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Civil War Valentines

Civil War Valentine, 'Fondly I gaze'

Valentine cards have been a popular way to send affectionate greetings for many years. These examples date from the Civil War.

The switch from handmade to manufactured Valentine's cards began during the 1840s. By the start of the Civil War in 1861, many manufacturers were marketing the cards to soldiers far away from their loved ones.

This large paper Valentine (top, right) has an embossed border. It is glued with scrap: a classical bust at top, floral spray at center, and leaves at the bottom.

Between the leaves at the bottom of the card is a small piece of paper printed with this short verse:

Fondly I gaze in
Thy sweet face,
And clasp thy little
Hand in mine,
Love swiftly speeds
Us to the place
Where I shall claim
My Valentine.

Civil War Sweethearts

The three cards pictured here were sent by Joseph Forrest to Elizabeth Ehrhart during the Civil War. Joseph and Elizabeth, both residents of Macon County, Illinois, became engaged in 1858, three years before the start of the hostilities. They delayed marriage at first because of Elizabeth's young age, secondly because of some business concerns, and thirdly because of the war.

Joseph enlisted on July 25, 1861 (shortly after the war began), at Decatur, Illinois. He was mustered into service as a private in Company A of the Eighth Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The couple decided to wed on Joseph's first furlough, which unfortunately for them didn't occur for another two years. When Joseph finally returned to Macon County to marry Elizabeth, he also was on a mission to uncover deserters hiding in the area. The couple married on August 9, 1863, and (according to family lore) spent much of their honeymoon riding around the countryside on horseback in pursuit of runaway soldiers.

Civil War Valentine, 'Faithful in Death'

The Eighth Illinois saw much action during the war. It was involved in battles at Shiloh and Corinth (1862), and Vicksburg (1863). After three years of active duty, Joseph was mustered out and honorably discharged in early December 1863. A few days later, he rejoined the same outfit while it was in camp at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Forrests' first child was born in 1864 while Joseph was recovering in a New Orleans hospital from wounds suffered at a battle near Jackson, Mississippi. This daughter died shortly after birth. Joseph was honorably discharged at Marshal, Texas, in July 1865, because of wounds which, according to his papers, caused him to be "Incapacitated for seven months, in hospitals all that time." Liver and lung damage would adversely affect his health for years.


Moving to Kansas

Four more children were born to the Forrests after the war. Deciding that Kansas might be good for Joseph's weakened health, the family moved to Jewell County in the spring of 1872, where Joseph served as a Methodist minister. In March 1875 they moved to Minneapolis, Kansas. One day a few months later, after preaching at several sites, Joseph sickened and died. He was 35 years old, and left behind a wife and four children.

Elizabeth stayed in Kansas, enduring the deaths of two more children from diphtheria in 1876. Although Joseph had never filed for a veteran's pension on ethical grounds (the funds came from a whiskey tax), financial difficulties forced Elizabeth to apply for a war widow's pension. She proved up the Forrest homestead claim herself, and lived in Kansas until she died in 1920.

The Valentine at bottom right is embossed with scenes depicting the American Revolutionary War or perhaps an earlier conflict. It is printed with the following verse:

Civil War Valentine, 'My Love'

'Mid bugle's blast and cannon's roar,
And 'mid the battles angry flame;
'Mid clashing sabres red with gore,
I fondly breathe they much-loved name.
I feel thee near at dead of night,
When I my vigil lone am keeping--
Thy image guards me, angel bright,
In dreams when wearied I am sleeping,
Each northward wind wafts on its breath,
To thee a yearning kiss of mine--
On glory's field or bed of death,
I live or die thy Valentine.

These Valentines are in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Civil War Valentines

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1999

Date Modified: May 2018

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.