Love and Lust: Private and Amorous Letters of the Civil WarThomas P. Lowry, BookSurge Publishing, 228 pages,paperback, $16.95, October 2009.
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Tens of thousands of Civil War letters still exist, mostly asking about family health, and telling of long marches, sore feet, bad food, diarrhea, malaria, and the occasional battle. Largely lost are those letters telling of physical love, of the private moments of amorous life. Yet some letters have survived, speaking vividly and unashamedly of pre-war passionate embraces, wartime longings for absent lovers, and hope for blissful reunions in the marital bed. One soldier wrote of looking forward to bondage and disciple games in the bedroom, wearing their “favorite uniform” – bare skin. Another man wrote to his wife begging her to write him sexually explicit letters, telling her how much he would treasure such words. A Rhode Island infantryman wrote a few passionate pages, then noted his physical arousal and changed the subject. Single young men, without wives or regular sweethearts, corresponded at length, comparing the prostitutes of Maine, New York, Washington, DC, and Louisiana, and adding cautionary notes about syphilis, gonorrhea, and the painful treatments therefore. One man, home on disability leave, had recovered enough to make daily efforts to seduce every girl he met. A Nashville prostitute cut her hair and joined a Michigan regiment. The mails were flooded with ads for pornographic novels, images, and devices. Another man, perhaps overlooked by the postman, wrote home asking for some “fancy” reading material to revive his dormant sexual feelings. The mail also contained hundreds of family letters of far grimmer content: children dying of diphtheria, measles, smallpox, and tuberculosis, and families turned out in the snow for inability to pay the rent. Some soldiers were sentenced to death for going home to help their starving families. Other letters and court documents tell of a great cavalcade of human mischief, error, misery, and poor judgment. A young girl is sent to prison for incest with her father. A married woman is sued for libel after she claimed a neighbor had offered her “nine pence” to lie with him. A justice of the peace ordered the sheriff to arrest two men for “getting bastards” upon two women. Civil War issues did include battles, politics, and slavery, but there was also a another aspect of life, never mentioned in high school textbooks, of love, lust, venereal disease, incest, abortion, contraception, and harsh language. Even obscene graffiti, written on the walls of Southern mansions, imitated the “art” found in high school bathrooms today. The author’s book, fully referenced and annotated, brings these documents and images, verbatim and uncensored, to a public that would like to know what life was really like in mid-Victorian America. Text From Publisher.
CWL: Dr. Thomas P. Lowry was contributed a great deal in the past decade to our knowledge of soldier life, medicine, justice and gender issues during the American Civil War: The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War, Sexual Misbehavior in the Civil War, Confederate Heroines: 120 Southern Women Convicted by Union Military Justice, Confederate Death Sentences: A Reference Guide,Tarnished Scalpels: The Court-Martials of Fifty Union Surgeons, The Civil War Bawdy Houses of Washington, D.C.: Including a Map of Their Former Locations and a Reprint of the Souvenir Sporting Guide for the Chicago, Illinois, G.A.R. 1895, Reunion, Curmudgeons, Drunkards, and Outright Fools: The Courts-Martial of Civil War Union Colonels, and Don't Shoot That Boy! Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, and several others. Without a doubt Lowry has explored the unexplored and spent months in archives that are usually not in the bibliographies of most Civil War books. CWL is always intrigued by Lowry's evidence and conclusions.