This week, dear readers, I have a true Civil War love story for you, set right here in Natchitoches. And it also involves a mystery that, at the end of this column, I’m going to ask if any of you can help solve.
Several years ago I came across an intense love letter in the Cammie Henry Collection of NSU’s Watson Library. It was from a Union soldier to a Confederate Natchitoches girl — forbidden love! Attached to it was a penciled note reading, “found on the battlefield of Mansfield, 1864.”
The letter was signed by Ed C. Davis.
I’m grateful that he didn’t sign “Love, Ed” or “Yours always, Eddie,” because I couldn’t have learned anything about him. But through research I found that in the entire Union Army that invaded northwest Louisiana in the Red River Campaign of 1864 there was only one Ed C. Davis.
Most Civil War combat units were raised and organized by the states, so you’d have, for example, the Third Louisiana Infantry or the Sixth Michigan Cavalry. But Ed joined the regular U.S. Army and became an artilleryman, signing up with Battery G of the 5th U.S. Artillery.
That unit was formed at Fort Hamilton, NY in June 1862. In December of that year the battery (men, equipment, horses and cannon) was loaded on ships and sent to New Orleans. After further training, Ed’s unit was involved in the siege and battles at Port Hudson in 1863.
That was a long, difficult siege in the midst of a hot Louisiana summer, involving heavy cannon bombardments on both sides. The Confederates, after holding off Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ army, surrendered after they learned that Vicksburg, also under siege, had given up.
By the time Ed gets to the Natchitoches area, he was a veteran. He’d “seen the elephant” as Civil War soldiers said after experiencing combat. Ed was stationed at Franklin, on Bayou Teche and moved out March 14, 1864, arriving in Natchitoches March 31 as part of Banks’ Red River Campaign.
Here’s the first mystery of this love story. Ed was only in Natchitoches for a couple of days before participating in the skirmish at Crump’s Hill April 2.
You’ll see from his letter that he must have known the girl longer than a brief period of time, but where or when is the question. Perhaps when he was stationed in south Louisiana (he was also in Baton Rouge and New Orleans) she was visiting family or friends and met him there. We just don’t know.
At the April 8 Battle of Mansfield, Ed’s battery was in the thick of the fighting. In those days artillery was placed near the front lines and, not surprisingly, Ed was wounded and captured. He wrote his letter, dated May 2, 3 ½ weeks after the battle, while a POW.
How the letter ended up on the battlefield (remember the note) is another mystery that will likely never be solved.
He refers to lovers and making love but it’s obvious from the context that he refers to the old fashioned usage of the meaning: to court or flirt; not making physical love as we take the words to mean today. Also, the letter is written with such emotional intensity, and often repetitive, that I wonder if Ed was 100 percent. Was he feverish from his wound, in great pain, or perhaps under the influence of the pain-killing narcotic opium? Again, we’ll never know.
Anyway, here’s his letter. I’ve left in his misspellings and have inserted a few comments of my own.
SEE LETTER BELOW
For the biggest mystery of all, his final words are “To Miss ______, Natchitoches.”
Someone cut out the girl’s name from the letter, obviously not wanting her relationship with a Yankee soldier to be known. At first, I thought her parents may have ended up with the letter and took the scissors to it, but in reflection, I think they probably would have burned the letter or thrown it away.
I think it’s more likely that the letter got to her after it was found on the battlefield and, even if she didn’t feel as intensely about Ed as he did her, she may have thought enough of him to keep the letter but cut her name out. Who knows? What happened to Ed? Did he survive his wound? Was he shipped off to a prison of war camp? Did they get together?
I doubt the latter. The odds were just too great against them.
But I want to ask you readers if you have any family stories that sound similar to this to let me know.