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An 1800s Love Letter

Having read the letter Elizabeth wrote to her husband wouldn’t it be great to read his reply? Unfortunately, not possible. The letters J.F. McCartney wrote to his wife while involved in the Vicksburg campaign have been lost in the 158 years since. His letters on the 1864-65 campaign in Georgia and South Carolina were preserved and many are included in the book. However, we have early letters from J.F. to Elizabeth before their marriage when he had returned to Ohio for further education preparing for a career in law. This young man’s love letter, dated Dec. 5, 1858, provides insight into his character and the times.

Dear Elizabeth

It is Sabbath morning and I know of no way I can spend a few minutes better than in answering your very welcome letter, which I received a few days ago. Your letters are always welcome. They are to me an assurance that though many miles separate us I still have a place in your heart.

Time works many changes. It changes my residence almost everytime I write. This is owing chiefly to the long sick spell I had in the summer and fall. A sickness which led me to the very verge of the grave. I have now been restored to health and am pursuing the object for which I left the nation, that is I am attending Vermilion Institute again.

I am keeping bachelor’s hall now but, Elizabeth, I hope I shall not always do so. My heart loves society. Yes, the society of the fair. I am all alone in my room and can truly say:

Oh solitude where are the charms

That sages have seen in thy face

Still I hope the time will come when I have finished my college course and shall be properly fitted to discharge the duties of life. That I will find a friend, yes, more than a friend a partner on whose bosom I may lay my aching head when the storms and misfortunes of life gather thick around me, one that I can embrace with all the fondness of love and call my own, my dear.

Your soul no doubt, Elizabeth, entertains a similar emotion but we have both much to do to prepare for the great business of living. Our habits are to be connected, our principles established and our minds enlightened. We should look at these things soberly and prepare ourselves for what ever awaits us in life. I am aware I have much to learn before I could make a wife happy but now I am trying also. Then when we are prepared life will have joys of which we now know nothing.

I write, Elizabeth, just as if you were present indeed and fancy that you are. But there is no such good news as this. My arms are not yet encircling your form nor can my lips press yours. It may be a long time before this shall take place. Still, Elizabeth, I remember you last words to me “My dear, live on and hope on!

Write me a long letter as soon as this shall reach you. What you write is treasured in my mind. My sheet is full and therefore I must close though I have much more to say.

Yours with affection

J.F. McCartney

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