This is the second installment of my Civil War love letter series during Valentine’s Day week. Featured today is Dr. Harvey Black and his especially eloquent letter to his wife.
|Dr. Harvey Black
In April of 1861, the beginning of the Civil War, Dr. Black enlisted in the 4th Virginia Regiment. He became the brigade surgeon and the surgeon in charge of the Field Hospital, 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia.
He was one of four surgeons involved in the amputation of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s arm after he had been wounded at Chancellorsville. After the Civil War, he helped found Virginia “Tech” Polytechnic.
In this letter to his wife Mary (whom he affectionately nicknamed Mollie), he recounts their courtship and expresses his great love for her.
Sunday night, Nov. 1 
My dear Mollie,
I received a letter today from a very handsome lady to play cupid. Although not accompanied by her likeness yet her image was so indelibly impressed upon my mind that the likeness itself could not recall the features more vividly than they are impressed. I first met her in a village in Western Va. when I was about 17 years old and she 8. I afterwards saw her frequently and occasionally was in her company, and notwithstanding the disparity of our ages, I became so favorably impressed with her fair face and gentle manners that I frequently said to myself that I wished she was older or I younger.
In 3 to 4 years she had grown so much that the disparity in age seemed to grow less. Never did a lady witness the budding of a flower with more requisite pleasure than did I the budding of that pretty little girl into womanhood. She made much of my thoughts while in Mexico and more upon my return home. While at the University of Va., I not infrequently found my thoughts wandering from the dry textbook to contemplate by the aid of memory the features and form of this little girl.
After I completed my studies, I traveled in the west and expected to find a home in some western state, but not finding a place to suit me, together with the persuasions of that fair face, induced me to return.
I entered, as you know, actively into the pursuit of my profession with the determination to make at least a fair reputation and tried to withdraw my thought from everything else, but I found this little fairy constantly and pleasantly intruding into all my plans, whether of pleasure or interest. At this period she met me politely and respectfully but seemed to grow more distant, coy & reserved, so that I frequently thought that even the ordinary attentions of common politeness & courtesy were no special source of pleasure to her.
In a few instances when she has arrived at about the age of 15 this shyness and reserve seemed to be forgotten, and I would pass an hour or two in the enjoyment of her company with great pleasure to myself and I imagined with at least satisfaction, if not enjoyment, to her. I began to think that my happiness was identified with hers. I began to pay her special visits or at least seek opportunities by which I might be in her company. I sought her society on pleasure rides and thought it not a hardship to ride 65 miles in 24 hours if part of the time might be spent with her. She always exhibited or observed the decorum of modest reserve which might be construed into neither encouragement nor discouragement.
After the deliberation & reflection which I thought due to a matter which involved my happiness for life, I felt that her destiny and mine were probably intended to be united, and that all the adverse counsel which I could give myself could bring no objections. I felt that I ought both as a matter of duty and happiness give my whole life to her, who for 9 years had my attention and devotion, though concealed love.
After a few little billets and interviews, and with a full declaration of the love I desired to bestow, I received a measured and loving response and was made most happy in the anticipation of the celebration of the nuptials fixed at some 6 months hence. This time glided nicely & happily, though not too rapidly, away from me. The hours of leisure were spent with her and my visits were always welcomed with that cordial welcome, that maiden modesty, so much to be admired. Tis true that on one occasion she did rest her elbow upon my knee and look with confidential pleasure in my face and made me realize that indeed I had her whole heart.
Suffice it to say, the happy day of our marriage arrived and since then, hours, days, and years of time, confidence & happiness passed rapidly away, and only to make us feel that happy as were the hours of youthful days, they compare not with those of later years and perhaps even these may not be equal to that which is in reserve for us.
I don’t know how much pleasure it affords you to go over these days of the past, but to me they will ever be remembered as days of felicity. And how happy the thought that years increase the affection & esteem we have for each other to love & be loved. May it ever be so, and may I ever be a husband worthy of your warmest affections. May I make you happy and in so doing be made happy in return. A sweet kiss and embrace to your greeting.
But maybe you will say it looks ridiculous to see a man getting gray-haired to be writing love letters, so I will use the remnant of my paper otherwise…
Yours affectionately H Black
After the surrender at Appomattox, Black returned to his family and medical practice in his hometown of Blacksburg. He died in 1888 at the age of 61. Many of his letters to his wife survived the war. They were collected and printed in a book called, The Civil War Letters of Dr. Harvey Black.