Sunday, November 27, 2011

Margaret-Ellen on the First Sorrows of War

1 August, 1861

My dearest Adah,

I am amazed at the speed with which your letter reached us, through all the clamor of battle and the smoke of strife.  I suppose the ability to send something along with an army courier assures its safety and its haste!  In truth the last few months have flown by, and though I dearly missed your correspondence, its absence was a mere pinprick of sorrow compared with the storms which gathered to ravage my spirit here on The Hill.  Indeed, my most precious Adah, I sat down many a time to write to you, but have been unable through heaviness of heart to complete the task.  Oh Adah, how much has changed!  The war seems to have yet left your family in relative peace, or at least stability, but mine has been turned on its head.

There was such a tumult in mid-April here, as news of Sumter, Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation, and the vote of the Richmond Convention came in quick succession.  Relations between neighbors in this and surrounding counties cooled considerably – there are many Unionists here and with the onrush of war I find that every mind is now filled with suspicions and scurrilous judgments towards those we once held friends.  Mason and Father quarreled more than ever, and it was all we could do to keep George chained to his chores in hopes he would not run away to join one of the many bands of young men fancying themselves military units even before the secession referendum.  Then in May we could deny the reality of war no longer, for Fairchild came home to ask permission of my father to join the Army.  My father consented with a proud but heavy heart. My brother was followed a few days later by Mr. Fleming, determined to pay court to me before he also ran away after the call of fife and drum.  How bitter and how sweet those last weeks with them were.  Fairchild brought out his fiddle every evening, and we sang out on the porch long after each sunset.  The earth seemed so content, so unaware of this distant thunder in our souls, as Alfred and I walked under the apple blossoms on the sunny afternoons.

Adah, how I wish I could write the following news with the joy and abundant spirit which ought to accompany it.  Alfred and I have come to an understanding, and my father agrees that we shall be married as soon as this conflict dies away.  How gentle he was when he asked for my hand, one warm May evening as we walked back up to the house – and yet how firm was his determination to leave my side and fight for Virginia’s honor.  His speech was full of Livy and Virgil – “Dulce et decorum est . . .” – so of course I could not match his arguments with eloquence.  I had to content myself with his presence while it lasted.  Our brief time together ended at Fairchild’s wedding in June – a beautiful affair, yet shrouded, I thought, by the presence of so many young men of our acquaintance who were headed to Winchester the next day to enlist or join their regiments.  The Wilcoxes, of course, made much of the departure - their own son, David, was among the volunteers.  They hung their house with bunting and the ball they hosted after the ceremony was so full of patriotic songs and speeches as too leave almost no space for attentions to the bride and groom.  The men all rode off the next morning from Woodlee with much fanfare and many, many tears.  I will not repeat the words that Alfred whispered in my ear before he mounted up with the rest, but I will treasure them up in my heart until the end of my days.

The fact that Mason was not among the volunteers left another shadow on the day – I am not sure how he could bear up under the cold glances of all the Middleburg ladies.  Everyone was the picture of manners over the matter, of course, and paid him the proper deference as brother of the groom.  But he spent most of the night alone, and I could not but detect contempt in his own soul for this show of aristocratic pleasures built on what he terms “our most wicked institution.”  Father and he could barely stand to be in each others presence for more than a few minutes our entire stay at Woodlee.  Perhaps the shame of the day contributed most to what came next.

I had hoped that Mason’s quiet spirit and Quaker ways would keep him from going off with the hotheads on either side of this conflict.  But he is a man, and a man who feels his principles as strong and mighty chains which bind his mind to his actions as surely as God binds the ocean to the shore.  A few days after we returned from Middleburg, Mason left us.  He left only a note, indicating that he was going “North” but did not signify where or when he might return.  I suspect he has followed Mr. Samuel Means – a dear mentor and friend to my brother from Waterford now forced to flee on account of his outspoken Unionism and abolitionism.  Whether he means to fight or simply to wait out the war in friendlier climes I am not certain – but I am hard pressed to imagine any son of my father unwilling to stake his body on behalf of his beliefs.

We have not heard from Mason since, nor do I think we may expect to.  We have heard from Fairchild and Alfred, however, first to convey news of their enlistment in the 1st VA Cavalry and the 4th VA Infantry, respectively.  I had thought they might enlist together, but it seems Alfred would prefer to fight on his feet, and is eager to join his comrades from Washington College who have enlisted in the 4th under the moniker of “The Liberty Hall Volunteers.”  My heart encountered terrors for them when we heard of the fight at Manassas, glorious victory though it was.  Imagine my joy and relief when Fairchild managed to send word the next day, assuring us that he and Alfred were safe – not to mention brimming with all the manly pride such a victory must bring to hearts such as theirs.  I pray the thrashing we have given the Yankee will deter him from any further thought of invasion, and that we may see F. & A. safe at home by Christmas.  Our table every day is silent and bereft, for Father, passionately but silently, mourns each of his departed sons as if he already held in his hands news of their deaths: yet one he remembers with a fierce pride and the other with conflicted shame.

I am not so passionate in my temperament as my Father, but I feel his anguish almost as acute in my own bones.  I pray ever morning for the Deliverance of our fair new country from the claws of tyranny – but I pray even more fervently for the safe return of all my beloved ones, for the restoration of our joys and the healing of our hearts.  May Omnipotence provide it.

I hope you, Adah, may be able to avoid similar pains.  Will Timothy finish his studies or join up?  Will Mr. Mr. McCarty leave you as bereft as I have been? Has Lincoln’s army swept as hard into your part of Virginia as we have heard rumored?  I pray to God not.  Do write and assure me of your continued safety in that town so close to the chief den of our mortal enemies. 

I apologize for the length of this letter – I hope you do not overburden your eyes in reading it – but my heart was so full of events that my pen found my 3 allotted pages would not suffice.  May God be ever with you, and with all whom you love.

Yours ever,


Adah Decides for Secession

23 July, 1861

My best-beloved Margaret-Ellen,

Whatever admonishment you would have for me for allowing your letter to go so long unanswered, I beg you do not withhold any of it.  You must not infer that my silence meant you were not in my thoughts, for nothing could farther from the truth.  It must have been a thousand times that I sat down to write, only to be thwarted by something requiring my immediate attention – Timothy with a button to be sewn on, some biscuits needing saving from burning in the bake oven.  And so it was these long five months.

You cannot begin to imagine how overjoyed we all were to receive your letter and the tidings of your recovery contained therein.  My solemn prayer did not go unheeded by the Almighty – praised be His name!  Timothy will be the first to tell you of how I dashed about the house and read it to anyone in the vicinity.  To just see your hand upon the page, to know that you were well enough to write, was happiness indeed.  O but I do mourn for the loss of your dear Cleo; I know how well your loved her.

It seems that all our joy now shall be tempered with sorrow.  Margaret-Ellen, we are at war, with our own countrymen!  You know that I did not harbor any strong feelings on secession before, but O! Mr. Lincoln has done away with any impartiality I may have felt.  How can a man order his people to kill their brothers?  How can he dare to call up first 75,000, then 500,000 men against their own country?  And to further rub salt into the wound by proclaiming a blockade of our ports?  If this is how he wishes to deal with the South’s secession, then perhaps it is indeed a far better thing for us to be our own country, to guard and secure our rights when she who claimed to be our mother country will not.

Margaret-Ellen, I pray you do not think my sentiments too harsh, but it is what I believe.  It is never a subject which I speak of in public, especially as I do not wish to embarrass my father, We do still frequently dine with members of the congregation, and would not wish to arouse any unfriendliness in anyone.  I have taken to keeping a diary into which I may pour all my thoughts and feelings upon these events.  Perhaps someday I will show it to you, but for now I keep it well guarded, especially from Timothy. 

I am afraid that dinner preparations call me away, my dear friend.  Nellie and I are trying a new receipt from Mrs. Buton’s.  Pray that it turns out well!

I hope soon that I shall have some good news of my own to share with you.  But as I do not wish to speak too soon, that is all I shall say for now!

God bless you and keep you,


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Miss Copeland Writes from her Convalescence

Hillsborough, VA
23 March, 1861

My most beloved Adah,

I am distressed that my father should have so alarmed you with his last letter - sent without my knowledge or consent, though I admit he wrote in fear and with the best intention.  Indeed, it seems I have been very low, and can scarce remember the past ten days.  Only today has the docter given me leave to sit up, and it was only after hours of remonstrance that Father allowed George to help me here to my writing desk.  They have piled me so high with blankets I can scarce put pen to paper, but it does me immense good to return to the simple routine of life.  The sun warms my face, too long hidden from its friendship, and from my window I can see signs that our hard winter is breaking - the creeks run over with melted snow and little points of green - Mr. Wordsworth's daffodils, methinks - thrust through the rich, damp earth.

I hope you may now rest assured that the doctor says I will recover fully, praise the Merciful God, if only I will rest for some days more.  You know how great a trial this will be for me - already my fingers prickle for the feel of my spinning wool in my hands or the soft touch of my garden's earth.  George assures me that he takes up my chores with no complaint from anyone - my Father says my garden still lives, though G. does cut a comick figure at my spinning wheel.  My Aunt Mariah Copeland has come to care for me with the woman's touch my father lacks, for I found when I awoke that my dear old Cleo, who was ever my tender companion and caretaker from childhood, succumbed to the same malady which laid me low and now sings with your mother in the choirs of heaven, where, I think, all thoughts of class, birth, and color are put away forever, and all hearts burn equal with the love of Our Father.  I endeavor to remain joyful in the face of her loss - knowing that God forgets not the sparrow and has granted Cleo eternal joy as boon fro her faithful and pious days with us.  My prayers are with her son, Ben, who is of indispensable service to my Father now that Fairchild is at school.  I know him to be a loyal and hardworking young man, but without family here we hope he will not be turned aside by one of the many vicious abolitionists in the neighborhood to seek out freedom only to find hardship and disaster in the unforgiving lands of the Yankee cut-purse.  I know my father is of a wise and gentle hand, and a most enlightened mind when it comes to our peculiar institution.  He would free Ben if he thought it would do the boy any good - but I feel, and I think my Father agrees, that to continue here alongside us is 10x better than being swept up by some money-grubber who will surely chain him to some Northern mill and never let him look again upon this heavenly country of his birth.

Thank you very much for your accounting of Mr. Lincoln's inaugural, second-hand thought it was.  How good of Mr. McCarty to brave the tumultuous crowd!  It seems I have risen from my sickbed to a world little changed - for good or ill.  I can hear men downstairs grumbling back and forth about Sumter and the failures of Congress and the politic divisions of the Virginia convention - but I gaze out of my window to our little Valley Between the Hills and think to myself that all looks much the same as it did last year, and last year as the year before it.  I somehow find it hard to countenance that all this talk can amount to much at all compared with the beauties all around us.  I think Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Davis, Mr. Stephens, Gen. Scott and the rest ought to be forced to sit before such a view as this for an hour each day before they take up such weighty matters as we now heap upon them.

Please do write and tell me everything there is to tell about your birthday!  My birthday slipped by while I was still sick in bed, and I awoke from my fever to find I was a year older, and a diminutive offering of ill-wrapped gifts left at my bedside.  On top was a lovely bracelet of onyx stones left by Mr. Fleming for me - it seems he and Fairchild were both here and took their fair share of watching over me in my indisposition.  George hints that Mr. Fleming took more night-watches than can be thought just, but it seems both my brother and his friend returned by necessity to Lexington when it was known that I would live, and thus I have no way of verifying the facts of G.'s tale.  The bracelet will match the scarlet silk which was Aunt Nadia's gift to me, and i hope to have a brand new gown sewn when next we meet!

I hope the tumultuous times have left your family in relative peace.  I know that Timothy can think of nothing but soldiering, but has Mr. McCarty indicated whether he will join the ranks if called upon?  What of your father?  Might they take up chaplaincies?

I try not to imagine this place empty of George's pranks and Mason's thoughtful ponderings and Fairchild's strong, helpful spirit.  I trust only and ever in God, "who maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire."  I will keep a brave face, whatever befalls, and if war comes my brothers will find that I may match their martial efforts in my duties here at home strength for strength - the honor of our family & State resting on my shoulders even as it does on theirs.  I pray the Lord will give us all courage to do our duty, and keep you always in my heart, dearest and oldest of friends.

I remain forever yours,

M.E.H. Copeland

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Adah on Illness and Inauguration

20 March, 1861

O my best beloved friend!

How you father's words chilled me to the bone when I read that you had fallen ill!  Timothy came running into my room when he heard my cries, and none could console me.  How it pains me to think of you ill, my dearest Margaret!  And the realization that I can do naught for you - not even come to your bedside - distresses me to no end.  y et I know that my foolish worries can hardly compare to the trials which now endure, stricken as you are by this most wicked malady!  Please believe  me when I say that we all - Father, Timothy, and all our friends, have been steadfastly praying for you sake, appealing to the Almighty for your recovery.  I lift you up to Him, my dear Margaret.

Perhaps a bit of good tidings may bring you some comfort?  I have been corresponding with Mr. McCarty since his return to Arlington.  He is ever a most considerate gentleman, and we have so much to talk about.  He intends to return to Alexandria for my birthday celebration, so I shall see him quite soon - I had begged my father not to make a fuss over my silly birthday, but he would not hear of it!  He does dote upon his children . . . How I wish we could be together again for my birthday.  I recall with great fondness how we used to play charades and forfits and bellman and pass the slipper!  What joyous times we shared, Margaret.

We are all watching with great interest and considerable trepidation, those events which are unfolding all around us.  You had asked me in your previous letter if I should be able to witness Mr. Lincoln's inauguration.  To my great disappointment both Timothy and Father forbade it!  I do sympathize, at least with my father's reasoning: he was worried for my safety.  I did receive an excellent report from Mr. McCarty, who was able to attend.  There were some 25,000 people all gathered there to watch!  Can you believe?  The crowds pressed so close that the Presidential carriage was compelled to stop frequently.  As for his speech, Mr. Lincoln closed by asserting, "In you hands, my dissatisfied fellow country men, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.  The government will not assail you.  You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors."  I do not quite know what to think of Mr. Lincoln's judgement.  As of yet, there has been no violence, only peaceful secession.  I pray that the United States would not seek to "take back" her "lost" states through bloodshed.  For would she not then be the aggressor?  And even now, I have learned that the new Southern government has tried to peacefully and diplomatically address issues arising from their separation, and yet Mr. Lincoln has refused their ambassadors!  We are all very anxious to see what both sides should do next.  Our dear Virginia does not as yet make any motion in favor of secession.  And so we wait, and pray, and trust that the Lord will guide the hearts of those men in whom we have placed our trust.

O my dearest Margaret, may our Heavenly Father bless you and heal you.  You are and always have been in my prayers.  I long to see you again.  I will send this letter by the fastest post I may - please have your father tell us of your situation, and do not keep us ignorant of your state.

Your loving and affectionate


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mr. Copeland writes with Dire News

[Compiler's Note: This note was found among the Ridenour papers and was thought to be of enough import to add in with the young ladies' correspondence.  It is poorly-spelled and barely legible, but here reproduced word-for-word -- it should be remembered that Mr. Copeland could afford to give his children much better educations than what he himself received.]

March 13, 1861

Dear Miss Ridenour,

I hope not to alarm you with this note, but I rite on behaf of Margaret-Ellen, whoo is very ill.  The hard winter has brawt us all very ill and low - and I am sarry to say has gone hardist on the women.  Our old Cleo, who nurst M. as a babe, was carryed off to our Savyor but this mornin, and M.'s fevre is worse since she herd the news.  The dokter say it is the newmonia and that we must trust to the Lord fer Delivrance for medisin can do no more.

I do not rite to alarm you, and I hope this finds you in gud helth and spirit, but I pray you will rite to Her fer yor lettres always put her in good spirit and we men are all useless beests when it komes too keepin her happy and comfertable - I do hope you will rite soone - it will give her sumthing to looke forwerd too.

Keepe us in yor prayers as you all ar in ours.  Sincerlee,

                                                                            J. Copeland

Margaret-Ellen on Winter, War, and Mr. Lincoln

Hillsborough, VA
March 3, 1861

My most beloved Adah,

Do not, Adah, curse yourself for the sake of a letter.  There are too many sorrows in this fallen world to afford ourselves causeless reproachment!  Every word of yours is precious to me, and I mind not waiting a few weeks longer if it means I may share your beloved thoughts.

I hope the weather in Alexandria is warmer than it has been here Between the Hills.  It is naught to match the hellish mountains of snow we had the winter your mother died, but this year ours is an imprisonment in Ice.  The weight of it has snapped many a young apple branch, the cold has taken two of our lambs, and in truth has reached to my very bones - Father has confined me to my room and a warm fire today for fear this troublous cough of mine will worsen.  But I look to the window and study the skeletal trees against the mournful sky and am reminded of the tribulations of Christ.  Surely winter is the Lord's sermon to us - on the grave of chilling sin wherein we all lie, and from which we are raised with Christ upon Easter's day!  We must lean more and more upon the Lord in these dark days.

Tomorrow they will swear in Mr. Lincoln.  If you and Timothy decide to attend, I hope you may write and describe the scene to me - the newspapers are sure to cast it in such a partisan light as to distort the import of every speech and the countenance of all.  If Timothy can contain his patriotic fever, I hope for my sake you shall go.  Father tells me that if Mr. Lincoln strikes a conciliatory stance, there is a good chance Virginia may not take as rash a course as the southernmost states.  But - Heaven prevent it - if he calls for a levy of troops Virginia will flee heart and soul into the bosom of the Confederacy, and will prove there a flower of chivalry and honor.

As much as we have both dreaded the outbreak of hostilities, Adah, I find myself weary of waiting for the storm clouds to either break or dissipate.  My family is ready to take-up the sword, and I pray God will bless our sacrifices as offered to His glory for the sake of our homes and neighbors.  Continue to pray for Mason, dear friend.  He has grown quieter on the subject of Mr. Lincoln as the storm has gathered, but I know his soul is still in the torments of conscience.  I wish, for his sake, that he will go West and avoid the conflict altogether if he cannot bear arms for a slave state.  I know I risk ridicule and shame for such a wish, but I hope God will forgive my womanish fears and my desire for my family to avoid the shame of Mason fleeing North, for he cannot stay here idle while all his friends go to the defense of the Old Dominion.  He is seeing much of Sally Mears lately and I hope she may speak such sense as he will heed.

There was a singing school at the Short Hill Church yesterday, and what a singing it was!  5 dozen voices lifted in praise of God - perhaps the desperation of our times made them even more plaintive and heavenly.  My prayer is to be found in "Mear," one of the last we sang: "Think of the tribes so dearly bought, With the Redeemers blood, nor let thy Zion be forgot, Where once they glory stood."  God will not forget us, Adah, and in war or peace His Justice will be done and His Mercy prevail.

I rejoice that your time of mourning has come to an end.  You must describe the party on the 17th in as much detail as ink and paper will allow!  With Mr. Fleming's return to school, the hard weather, and work here on The Hill I have had little society and miss you all the more.  I pray that God will guide your father's decision to move to Winchester, but you know which direction I would have you take did the question lie with me!  Though I do suppose you would mourn to be parted from Mr. McCarty, as I miss the company of Mr. Fleming.  Indeed, I fear you -must- come to us soon, for you insist on Mr. Fleming meeting your approval and hes has been writing the most -forward- letters of late!  I would not wish to take his hand without your seal, my dear friend.  He has asked that I send him a picture and a lock of hair - shall I send them?  Father smiles but will not say "yea" or "nay," while George is the most abominable tease - he threatens to have a tintype taken of hisself in a gown and sent to Mr. Fleming if I will not be so free as to send mine!  God preserve us from devils, Yankees, and brothers!

I pray you are well and free of any winter's infirmity!  Do write soon, for Mr. Fleming's sake.  May God bless you is ever the prayer of your friend,


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Adah's Observations on the Birth of a Nation and the End of Her Mourning

11 February 1861

My best beloved Margaret,

Can you find it within your most gracious and benevolent heart to forgive your wretched friend?  You must think me quite a wicked person for letting your letter go so long unanswered.  I am afraid that I can offer you no better explanation than the sorry fact that old Father Time, despite his age, moves ever so quickly - a week may pass in the blink of an eye!

And can you believe, my dearest friend, that in that time we have witnessed the birth of a nation?  I must admit that I can scarce wrap my head around it.  And yet I am happy for it - It is my sincere hope that the North will simply let us be, for if we quarrel so violently as one nation, perhaps we may "agree to disagree" as two.  Timothy things this is extremely naive, and feels certain that the North will not let us go without a fight - one which, of course, he desires to be a part of.   On this very day, Mr. Davis is riding to Alabama to accept the presidency of our faith new country, while Mr. Lincoln rides to Washington to accept his!

It certainly does seem most strange to be nearer to the North's capital than to that of the South.  I can only imagine what Alexandria shall be like after Mr. Lincoln's inauguration.  Timothy shall not be let out of the house to join any riots, if I can help it.  Every day he has some ill word for Mr. Lincoln - I have never heard Timothy use fouler language about a man.  Poor Father tries to his best to quiet him, for he so dislikes discord.

I should like very much to tell you something, but you must swear not to make any mention of it to my Winchester relatives.  It would seem that the Lord has put it into Father's heart that he should like to shepherd a flock once more - in Winchester!  I think perhaps the uncertainty in Washington and the faint drumbeats of war have something to do with it as well.  I should be happy either way.  Wouldn't it be lovely to be  near each other once more?  A quieter life would much suit me.

It brings me such joy to read of all that is going on in your life, my dear.  Your writings bring me back to our childhood, and all the happiness we enjoyed.  Praise be to God that He delivered the little Wilcox children from the icy waters!  And how brave and gallant were Mason and Mr. Fleming!  There has certainly been much excitement at The Hill.  My heart is overjoyed to hear of Fairchild and Miss Wilcox's engagement.  It is so good to have something to celebrate in the midst of all this conflict and strife.  Why is it so hard for man to remember that we are charged to love one another?

I am very much impressed with your Mr. Fleming.  A very selfless soul he seems, indeed.  But naturally the young man must pass my scrutiny before he may even let the notion into his head of courting my dearest friend! You are very lucky to have found a man who has mastered the fine art of the waltz, I must admit.  I do not as yet know the state of Mr. McCarty's skills upon the dance floor, as I have not been to a dance in well over a year.  But, I think I may find out soon enough, for Mr. McCarty has invited Father to give the sermon next Sunday at his church, and there is to be a friendly, small party in my father's honor the evening of the Saturday before, where I am told there is to be dancing!  This shall be my re-entrance into society, my dear Margaret.  I shall mourn my Mother in my heart until we are reunited in heaven, but something transpired Tuesday last which reassured me of God's never-ending love and grace, and filled me with more comfort than I have ever known.  After I had gone to bed, I was consumed in such dark thoughts of pain and longing.  I sat up in bed and cried out to the Lord for help.  And quite suddenly I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders and a warmth fill my bosom.  Soon afterwards, I drifted off to sleep and dreamt of my dear Mother.  She appeared to me so happy and serene.  I knew then that her spirit was at peace in heaven, and that I should not fear her gone forever. I pray you too may feel such peace, in all aspects of your life.

It is impossible to know what lies ahead.  But we shall always be certain that our heavenly Father has a plan for us.  May it preserve our loved ones, and bring us all together very soon.

Yours always,