Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Civil War Letters of a Texas Family

Over the past three years, TCU English graduate students Kassia Waggoner and Adam Nemmers have edited and published a collection of letters through TCU Press. Yours in Filial Regard: The Civil War Letters of a Texas Family is comprised of the correspondence of the Love family of Limestone County, Texas: seventy-three numbered letters and about ten uncategorized pieces, mostly envelopes and letter fragments, spanning the years 1859 through 1866, with the bulk written during the war years of 1861-64.

The letters in this collection are written by members of the Love family, who lived in Limestone County, Texas, during the time of the Civil War. According to the Love family Bible, James Marshall Love and Terrisa Adeline Braden Love had eight living children at the time of the Civil War: Cyrus, Sam, James, John, Mary Elizabeth (Bettie or Betty), Eliza Terrisa (Tea), Robert, and Tennessee. The family, which had migrated from Tennessee to Texas, worked to establish a homestead near Tehuacana, in Limestone County northeast of Waco, clearing hundreds of acres for crops and raising many head of livestock. By all accounts, the family rose to prominence in the area, and as the letters reveal they were educated (even some of the Love women).

Once the call to war was issued, the Love boys answered immediately. Cyrus was the first to answer the call. Enlisting as a foot soldier, he joined Company G of the Seventh Texas Infantry. As was common with other families during the conflict, Cyrus was separated from his brothers Sam and John, who mustered into the Sixth Texas Cavalry in Dallas in September 1861. Although they enlisted at the same time and place, Sam and John were directed into different companies—Sam to G Company and John to F. James would later join the Twentieth Texas Cavalry, or Bass’s Regiment, in the spring of 1862. At the beginning of the war, Cyrus was thirty-one years old, James was twenty-five, Sam twenty-three, and John nineteen. Their youngest brother Robert, already eager to join the fight, was only fourteen.

As can be seen below, the brothers’ travels were extensive and varied widely depending upon their units. Rarely did these routes intersect, making communication through post, bearer, or the family network essential for staying in contact with one another.

Seventy-nine of the letters in this volume are written by the soldiering Love brothers—Cyrus, Sam, James, and John Love, and brother-in-law John Karner—to their parents and siblings in Texas. In addition, the collection preserves three letters sent between women on the home front. Beyond the extant letters, there is ample evidence to suggest that Terrisa (Tea), Mary Elizabeth Love Karner (Bettie or Betty), Ellen Love, Fannie Farnsworth, and Lou Karner, among others, wrote to the soldiers and to each other, establishing a complex, extensive network of correspondence from the home front to the various battlefields and back. Thus, the volume presented here is only a sample of a much larger body of epistles; absent, sadly, are letters that were received but not preserved and the untold number of letters that were damaged, miscarried, captured, or otherwise lost in the confusion of war.

We became interested in the Love Family Letters archive during our initial visit to TCU’s Special Collections when one of the archivists highlighted that there were female-authored letters throughout the collection. While initially disappointed that only three female authors appear in the collection, we began to consider the Love women’s role in the family communication network in a different light, finding eight named female recipients. Seventy-eight of the letters are addressed to a female recipient—this includes forty-four letters that are addressed to Mother and Father as shown in the below chart. Thus, women are the vast majority of the recipients found in this archive, which demonstrates the power women held within the Love family correspondence.

The Love women’s role, as recipients of the letters, was more complicated than that of mere reader. As the collection demonstrates, they were tasked with providing food, clothing, and equipment to the soldiering Loves as well as maintaining the family estates, proving that they were active, not passive, readers.  

In addition, the Love Letters were a fascinating opportunity to access the lives of a family that lived in this area one hundred and fifty years ago. We became immersed in the Loves’ Civil War world, identifying networks of kinship, events of significance, and the writing-hands and predilections of unique authors. What began, for the Love brothers, as a quick expedition to repel Yankee invaders became a tedious and terrifying conflict; though the authors professed confidence in their country and cause to reassure their family at home, their doubt and sadness could be read between the lines of the letters. Particularly fascinating, in this regard, are letters addressed not to their parents but to their sisters and friends, which reveal the true state of the war and their feelings about it.

A close study of the Loves’ epistolary practices reveals a wealth of information, especially regarding the rhetoric of nineteenth-century soldiers and their families. In addition, adding the perspective of the recipient affords scholars opportunities to view an alternate history of this important juncture of letter writing, which values the roles women were playing within discourse. While the Love Family Letters is but one example of how the recipients of a letter play an essential role in communication during the Civil War, the insights gained from this particular case-study illustrate that while women were usually the recipient in such collections, their contributions to the epistolary form during the war were multi-faceted and crucial to correspondence as a whole.

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