A box of long-forgotten letters from a west-central Illinois farm house appeared to have value simply for the old stamps on the envelopes.
But as a Beardstown couple started reading through the letters, they uncovered a story from the Civil War. The letters between a husband and wife tell a tale of love and hardship.
The old letters were passed through Wilbur Meyer's family over the decades and ended up in his hands because he collected stamps. The letters were eventually stored in the attic and forgotten about until Wilbur and his wife Peggy cleaned the attic ten years ago.
Peggy looked through the box and noticed an envelope with a black edge.
"And I said, 'What's this?" I always heard someone died in the military for a black-edged letter," she said.
It proved to be a letter sent in 1861 to Thomas Wooff of the west-central Illinois town of Concord. It informed him that his brother William had been killed in a battle at Wilson's Creek, Missouri.
Wilbur and Peggy Meyer then took a closer look at the box's contents. They discovered 23 letters written by Thomas Wooff and his wife Lovinia from 1862 to 1864 while he served in the Union army.
"The writing is very hard to read," said Wilbur Meyer. "It took a long time to try to decipher each one."
He said the quill pen ink has faded and the penmanship is difficult to follow.
But after making photocopies, they worked along with Peggy's sister, Connie, to "decipher" the letters.
They learned Thomas Wooff joined the 101st Illinois Infantry Regiment out of Jacksonville in 1862. Thomas and Lovinia shared their thoughts and expressed their affection for one another in their letters.
"I think the main reason we pursued it (reading the letters) in the first place was their love for God, each other, and country. Those things just come out in their letters when you read them," said Peggy. "This wasn't a make-believe story like you see on TV. This was real."
She said it's a first-hand account of history.
Thomas Wooff also wrote about Cyrus Pond, who was Lovinia's brother. Pond also served in the regiment.
The story does not have a happy ending. Thomas was killed near Atlanta, Georgia in July, 1864. Lovinia died three years later, leaving behind four children.
It's believed that William Patterson, who was Thomas Wooff's best friend and who served in the regiment, returned Lovinia's letters to her.
Wilbur and Peggy Meyer - who have been married nearly 55 years - share the story of Thomas and Lovinia Wooff through public presentations in which they read copies of the letters. They have done this nearly 70 times since 2004.
They have also traveled to the Civil War sites that Thomas Wooff wrote about in his letters, and they visited his grave site in Marietta, Georgia.
Lovinia Wooff was buried in the Concord Cemetery.