Harper's Ferry, May 24, 1861

I have tried and so far been able by adding a postscript to my letters to write you daily since you made the request, as I wish to prove to my much loved Elodie that her slightest wish is all-powerful with me. I fear from the offer you make in your last letter of the 15th that you are becoming wearied with my epistles and that you have been paid in uncurrent coin for your letters to me. But I assure you that it is the gratification for a selfish feeling to write you as it is to love you, for in doing both I add to my comfort and happiness. I can never love you more ardently than at this time, but as the partner of all my fortunes I hope that we will climb the hill of life and draw from many sources happiness and comfort. You are the last and first object of thought, and your likeness is stealthily examined as I am all day in the presence of others. My duties commence at five o'clock A.M. and continue until one when I have one and a half hours to devote to you and my books, but really most of it is used in writing to you.

Mr. Averitt has just returned from Winchester and has called to tell me that Mrs. Hardie had come and was at the Col's tent, but I put him off on the plea of important business as I wish to write to you. I am much gratified that your mother had but one objection to our marriage, the unwillingness to lose you. But you should tell her that she is not losing you but only adding a son to her family for from all I have heard of her and from what I know of you, it will be an honor and pleasure to be connected with her. You know I have great reverence for all who deserve it. I love Mrs. Mathews [1] almost as fondly as a boy does his mother for she has ever been a kind and affectionate friend, and she is next to you and my children in my heart. She will love you so much and so tenderly that I am anxious that she should know you as one that is dear to me.

I have just now received your letter of 17th, and if I have caused you pain even jestingly I crave your pardon and forgiveness. I have not really thought your letters were wanting in love, but I thought that you were careful in overstepping the limits of maidenly caution, but your last letter is so affectionate and kind that I can never even in jest complain again.

My reason for wishing you to marry me at an early day was to take you entirely under my charge and keeping. That you would be an anxiety to me, I admit, but all the trouble would be compensated in the deep love I bear you and in the great satisfaction it would give me to know that you were dependent upon me alone for protection, and that you would bear all of the trials bravely and well I have not a doubt. The only hesitation I feel upon the subject is on your account, and I have thought it would be asking too much of you to make the sacrifices that would be necessary. You must remember my dear Elodie that though you will be a trouble, as you term it and as I understand it an addition to my cares and responsibilities, yet that half the pleasures of life arise from the troubles caused us by those whom we love. The more sensitive the nervous system generally the more exquisite is the pleasure. I assure you that no trouble, no trial on your account, would be regarded as unpleasant. If I could convince myself that duty to you permitted me to do so, to ask you to increase the ties that now unite us, I would not hesitate to insist upon our marriage in the course of a few months. If we have no fighting soon, I do not think we will have much of a war, and in that event it will not be necessary to take the step as you will then be willing to marry me at once, and as soon as we are released from service. But I still ask you to leave your decision open for further reflection as I may tell you that I am willing to be troubled with you.

I have just had a long talk with Mrs. Hardie. She is comfortably provided at Winchester and is much better satisfied than she could possibly be at Selma. Are you willing to risk all the trials, all the sorrows, that my death would entail on you as my wife? I know I ask a grave question, but I know you will answer it with your characteristic candor, and I ask it of you in that spirit. The waters of the Potomac, rolling rapidly over its shoals and rocks, will turn in another direction before the place you have in my heart will be given to another, and I should do injustice to you did I entertain for a moment a feeling of apprehension that anything save my own misconduct could replace me in your heart.

I never dream of such a thing for I could not love more sincerely or more wisely, and when you are mine at the altar I shall feel that God has compensated and rewarded me for many of the sorrows and griefs of my life. I have from my earliest boyhood yearned for the comforting love of woman and the blessings of home. I yearn now more anxiously than ever before. And I see in you the impersonation of all those beautiful excellencies of character and mind that are so essential to brighten home.

I have written a long letter simply of love, and I know you are tired, but as I have told you it is out of my power to do otherwise. A large party of ladies are here with Mrs. Hardie from Winchester. They have come over on a special visit to us. I have put on my best regimentals and been to see them, but I have made no attempt to make an impression but been candid to tell them that I have no heart to lose. Was this not right? Mr. Averitt received your long letter today. He is much attached to me, and his attachment is proverbial with the officers. He is too loving. He puts his hands on me and is guilty of many such, to me unpleasant, ways, as I do not think they become the conduct of a gentleman. I might act toward little Willie [2] in this way, and it might be excusable in a very affectionate wife to her husband. But you will say, very properly, that I should not be so critical. He is very much in love with some young lady at every stopping place. But why should I trouble you with such trifles, my loved Elodie?

Gen. Johnston [3] of Kentucky, I think, who commanded the Utah expedition, has taken command here. He is reputed to be a great man, and I am better satisfied than I have been at the condition of affairs. Last night we slept upon our arms, expecting an attack, but there was no alarm, and I do not think we need have any fears upon the subject as we are now too strong for a very large army. Since reading your letter of the 17th, I have greater desire than ever to write you daily. I feel with you for your absent brothers and hope they will pass through the ordeal with safety. Make my kind regards to Mrs. White and your sister, Miss Kate, and tell her that I have a special desire to kill Col. Ellsworth of the Zouaves for her sake as I do not think he is good enough for any sister of yours. [4]

Write me frequently and freely, my dear Elodie. Goodbye and believe me ever affectionately and sincerely yours,

N. H. R. Dawson

May I ask that you will burn up all of my letters as I would be ashamed of such specimens of chirography?

  1. Elizabeth Mathews was Nathaniel's first mother-in-law and grandmother of Nathaniel's first daughter, Elizabeth. The Mathews are keeping Elizabeth during the war.
  2. William King White, age six, is the son of Elodie's sister Matt and husband Clement White. 1860 Census: Selma.
  3. Nathaniel would not be the first or the last student of the Civil War to confuse or conflate his General Johnstons. In the biographical particulars, he is clearly referring Albert Sidney Johnston (1803-1862), who was born in Kentucky, lived most of his life in Texas, and in 1857-1858 led U.S. forces in the "Utah War" against the Mormons. But the Johnston in command of forces in Nathaniel's eastern theater was Joseph Eggleston Johnston, commissioned as brigadier general in the Confederate States Army on May 14, 1861, when he began organizing the short-lived Confederate Army of the Shenandoah.
  4. Bizarrely, Ellsworth died this very day. Leading the Eleventh New York across the Potomac and into Alexandria, he noticed a Confederate flag waving above the Marshall House (a second-class inn) and took a small detachment up to the roof to cut it down. Returning downstairs with the flag, he was shot in the chest by the inn owner, James W. Jackson, with a shotgun. As the first notable casualty of the war, his death shocked the nation, and the Lincolns mourned him almost as a son.
May 24, 1861


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


Residence (County): 
Dallas County, AL


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