Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Letters of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864

By Gordon, Lesley J. | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Letters of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864


Gordon, Lesley J., The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Letters of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864. Edited by M. Jane Johannson. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000. Pp. xxiv, 333. Acknowledgments, list of illustrations, series editors' preface, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95.)

Theophilus and Harriet Perry had been married just over two years when Theophilus joined the Confederate Army. Theophilus was a twentynine-year-old college-educated lawyer and a member of the slave-owning elite, who had avoided service for a more than a year before he determined to go. He left his pregnant wife and young daughter and joined the 28th Texas Cavalry. His first several months of war were relatively quiet. He was on detached service, filling various staff positions. In 1864, however, he became a field officer, commanding Company F in the 28th Texas Cavalry. Within four months, Theophilus was dead, mortally wounded at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, during the Red River Campaign.

Captain Theophilus Perry's wartime record was relatively unimpressive and of little note. But the letters to and from his wife, Harriet, that were left behind make his story riveting. Editor M. Jane Johannson has done a masterful job of assembling and editing these letters-ninety-one exchanged between husband and wife, and an additional twelve from or to other family members-into a single volume. Arranged chronologically, the letters are divided into ten chapters, each detailing a different campaign or phase of Perry's service. Clear, easy-to-read maps chart Perry's movements and military exploits in the trans-Mississippi theater (including Arkansas); a handful of photographs picture Theophilus and other family members. Johannson's editing strikes just the right balance of being informative but not overly intrusive. She introduces the letters and the major players and starts each chapter with a helpful summary of essential events and issues. Her extensive footnotes identify the people and places mentioned in the correspondence, and she consults secondary literature to place the couple's actions and feelings into larger context. But readers can peruse the letters for themselves and gain significant insights into a Texas soldier and his wife's separate and intertwined wartime experiences.

The Perrys confided their deepest fears and worries to each other in these missives. Husband and wife repeatedly proclaimed their love and yearning for one another. "You are my life, it is all I can do to live separated from you," she told him in August 1862 (p. …

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