Book Review My Dear Molly, the Civil War Letters of Captain James E. Love

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matthew mckeon

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This is a massive volume of letters, published by the Missouri Historical Society, by James Love, an Irish immigrant who volunteered to fight for the Union as soon as hostilities broke out. Love was born in County Antrim, in what is now Northern Ireland. He moved to the States, then spend a couple of years in Australia, before settling in St. Louis, Missouri. He fell in love with Eliza "Molly" Wilson, also from Antrim, but they didn't in meet until coming to the US.
 

matthew mckeon

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Love wrote many, many letters and most of them are tangential to history, filled with a lot of "I miss yous" and "dream of you" and "can't wait to see you" and similar mid Victorian sentiments. Wilson's letters have not survived, unfortunately.

Love is a strong Union man. He considered the "Secesh" as traitors, and any means to bring about their defeat is fine by him. His view of "secesh" sympathizing civilians, of which he encounters regularly in Missouri and Tennessee, is dim. Any means to keep them from interfering with Union troops or government also generally meets his approval.
 
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matthew mckeon

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Love, between letters mentioning relatives of either his or Molly's that you don't know, describes his day in the Union army.

It consists of marching places, being rained on, and after he becomes adjudent(sp?) a lot of paperwork. Sometimes the roads are dusty and sometimes they're muddy. Love hates Buell, who he considers a traitor, but admires Rosecrans, who he calls "Rosey" in his letters. He sends a portrait of Rosecrans home to Molly so they can both admire the general, a gesture I can't help by feel was misjudged.
 
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matthew mckeon

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Love never refers to black people except by the "n-word." Although he describes his colonel as "abolitionist" its pretty clear he considers emancipation mostly as a way to punish the "Secesh." But he will learn differently.

Love sees some action, and is sick, gets injured. The nicest thing about him is that he has zero intention of playing the hero, or worrying Molly and makes light of any danger or hardship. He's an "unreliable narrator" in this way.
 

matthew mckeon

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As I plowed through Love kissing Molly's portrait good night for the umpteeth time, I began to get a little worried. The book was coming to an end, but the war wasn't. I was anxious about the fate of Captain Love. I was right to be.
 

matthew mckeon

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He is badly wounded and captured at Chickamauga. He recovers at the hospital at Libby prison, and resumes writing to Molly, although their correspondence is limited. His tone springs right back to the teasing, flirting and lovey dovey manner, despite his grim circumstances. She's not to worry! Although Love's outlook was in fact getting darker. He is transported south to various camps, including at Columbia, SC. The letters stop, because after a couple of failed attempts, Love and a half dozen other officers made their escape!
 
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matthew mckeon

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The deteriorating conditions in the prison camps prompted their departure. Love hiked the miles from western South Carolina to the Union lines in Tennessee, arriving in camp as the war was drawing to a close. Assisting him and other Union escapees along the way were a good number both enslaved and free African Americans. We don't have any letters for this part of the saga, but I sincerely hoped that Love learned to spell "negro" with one g after they put themselves to considerable danger for him.
 

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Now, this isn't the story that I was led to believe it was going to be. Was it all really that simple? Or is it true love wins in the end and all those trials and tribulations fade into the background due to its winning effects?
 
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matthew mckeon

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Now, this isn't the story that I was led to believe it was going to be. Was it all really that simple? Or is it true love wins in the end and all those trials and tribulations fade into the background due to its winning effects?
Of course you never read any of her letters, so I was ready for a Twilight Zone twist:
a. She got married to some one else or
b. She never existed.
 

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Now, this isn't the story that I was led to believe it was going to be. Was it all really that simple? Or is it true love wins in the end and all those trials and tribulations fade into the background due to its winning effects?
Simple? Is the Odyssey simple? James survives the army, battle, prison camp, and a harrowing escape attempt to be united with his faithful Penelope, Molly.
 

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Simple? Is the Odyssey simple? James survives the army, battle, prison camp, and a harrowing escape attempt to be united with his faithful Penelope, Molly.
As an overview it appears simple. I like to get into the guts of things. But, as a 'romantic' I'll take the happy ending :smile:

I was ready for a Twilight Zone twist:
Me, too. I thrive on those :smoke:
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Heck, I read camp dog threads from behind my fingers. Waiting for that stupid bullet to put an end to some life you've just gotten attached to actually makes me anxious. It's why fiction about the war doesn't interest me- I mean, why? Awful deaths galore between 1861 and 1865, daily. No need to invent any.

It's cheating but when coming across these, it's always a good idea to head to Family Search ( free, mostly ) or Ancestry. Either there's simply no trace of anyone beyond names in 1860 census or you find the couple and a nice batch of children. Happy ending indeed.
 
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