Stephen Berry is the Amanda and Greg Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era at the University of Georgia. He is the author or editor of several books, including Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges (Georgia).
These letters chronicle the wartime courtship of a Confederate soldier and the woman he loved—a sister-in-law of Abraham Lincoln. It is a relative rarity for the correspondence of both writers in Civil War letter collections to survive, as they have here. Rarer still is how frequently and faithfully the two wrote, given how little they truly knew each other at the start of their exchange. As a romantic pair, Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd had no earlier history; they had barely met when separated by the war. Letters were their sole lifeline to each other and their sole means of sharing their hopes and fears for a relationship (and a Confederacy) they had rashly embraced in the heady, early days of secession.
The letters date from April 1861, when Nathaniel left for war as a captain in the Fourth Alabama Infantry, through April 1862, when the couple married. During their courtship through correspondence, Nathaniel narrowly escaped death in battle, faced suspicions of cowardice, and eventually grew war weary. Elodie had two brothers die while in Confederate service and felt the full emotional weight of belonging to the war’s most famous divided family. Her sister Mary not only sided with the Union (as did five other Todd siblings) but was also married to its commander in chief.
Here is an engrossing story of the Civil War, of Abraham Lincoln’s shattered family, of two people falling in love, of soldiers and brothers dying nobly on the wrong side of history. The full Dawson–Todd correspondence comprises more than three hundred letters. It has been edited for this volume to focus tightly on their courtship. The complete, annotated text of all of the letters, with additional supporting material, will be made available online.