24 February 1865

Salem [Iowa]
Friday night February 24th 1865

Dear Lot,

It seems natural that I should talk to you on a lonely sad occasion like the present. I have finished my share of ‘that school’ and came in this eve to my former home in Salem. Find the family in deep affliction. Their oldest son — a bright promising boy of seven years — has his eye put out, shot with an arrow by a little playmate. The parents who have worried and wept over the patient little sufferer for twenty-four hours have been persuaded to rest and leave him in my care for a while, so I am all alone in the silence of the night.

‘Twas not so three years ago tonight — you were with me then. You remember it all.  I leaned my head on your shoulder and wept the ‘goodbye.’ I could not find tongue to speak. Oh! what a long goodbye that has proved to be. Had we known then that the full three years should pass and find us as it now does, ‘twould have been a sadder parting still.

I went in and sat awhile with that young widow I wrote you about once (you’ll know her sometime; she’s a cousin of Kitty’s) and the sad accident here naturally led to a melancholy conversation on the subject of afflictions generally, and ’twas said that it seems the economy of Providence to remove the dearest idol. The idea filled me with dread and I found myself sending up a involuntary prayer — ‘Oh God spare my Idol.’ I feel the danger of the soldier’s life and the uncertainty of your return more when I am with her. ‘Twas only a few months ago that she looked forward with as bright hope as we have ever indulged of the joys that were to be hers when the war should end. But now her future is a hapless blank. Oh, how utterly desolate must be the life when hope is dead. But I ought not to write much gloomy thoughts to you.

I’m a little disappointed tonight though, for I confidently expected a letter to tell me whither the murky waters were bearing my lover, but now I must wait till next week. ‘Twas too bad when I wanted one of your good letters so bad to get only the most ridiculous of valentines.

I shall go to Mt. Pleasant in the morning. [Cousin] Alice is anxiously waiting my arrival. Some old friends from Lower Salem [Ohio] were to be in Mt. Pleasant today. Came to see the country and were to take the girls home with them. I fear ’twill hurry their departure. The oil fever still rages frightfully on Duck Creek. ¹ Cousin Russel True came home on furlough a few days since and sold his little farm for the round sum of twelve thousand. Quite a start in the world for a small boy! One of my uncles also sold a hill for a fabulous sum. Wish they’d all take advantage of the speculation & move to a decent country.

Oh what grand war news this week. Sherman seems to be sweeping out the very presence chambers of the Confederacy. The prospect — looked at in a military point of view –seemed to be hourly growing brighter. Oh that it may brighten until we behold the full sunshine of peace illuminating our whole country.

Mt. Pleasant
February 28th

Bentonsport, Iowa

Bentonsport, Iowa

‘Tis too bad this is not started yet but my trunk arrived from Salem. I came over Saturday through a driving rain but was as much as they could have through bottomless mud. Folks here are well. I’m helping [my sister] Philena pack up. They start tomorrow for Bentonsport ² on the Des Moines [River]. Alice and Lydia expect to start for Ohio one week from tomorrow. Then I’ll be alone. Oh! dear! what will become of me. Saw Dick [Jackman] in town yesterday. Also Mr. Rob’t Blacker just starting home. Excuse scribbling. I’m tired and nervous.

I remain until death, your — Neal

¹ Neal is referring to oil boom that struck the Duck Creek valley north of Marietta, Ohio, during the winter of 1864-65. Land sales skyrocketed as eastern papers published stories of the rich oil- producing region. At first, mostly bottomland real estate rose in value but in the spring of 1865 even hillside farms were being sold for a substantial profit to oil speculators — some of it belonging to Neal’s relatives.
² Bentonsport, Iowa — a small village on the Des Moines River — was once an important river-port stop used by steamers. 

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