WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Civil War Letters Between a Husband & Wife

Jan 26, 2012

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.