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More on the Civil War

Thursday, December 17, 2009

As I am concluding my course on the Civil War and Reconstruction, it seemed only right that I post another ad from a soldier.

Matrimonial. - A soldier, just returned from the army after two years' service in the field, where he has been engaged in upwards of fifteen battles, desires to form the acquaintance of a young lady or widow, with a view to immediate matrimony. He is thirty-nine years of age, intelligent, and agreeable manners, possesses excellent health and a few hundred dollars. He has intentions of again enlisting for three years; but desires to meet with a lady of means, whom he might settle in business, and can offer her a warm and true heart. Ladies not in earnest will please not reply. Strictest secrecy and honor may be relied upon. Address, enclosing carte de visite if agreeable (which will be returned), to Soldier, care of box 4,729 Post office, N.Y.

Man, I love the ads from soldiers. They are just endlessly fascinating to me. First, of course, is the extreme pride they all have in the number of battles they've fought and how long they've been serving. Which, honestly, they deserve. I mean, if you fought in upwards of fifteen battles during the Civil War, you were lucky to be alive - seriously! Given the high casualties, I bet this guy was just thankful to still be on his feet. But it's also a sign of their patriotism, as I've mentioned before.

The other thing about this ad that I find particularly interesting is that on the one hand he plans to enlist for another three years, but on the other he wants to get married immediately. I don't think he's as desperate as Henry Graham, but what's the rush? Especially if he's going back into the army for another three years (although this ad was placed close to the end of the war, so he couldn't have served another three years - but he wouldn't have known that, naturally). I assume it has something to do with this business he refers to. Perhaps he owns a store or something and needs someone to watch over it, but doesn't trust employees - so wants to keep it in a family. You'd think he'd mention that he owns a business along with the excellent health, agreeable manners, intellect, warm and true heart, and a few hundred dollars, wouldn't you? (By the way, if he really has excellent health after two years at war and fifteen battles, he's one in a million. And I almost mean that literally.)

Anyway, that last bit always brings me back to what is really central to a lot of my project, which is this idea that you could mix all these things together so easily. In other words, our soldier - like so many of the other men I've written about - sees his income almost as a character trait or personal quality. It is equal to his health, manners, education, and affection. I think all of us consider our success - be it financial or otherwise - as a part of who we are, so that's nothing new. But what I do think is different about back then as opposed to now is the fact that income is thrown in with the mix. It's not a separate thing - it's just like having dark hair or being kind-hearted. Or that's how I see it. I'd find it weird if I was reading a personal ad today and some guy was like, "I've got a great sense of humor, I'm tall, have blue eyes, make $100,000 a year, and like to talk about my feelings."

Okay, I admit, I would totally, completely respond to that ad. I'm so shallow. But it's still weird. (Not that income doesn't come up somehow in ads today - like, "I'm a lawyer at a big firm" is a dead giveaway - but it's what you do you rather than who you are.)

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


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