[Special Collections and Archives welcomes Ruth Monnier, a senior history major at the University of Dayton who is working as a summer volunteer here in the Archives. One of her first projects was to finalize the transcriptions on the Civil War-era letters from MS-92, the Wallace Family Papers. This post is the first of three based on her project. We thank Ruth for all of her hard work with us this summer!]
Recently I have been deciphering and transcribing letters between WM McKinney and his female cousin, Mattie, written during the American Civil War. WM McKinney’s penmanship throughout the letters was beautiful. It looks like modern day calligraphy, whether written at his home or on the battlefield, healthy or sick, in daylight or nighttime. WM McKinney’s handwritten letters look better than most individuals’ handwriting today, including my own.
However, there was more to his letters than his beautiful handwriting. WM McKinney wrote to Mattie about camp, family and memories, fighting, and even the state of his love life. From the letters you learn about the life of a Union Officer during the American Civil War, but not necessarily the details of battles. WM McKinney was very aware that he was writing to a female and rarely stated the glories of battle, but rather stated that she was probably more informed about the state of affairs than he, as seen in his letter dated January 16, 1862. The letters can read as journal entries on occasion, especially his letter of January 28 (see below), where he debated to whom to write and if he should even send it. This letter in the collection I think gives one a good view of the relationship between WM McKinney and Mattie. WM McKinney trusted Mattie to see his “blues” as well as to destroy the evidence.
His January 16th letter highlights the closeness of the bond between WM McKinney and Mattie, demonstrating the matchmaking, teasing, and in general, some of his outlook about his love life. At the end of the letter, WM McKinney tells Mattie that after the war he is willing to meet an individual who is referred to as the “Buckeye Girl,” as well as his willingness to enter into an engagement of marriage. I assume that the “Buckeye Girl” was one of Mattie’s friends, since Mattie was from Ohio. The WM McKinney letters that are part of the Wallace Collection provide a glimpse into the life of a Union Officer, the familial relationships, and correspondence during the American Civil War.