I love stumbling across letters in our collections that offer a glimpse of everyday romance. It’s something we can all relate to. So I when I came across a letter while digitizing a collection from a Confederate soldier confessing his feelings of “something more than friendship, far exceeding gratitude,” I was excited to share.
The letter, found in the Koontz Family Papers, was written by Angus Ridgill, a private from Alabama, to Nellie Koontz, a young woman living in the Shenandoah Valley, in August, 1863. The letter was ostensibly written as a thankyou note to Nellie and her family for housing him recently as a lone soldier, but Angus also uses the opportunity to confess his infatuation with her.
“I am naturally a creature of impulses, and the first few moments I passed in your company was sufficient to make me entirely subservient to your will, be that what it may.”
He continues with assurances that this confession was not his original intention of the letter, that he doesn’t expect his feelings to be fully reciprocated, and can only wait for an appropriate response-
“still I do trust that you will allow me time and opportunity to prove anything which you may wish to know…”
He finishes with an apology:
“if all this time I have been presuming too much upon your former kindness I most humbly ask your pardon, hoping at the same time that I have not forfeited your friendship.”
Whether Angus ever received a response from Nellie is not known. But seeing as this letter was not immediately torn to shreds, but instead, carefully saved alongside those from her brothers and cousin (who were also off fighting for the Confederacy), we can assume his message had some significance to her.
An ‘A.G. Ridgill’ is listed as a private in the Washington Battalion, Louisiana Artillery, and in the 1870 census, Angus Ridgill is listed as age 24, making him only 16 or 17 when he wrote this letter. In the 1860 U.S. Census, Ellen F. ‘Nellie’ Koontz was listed as 16 years old, making her 19 in 1863 at the time of this letter. I guess this proves teenage love messages were alive and well 150 years ago, just with more cursive and less emojis.
Sadly, census records also tell us that Angus and Nellie didn’t end up together. In the 1880 census, A.G. Ridgill, now 33, is listed as living in Van Zandt, Texas, working as a farmer and married to an Elizabeth, age 29. Also living with him is an 8 year old step son, and two daughters, ages 5 and 3. In the same year Nellie, now listed as Nellie F. McCann, is married to N.F. McCann, an editor, and also has a son, 8, and two daughters, ages 4 and 2. Hopefully they both found true love with their respective spouses and were happy with their marriages and families at this stage in their lives.
In addition to this letter, the Koontz Family Papers contains correspondence from brothers George and Milton Koontz and their cousin George Miller, each of whom served in the Confederate armies of Virginia. The collection also includes letters sent from other friends and two diaries and a sketchbook from Milton Koontz. The entirety of this collection is now online, including transcripts. Take a look at the collection here.