Letters in the attic trunk

TO: Lieut. E. L. Lybarger, Co. K 43d Reg’t. O.V.I., Prospect, Tenn.

Thank heavens no one in the Lybarger family throws anything away. This letter was written in 1864 during the Civil War to my great-grandfather Edwin Lybarger by the woman who would become his wife. More than 125 years after it was written, my Aunt Nancy found it and 167 other letters written to Edwin during the war, stored and forgotten in a cherry wood trunk in her Ohio attic.

Nancy Lybarger Rhoades on her 91st birthday in 2006.
Nancy Lybarger Rhoades on her 91st birthday in 2006.

Nancy Lybarger Rhoades spent five years transcribing these letters. On her 91st birthday, she received a letter from David Sanders at Ohio University Press accepting her manuscript for publication with the addition of social historian Lucy E. Bailey’s commentary as co-editor.

Swallow Press, Ohio University, 2009
WANTED–CORRESPONDENCE: Women’s Letters to a Union Soldier (Swallow Press, 2009)

Aunt Nancy died in 2007, but her last years were much happier knowing that the Lybarger letters would be published in 2009.

Aunt Nancy was always the protector of all things Lybarger, aided by her skills as a legal and reference librarian in Ohio. The letters, though, were all written TO Edwin and we had none of his replies. My imagination yearned to fill in the gaps. After two years of patient persistence, I finally gained Aunt Nancy’s permission to use the letters in crafting a novel. So I began to research and write.

Early in my writing, I phoned her to ask how long she thought it would take a horse to travel from a certain town to another certain town in Knox County, since she knew the terrain and distances. “That depends,” she said, “on whether the horse is walking, trotting, or galloping.”

My aunt’s answer made me realize that I would have to know everything about everything if I wanted to write an authentic historical novel. It’s taken me a dozen years. I tried my best to get everything right. I want Aunt Nancy to be glad she gave me permission.

To get everything right and make Aunt Nancy glad she gave her permission and left me a beacon.

Nancy Lybarger Rhoades and niece, Jennifer WIlke
Nancy Lybarger Rhoades and niece, Jennifer WIlke

Old Soldiers

These four men were residents of Knox County, Ohio when the Civil War started. They enlisted together at Camp Andrews (near Mount Vernon, Ohio) in late 1861. They mustered out together on July 13, 1865. From left:

enlisted Nov. 25, 1861 at age 21

enlisted Nov. 4, 1861 at age 26

enlisted Nov. 1, 1861 at age 20

enlisted Dec. 12, 1861 at age 18

They enlisted together in a Knox County company being raised by William Walker, who served as company captain until spring 1862. Company K joined the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and left Ohio in Feb. 1862. With 3 other Ohio regiments, they formed the “Ohio Brigade,” commanded by Col. John Fuller. They served for the duration of the war.

 ~ ~ ~ ~

The following letter was published in the New York Times the month the war began in 1861, written by a veteran soldier who remained anonymous. 

April 24, 1861

To the Editor of the New York Times:

Allow an old soldier who has seen service to offer a few practical suggestions to our men who are marching South.

Avoid drinking water as much as possible while marching. When you feel dry rinse your mouth with water, but do not swallow it. Water alone should not be drank, but mixed with vinegar; or a little cold coffee is the only wholesome beverage in a campaign.

While marching or on sentry never sit down for a second-bear up! The change of posture will affect your powers more than the actual marching.

Have plenty of buttons, needle and thread, rags of linen and some strong twine in your knapsack — you will all want it.

White linen gaiters over brogans are the best, boots offering too much reflection to the sun’s rays. The gaiters are made white and shiny again by applying a mixture of common chalk and water with a rag or sponge, and let the gaiter get dry under the air or sun.

If you have a long march in warm weather before you, cut off the body of your pantaloons to the middle of the thigh and sew the legs to your drawers, fastening the suspenders to the drawers, it will relieve you greatly. Drawers are essential.

Keep a vial of sweet oil and every night rub your gun with a rag dipped in oil. In the morning, or when starting, rub a cream, it is the best way to preserve it from rust and keep it in working order. When not using it put a piece of cork or something else in the mouth of your gun to keep out the dust, rain, &c.

When marching, put some of the weight you have to carry on your breast — for instance, part of the cartridges, so as to relieve and counterpoise the weight to be carried.

Have some lard in a small tin box to grease your boots or shoes with, to keep them smooth and sort, particularly in wet weather or passing through a swampy country.

When on the march never let a weak comrade get behind the company — assist him in carrying on load. When once left behind he is at questionable mercies of the rear guard, and may perish before the ambulance comes up.

Finally, avoid spirituous liquors as you would poison.

Grandfather Lybarger met the man who wrote “Dixie”

Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904)
Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904)

In 1898, my great-grandfather Edwin Lybarger introduced his son Harry Swayne Lybarger to Daniel Emmett, the man who wrote “Dixie,” the song adopted by the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Edwin Lybarger was Grand Commander of Ohio for the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) for its annual encampment, held that year in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, where Emmett lived.

“He was a little old man with a cane,” my 10-year-old grandfather Harry wrote in his journal.

Emmett’s original lyrics (recorded 1916)

Union version of Dixie

Dan Emmett performing in blackface before 1860.
Dan Emmett performing in blackface before 1860.

Forty years before that meeting, Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904) was a vaudeville performer with Bryant’s Minstrels, a troupe of white musicians performing in black face, an accepted performance style in the 1850’s. They performed Emmett’s song “Dixie” for the first time at Mechanics’ Hall in New York City on April 4, 1859.

To Emmett’s life-long dismay, the song became an indefatigable symbol of nostalgia for the defeated Confederacy and the Old South.

“Dixie” tells the story of a freed black slave pining for the plantation of his birth, the lyrics written in an exaggerated version of African American vernacular, intended for comic effect. “If I had known to what use they [Southerners] were going to put the song,” Emmett later said, “I will be damned if I’d ever written it.”

In the 1943 Paramount musical biopic titled Dixie, Emmett was portrayed by Bing Crosby.

Cat in box stole his heart

In 1909, my great-grandfather Edwin Lybarger and his wife Nancy (Moore) traveled from Warsaw to Newark, Ohio for the GAR Encampment of Civil War veterans. They stayed with Uriah Brillhart and his wife Ida (Severn). The Brillhart family had lived in Spring Mountain, and Uriah would have been a young boy when Edwin returned in 1865 at the end of the war.

Among his papers, Edwin kept this old newspaper clipping:

Article in Ohio newspaper, 1909Capt. E. L. Lybarger at last is the possessor of a pretty little maltese kitten. For several years the Captain has been the lover of beautiful cats but could not keep them in his possession. He has bought them, had them given to him by the dozens but something happened to each of them, they either died or strayed away to some other place.

Capt. Lybarger was attending the G.A.R. encampment at Newark, Ohio this week and one day he was visiting at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Uriah Brillhart. The Brillharts owned a little maltese kitten which as soon as was seen by the captain captivated his heart. The Captain told Mr. Brillhart of his luck with cats and said that if he had any way of taking the kitten home with him that he would steal it. The conversation was then turned to other topics and the subject was dropped.

Maltese kittenWhen the Capt. and Mrs. Lybarger were getting aboard their train for home Friday, Mr. Brillhart handed the general a small box saying that it was a souvenir of the encampment. After the train pulled out the box was opened and there snuggled up within the box was the baby cat.

The captain carried the kitten home with him and it is now drinking milk and eating strawberry short cake.