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  • Wanted—Correspondence: Women's Letters to a Union Soldier
  • Patricia Richard (bio)
Wanted—Correspondence: Women's Letters to a Union Soldier. Edited by Nancy L. Rhoades and Lucy E. Bailey. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009. Pp. 410. Cloth, $49.95; paper, $26.95.)

In each of their studies of soldiers' letters, historians Bell I. Wiley, Reid Mitchell, James McPherson, and Earl Hess have argued that correspondence between home and the camp was a vital link for the welfare of Civil War soldiers. In this volume, Nancy Rhoades and Lucy Bailey build on these works by widening the focus to include women's letters from home. Lieutenant Edwin Lewis Lybarger, a soldier with the Forty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, lovingly kept and protected his personal collection of letters received from family, friends, and acquaintances for more than sixty years. These letters remained hidden away until the 1990s when his granddaughter, Nancy Rhoades, discovered them in his officer's dispatch box. In this volume, Rhoades and Bailey bring this collection to light and reveal the daily routines of the women left behind in rural Ohio during the war.

Wanted—Correspondence is a multifaceted book that is part analysis, part primary documents, and that builds on Agatha Young and Mary Massey's work on Civil War women by turning to the Ohio home front. The editors suggest that there is still much to learn about the "social terrain" (4) [End Page 106] of the Civil War and offer this work to help "broaden our understanding of the war as a gendered phenomenon" (3). Fewer women's letters than men's survived the ravages of war; consequently this cache of correspondence is all the more precious. Whereas most of the 158 letters in this collection came from women Lybarger knew, the remainder were addressed to the young man in response to newspaper advertisements he placed soliciting correspondents. The book is divided into two parts, beginning with analysis and followed by the collection of letters presented chronologically.

The first section investigates "key themes in the letters and elements of the historical and social context in which they were produced" (5). The editors place the letters within the context of antebellum print culture and contemporary ideas about gender, race, and romance. While the observation that these letters were an important aspect of women's war work is not new, Rhoades and Bailey make strong contributions in their examination of print culture and its influence on how and what a letter writer might write, the development of photography and the currency photographs earned in their exchanging, Ohio's educational history and how it influenced the women letter writers, and the appearance of local political news in the letters. Through these female correspondents, readers experience the trials and boredom of the home front and learn that letters were "a tool to sustain family and community" and "a coping mechanism for feelings of impotency" (28).

The second section, making up two-thirds of the book, consists entirely of the letters addressed to and carefully preserved by Edwin Lewis Lybarger. The letters capture the dullness of home life; the anxiety caused by sparse, sporadic, and at times faulty information; the desire of women to do something for the cause; and the romantic hopes of twenty-somethings during the Civil War. Although the collection includes letters from a number of different female correspondents, the web of familial and communal connections between the correspondents becomes apparent as some of the information overlaps or is repeated. As these women become "flesh-and-blood beings," Rhoades and Bailey show how the letters allow us glimpses into the "epistolary relationships" with Lybarger (8). The letters written by the women who responded to Lybarger's newspaper advertisement reveal the flirtatious nature of the Civil War generation and are some of the most entertaining of the collection.

Wanted—Correspondence is well suited for use in an undergraduate course for discussing contemporary gender ideals and the influence of print culture, women's education, and the woman's rights movement in Ohio. The authors have provided scholars with a rare collection of middle-class [End Page 107] and rural women's letters, a treasure trove of primary...


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