At a time when women rarely shared their political opinions, this incredible letter is a breath of fresh air. And what a perceptive comprehension of events for one who claimed to be “not too well posted in these things.” Though the author’s identity was known only as “Mattie,” I resolved to use the few scattered clues within the letter to determine her identity, believing such wisdom needed to be attributed to the woman who wrote it, if at all possible.
After a couple of hours I determined that the letter was written by 20 year-old Martha Ann (Howard) Enslow (1843-1938), the wife of Pvt. Charles Calvin Enslow (1836-1900) of Co. C, 77th Illinois Regiment. Martha, or “Mattie,” was the daughter of Tilton Howard (1814-1878) and Temperance Sweet (1815-1875) of Woodford county, Illinois. Her husband “Charlie” was the son of John Dobbs Enslow (1808-1872) and Sarah Louisa Enslow (1809-1895) of Lee county, Iowa.
In the letter, Martha mentions Charlie’s brother James “Harvey” Enslow (1838-1902) who served in Co. I, 47th Illinois Infantry. Another brother of Charlie’s is mentioned in the army whom I assume was either Daniel Young Enslow or William Henry Enslow, both of who served and gave their lives for their country.
The “Uncle Phil” mentioned in the letter may be Lt. Philip Jenkins who served with Charlie in Co. C, 77th Illinois Infantry. Jenkins was promoted on 17 March 1863 from 2nd to 1st Lieutenant and remained with the company until he resigned on 12 February 1864.
Tuesday, April 7th 1863
My Dear Husband,
I have just finished reading my letters over again that I got yesterday. One was written March 22 & 23rd, the other 26th & 27th. I don’t know why it is that I generally get two at once unless one lays in Metamora two or three days. I am very thankful to get them either way.
We are all well once more but Jessie and Grandmother. She came up Sunday and was very sick all day yesterday but today has seemed a great deal better. Jessie is well, she says—all but the place swollen on her neck. It hasn’t been lanced yet but will be this week. We think she suffers awfully with it but when it is opened, it will get well soon I think.
Pa has been to the election today. The first thing I asked him when he came in was if Jo had a fight with any of the men there. He didn’t; but everything went off peaceably. But after Jo voted he went down where the Stringtown boys go to vote. He heard Phil was going to take Mat along and likely they would have a fracas over him, but they didn’t I guess, or at least not that I have heard of. Pa will finish sowing his wheat tomorrow. He says the ground is in better order for grain this spring than it has been for years. He is putting in twenty-five bushels. Jimmie is quite a good boy. Helps Pa considerable.
You ask my opinion of this war. I hardly know what to say or where to commence. I feel what I could say would do but little good for you know as well as I that I’m not too well posted in these things as I should be and therefore can say but little—in fact, nothing that will cheer and and encourage a soldier. But this I well know—we have a government that should be loved and cherished by every people and every nation. But alas! we have men, thousands of them, that would rejoice if they could bring disgrace upon it—men who have been for years plotting and planning that they might succeed in getting an excuse that would justify them in withdrawing themselves from us which they had no right to do. And had they known in the beginning what they know now, they never would have commenced.
But God has permitted it [and] allowed them to commence in a cause that will ruin them. They as a people have gone on in their sinfulness even so far as to buy and sell their own flesh and blood. God can allow it no longer. He will bring all things right in His own good time. They will be made to yield—be compelled to come back—live under and sustain the government they are now trying to disgrace. Think for one moment how humble they will be. They will no longer have the power to steal, buy and sell, and enslave a nation that is a few shades darker than they. These things will soon be laid aside and the poor race that has long been made to bow under the lash will be made a free and happy people. I say God speed the day. I look on these things somewhat different than I used to. I think I see the overruling hand of God. He will guide and protect the right—although He may (but I hope not) let this struggle be continued for years. The right will come out victorious. I do hope the time is not far distant when blood will cease to flow and we may have a true and honorable peace—a peace that may last through all coming ages.
Now, Charlie, these are my thoughts that are written here. Now don’t make fun of me, will you, when you have finished reading it, for it’s the best I can do tonight. I am real glad that Uncle Phil will go back to Co. C when he leaves here for I could not bear the thought of him leaving the company, but I might have known that he did not leave with his own free good will.
I got the letter from [your brother] Harvey the other day. I hardly think you will get to see him soon for he said he couldn’t get a pass to go and see his brother. He was then about ten miles from him. Why, Charlie, when did your brother enlist? Didn’t your folks at Iowa know anything about it?
Yes, I think the Enslow family have turned out well. Each one is ready and willing to do their part.
While Tomas was up here, we went over to Zo’s one day. Charlie is growing like a weed. Louise is more than Lizzie ever was with Gib, and while I’m talking about Gib, the nigger almost scared him to death. He wouldn’t go to Phil’s at all but Mat went up there and Gib scared off in the bedroom and got in bed.
Well, Charlie, I just know you will feel like pulling my ears when you see this letter (if you can read it) for I’ve been so dreadful careless, but I just can’t help it for I’ve got the meanest pen in the world and if you scold, why I’ll jerk your ears good for you when you get home.
It is almost midnight and I shan’t write anymore tonight but will in the morning if I don’t get a chance to send it to Lacon.
Charlie, on reading this letter over this morning, I am ashamed of it and wouldn’t send it if I had time to write another this week but I’ll let it go and you may not call it a letter. Yes, I will commence the 10th and read every day if it is a possible thing.