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Laura Drake Davis and I spent most of 2010-2012 on the road scanning and collecting images for the CW150 Legacy Project. It was not until recently that I have had much time to study and catalog the images that we scanned. I just came across this lovely letter that was scanned in Tazewell County, Virginia, in September 2010.
What grabbed my attention was the first line: “My dear and most affectionate lover…” What a way to start a letter–doesn’t it sound racy? But actually many letters written during the 19th century were as full of love and feelings as modern letters are. The difference is that the 19th-century term “lover” does not necessarily carry the same connotations as it does today. This was a letter written by George Ward (1837-1927) of Tazewell County on 16 July 1861, while serving with 21st Virginia Infantry Regiment, Company H, to his love interest, Mary Jane Ratliff. Ratliff (1842-1905) was the daughter of Abednego and Louisa Vicey Matney Ratliff, also of Tazewell County. George writes of his feelings for [Mary] Jane (“dear Jinnia”), his hopes to marry her, and how he hated parting from her. George mentions the possibility of his death numerous times in the letter, ending it with his hopes that they meet in heaven should he not survive the war.
I have come across many love letters while working on the Legacy Project and always find them so endearing. Often times they end in heartbreak as I find out that the men died in battle or from disease. Luckily George Ward survived the war, married Mary Jane Ratliff, and the two lived out their years in Tazewell County, and later in Iowa.
If you have any letters, diaries, or other manuscript materials to add to the CW150 Legacy Project, we are having a scanning event at the Library of Virginia on 6 April 2013 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 692-3629 to tell me about your collection and schedule an appointment.
-Renee Savits, CW150 Legacy Project Coordinator