Mary fingered the small square of black cloth. The sprig of clover and
the river stone had long since disappeared from their envelopes. But Emma
had honored A.P.'s request to save his most treasured keepsake. When she
moved away from Pennsylvania, she packed a leather trunk with her most
precious possessions inside, including the scrap of cloth and the bundle
of letters from her brother.
Perhaps the letters were made more precious by the fact that A.P. died
at an early age. The last three notes in the shoe box give a few fleeting
clues to what became of A.P. after the War. They reveal that Augustus
returned to Pennsylvania briefly, then moved to Iowa, where he carried
out his plan of becoming a schoolteacher. In one letter, however, A.P.
mentioned that his weight had dropped to 135 lbs. and he had been forced
to cancel school for a week because of ailing health.
The last letter in the box, dated March of 1869, is a sympathy note, consoling
Emma for the loss of her "dear brother." Unfortunately, it remains
unclear whether A.P. died from the same illness that plagued him throughout
the War or some other unexpected cause.
After her brother's death, Emma apparently struck up a correspondence
with one of A.P.'s bachelor-friends named Henry Brink who was a farmer
in Clarence, Iowa. Before long Henry had set out for Pennsylvania to ask
for Emma's hand in marriage. He brought her back to Iowa, where they settled
on his farm and raised four children.
When Emma died, her brother's letters moved from one family member to
another, and even came close to being destroyed. Among her mother's papers,
Helen discovered another note that reveals how the value of relics can
sometimes fade through the years. In 1956, one of Emma's descendants had
written to a relative: "I have been looking over some of the old
Civil War letters . . . . You said that you did not care for the letters
but just the envelopes, but I was talking with a lady that is interested
in such things and she said 'by all means' leave the letters in the envelope.
. . ."
Fortunately, Mary's relatives heeded this advice, and A.P.'s letters have
once again found a treasured spot in her family history. You may have
questions about your own family's past. Remember, the next time you're
exploring and come across a stack of dusty boxes, a battered trunk, or
a bundle of faded letters, take a closer look.
Ask your grandparents about their grandparents. The
story of your ancestors could be just a few questions away. . . waiting
to be discovered.