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Civil War Diary

John Miller
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

Part 7: To Beloved during the Victorian Era

St. Valentine’s Day during the Victorian Era was very much as romantic then as it is today, if not more so. During the time of the Civil War, soldiers and their special ladies on this day would share their Valentines. Civil War valentines were very different than the valentines we share with our wives or girlfriends; they were more personal, eloquently written and elaborately drawn. A valentine novelty from the woman to her loved one on the front lines would include a locket of her hair. While missing their loved ones, ladies would create what is called a window valentine which showed couples parting ways or a tent with the flaps wide open to reveal a soldier inside. Another popular valentine of the time was known as the paper valentine doll. This doll was made from paper and featured a printed face and feet dressed with paper or cloth for clothes.  

Although I have currently have no first hand accounts of Emmitsburg soldiers participating in Valentine’s Day, that does not mean that they didn’t experience love or greatly miss their loved ones back home. As time allowed, when they were not on duty or skirmishing with their enemy, many soldiers spent Valentine’s Day writing letters home. With no newspaper in Emmitsburg during the time of the Civil War, we do not have any articles about Valentine’s Day in Emmitsburg during the Civil War.  

Instead of abandoning all hopes of bringing to life how people who lived during the Victorian era and the time of the Civil War celebrated Valentine’s Day and their thoughts of love, I would like to share with you editorials from the citizens of the nearby town of Waynesboro. Using their words; one can imagine how the people of Emmitsburg lived and what their thoughts may have been when it came down to the issue of love in everyday society. Some of the editorials are very comical, yet very true to this day. The following accounts were researched through the “Valley of the Shadow” website, a research project that compares two areas within the same geography region separated by the Mason & Dixon Line.  

This editorial is entitled “On the Choice of a Wife” and was first published February 20, 1863, in the Waynesboro Village Record. “’Go my son,’ said the Eastern sage to Talmore, ‘go forth to the world, be wise in the pursuit of knowledge—be wise in the accumulation of riches—be wise in the choice of friends; yet little will avail thee, if thou choosest not wisely the wife of thy bosom.’”

“A wife! what a sacred name-what a responsible office? She must be the unspotted sanctuary to which wearied man may flee from the crimes or the world, and feel that no sin dare enter there. A wife? She must be the guardian angel of his footsteps, on earth, and guide them to Heaven; so firm in virtue that should he for a moment waver, she can yield him support, and replace him upon his firm foundation: so happy in conscious innocence, that when from the perplexities of the world he turns to his home, he may never find a frown where he sought a smile. Such, my son, thou seekest in a wife--and reflect well ere thou choosest.”

“Open not thy bosom to the trifler; repose not thy head on the breast that nurseth envy and folly and vanity. Hope not for obedience where the passions are untamed; and expect not honor from her who honoreth not the God who made her.”

“Though thy place be next to the throne of princes and the countenance of loyalty, beam upon thee—though thy riches be as the pearls of Omar, and thy name honored from the East to the West, little will avail thee if darkness and disappointment, and strife be in thine own habitation. There must be passed thine hours in solitude and sickness-and there must thou die. Reflect then, my son, ere thou choosest, and look well to her ways whom thou wouldst love; for though thou be wise in other things—little will it avail thee if thou choosest not wisely the wife of thy bosom.”

Another editorial appeared in the Franklin Repository on May 4, 1864 entitled “Wisdom in Making Love” in which the piece offers advice for men about picking a wife: "one year's possession of the heart and hand of a really noble woman, is worth nine hundred and ninety-nine years' possession of a sweet creature with two ideas in her head, and nothing new to say about either of them."

On August 14, 1867, two years after the Civil War the Valley Spirit featured another column titled “Truths For Wives” that discussed the role a wife maintained: domestic happiness and safeguardeding their husbands' respectability and credit. The article states: “In domestic happiness, the wife's influence is much greater than her husband's for the one, the first cause-mutual love and confidence-being granted, the whole comfort of the household depends upon trifles more immediately under her jurisdiction. By her management of small sums, her husband's respectability and credit are created or destroyed. No fortune can stand the constant leakages of extravagance and mismanagement, and more is spent in trifles than women would easily believe. The one great expense, whatever it may be, is turned over and carefully reflected on, and the income is prepared to meet it; but it is pennies imperceptibly sliding away which do mischief; and this the wife alone can stop, for it does not come within man's province. There is often an unsuspected trifle to be saved in every household.”

“It is not in economy alone that the wife's attention is so necessary, but in those niceties which make a well regulated house. An unfurnished cruet-stand, a missing key, a buttonless shirt, a soiled table-cloth, a mustard-pot with its old, cold contents shaking down about it, are really nothings; but each can raise an angry word and cause discomfort. Depend upon it, there is a great deal of domestic happiness about a well dressed mutton chop, or a tidy breakfast table. Men grow sated of beauty, tired of music, are often too weary for conversation, however intellectual; but they can always appreciate a well kept hearth and smiling comfort.”

“A woman may love her husband devotedly—may sacrifice fortune, friends, family, country, for him-she may have the genius of a Sappho, the enchanted beauties of an Armida, but—melancholy fact—if with these she fails to make his home comfortable, his heart will inevitably escape her. And women live so entirely in the affections that without love their existence is void. Better submit, then, to household tasks, however repugnant they may be to your tastes, than doom yourself to a loveless home. Women of a higher order of mind will not run this risk; they know that the feminine, their domestic, are their first duties.”

Two weeks later in the Valley Spirit on August 28, 1867, an article was published entitled “The Wife” and contained a brief homily to men admonishing them to cherish their wives. “Only let a woman be sure that she is precious to her husband—not useful, not valuable, not convenient simply, but lovely and beloved; let her be the recipient of his polite and hearty attention, let her feel that her care and love are noticed, appreciated and returned, let her opinion be asked, her approval sought, and her judgment respected in matters of which she is cognizant; in short, let only be loved, honored and cherished, in fulfillment of the marriage vow, and she will be to her husband, her children, and society, a well-spring of pleasure. She will bear pain, and toil and anxiety, for her husband's love to her is a tower and a fortress. Shielded and sheltered therein, adversity will have lost its sting. She may suffer, but sympathy will dull the edge of sorrow. A house with love in it—and by love I mean love expressed in words, in looks, and deeds, for I have not one spark of faith in love that never crops out—is to a house without love, as a person to a machine; one is life, the other is mechanism—the unloved woman may have bread just as light, a house just as tidy as the other, but the latter has a spring of beauty about her, a joyousness, and aggressive, penetrating and pervading brightness to which the former is a stranger. The deep happiness in her heart shines out in her face. She gleams over it. It is airy, and graceful, and warm and welcoming with her presence; she is full in devices and plots, and sweet surprise for husband and family. She has never done with the romance and poetry of life. She herself is a lyric poem setting herself to all pure and gracious melodies. Humble household ways and duties have for her a golden significance. The prize makes her calling high, and the end sanctifies the means, ‘Love is Heaven, and Heaven is Love.’"

Read Part 8: Captain Albert Hunter, A True Leader

Read more about Emmitsburg in the Civil War