Letter 1: September 27, 18621

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This letter is located in the archival collection of Mary E. Burton's correspondence with Giles Shurtleff, which coincided with his military service in the Civil War from 1861-1866. This letter predates their marriage, which took place on November 23, 1864, when he was on leave from the Army.2 Although the little information that exists regarding how and when Mary Burton Shurtleff and Giles Shurtleff met is contradictory, this letter illustrates that, by September 1862, their relationship had developed to such a point that they spoke openly of their attachment to one another. In this letter, Mary Burton draws on popular conceptions of romantic love, emphasizing the importance of love before marriage.3 In doing so, she demonstrates her ability to conform to the societal expectations of marriage while simultaneously asserting her desire for a marriage in which she is truly loved and respected.

Letter Text:

Austinburg4, Sep. 27th 1862
Saturday P.M.

Capt. G.W. Shurtleff. 5
My highly valued Friend,

I have hastened home from the Institution6 this afternoon earlier than usual, for the express purpose of writing you a good long letter, in answer to yours received last eve., before the five o'clock mail.

I was much interested in your account of yourself, and sympathize with you in your anxiety to be released from your parole. It does seem too bad, after you have suffered so much in your country's services, that you can not have a choice in the matter of which you speak. I still hope, for your sake that an exchange may be affected in time for you to accept the desirable situation offered you.

If you were as hopeful in regard to the close of the war as I am, perhaps it would not appear to you a matter of much consequence in what capacity you served the good cause. To be sure I do not pretend to any gifts of prophecy, but the last proclamation of the President respecting the emancipation of the slaves,7 is so nearly what we have all longer for, that it seems to me to heighten the prospect of a speedy termination of our national difficulties very much. What do you think of it?

You need not consider it presumption to presuppose an interest on my part in your affairs. I am sure I have given you sufficient reason for such a supposition. Do you not remember that I frankly told you that I was conscious of feeling an interest in you which I felt for no one else? I was almost frightened to think of it, after I had made the acknowledgement, but you drew it from me, and I have not since felt any disposition to recall it. I would also remind you of an assurance which I well recollect giving you that your expressions of regard were not displeasing to me, and would ask if you think that could possibly be true, if they did not meet with somewhat of a response in my own heart? - though perhaps you do not know-of course you never could know by experience-how indescribably painful are the feelings awakened by the declaration of a warm attachment from one for whom you are conscious you can never cherish a corresponding regard.-It seems to me that I have been "frank and confidential" - How could I, upon the very first intimation of an attachment which I had never dreamed of, at once respond with all that warmth of affection of which I know I am capable? - To be sure, your words awakened in my heart emotions new and difficult to analyze, but was that once evidence of love? - You have read Miles Standish of course - Priscilla expresses my thoughts in a very independent way, in these lines:

     "That is the way with you men: you don't understand us, you cannot.
     When you have made up your minds, after thinking of this one and that one,
     Choosing, selecting, subjecting, comparing one with another.
     Then you make known your desire, with abrupt and sudden avowal,
     And are offended and hurt, and indignant perhaps, that a woman
     Does not respond at once to a love that she never suspected,
     Does not attain at a bound the height to which you have been climbing.
     This is not right nor just: for surely a woman's affection
     Is not a thing to be asked for, and had for only the asking."8

Really and truly, my friend, do you think you ought for a long long time, to expect from me "exaggerated expressions of attachment." It is not natural to me to express all that I feel upon any subject which deeply interests me. Yet my friends often say to me that I have a tell-tale face and I imagined, when I saw you last, and felt that those earnest, penetrating eyes of yours, were fixed upon me, that you read there all that I did not express.

We had a holyday in school yesterday, on account of the fair. I went over but did not hear Gen. Garfield.9 The reason given was that he was obliged to depart to Camp Chase.10

I saw Mrs. Barnum, a few moments, once this week. She spoke of you-that Mr. B. expected to meet you in Cleveland on Tuesday-and remarked that she knew you had become interested in some young lady in town-that it was Ella Sawyer or myself, guessed the former-said she could tell if she only knew one thing. Wonder what that one thing was, and if she will ever find out!

I have not written as much as I intended, but must close or you will close this.

Yours with increased esteem and regard,
Mary E. Burton

[1] Document transcribed by Rebekkah Rubin

[2] John Mercer, "Giles Waldo Shurtleff: Leadership in the Cause of Freedom," accessed 16 March 2013, http://www.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/ShurtleffBio-Mercer.htm.

[3] See Karen Lystra, Searching the Heart: Women, Men and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

[4] Austinburg, Ohio, is located in the northeast corner of the state, and was the birthplace of Mary Burton Shurtleff, as well as the location where she married Giles Shurtleff in 1864. (Mercer, "Giles Waldo Shurtleff.")

[5] Shurtleff entered the Civil War as the captain of Company C of the 7th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1861. He was taken as a prisoner-of-war from August 1861 to August 1862. When released, he was assigned to the staff of General Wilcox of the 9th Army Corps, before he became Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel of the 5th United States Colored Troops in July 1863 to June 1865. (Mercer, "Giles Waldo Shurtleff.")

[6] Mary Burton Shurtleff was a teacher at Lake Erie Female Seminary starting in 1862, after graduating from that institution in 1860. (Mercer, "Giles Waldo Shurtleff.")

[7] This refers to a preliminary emancipation proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862. This proclamation was followed by the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln on January 1, 1863, which proclaimed that those enslaved in Confederate territories were free. ("Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation," accessed 16 March 2013, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/american_originals_iv/sections/preliminary_emancipation_proclamation.html.)

[8] This excerpt is from "The Courtship of Miles Standish," a narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that was published in 1858. ("'The Courtship of Miles Standish,'" Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Maine Historical Society Website, accessed 16 March 2013, http://www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=191).

[9] James A. Garfield (1831-1881, twentieth president of the United States, had just been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives while simultanteously serving as a general in the Union army. (Allan Peskin. "Garfield, James Abram"; http://www.anb.org/articles/05/05-00264.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Wed Apr 24 2013 09:15:21 GMT-0400

[10] A military training and prison camp in Columbus, Ohio. ("Camp Chase," accessed 16 March 2013, http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/123camp_chase/123facts1.htm).