Bolivar Heights, May 19, 1861

We removed to this encampment yesterday evening and are now comfortably quartered in our tents. The heights are on the Potomac and are at the opening of a beautiful amphitheatre formed by the mountains. Our tents, regularly laid off in streets upon two hills, ranging together but separated by a deep ravine, present a beautiful appearance. We overlook the river which is on the right of the camp. In the distance the blue mountains lift their heads and nature holds sweet communion with the harmonious landscape. All save the spirit of man is divine.

I went to bed last night feeling quite unwell and fearing from my headache that I might have to become an inmate of the hospital, but I am better this morning than since reaching Harper's Ferry. Last night was as cold as a December night, and the wind howled terrible. Old Eolus must have opened the doors of his cave. [1] I have an addition to my comforts in the shape of a mattress filled with straw and slept comfortably, more so than I have since leaving home. The whole camp, however, was roused about one o'clock by the alarm that the enemy were approaching and most of the troops were under arms all night. These false alarms are unpleasant as they try our nerves unnecessarily, but we are told, upon what authority I am ignorant, that we are to be attacked in a few days, but I think otherwise. I am well armed with a sword, Adams fire shooter, [2] and a Sharps rifle, [3] slung over my shoulder. This last is one that was taken from John Brown.

We are just returned from the inspection of our regiment by Col. Deas of the Confederate army and have written two pages without telling my own loved and cherished Elodie how much she is the subject of my dreams and thoughts. Tis Sunday and in place of reading my bible I prefer to sit at my trunk and with the pen she gave me talk and chat with her on paper at the distance of one thousand miles from home. I wear your likeness with the lock of hair in a locket in my watch pocket and have several times been innocently asked by some of my men why I wore two watches. I could have replied to speak true--to keep near me the face and smile of that distant loved one who is now my guardian angel. I walked down the ravine this morning to see a file of men discharge their piece and gather for you the flowers enclosed, heartsease and strawberry. Did you get those from Lynchburg? [4]

I almost forgot to tell you that the Maryland heights have been fired, and last night the burning mountain presented a grand and beautiful appearance. The line of fire extends completely across the mountain and reminded me of Bulwer's description of the eruption of Vesuvius. [5] I looked upon the beautiful scene and wandered back to the parlor and home where you promised to be mine and tried to imagine myself at your side. Do you think you have safely conquered me and that there is no danger of losing the conquest? You must have no fears upon the subject tho' you have warned me of the danger of the beautiful women of Va. Many of them are indeed beautiful, but none are the peers of my affianced bride. Like Helen [6] she is the peer of all her sex, and the world in arms could not seduce me from her allegiance. I really think that you should be flattered at the depth of my love. I am flattered at yours and feel that none but a gentleman could win your love, and I know that no ordinary lady could have inspired me as you have. What answer do you make to this reasoning? Do you not think that many in the city of Selma and elsewhere, did they know it, would be jealous of me? Will you return to Kentucky with you mother or do you remain in Alabama? If you keep your [illegible] you will hardly get back to Kentucky for several months, as she will not leave before the action of Congress in July. But I really hope that we will have peace in time to let me take you there. If I live to return home, the remainder of my life shall be devoted to rendering you comfortable and happy. I imagine no picture of the future that is not gilded by your presence and think of no joy that is not doubled by having you to share it, and no privation that is not lessened because you will divide it with me.

Do you not believe that love like ours is immortal and will only be fully realized in a more beautiful existence adapted to the fine development of what here is called affection? If the world were peopled with inhabitants as nearly perfect as you are, my dear Elodie, omnipotence would not have inflicted death upon man as a means of refining him for a better existence. I do not believe Satan could induce you to eat of the forbidden fruit like our mother Eve and persuade you to seduce me into the same fatal sin. You must not tell me that you are not perfect because I might believe it, as you have told me, that you know yourself. I shall never look for faults and if you have any, I will be greatly disappointed.

I have been sadly disappointed in not receiving a letter from you since that of the 9th. I have written you daily since reaching Lynchburg and fear you will hardly have room to preserve my letters. I have not received so many that I will be unable to put them in a very small pocket to my trunk. You must hide yourself and write me if you are interrupted. You can go over to my library and find yourself secluded there. I will give it to you for that purpose.

Mr. Averitt has now encamped with us and will preach this evening. He has too exalted an opinion of me, and I fear will be indiscreet in expressing it. You know it is much harder to preserve a reputation than to make one, and constant praises will create jealously in the minds of strangers. He is very sensitive and almost too effeminate in his mode of thought and action to go through the world with satisfaction to himself and friends.

The messenger has returned from the office without a letter from you, and I will have to be satisfied with reading your old letters. When I tell you this, will you not have pity and write frequently? I love you, my own dear girl, more than I can find language to express. I wish I could write you in beautiful language how deeply you are loved and how much I feel your absence from me, but you will be satisfied with the plainer language of truth and write me in return your beautiful and easy letters. I love you because you love yourself. I put faith in your taste and judgment. And goodbye dearest. I will think of you when all else has died from my mind and will pray for you with my last sigh. God bless and protect you.

Ever and affectionately yours,

N. H. R. Dawson

  1. "Old Eolus" refers to the Greek god of winds.
  2. A revolver made by Robert Adams, a British gunsmith who in 1851 patented the first successful double-action revolver, a gun that cocked itself after the trigger was pulled. For more, see Michael C. C. Adams, Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 60-63.
  3. A breech-loading rifle that was easier to load and more accurate, the Sharps rifle quickly became a favorite among soldiers, especially in cavalry units. Adams, Living Hell, 60-63.
  4. The flowers that Nathaniel sent with this letter survive in the collection.
  5. A novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1834, The Last Days of Pompeii culminates in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of the city.
  6. In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world.
May 19, 1861


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


Residence (County): 
Dallas County, AL


From State: 
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From Note: 
Bolivar Heights


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