"just Hum me a tune in the evening hours occasionally & I will fancy I hear it borne on the Autumnal breeze"
James E. Love, a Union soldier, wrote those sweet words on Oct. 9, 1861, to his fiancée back in St. Louis. He and Eliza Mary "Molly" Wilson, both natives of northern Ireland, had secretly become engaged before he joined the army two months into the Civil War.
The letter, mailed from near Sedalia in western Missouri, is more chatty than newsworthy, written during a lull in the hunt for elusive home-state rebels. Love describes the beauty of the countryside, his pleasure upon being "near or at the seat of war," and of affection for "dear Molly."
It was one of 170 letters by Love to Wilson that were preserved and donated 70 years ago to the Missouri History Museum, which is publishing them http://www.historyhappenshere.org/archives/category/love-letters">one at a time online. Each is posted 150 years after the soldier wrote it to his lady love.
None of hers survived, but he refers to hers in his own.
Two dozen letters are on the website so far, along with background information on the couple and the war events he cites. The next letter is to be released Tuesday.
Molly Kodner, a museum archivist who is running the project, won't say what's in it, Kodner said she wants wants the Love-Wilson story to unfold slowly, just as it did during the war. Which means that readers won't find out what happens to them until 2015.
"That makes it a long project, but I want to keep the details a mystery," Kodner said.
Pressed for a general hint, Kodnar offers this reassurance: "Theirs is an American movie ending."
Love was born in 1830 in the town of Bushmills (famous for whiskey) on the far northern shore of Ireland and emigrated to America in 1839. He reached St. Louis in 1850, worked at groceries and opened one of his own. He owned a store at Ninth Street and St. Louis Avenue, north of downtown, when war began.
Molly Wilson was born in 1833 on Island Magee, about 50 miles southeast of Bushmills, and moved with her mother to St. Louis about 1850. One of her brothers married one of Love's cousins. Love and Wilson, both Presbyterians, were engaged shortly before he joined the 5th U.S. Reserve Corps in St. Louis, which was formed to fight rebels in Missouri.
He wrote his first letter from a steamboat on the Missouri River near St. Charles on June 16, 1861. "All my hopes of Heaven & earth depend on you," he writes.
Ensuing letters describe his unit's movements upriver as far as Leavenworth, Kan., before he returns home briefly in August. He writes of exchanging fire with rebels on the riverbanks, of taunts by secessionist ladies in Lexington, Mo., his daily requests for "lager & newspapers" and how much he misses Molly.
Kodner adds disclaimers warning against Love's occasional slurs against blacks and the "Dutch," or German-American immigrants. Those sentiments appear only occasionally in the letters and were common for the times.
In a letter dated Dec. 3, 1861, Love is back in western Missouri, thinking his unit may head to New Mexico and about his future with Molly.
"I wish to have a long conversation with you when I return," he writes. "I've had many things to say for some time but in the unsettled not to say worse state in which I & all were in I could not begin did not know where to begin..."
In a letter dated Jan. 3, 1862, and to be released Tuesday, Kodner said, he finds a way to express much more.