Excerpt: War

from Dear Nell: The True Story of the Haven Sisters, pg. 49:

By April 16th 1861, the war is adversely affecting parts of the South. David writes Ellen from New Orleans,

“The city is all in confusion since the war news from the north, and companies are leaving fast for Pensacola. You will have seen from the papers that Lincoln has called out the northern militia, so that we shall now have fighting in earnest – God alone knows where it will end.

Money matters are worse than during the panic. Particularly bad for me, having to borrow money.”

That same day, April 16th, Sarah writes Ellen to

“…remember, even if we cannot write to you, that we all love you with our whole hearts and your dear husband too…”

Two days later, David writes Ellen again from New Orleans,

“We are in for it now, my dearest Ellen, and shall fight hard for our homes and rights. Ultimate success depends upon the action of Virginia -- whose convention is now in secret session, and must decide within a few hours. It has already, according to the telegraph of last night, refused a contingent of men to Lincoln, and decided that northern troops shall not pass through her boundaries.

This is a good move, and if she will join us within Forty eight hours (such a standstill will make Lincoln pause) in less than 60 days we shall have 150,000 men concentrated in the vicinity of Washington under President Davis.”

David continues, writing of business and domestic issues, and adds a sentence at the close:

“There has just come in a dispatch that Virginia has seceded.


Fanny, who has just returned from a visit to Albany on April 30th 1861, writes Ellen in earnest about the war:

“This horrible war occupies all my thoughts, indeed we think and talk and read of nothing else. There seems so little for a woman to do at such times, she seems so helpless compared to men.

A society has been formed out here of all the ladies with very few exceptions, called “The Fort Washington Army Relief Association”, the object being to make garments of all kinds for the sick and wounded at the hospitals as well as those in service, also lint bandages etc. etc. The first meeting was at our house last Thursday, some forty ladies being present.

The next was at Mrs. Smith’s on Monday and hereafter we are to meet in the basement of the Presbyterian Church, that being the depot for the reception of work garments, hospital stores etc. Tomorrow I shall get my supply of work and do all I can in the way of sewing. Mother is deeply interested and intends to sew at home, if she does not meet with the society.

An immense meeting of the ladies of the city was held yesterday at Cooper Institute, some five thousand being present. Perhaps ours will be a branch of this, which is very systematically organized.

All our friends and many even of our neighbors are sending husbands, fathers and brothers to this war, scarcely a family but has some member either in Washington or on his way there.

Charles and Washington Connolly have gone, the latter as Surgeon’s mate, Ben Church and three of Mrs. William Ward’s sons.

Henry Elliott1 has enlisted and will leave in a week or two, also Melville and Shep Knapp. Colonel Asboth has either joined a regiment or is recruiting one himself. I am not sure which, not having seen him for some time.

The greatest interest is felt by all classes and the enthusiasm and excitement are intense. Anyone who is not here can form no idea of it, it is really fearful. It makes me perfectly wretched and heartsick. I have such a dread and horror of war, and yet now there seems no other alternative.”

David reports on May 2nd that federal ships are rumored to be on their way to blockade the port of New Orleans, and two weeks later Fanny laments to Ellen,

“How little we thought two years ago at this time that we should ever be placed in such a position, that a terrible civil war was to come between you and us. Even now I can hardly realize it and the events of the last month seem like a terrible dream to me.

Though the excitement of the first week after the attack on Fort Sumter2 has subsided, yet the deep settled purpose of the people far and wide increases every day.

The war is in every one’s heart and on every one’s tongue, nothing else is thought of or cared for. It is very, very hard that we should have to be on opposite sides.”

On May 18th, John Appleton Haven still believes Ellen will be able to visit them at Fort Washington by late summer. May 20th, Fanny writes a long letter in which she touches upon the difficulties of being on different sides, as well as about her acceptance of Ellen’s embrace of the southern position:

“There is no use in my discussing the causes of this terrible war, for we view the question from such totally different points of view. Of course there are and will be many things said and done on both sides that true, sensible people will condemn, but it seems to me as if the South must be willfully blind when it accuses the North of commencing the war, when the North has actually done nothing but bear and bear with the South and let them do everything their own way, till the flag of the Union was actually fired on and then you surely cannot wonder that the whole country rose to a man to defend it.

I not only think Lincoln has done everything that he ought to, as the President of the United States, and not as the head of the Republican party, but I consider James Buchanan a traitor to the trust reposed in him, that he did not at once and decidedly put down secession when that detestable little South Carolina first started it months ago.

But I have so often resolved that I would not speak on this subject with you that I must stop at once, before I say anything that should wound your feelings, for there is no use in disguising the fact that my dear old Nell has utterly and entirely espoused the cause of her new home and that the feelings, convictions and prejudices of a life time have vanished to give place to the new principles that two short years of southern life have inculcated.

It seems very hard for me to realize the fact but I suppose it is natural and it certainly is best that you should be able to do so, you would be very unhappy I fear if it were otherwise.”

Sarah, apparently upset at comments Ellen has made, writes on 22d May,

“Can you so easily be made ashamed of your relations, that "were it not for your father and mother" you would be entirely alienated from the north –“.

Responding to Ellen about the April 19th confrontation in Baltimore, when federal troops attempting to pass through the city on the way to Washington were obstructed, harassed and jeered by secessionists, Sarah claims,

“As to the firing on those brave men who were marching through Baltimore to Washington, under a flag of truce, which I always thought even Satan himself respected (perhaps I may in some cases except the English) you say they were attacked by the mob. Who incited them and threw gold amongst them to encourage them -- who turned out to assist them but, the Maryland guards, who are in Baltimore, but the seventh Regiment is here -- one gentleman wrote to the lady in New York, to whom he was engaged, boasting of the part he had taken against them, she answered him that he could not have offered him a greater insult and she had nothing more to say to him.

I think they were the bravest men I ever heard of -- having offered no provocation, being without one unkind feeling at first, toward them -- with arms in their hands that they could have defended themselves with and yet not doing so -- seeing their friends killed by their side -- and yet not defend themselves, because, they were without orders so to do -- they shew that self-control, forbearance and capacity to govern themselves, more than any set of men I ever heard of.”

By May 27th, word has reached Fanny that letters may not get through. She writes her “Dearest Nell”:

“A few days ago we saw in the papers that the southern mails would be stopped, if not at once certainly by the first of June. This seemed really too hard to bear, it is bad enough to be separated, but not even to hear from each other is too much. Even now I cannot realize it and it seems as if letters must pass between the North and South some way or other. John told us on his return from the city just now that letters would be sent till the thirtieth of this month, so I rushed up stairs to write at once…”

May 28, 1861, Fanny writes from Fort Washington,

“My darling Nell,

I feel as if this may be my last chance to write to you and my heart is so full and we have been thinking and talking of you so much today that I must send a few lines by tomorrow's mail. I cannot think even now that we shall not hear from each other, people say that the mail will pass through Tennessee or come by Houma. I intend to hope for the best. If not (I mean if we do not hear from each other for long months) do not allow anything, never mind what happens, darling sister to come between you and us, you have been ours through long, long years and we cannot give you up. I never can, come what may. Our thoughts will be constantly with you through this summer and I shall have faith that the good God who has been my consolation and support through so many hard trials, will bring us together again in his own good time.”

At the bottom of Fanny’s letter, Sarah adds a note:

“After tomorrow, I see there is no communication even by my poor pen. Whatever happens, remember to the last gasp of my breath, I am your loving mother.

May God forgive Jeff Davis for all the ties he has separated, all the hearts he has broken -- surely I never can.”

Sarah alludes to something Ellen wrote,

“…and I do wish very much to see you again -- now it is best that we do not meet, with our different feelings and views for we should be very unhappy. We must wait for a great change in all of us -- I have not heard from Portsmouth for some time, I presume they were all occupied as we are.

The first New Hampshire regiment passed through here last Sunday. A flag was presented them here… -- poor fellows, they have all left good comfortable homes, country homes what for?

My dear, dear child good bye – may the Almighty being, who has us all in his holy keeping, guide and guard us and in his own good time permit us to meet again in all full affection.

Tell David with my love to think well and what for, before he resigns his liberty, life and property.

Always your dear mother of my children.”

On May 31st John Appleton Haven expresses concern about Ellen’s coming confinement with her second child, and hopes she will come north as soon as she and the new baby are able, despite the Civil War:

“…We feel exceedingly anxious for you in this time of great trial and we pray that you may have strength and fortitude to carry you safely through your confinement. In what way we are to receive tidings of you, now that the mail will be discontinued I know not, but your husband must endeavor to devise some plan, either by private hands, or by writing to some friend in Cincinnati, or in some of the states to forward to us the news of your confinement and of the condition of yourself – and of the little stranger.

…I cannot believe that it will be your plan, or the wish of your husband that you should endure the effect of your climate for a single day after your confinement and recovery of strength enable you to leave the Bayou.”

Ellen received her father’s letter of the 31st, and writes Fanny on June 11th that,

“The mail from the North I see is now returned to the dead letter office at Washington but Southern letters may get North. I pay the Confederate postage and they go as far as Virginia. I also put on a northern stamp and this will take the letters through the North, provided it can drop from one mail into the other. I will continue writing in this way until I am sick.”

About her father’s suggestion that she come north, she tells Fanny it is impossible:

“Father wants me to come on in August. Why Fanny, it is utterly impossible. Southerners are not going north this summer. They cannot get there, if they wanted to. The rooms Father tells me that there are engaged, there must be some mistake about. People who have always passed their winters in New Orleans and their summers north may have gone on but real Southerners are not going north from this state...Besides if everything else was feasible David has no money and next year things, in this respect, will probably be worse, for sugar, if saleable at all, will bring nothing. I am gradually making up my mind to two years separation certainly.”

On June 30th, Fanny writes Ellen that they have received news in a letter from David that Ellen gave birth to her second child, a girl (Alice). It has been a month since Fanny has tried to send a letter and she (Fanny) last received a letter from Ellen on June 14th, that was dated the 4th:

“I do not see why if that letter came through, others could not have done so since, but we read in the papers how daily hundreds of letters to and from the seceded states, were stopped and sent to the dead letter office.

…Mother and I had been discussing for some days the chances of getting a letter to you by express and on this very day we found in the paper, that it is to be allowed to Adams’ Express company to carry private and business letters to the south. So perhaps after all we shall sometimes hear from each other, which is a comfort that only those who have been four weeks without hearing from loved ones can appreciate.”

Ellen writes Fanny Sunday July 21st, 1861 to say she is,

“…very thankful to God for those three precious letters received through Adam’s Express. When our little baby was born David wrote to a gentleman in the city asking him either to telegraph or send by express his enclosed letter, and if there was any doubt about either mode of communication, to try both. I know I should know whether you had received the letter by a return answer. If you received it I know you would send a letter to me by the same conveyance. We have now only one boat a week so David waited for her return trip to send his letter. He said he had no idea that it would ever reach you.”

Later in this letter, Ellen worries that it will be a long time before she sees Fanny again:

“Dearest Fanny I do not expect to be able to see you all for several years. You have not thought of this but I am trying to look it bravely in the face. This war is going to impoverish North and South.

The expenses must be met. Father may not pay anything but the depreciation of property and the heavy taxations which you will have to sustain of course reduce his property. New York is never going to be what it has been even if the South is subjugated for southern trade and opulence will be extinguished.

We must, individually, meet the expenses of the war and the revenues from our places must necessarily cease. All we can make must be expended upon our places and upon the war expenses. We shall have to stay at home for several years and live upon the produce of our place I know. (I speak of David and myself individually). This is my view of the subject, be the war long or short.

I long to see the face of each one of you but the Almighty wills it otherwise. Never cease in your affection for me my dearest sister, for you will always have my very warmest love and when you can write to me remember how precious and valuable your letters are to me. It is too expensive for me to write you often and therefore we can hear from each other seldom.”

Ellen misses Fanny despite the war and despite having a new baby, as she makes clear near the end of the letter:

“I should like this Sunday afternoon to be able to walk into our room (you see I cannot but keep saying our) and find you at your writing desk.”

Sarah sends a letter on July 22nd 1861 in which she laments,

“…I see nothing pleasant or good to look forward to, our own individual blessings we have great cause of gratitude for, but, we are forced to think of the thousands, yea, tens of thousands of our countrymen and women whose homes are destroyed, whose lives are in jeopardy every hour, little innocent children's fathers being killed every day, everybody's business destroyed, not laid aside, to be taken up again when, if ever, or for long years, this horrid, unnecessary, infamous war shall cease. It is a very sad thought that we cannot hear from you.

…We are all well, still the one engrossing subject fills all our hearts and minds -- may heaven help us in all my dear child, we are all passing rapidly to our eternal home. …Your father is very unhappy about our country -- he takes hardly any interest in anything else, it disturbs me greatly to see him so, as, I feel about as bad, we bear our burdens as well as we can.”

On August 14th, Fanny writes Ellen that the Havens just received letters from Ellen and says,

“I too Nell have tried to reconcile myself to what is quite clear to me, that we shall not see each other for a long time, but I shall not mind it so very much, if I can have the consciousness that you are well and happy and that David is with you. If it were otherwise I should be very miserable, but I have seen so much unhappiness in the world, that I like to gather up all the crumbs of happiness that I see scattered about and I think you have a goodly share. So we must be content or try to be with the knowledge of each other’s physical welfare and we shall appreciate more highly the joy of being together one of these days in this world or some other.”

1 The Elliotts were good friends of the Haven’s.

2 April 12th, 1861, South Carolina’s Fort Sumter was a federal (Union) fort in a Southern state. The Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, and the fort was surrendered. This marked the start of the civil war.