1863: L. A. Greenville to Maj. William Douglas Hamilton

How Ms. Greenville might have looked

How Ms. Greenville might have looked

The identity of the author of this letter has not yet been established. Her signature appears to read, L. A. Greenville. We know from the content of the letter that she was a native of West Virginia and came to Ohio just prior to the Civil War. She was probably born between 1830 and 1840. We also know that she belonged to the Methodist Presbyterian Church and the Temperance Society in Ohio.

She wrote the letter to Maj. William Douglas Hamilton (1832-1916), a native of Scotland, who enlisted as Captain of the 32d Ohio Infantry in August 1861 and was discharged in November 1862. He became a Major in the 9th Ohio Cavalry in December 1862, was promoted to Lt. Col. in November 1863, and to Colonel in December 1863. He was breveted Brig-Gen. of Volunteers in April 1865. Hamilton served under Gen. Burnside in the Knoxville Campaign and was appointed provost-marshal in Knoxville in the fall of 1863. He was wounded in the battle of Decatur, Alabama but survived the war. He lost four brothers during the Civil War — three on the battlefield and one at Andersonville Prison.

Hamilton married Sarah Cheever Abbott (1838-1920) in 1866 and had at least four children. In 1900 he resided in Zanesville and was employed as a lumber and slate merchant.


Leatherwood, Ohio
April 10th 1863

Major Hamilton!

Carte-de-visit of Capt. William D. Hamilton (1863)

Carte-de-visit of William D. Hamilton in Civil War

Your letter containing your likeness was duly received. With the likeness, I am well pleased and think it quite fine, although I cannot say it is an accurate resemblance of the original as we have no personal acquaintance, and I having seen you but once. From your countenance I think I perceive a determination of purpose and a vein of humor, which fit man for both the duties and pleasures of life, consequently you can enjoy the poetry as well as the prose of life.

In all probability when you open this letter and find no picture inclosed you will be ready to conclude that I have not been true to my promise, and I am sorry to say you will be correct in your conclusion. I feel justifiable in breaking my promise only because it was rash and believed it to be more honorable to break a rash promise than to keep it. My reasons for withholding my picture are these; first, when I reflect that we are but strangers and have exchanged but few letters, I think I was too hasty in making the promise; secondly, when I remember the question I asked rather indirectly in one of my letters, to which you did not even allude in your subsequent letter, I cannot gain the consent of my mind to act in accordance with my promise.

I was aware when I first wrote you that I as to some extent digressing from a rule of formality; yet viewing it in the light I did with the motive I had in view which I have before mentioned. I could not see that I violated any rule of propriety whatever. I have just returned from Zanesville where I have been spending a few days. While there, I procured a number of card pictures, but would not under any circumstances permit any gentleman to have a picture of mine who thought I had acted with impropriety. I have one favor to ask, that is imagine yourself in my position, and I think breaking my word in this matter will then appear the more excusable to you. I shall await your opinion and Major Hamilton, I ask you to withhold not your honest sentiments on this subject even if you think it should not meet with my approbation.

I coincide with your views in reference to the result of the contest of our Nation. I do not –neither could I — believe that the “God who ruleth all Nations” sent our noble and patriotic forefathers in to this beautiful land to rear up and establish a free government and elevate their posterity to such exalted liberties – both religious and political — as they have enjoyed merely to reverse the order and undo what has been effected. No! no, by the eye of faith I can discern beyond the cloud of distress, and the dark forebodings which overshadow us, a light that will peer through the gloom and burst forth in effulgence casting a halo of peace and happiness over our beloved country. Although it is pleasant to look forward to the time when peace shall have been restored, yet a sad question arises; “what can atone for the loss of the many lives?” Some would answer, the “sweets of liberty” but will they not have been dearly purchase? For when the struggle is over and the victory won, then cannot be recalled to existence the thousands who have fallen victim in the strife.

As to our mutual acquaintances in Zanesville, I have never questioned them concerning you save the time I saw you and asked the lone question — your name? Since then, I have heard them speak of you but they knew not that I noticed their remarks as they were not addressed to me, and they knew we were strangers. Therefore, I beg leave to withhold the names of our acquaintances for the present. As regards my identity by birth and education, I am a Virginian, having been in this state but a few years and I am proud to say I am from that part which remains loyal. Before leaving that state, I became a member of the M. P. Church. Since then I have united with a Temperance organization, the cause of which in my estimation is next to the cause of Christianity. If you are acquainted with the doctrine of the M. P. C., you will know my religious belief, and it was because of my membership with these organizations that I took occasion to throw the hint I did into my last letter, at the same time claiming it my privilege to plead in behalf of so good a cause. I knew not what views you entertained and acknowledge I had a desire to ascertain.  You say you never knew what it was to be intoxicated and never swore a profane oath in your life. This is a noble confession. But alas! how few men can say as much. While it is a shame, it is nevertheless a truth that some of our greatest statesmen and poets have patronized the fatal cup to stimulate their minds to greater exertion in order to deliver a telling speech, or write a brilliant poem that the world might applaud them great but better had such achievements never been ____ than to win them at the expense their authors have.

But my letter is growing both too lengthy and tedious. I will conclude.

— L. A. Greenville


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