You’ve probably seen him. In every war movie there’s always that guy, that genre-blind idiot who talks incessantly about his girl and their plans for after the war. If he’s really dumb, he’ll flash her picture right before getting his head blown off. Of course, in reality, it doesn’t work that way. Soldiers rely on their loved ones back home to help them deal with the homesickness, the fear and the uncertainty.
Take, for example, Richard Guion. During the Civil War Guion served with the 161st New York Volunteers. He was far from home, worried about the future and deeply in love with a girl named Nellie. He wrote about his experiences and feelings in his diary. He depended on her letters to help keep him going. On November 27, 1862 he wrote I received Nellies letter No. 1 this PM I feel 50 per cent better since I read it. It does me more good to read her letters than it does to eat. Sometimes, just the idea of her was enough to sustain him. I wish I could get alone somewhere & have a good cry, he wrote on December 3, 1862. Oh, I would give a good deal to be with my dear little Nellie now. But I will not give up to bad feeling. I shall try and keep up a good heart & I hope I shall soon find myself with my own dear little Nellie again and oh I cannot express the joy it will afford me to see & be with her again. When I first read the diary I was worried Guion had fallen prey to the war movie cliché, but you’ll be happy to know he not only made it home, he married his beloved Nellie.
Then there’s Seymour Dexter and Ellenior “Ellie” Weaver. Dexter dropped out of Alfred Academy in 1861 to join the 23rd New York Volunteers. In the 3 years he served in the army, Dexter wrote over 100 letters to his “Dear Friend” Ellie as he called her. Many of his letters can be found in the Booth Library. In his letters he complains about conditions, describes battles, shares his deep grief over fallen comrades and teases Ellie about the somewhat slow nature of their courtship. Another week has passed but still no letter comes from my friend Ellie, he wrote on September 8, 1861. If this silence was in one in whom I did not place the most perfect confidence I should hesitate to write but to thee I have no such hesitancy. After the war, Dexter finished up his studies at Alfred Academy and became a lawyer. It really shows in his writing. More importantly, after seven long years of courtship, the couple married and, in rather short order, had 6 children.