Thursday, September 4, 2014

150-year-old Civil War Letter Warns Against the Clap!

Civil War Love Letters Written 150 years ago
As we continue to commemorate the 150-year anniversary war, here is another excerpt from my book Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, published by Heritage Books. The following battles were fought by private Charles McDowell in September 1864:

September 19 Battle of Winchester
September 22 Fisher's Hill

Leading up to those battles are a few of the love letters between Charles and his teenage wife Nancy--my great-great grandparents from upstate New York. Nancy not only had to worry about Charles dying in battle, she also worried about "the clap!"

To Nancy from Charles:
[Tenallytown]                                                       Sept the 4-1864
Dearest Wife,
            We are at Tennallytown yet.  We are having splendid nice weather her[e] now.
            There is quite an excitement here about re-enlisting.  I bet you two thirds of the army will enlist.  Grant's army is rather getting the start of the rebs now but they ain’t whipped yet.  They are tough fellows.  I soon found that out when we went to the front.      
            You wouldn’t hardly know me now.  I hadn’t shaved since we started for the front till today and my mustache got so long I couldn’t eat molasses very well and I cut it off and most all the rest of my whiskers.  The boys don’t hardly know me. 
            John Perkins is a prisoner.  Fred Stell is killed.  We can’t hear much about the prisoners. 
            From your ever true and affectionate husband, C McDowell
To Charles from Nancy:                                                                                                                                             
Dearest Husband,                                            September 4 1864
             I have just got the letter that you wrote the fourth of July.   I don’t think purty much of that girl being so clever.   High Thompson, he found some clever ones out there.   The folks says that he has got the clap [gonorrhea] so that they can’t go in the house because he smells so bad, and they don’t think that he will live long.   They thought he was dead one day.    The doctor had been fixing him.  
             The cannons roared all night last night.   They don’t know what it was for but they think is some good news.   They say that we have taking Mobile and they think that Petersburg will be ourn in a week’s time.   I hope it is all true but I am afraid it is almost too good to be true.   They say that Old Abe says the war will end in three months. 
            You say that you go and see Miss Feaks purty often.   I wish I was there so I could go with you.  I hope that you can stay to Tennallytown till your time is out.   It seams almost like an age.  A whole year before you can come home but I am glad every time when night comes.   I think one more day has past and gone and your time is so much nearer out but it will pass off after a while. It can’t last always.
            Hank Jule is drafted.  I don’t know whether he will go or not.   They have filled up Huron’s call. They give them fifteen hundred apiece, but Sodus, they will hafto come to a draft for there has so many run too.
            The paper states that they are paying all the armies off now but I though[t] your being to Tennallytown your wouldn’t get your pay.   I would like to know if your have heard anything from Cary or not.   She hasn’t heard from him since he was…
            From your ever true and affectionate wife Nancy McDowell
To Charles from Nancy:
Dearest Husband,                                       September the 11 1864
            You spoke about the regiment enlisting again.   I hope that you won’t be so foolish to enlist again.   I had drather go with half enough to eat than have you enlist again. The big bounty I would[n’t] look at it.   I had drather have my freedom than all the money.  
            The men get from two dollars to twenty sh_______ pr day and thirty dollars pr month.  Any body can earn a living, and if you get hurt, I can work ____ get us a living.  I would work night and bet  you should have enough to eat.  I wouldn’t have you enlist again for two thousands dollars if I could have my way about it.  You said that your captain resigned and had gone home.   Who is your captain now?
             I sent you some camphor gum I would like to know if you got it.   I would like to have your likeness since you shaved.   I think I would know it.
            Am here all alone today.   All the rest has gone to meeting.   I wish you was here with me.   This makes me think of my dream last night.   I thought I was out there with you and we was up to Miss Feaks and we had a good visit and we was carrying on like everything and I laugh so loud that it woke me up.   I have thought about it all [?] morning
            Dave wrote home to know what Pa and Ma thought about his enlisting.  I think he is foolish.   He said he wouldn’t enlist for all of Verginey.   I think he turns his tune but [?] him enlist.   Don’t you?  
            I don’t suppose that [you] hafto stand guard nights now.
            From your ever true affectionate wife
To Nancy from Charles:
[Probably Tennallytown]                                   Sept the 12 - 1864
Dearest Wife
            We have had a considerable of rain lately and it is pretty cool weather here now.  They say Hammond and his wife had a quarrel and he has enlisted.
            I got the letter that had the dollar in I guess I won’t send it back for I have got it most all spent for apple dumplings and milk.  There is peddlers here all the while with them and you know how I like dumplings. I wish you was here now to make another such a batch as we had last winter.  I think I could manage some of them.  They are ten cts apiece.  Mrs. Hoxie has 25 cts apiece for pies now, 75 cts a meal.
            That fellow that [you] spoke about [the one with the “clap”] is pretty bad off.  You talk as though you thought I might get in that way. But Nat you needn’t be uneasy about that and I don't think I am quite as soft in the head as to go in such speculations as that and I don't think that you would think that I would do any such a thing.  Anyway if you do, you are greatly mistaken. 
            What does the folks think about election out there? Here the most of them thinks Old Abe will get it again and I think so and I think the war will be settled under him as quickly as any body else. The most the rebs is waiting now is election.  I think they will come to some settlement after election. They would like to have McClellan in if they could.
             I was to Mrs. Feaks today.  She is well.  I left a nice little there that I found. She wants me to give it to her but I don't know whether to give it to her or send it home.
             You said you was pretty lonesome.  I dare say you be Nat but you must keep up good courage. The time will soon run round when I can be at home again.  Sometimes I feel very lonesome, but when I think of the time and how fast it is passing, I get over it again. If I can get through the remainder of my time as well as I have the fore part I shall feel very thankful, although I have had some pretty close calls.
            I think I told you that at Monocacy a piece of shell or a ball broke my gun and Carpenter told me to throw it away and pick up another and I picked up a nice rifle. You could have picked up a gun there any place.  I was afraid I would get over heated that day for I was one of the last off of the field and I was awful warm when I came off, and then we had to take a double quick once and a while to keep out of their batteries, and I was most choked for a drink, but I doesn’t drink much.  I was so warm and another thing, we hadn't any too much time to get it.
            I ain’t doing much of anything but I get just as much pay as though I had worked hard.  I am afraid I have got in a bad place to learn how to work but I guess I can learn how when I get home again
            From your ever true and affectionate husband c. McDowell
            I hadn’t but just my letter finished when we had orders to move. We are in Washington now waiting for cars to take us to Harpers Ferry. We have got orders to fall in now.
Chapter Eleven
Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign
The Battles of Opequon (or Winchester), Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek
To Nancy from Charles:
(Near Berrysville - 22 miles from Harpers Ferry)       Sept the 18-64
Dearest Wife,
             We lay in front of the enemy but there is no fighting on either side, and I guess there won’t be any very quick without they attack us.  All we want is to keep them here at present. 
            We are encamped in the woods. It’s a nice place but we don’t know how long we will stay here.  We are about 22 miles from Harpers Ferry near Berryville.  That letter that had that dollar in ain’t here nor them papers.  I guess that is lost.  I got your letter dated the 11 when we was at Washington.  Carpenter is acting as captain now. 
            You say you was alone.  I know you was lonesome but you must keep up good courage.  I feel in hopes that I shall soon be with you.  Now you had quite a dream.  I would have been glad if it had been true.  You said you didn’t want me to enlist.  You needn’t be scart.  I don’t [I] think shall if you didn’t want me to.  I shouldn’t anyway for all the money they can stack up. 
            From your ever true and affectionate husband C. McDowell

The above was an excerpt from my book and play, Ever True: A Union and His Wife. If you would like to see or present a reading of their letters, contact me at