Letter 3: May 3, 18651

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At the end of the correspondence between Mary E. Burton Shurtleff and Giles Waldo Shurtleff during the Civil War, this letter was written after the defeat of the Confederate Army at Appomattox. Mary Burton Shurtleff discusses the state of the Union troops, and reports seeing President Lincoln's body in Cleveland. At this point in time, Mary Burton Shurtleff had already learned that her husband would be returning from the war. She fantasizes about her future with him and does not voice any hesitations on leaving her position as a teacher at the Lake Erie Seminary. Her enthusiasm for tending solely to her husband's needs demonstrates her attempt to fulfill the gender conventions of the time. This document provides an intimate view of a mid-nineteenth century relationship and the roles women perhaps felt pressured to embody.

Letter Text:

Painesville2, May 3rd, /65

My darling husband:

Your dear letter of the 15th has at last arrived, relieving me of an anxiety which was increasing every day. I feel now comparatively at rest as regards your safety from the usual ills of war, as I suppose there is little prospect of any more serious fighting; but I am very impatient to know what disposition government will see fit to make of you, and your regiment. Last night's paper says that Sherman's army3 is ordered to Alexandria4, and will there probably be disbanded and return home. The same paper states that Schofield's forces5 will be retained to perform garrison duty. I wonder under which of these you will be included. I fear the latter. However perhaps garrisons will not be needed long.

I went up to Cleveland last Friday to see the remains of President Lincoln.6 There was a temporary building erected in the Park just back of Perry's monument7, and the procession passed two and two, each side of the coffin, giving an opportunity for thousands to take a last view of the remains of that good man. The funeral car, the drapery about the city were well worth seeing, but I was not satisfied with my view of the body itself. The complexion was of a leaden color, and the face seemed shrunken - "dried up" as I heard others say. It probably bore but little resemblance to the living reality.

I rejoice with you in the gloriousness which comes to us from the scenes of conflict, on our Atlantic coast. It seems almost too good to believe. The prospect of your speedy return seems to be the only thing wanting to make me perfectly happy.

I am glad the socks fit you. I am afraid the slippers are a little large. I told Mr. Arentt to make them 6 1/2. - that was about the size of the slippers you wore at our house, last fall -- but I think they are larger. You have no idea what an exquisite pleasure it is, to a wife (a real devoted, loving, wife) to have an opportunity to do something for her husband! I long for the time to come when your comfort and happiness will be my only care. I am sure that domestic employments will never be distasteful to me. It must be a pleasure to do any thing which will add to the enjoyment of those we love. I have no dread of "keeping house" and doing my own work. But perhaps you think all this rather nonsensical.

While writing this, a letter came from aunt Caroline Grant8, Abbie's mother. She says: "Please assure your husband that he is warmly welcomed to our circle of family relatives. I feel that he is a truly valuable acquisition. John and Gertie speak of him in the highest terms, and Rev. Mr. Eddy also adds his testimony of respect and esteem. I congratulate you on your union with one who seems so well deserving of your confidence and love.- and may your heart's keeper be ever time to his trust!" - (You don't know, my dear, how perfectly at rest I feel with regard to that last and how blessed it is to feel so!) Are you glad to be so highly esteemed among your wife's relatives? I wish I could be sure of as hearty a welcome among your friends!

This is the day for Spring cleaning and nursing at the Sem. and I have had six white, and two colored women under my direction. It has kept me running nearly all the time. I have been writing all the afternoon on this sheet, by snatches, and it is not strange that it looks badly. Where will the time come when we can talk to each other more expeditiously? - Aunt Caroline wished me to give you her kind regards. Betsy and Cornelia Cowles,9 and others whom I do not remember particularly wished to be remembered.

Thank you for your promise to write often as you can. I will do the same.
As ever your loving wife.

[1] Document transcribed by Yvette Chen.

[2] Located 30 miles east of Cleveland, Painesville was the site of the Lake Erie Female Seminary, from which Mary Burton Shurtleff graduated in 1860. She stayed on to teach at the Seminary throughout the Civil War. (Lake Erie College, Twenty-fifthAanniversary of Lake Erie Female Seminary, Painesville, Ohio, June 23d to 26th, 1884. [1859-1884] (Cleveland: J.B. Savage, 1884), 47.)

[3] The Union army led by William Tecumseh Sherman, responsible for many Union victories. They also led his infamous "March to the Sea," in which they destroyed a major part of Georgia, resulting in Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's surrender on April 26, 1865. ("William Tecumseh Sherman," last modified 1993, http://www.us-civilwar.com/sherman.htm.)

[4] Northern Virginia area located along the Potomac River, headquarters of Sherman's forces. (H.H. Young, "The Homeward March," New York Times, May 13, 1865, accessed March 20, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/1865/05/13/news/homeward-march-second-fifth-corps-arrive-near-alexandria-they-meet-with-kindest.html.)

[5] Union forces commanded by Major General John M. Schofield, worked in conjunction with Sherman's army in the "total war" in the South. ("John M. Schofield," http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/john-schofield.html.)

[6] Following President Lincoln's assassination, a funeral train with his remains left Washington, D.C., and retraced a 1,654 mile route across the country to its final stop in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln's hometown. It stopped in Cleveland on the morning of April 28, 1865, where a crowd of people was already waiting. Mary Shurtleff mentions the building for his coffin, which was created for the occasion. ("The Funeral Train of Abaraham Lincoln," http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/Library/newsletter.asp?ID=116&CRLI=164.)

[7] Monument in the southeastern section of Cleveland's Public Square, the center of Cleveland, dedicated to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. ("Perry Monument - the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History," last modified 1998, http://ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=PM1.)

[8] Married to Daniel Grant, the brother of Elizabeth Grant Burton (Mary Shurtleff's Mother). Caroline Grant has a daughter named Abbie, or Abigail E. Grant Burr, who studied with Mary Shurtleff at the Lake Erie Female Seminary. (Elizabeth Grant Burton to Caroline Burr Grant, 1866?, Box 3, Folder 16, American Antiquariam Society.)

[9] Betsey Mix Cowles (1810-1876) and her sister Cornelia Cowles (1807-1869) were abolitionists; Betsey Mix Cowles had attended the Oberlin Collegiate Institute and taught school for many years before returning to her home town, Austinburg, Ohio. Linda L. Geay, Balanced in the Wind: A Biography of Betsey Mix Cowles (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1989)