I love stumbling across letters in our collections that offer a glimpseof everydayromance. It’s something we can all relate to. So I when I came across a letter while digitizinga collection from a Confederate soldier confessing his feelings of “somethingmore than friendship, farexceeding gratitude,” I was excited to share.
The letter, found in the Koontz Family Papers,was written by Angus Ridgill, a private from Alabama, to Nellie Koontz, a young woman living in the Shenandoah Valley, in August, 1863. The letter was ostensibly written as a thankyou note toNellie and her family for housing him recently as a lone soldier, but Angus also uses the opportunity to confess his infatuation with her.
“I amnaturally a creature of impulses, and the first fewmoments I passed in yourcompany was sufficient tomake me entirely subservientto your will, be that what it may.”
He continues with assurances that this confession was not hisoriginal intention of the letter, that he doesn’t expect his feelings to be fully reciprocated, and can only wait for an appropriate response-
“still I do trust thatyou will allow me time andopportunity to prove anythingwhich you may wish to know…”
He finishes with an apology:
“if all thistime I have been presumingtoo much upon your formerkindness I most humbly askyour pardon, hoping at thesame time that I havenot forfeited your friendship.”
Whether Angusever received a response from Nellie is notknown. But seeing as this letter was not immediately torn to shreds, but instead, carefully saved alongside those from her brothers and cousin (who were also off fighting for the Confederacy), we can assume his message hadsome significance to her.
An ‘A.G. Ridgill’ is listed as a private in the Washington Battalion, Louisiana Artillery, andinthe 1870 census, Angus Ridgill is listed as age 24, making himonly 16 or 17 when he wrote this letter. Inthe 1860 U.S. Census, Ellen F. ‘Nellie’ Koontz was listed as 16 years old, making her19 in 1863 at the time ofthis letter. I guess this provesteenage love messages were alive and well 150 years ago, just with more cursive and less emojis.
Sadly, census records also tell us that Angus and Nellie didn’t end up together. In the 1880 census, A.G. Ridgill, now 33, is listed as living in Van Zandt, Texas, working as a farmer and married to an Elizabeth, age 29. Alsoliving with him is an 8 year old step son, and two daughters, ages 5 and 3. In the same yearNellie, now listed as Nellie F. McCann, is married to N.F. McCann, an editor, and also has ason, 8, and two daughters, ages 4 and 2. Hopefully they both found true love with their respective spouses and were happy with their marriages and families at this stagein their lives.
In addition to thisletter, the Koontz Family Papers contains correspondence from brothers George and Milton Koontz and their cousin George Miller, each of whom served in the Confederate armies of Virginia. The collection also includes letters sent from other friends and two diaries and a sketchbook from Milton Koontz. The entirety of this collection is now online, including transcripts. Take a look at the collection here.