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