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In the Navy

Friday, March 18, 2011

Did you know that this it is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War?  And can you pronounce "sesquicentennial"?  Say that ten times fast.  Yes, folks, it's been 150 years since the war began and it's just as fascinating a topic as ever, and it gives me an excuse to write more about some of my favorite advertisers ever: Civil War soldiers.  Or anyway, one of them.


A young man, a gentleman, thoroughly educated, and holding the rank of [?] in the United States Navy, and who during this war has had but little opportunity to form the acquaintance of ladies, desires to open a correspondence with one who is well educated, refined and of good birth, with a view to matrimony.  None need apply unless they are such, and perfectly sincere.  If agreeable would prefer carte de visite of the lady who might feel disposed to answer this.  Furthermore all communications will be treated with honorable [?].  Address Blake Thurston, U.S.N., Beaufort, N.C.

I hate it when I can't make out words.  Anyone able to read those?  The first one looks like "superior" but that doesn't make sense as an actual rank, so I don't think that's right.  I find neverending fascination with these ads because I can only imagine what it must have been like for these lonely soldiers - or at least lonely for female companionship (well, respectable female companionship).  All they want to do is go home and forget this horrible war and settle down with some nice little woman who'll drive all the images of death and destruction from their memories and...yeah.  It makes me sad when I think about it.  Blake sounds a little stiff but I always feel so much sympathy for these men who have no chance to cultivate acquaintances with women. 

Of course, the lingering question I always have is, why didn't he meet any women in his hometown before he left?  Obviously all my advertisers are people who haven't met anyone elsewhere, so it's not like this is unique.  But the way it's written is like he never even tried to meet someone until he was in the navy.  You know?  Like he came out of nowhere.  Or maybe...perhaps he was just out of college (highly educated), and of course there were no women in college at that time, except, I think, Oberlin (don't quote me on that).  And then out of patriotic fervor enlisted, and then, as I said, got lonely.

Interesting though...I guess I never thought of this before but...if he's in North Carolina, how is he going to meet these women?  He's advertising in a New York paper, but it had a national audience so that doesn't signify, but when I say "national" in 1862 I don't mean it was going down South (much).  And he wouldn't want to meet women from North Carolina anyway because they're part of the rebellion.  So, yeah, he doesn't say when he's mustering out - what if his term of service is another two years?  Is he just going to correspond with women for that length of time?  I think he would love that, but the women might get a little tired of waiting.  Or not.  Because a good patriotic Northerner would probably be willing to wait for a soldier fighting for the Union.  I don't know.  I'm totally rambling, probably due to lack of sleep.  You wouldn't think it, but it is, in fact, possible to stay out late at academic conferences.  Historians party too.  (I wasn't partying.  But I did have a later night than planned.  I'm going to stop writing now.)

ETA: a friend pointed out that they're probably "supplier" and "usage."

©2011 Pam Epstein

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