself.

I heard from Mr. Averitt Monday and am glad that he has not forgotten me yet for I feel it a compliment to be regarded as the friend of so noble a man as I think him and he has proved himself to be. We are looking for Bro. Clem and Mr. Davis every day, but I do not know whether they will return by railroad or water but do not fear any danger [in] either route.

You are so complimentary as to my style of letter-writing that you [are] getting yourself into trouble for I am vain enough to think it all so and when I believe you are in earnest will write letters just twice as long as I do now and think upon the reception of another letter as full of compliments as the last I must punish you with a very long letter for attempting to spoil me, for if you begin in this way I shall expect you to keep it up and all else that is pleasant. I give you fair warning I have no objection in the world to your obtaining furlough to come and see me for I believe I would prefer seeing you to any one I know and hope you will before the year is out.

I am sorry to hear that you are battling already and would prefer your escaping as many scars as possible, but do not think of returning without some as you will never be accounted brave and bold. Kittie says she fears you will come home limping or without arms, Matt says without a head, so you can see what a subject of thoughts you are in the family, only don't realize Matt's fears and a body can stand the test that is nothing but an inconvenience. Kittie says if you take her beau Col. Ellsworth [6] prisoner just send him to her and she will see that he does not escape.

I am ashamed to send you this hurried scrawl, but we are to have company to spend the day, and I have only a few moments to write in and no doubt you are glad that such is the case. The Blues are still making a great noise about going away, have succeeded in obtaining from the citizens 8 or more nice tents and are enjoying pound cake and all delicacies from the ladies in such quantities that they have requested no more to be sent for several days. What a pity you did not encamp for a few days prior to your departure from Selma. Pray remember to do so next time. I am indignant when I think of you all as in danger without tents and a pitiful sum in hand from the generous hearts of this community and Blues at home enjoying everything and peacefully protected without any intention or thought of going, or if they do it will be after the fighting is over. I will think of [you] at 9 o'clock and assure you that my last and first thought is of you, and I could add look also for I keep your daguerreotype close at hand and spend more time gazing at it than the Virginia ladies do the original I know. I am proud that so much attention is lavished on you and think you deserve it all. It is nothing more than you are entitled to, but all are not so fortunate as to receive their dues, and I hope the same good fortune may attend you all the war through.

At last I must say goodbye for a few days when I shall write again. Let me hear from you again soon. Will you grant me the request to destroy all my letters? I would not have them seen for a great deal. Does Mr. A. know of our engagement? I know he suspects. So far from being suspected here, all think I am to be married the 18th to Mr. H. and I am inclined to think he believes so too from his attention, but strange to say I am a greater belle than ever and have more beaux now than I want. I have filled very space and could add more but declared I would not so once more goodby. Dodge all bullets and come home as soon as possible to your affectionate,


  1. John Archibald Campbell (1811-1889) was an Alabama jurist appointed by Franklin Pierce to the U.S. Supreme Court, serving until the outbreak of the Civil War. He was one of the three Confederate peace commissioners sent to meet with Abraham Lincoln at Hampton Roads near the end of the war. After the war, Campbell resumed his law practice in New Orleans, where he became one of the chief legal architects of the South's successful gutting of Reconstruction. For more, see Robert Saunders, John Archibald Campbell, Southern Moderate, 1811-1889 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).
  2. S. Newton McCraw, age twenty-two, was second lieutenant in Nathaniel's company and is described as Nathaniel's "most intimate friend" on August 3, 1861. His sister, Ella L. McCraw, nineteen years old, became a good friend of Elodie's and is mentioned often in the correspondence. 1860 Census: Selma.
  3. Possibly George David Shortridge (1814-1870), father of George D. Shortridge Jr., a lieutenant in Nathaniel's company. George D. Shortridge Jr. (1837-1868) married Victoria English Echols on June 10, 1862, twenty days before his brother Eli died in the Battle of Seven Pines. Owen, History of Alabama, 4:1555; marriage certificate, George D. Shortridge and Victoria Echols, Dallas County, Ala., Alabama, Select Marriages, 1816-1942.
  4. Benjamin Hardin Helm (1831-1862) married Elodie's older sister Emilie in 1856. A lawyer before the war, Helm had been educated at West Point and had done a short stint in the prewar army. Shortly after Sumter, Lincoln summoned Helm to the White House and offered to appoint him major in the paymaster corps and post him to the West, where he could remain a neutral. The post was the highest Lincoln could make without congressional approval. Helm turned the offer down and joined the Confederate army, though he admitted to a friend it was "the most painful moment of my life." He rose to the rank of brigadier general before being killed at Chickamauga. After her husband's death, Emilie stayed a week at the White House despite her status as a grieving Confederate widow. For more on Emilie, see Angela Esco Elder, "‘We Weep over Our Dead Together': Emilie Todd Helm and Confederate Widowhood," in Kentucky Women: Their Lives and Times, ed. Tom Appleton and Melissa McEuen (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015).
  5. Margaret Todd (1828-1904), the eldest of the Humphreys-Todd siblings, was married to Charles Henry Kellogg, a Cincinnati merchant. Despite attending Lincoln's inaugural, both had strong ties to the Confederacy. Charles even traveled with the Confederate army for a few weeks around the Battle of Shiloh in the spring of 1862 before returning to the North. See Berry, House of Abraham, 117-120.
  6. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth was the twenty-three-year-old captain of the famous Zouaves, a military company that had recently concluded a national tour, performing their synchronized drills in their trademark baggy trousers, high gaiters, brocaded blue jackets, and red fezzes. The Lincolns brought Ellsworth into their family circle, and in the fall of 1860 at Lincoln's urging Ellsworth relocated to Springfield, where he met Mary's youngest sister Kitty. Although Ellsworth had a fiancée to whom he was devoted, he proved a gracious flirt, and he and Kitty got on famously. By the end of her stay in Springfield, nineteen-year-old Kitty was smitten. See Berry, House of Abraham, 72-75.
May 15, 1861


Residence (County): 
Dallas County, AL


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


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