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,


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Margaret-Ellen Confronts Water, Fire & Beast

Hillsboro, VA
20 January 1861

Dearest Adah,

I have thrice in the past month sat down to write, and have thrice been thwarted in my honorable intentions by the boisterous demands of this house!  The whole farm conspires against our correspondence - firstly, the bull ram broke his fencing the day after Christmas and required pursuit by all of our immediate neighbors before he could trample every garden in the valley.  He did manage to bust my Uncle Copeland's cider-still before Mason roped him, but Father confides with a smile that this is perhaps not so great a loss as my Uncle Copeland would have you believe.  Secondly, on my next leisurely afternoon, the 6th, George set down a lantern in the milk-shed which Sally then kicked over, starting a fire which, had it not been for our quick application of snow, might have taken our milk shed as well as the store-barn with all the corn and wool we have not yet marketed - thanks be to Providence for His good favor in that instance!  Thirdly, last Sunday the 13th my brothers were preserved through an adventure which set the house on its head and of which all the town is still talking.

We had gone in the Wilcoxes' sleigh to Round Hill after church to skate on Slater Lake.  The entire Wilcox family had come along, as well as Mr. Fleming - upon whom I may find place to comment later.  Well, little Jane Wilcox and her brother Winslow, neither of them much older than six or seven, despite all our careful precautions and warnings, skated down near to the mouth of Simpson Creek where the water runs swift into the creek mouth and the ice is dangerously thin.  Water was running high in the creek because of the snows - thus both children broke through the ice and were swept into the creek!

Mr. Fleming saw them fall, thank the gracious Lord in Heaven, or we might never have recovered them, for they broke through and disappeared without a sound.  My brothers and Mr. Fleming mounted instantly to ride down the creek in search of them.  Little Jane had the good sense to hold onto a bare root which bridged the creek, and Fairchild was able to wade in rescue her soon after Mr. Fleming gave the alarm, but Winslow could not be seen or heard and we feared him to be forever lost.  Abundant were our tears as we waited by the lakeside in fervent prayer for the child's deliverance, until - oh, Adah it seemed a lifetime had passed though it could not have been more than a quarter hour - we saw Mr. Fleming, George & Mason with little Winslow in his arms!  Mason, in all of God's wise and tender providence, knew that creek from hunting it with my Hamilton uncles and remembered a spit of brush at a bend which, by riding hard, they reached before the Creek had swept  the child so far.  My brother, blind to his own danger and the deadly chill of the water, waded in, keeping one arm steady on the brush-bridge and one arm ready to catch the child as he was carried by.  Winslow seemed lifeless when they caught him, but by steady working of his limbs and chest Mr. Fleming brought him to consciousness.  The children were left in the care of Dr. Conway, whose house was nearby, and Mary Wilcox tells me they are both out of danger as of yesterday.  We bundled Mason and Fairchild home, wet & shivering - soaked through as they both were it's a miracle only Mason took ill.  I have been all week nursing him and the doctor has just this morning given him leave to rise from bed.  Thus, my dear Adah, you see how water, fire and beast ally themselves to drive all other cares from my mind.

Yet I take up my father's paper this morning and find that the waters of public opinion, the fires of ideology, and the beasts in Washington have conspired to throw the land into uproar while I have been distracted husbanding my own small world here on The Hill.  Five states torn away nearly all at once and the blood of our fathers spilled at Cowpens and Yorktown runs all to naught.  Fairchild and George share Timothy's enthusiasms and our family dinners are one interminable soapbox oratory, which I will not repeat here.  I almost prefer Mason's stoic and silent Unionism! Adah, you know my heart is with my native State and will always remain there, but as all possibility of peace slips away I can only mourn its loss, keeping a brave face - whatever befalls.

Do you remember the flag I sewed for the Arnold's Grove School so many years ago?  A group of rowdy townsmen tore it down yesterday and trampled it beneath their horses' feet.  Fairchild saw it where it lay and brought it to me for the sake of the labor spent on it.  He bade me not to do it honor by washing or mending it, but I have brushed it clean and lain it away at the bottom of the linens chest - burying it in state, one might say, for the sake of its beauty and honored history.

Even so, in all this bellicose atmosphere it seems that love and harmonious feeling may find a place even when war should rise against us.  Fairchild and Miss Wilcox did indeed declare their engagement at Christmas - though assuredly you have already seen the announcement in the papers.  The Wilcoxes would like the wedding to occur at Woodlee in June, but I fear the engagement may be shortened - or, worse, lengthened indefinitely - if war seems imminent.  I think Fairchild might prefer a simple ceremony under the Old Walnut here on The Hill, as Father and Mama were married, but the Wilcoxes are grand people and I expect will conquer in particulars.

I am much pleased to hear of your new friend, Mr. McCarty.  I am sure he is a gentle and engaging young man in all respects, and I am all joy to hope he may bring your lovely smile back after your year of gloom.  I am sure Timothy teases you often enough so I will not add to it but to share my hope that he spares your feet when first you dance with him.  Preachers are not known for their knowledge of the Waltz - I spent much of Aunt Nadia's ball endeavoring to fill my card before I could be caught by one particularly long-toed parson.  I needn't have fretted myself, however, for Fairchild put a number of his friends from Lexington at my service. Included among them was the notorious Mr. Fleming, show gallant action in the rescue of the Wilcox children I have already detailed.  Oh Adah, you may have reason to doubt his worthiness now, but I am sure your opinion will match with mine when first you meet him.  He is courteous, attentive, gallant and quick-thinking - not to mention a fine practitioner of the Waltz.  He is a student of History at Washington College, but he says his heart is in farming and he is to inherit Mr. Allder's estate just over Short Hill when he comes of age next year.  His attentions at the Ball were resolute, and we have little doubt as to his intentions.  Father encourages me not to rush into romance, as the world seems so foolishly to rush into everything at present, but he approves of Mr. Fleming's company as it stands.  The are both scholars, and Father is downstairs even as I write helping him with a translation of Cicero.

I hope you may soon meet Mr. Fleming, as I look forward to visiting with Mr. McCarty if ever the opportunity arises.  Tell Timothy he can tease all he likes, but I hope he will forgive the promise I made him when were both children at White Oaks - he will know what I speak of and I hope you will laugh mercilessly at the blush I am sure it will bring to his countenance.  He may return my lock of hair if he wishes, though I am convinced he has lost it after all these years - we were not seven years old at the time!

I pray you all may be whole and happy.  Your affectionate friend,

                                                                                       M.E.H. Copeland

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Adah on Death, Love, and Secession

21 December 1860

My dearest Margaret,

I pray that this letter reaches you quickly and finds your family in good health.  What a shock we have had yesterday.  It has taken me all of these twenty-four hours since to gather my thoughts enough to sensibly put pen to paper.  Three days after the South Carolina Secessionist Convention is called to order, they have approved the Ordinance  of Secession.  O Margaret, I tremble at the thought of what this may mean for us in Virginia.  You must not think me unpatriotic, for I love Virginia with all my heart; but as my heart already grieves for the loss of my mother, I do not know how I could bear it should it come to bloodshed.  Timothy is all talk of secession for Virginia, and it frightens me how eager he is to take up arms for her.  But, of course, it still must be seen what the government in Washington will do in the face of South Carolina's secession.  President Buchanan has already admitted that the federal government can not prevent the states from seceding.

There is still some hope that Mr. Crittenden's compromise will be the solution.  We can only wait and pray.  I had so hoped to keep out of politics, to retain some facade of the peace and happiness we once knew.  Even my father, who had tried so desperately to make our home a haven from worldly concerns, cannot help but speak on the subject now.  He reminds me to trust in our Heavenly Father, and pray for wisdom for those in power.

Your letter, and the news contained therein, has provided me with such joy in the midst of all this uncertainty.  I offer my heartiest congratulations to Fairchild and Miss Wilcox.  It seems like just yesterday that Fairchild was tormenting us while we played down by the river, stealing our shoes and stockings so that we had to walk all the way back to your Aunt Nadia's unshod!  But he has grown up so much since then, and I am sure is ever the gentleman to Miss Wilcox.

I so long to be with you for Christmas, and to attend the Ball, even if only to see you in your new gown as I am not up to dancing quite yet.  I am afraid that we will not be able to come to Winchester until the new year, as father has been asked to give the sermon at the Christmas Eve service, so we must stay in Alexandria for the holidays.  I pray that when we may finally be together again, there shall be naught but happiness and good tidings.

Your news about Fairchild's endeavors at matchmaking made me laugh right out loud, so that Timothy raced downstairs to the drawing room to see what was the matter.  He hounded me for hours on the subject, and even chased me about the room in an attempt to snatch your letter from my hand!  But fear not, my dear friend, for I kept the letter safely from his prying eyes.  You know how much Timothy would have teased you if he knew!  As for me, I dare Fairchild - or any one - to show me a man worthy of your hand.  Your wool yarn is the finest in Frederick County, and I have yet to taste an apple tart better than yours.

My dear Margaret, since I never had a sister, I have always been of the opinion that God saw fit to bring us together, and I see you very much as my own sister.  It is for this reason that I now confide in you my feelings.  For some weeks now, a former student of my father has been staying with us.  His name is Mr. Michael McCarty and he is from Arlington.  He hopes some day to teach at the seminary, but for now is a pastor for a small congregation which he loves dearly.  I have never seen a man whose heart was so on fire for Christ, except my father.  O Margaret, I must confess that even as my heart grieves for my mother, it cannot help but be drawn to Mr. McCarty's humble and caring nature.  I know now what the Lord has planned for us, but at the very least, I pray that our friendship may continue to grow.  He will be returning soon to Arlington, as a shepherd cannot be too long from his flock, but he assures me that he shall visit soon and often.  Mr. McCarty has been an incredible blessing to our household, offering prayer and consolation, and bringing many a smile to my father's face.  May God bless him!

I thank you kindly for your sweet words on the subject of my mourning for my mother, and I have taken them to heart.  It does give me great comfort to think of both our dear mothers in heaven rejoicing with their King, and knowing that one day our souls will soar with them again, praising His glorious name!

I have included one of the new calling cards that I have made up, in anticipation for when I may feel comfortable enough to pay calls again.

My dear Margaret, you do sound so awfully busy out there on The Hill.  I wish that I could join you and ease your burden of work.  I constantly marvel at all your great talents, and your humbleness of spirit which allows you to go about your duties with such cheer and determination.  "Give her the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates!"  My own work basket sits near my feet now, awaiting to be taken up.  At the beginning of the month, I put my mind to making scrap quilts for the poor.  I am nearly done with my tenth quilt - they are easy and quick work when one is merely piecing blocks.  On Christmas day, my father and Timothy shall drive me out to deliver the quilts in person.  Few things give me more pleasure, and I am so glad to hear of your own charitable works.

There is little that gives me as much happiness as when I read your letters, my dear friend!  I look forward with great anticipation to your reply.  Until then, may God keep you and bless you, and give your family a most joyous Christmas.

Yours always,


Meet Adah Mehitable Ridenour

June, 1861

For those of you who do not know me, I am the daughter of Thomas and Coleen Ridenour, born 4 April, 1843. I have but one brother, Timothy Edward, who is 1 year my senior. The Lord took my mother into His heavenly kingdom in December of '59, after a terrible struggle with consumption. However, it brings me some comfort to know that she is no longer suffering. She was a godly and virtuous woman, and devoted mother and wife. Although I have since put away my mourning clothes, my heart shall mourn for her until we meet again.

My father's family is from Winchester, Virginia. He came to Alexandria first to study at the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary, and later to teach there as one of her professors. it was in that city that he met my mother, and that Timothy and I were born. My father made the difficult decision to leave Alexandria, since she was quickly occupied by the enemy, but I am glad to be with my family once again in Winchester. I do feel so sorry for Timothy, who has had to abandon his study of law at Columbia College; but perhaps when all this is over, he may return there and become a lawyer, as is his dream. For now, Timothy wants nothing more than to fight the Yankees himself. As for me, I turn my attention these days to serving in whatever ways I can. When regiments arrive in Winchester, my friends and I rush out to bring the soldiers food and water, and to do some mending and washing for them.

Our lives have changed so very much in so very short a time. I hope that you may find our writings, that of myself and of my best beloved friend Margaret-Ellen, an interesting and compelling record of all that has happened.

God bless,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Margaret-Ellen Contemplates Discord Foreign & Domestick

12 December 1860

Dearest Adah,

Friend, I hope you may forgive the tardiness of this letter.  Duties here on The Hill pause not for sisterly affection.   Father and my brothers are daily in the fields, from morning dark 'til the last gloaming.  Hay must be gathered in and land plowed under, great mountains of winter firewood felled and corded, feed corn carefully laid-in.  Their days may be full - but work waits always for the woman of the house!  I have preserved 4 bushels of winter apples, and made another bushels worth of pies, which Cleo and I spend the afternoons distributing to the less fortunate families near Potts Hill.  George has outgrown last year's coat, and Fairchild mangled his own on a fence-nail last week - thus my mending pile grows.  My basket is full of wool to spin and weave into blankets and long-johns - Fairchild hints that I must procure a good pattern for a cavalry coat, but I wish he would keep his dark musings to himself.  All this and gathering-in and cellaring the last harvest from my garden, and thus my pen and paper lie idle on my desk for weeks and days, waiting patiently for time to afford reverie.  How I miss the slow idle summer days at White Oak House - nothing but yards of Boston silk and knots in my thread to distract me from your beloved company.

Yet, I cannot help but give thanks to God in small part for the unrelenting duties of our farm, for I fear familial relations between Mason and the rest have not improved.  The neighbors keep their polite distance from the subject, so some of my prayers are answered, at least.  But Mason continues to heap appellations of "Liberator" and "Preserver" on Mr. Lincoln, and Father gets his blood up and it is all Fairchild can do to preserve them from coming to blows.  George, as you know, worships Father, and like the hot-head he is refused to even acknowledge Mason most days.  The heat and flurry of our late-Autumn chores do little to warm the chill of sectionalism which plagues this house.  Dearest Adah, most faithful and patient of all my childhood friends - forgive my frank disclosures of domestic discord.  I know it is not decorous or proper to mention such unpleasantness in a letter, but I mention them only to beg you continue to lift up this family in prayer to the Almighty, who alone works the miracle of peace in the hearts of men.

We were in Winchester near the end of November for Thanksgiving at Aunt Nadia's, and heard your father's old friend, Mr. A.H.H. Boyd, preach at the Loudon Street Church.  He was in good form, but his words made me mourn for my country and my state even more deeply than for my family.  He spoke of the sectionalists in the North who have made the thought of Union hateful to their southern brethren - I remember his words very clearly: "What was considered our richest inheritance is now only the source of embittered feeling . . . to all human appearance nothing but divine interposition will avail to our deliverance from the apalling calamities that threaten us."

To that hope of Divine Mercy we must all now cling, and pray to Him who makes all men brothers for wisdom and temperance to govern the minds of those shortly attending the convention in Columbia.  I will hold tight to hope and joy, though Fairchild says to hope and pray for a Charlestown man to see Reason is like praying for a Rooster to grow wool.

George, like the child he is, prays for war.  Mason does not speak of it, but I know his conscience and his duty torment him like devils in his ears day and night.  Father and Fairchild, I know, will take up arms for our fair State if it comes to that, but both only for Love of  a quiet life here on The Hill.  They will all march away to the drumbeat of duty, and nothing I do or say could drown out that terrible call which sounds sometimes in my dreams.  I can do nothing but "lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help," seeking guidance - and to keep these girlish tears from spoiling my pages . . . There is still hope, I know, that secession may not come, or if secession comes, that war may not follow.  But the speech of men, from President Buchanan's recent oration on down to one's dinner conversation give not much reason for optimistic feeling.

When these dreary waves steal over me, however, I have but to think of you and Timothy and my heart discovers gladness again.  Yesterday we held in solemn remembrance of your family's loss.  I do share your grief, missing your mother as I do my own.  A more charitable and prudent woman there never was, and the angel choirs of heaven rejoice, I'm sure, to have her as we have wept to lose her.  Do not, I pray you, haste out of mourning if your heart is not in it.  It were better to wear gray and lavender and sit-in some evenings than to show a countenance yet sallow with grief to society.  Losing my own dear Mama long ago has taught me - Time is the Great Physician of Life's wounds, but one must not shift his bandages too soon if one wishes for effectual healing.

I do hope your family may come out to Winchester for Christmas!  My Aunt Nadia and your Aunt Anne are bustling in torrential preparation for the Ladies Society Ball, and I long to see you and your new dress!  Timothy, as you know, owes me too many dances to count, and I wish for you to view my own new holiday gown - though, to be entirely honest, it is but an old blue satin of Aunt Nadia's which I have taken apart and reworked in the latest style from Richmond.  I believe even your trained eye may be pleased with the result.

I expect that Fairchild and Mary Wilcox will announce an engagement before long - perhaps even at the Ball come Christmas.  I wish them every happiness, even in these worrisome times.  Amor vincit omnia.  Love seems on his mind, for Fairchild promises to introduce me to a friend from Washington College, a one Mr. Alfred Fleming of New Market, whom he says will inherit an uncle's farm nearby in Purcellville before too long.  I blush at this, as any proper girl would, but Fairchild teases me mercilessly and says my age and spindle-marked hands proclaim me almost a spinster.  I defied him to produce any mousy Washington College greekling who could conquer my affection, but all he did was wink at me, like a vulgar schoolboy.  We shall see - Mr. Fleming's demeanor at the Ball will uncover his true character in any respect.

I implore Almighty God day and night for the continued health and safety of you and your family.  May your joys increase tenfold this Christmastide, and may Providence see us soon in each other's company once more.

With all possible affection,

Margaret-Ellen Hamilton Copeland

Adah Comments on the Infamous Election

[Compiler's Note: A letter dated November 6th, 1860, from Margaret-Ellen to Adah is not available to the compiler at this time.  In it, Miss Copeland comments on the recent election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency, her family's support of Mr. John Bell, and the shame of her brother Mason's decision to vote for Mr. Lincoln and his abolitionist principles]

15 November 1860

My dearest Margaret,

You must know I should never criticize your hand for anything in the world.  I always received the poorest marks in it while at the Columbia Athenaeum, no matter how long I practiced.  Regardless of the script, your words are as dear to me as ever, my sweet friend.

Since reading your letter, I have been steadfastly praying for your family.  You must tell me, if you can, how it stands with your brother Mason.  It would seem that the division in sentiment within your family mirrors much of what people are feeling here in Alexandria since the election of Mr. Lincoln.  As we are but a stone's throw across the Potomac from the Capital, we of course hear and feel much of what is occurring in the political sphere.  And yet this is a subject which goes beyond politics and touches everyone in their heart of hearts.

Timothy, as you can imagine, has been extremely sore since the news.  He was a great supporter of Mr. Bell, and did indeed take me with him when Mr. Bell spoke here during his campaign.  I have never had a head for politics, but my heart does fear for what Mr. Lincoln's election will mean for the South.  Father does not speak of anything around me, and does not tolerate Timothy's rants; he has always been such a peaceful man, you know.  But I am certain he feels the same disappointment that I do, perhaps even more so.  There are times when I fear for our safety in the city, since so many have been angered by Mr. Lincoln's election.  Suppose an angry mob were to rise up and march through the streets!  You must forgive my outrageous imagination, but it does not seem so outrageous when you hear the talk of some people.  And even you have mentioned the feeling of trepidation, of "blood and judgement."

As we journey ever deeper into the chill of autumn, I long for those warm, carefree days of summer in which we passed our childhood so sweetly.  I am thinking of you now as I begin a new dress.  How I miss sewing with you on the porch at your Aunt Nadia's!  It is to be a lavender frock, the only color I am allowed still.  I can hardly believe it has been almost a whole year since Mama passed away.  Once December is come and gone, I am to begin to wear my old gowns again.  But to be completely candid with you, I am still grieving terribly for Mama, and I do not think I am prepared to don regular clothing yet.  My social schedule is still half of what it once was.  I just cannot bear to feign happiness when I am so burdened with grief.

But my dear Margaret, I should not wish to burden you with such sad tidings.  Please write to me as soon as you are able, and let me know how you and your father and Fairchild and especially Mason are getting on.  And should you have had any chance to go to Winchester, please send us some news of the town and our Aunt Anne, as we have not heard from her in some time.

I pray that you are well, and that you do find some quiet, peaceful time to yourself amid all your work!  May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Yours ever,


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Meet Margaret-Ellen Hamilton Copeland

I was born on March 15th, 1842, the 3rd child born to James Tyler McCoy Copeland and his bride, Ellen Janney Hamilton Copeland.  My father is a gentleman farmer in Hillsborough, VA, a humble stone-built town lodged in a gap where the Charlestown Pike cuts through the knuckle of the Catoctin Mountains called Short Hill.  He raises sheep for wool to be sold in the big mill-towns nearby: Harper's Ferry, Winchester and the like, as well as a few acres of apples and corn.

I have 2 older brothers, Fairchild (b. 1838) and Mason (b. 1840), and a younger brother, George (b.1845).  My mother Ellen died of childbed fever after giving birth to George, and we were all split up as youngsters until our father could regain his footing after being so tragically bereft.  My brothers Fairchild and baby George stayed with my father and our spinster aunt, Miss Mariah Copeland.  Mason went to live with my mother's people, the Hamiltons and Janneys of Waterford, VA, who were Quakers and raised him up in that tradition.  I was sent to live in Winchester with my Aunt Nadia White, wife to a wealthy townsman there and my father's sister.  There in Winchester I became acquainted with Adah Ridenour and her brother Timothy, children of a well-connected Alexandria family who spent their summers in the house next-door.  Adah and I became fast friends, and when I eventually moved back to Hillsboro to learn to work the farm (my aunt having utterly failed in her attempts to make a proper lady out of me), and she went away to Athenaeum, we both continued our correspondence with each other.

I pray my humble writings may lift your spirits and enlighten your minds, bringing the shadows of our Late Unpleasantness into the humble light cast by we ordinary folk who experienced it first-hand.

Ever your servant,

M.E.H. Copeland
Hillsbourgh, VA, 1860