Letters in the attic

Thank heavens no one in the Lybarger family threw anything away. This letter was written in 1864 during the U.S. Civil War to my great-grandfather Lt. Edwin Lewis Lybarger, 43rd regiment, Company K, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, by the woman who would become his wife. More than 125 years after it was written, my Aunt Nancy Lybarger Rhoades 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 in 2006, on her 91st birthday.


Nancy Lybarger Rhoades spent five years transcribing these letters. On her 91st birthday, she received a letter from 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. As soon as I’d read the one-way correspondence, 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 as the basis for a novel. She made a remarkable leap of faith in trusting me–I’d never written a novel before. I began to research and write.

Early on this journey, one day, 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, Ohio, since she knew the terrain and distances. “That depends,” she said, “on whether the horse is walking, trotting, or galloping.”

Some years later, I completed my historical novel, The Color of Prayer. 

Nancy Lybarger Rhoades and niece, Jennifer WIlke

Nancy Lybarger Rhoades and Jennifer Wilke, her niece, at Christmas time in Columbus, Ohio in 2004.