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Letters of a Confederate Couple

In Hardtack and Heartbreak, my focus is on the Civil War beyond the battlefield—on the soldier’s life and small decisions, on his wife’s daily life and worries. Moving from Elizabeth McCartney and her Union husband, I want to introduce Theophilus Perry and his wife, Harriet, whose letters have been published by the University of Arkansas Press.

Theophilus enlisted in the 28th Texas Cavalry in May, 1862, leaving his law practice in Marshall, Texas and his wife, Harriet, and baby daughter. Harriet had attended Raleigh Female Classical Institute and wrote many lengthy letters. From the 235 pages devoted to their letters, I will try to summarize their story in three posts.

Soon after his enlistment, Theophilus traveled with his regiment to Arkansas, accompanied by his personal slave, Norflet. A measles outbreak in his unit led Theophilus to consider sending Norflet home if he hadn’t had measles. On July 17, 1862, he wrote to his wife, “Upon another conversation with Norflet, and from what Nathan tells me I think that he had the Measles in Louisburg the year before he came out here. I told him he might go or return home at his pleasure, and he would not say, so I have resolved to carry him.”

He concluded this letter, “My dear one scant glance of you would fill me with unusual bliss. I never knew how much my life is wrapped up in you and daughter, as I now know. …Without you, wealth fame and glory would be worthless and indeed misery. I am doing my best to preserve my health in order to return again.”

A letter on August 3, 1862 from Harriet is typical: “It is almost impossible to write, for daughter keeps coming looking over, biting my fingers, wanting to examine the contents of the writing desk & various other things, she has sent several kisses to you up on top of the page, wetting it with her mouth. She gets smarter and more interesting every day.”

It appears that there was not a working postal service in the South. One example of many is in Harriet’s letter of October 30, 1862. “As I never miss an opportunity of writing, I send you a few lines by Mr. Williams who leaves in the morning, although I wrote on Sunday & sent by Mr. Harris – We are all well, our little darling is improving & I think will get well now, she has rested well at night for the last week & is one of the best bed fellows I ever had…I experience a world of pleasure in that little embrace—would you could be privileged to enjoy the same inexpressible pleasure---poor little heart will soon begin to see trouble when I am forced to divide the care & attention I bestow on her with another—I am all the time sympathizing with her & think I ought to wean her from me.”

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