State Library and Archives Receives Papers Detailing Civil War Love Story

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

He lovingly called her "Toad." She affectionately referred to him as "Oll." And although they shared political views that were out of step with many of their East Tennessee neighbors, Oliver Caswell King and his sweetheart Catherine Rebecca Rutledge managed to keep their romance alive through the hardships imposed by the Civil War.

Thanks to a generous donation by the Sullivan County couple’s descendants, Olivia King Inman and Judge Dennis H. Inman of Morristown, love letters between King and Rutledge will soon be available for public viewing at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The Inmans are donating the papers during a brief ceremony at the State Library and Archives building Wednesday.

The letters between King and Rutledge, who eventually married, provide interesting insights into the social and military history of the time in which they lived. The letters were initially brought to one of the State Library and Archives' "Looking Back at the Civil War" events in Morristown so they could be digitally recorded. Archivist Susan Gordon worked closely with the Inmans, who decided to donate the letters to the State Library and Archives so they would be preserved and available for researchers.

"I am grateful to Ms. Inman and Judge Inman for providing these valuable papers to the State Library and Archives," Secretary Hargett said. "These documents will help amateur and professional Civil War historians better understand the way people lived - their thoughts, hopes and dreams - during a pivotal time in our country's history."

Oliver King, a student at Tusculum College, stood with the Union early in the secession crisis, but joined a Confederate infantry regiment in the summer of 1861. "We'll just have to fight it out if it takes us a whole generation," Oliver wrote in one of his letters after joining the Confederate cause.

Rutledge was a student at the Masonic Female Institute in Blountville and a staunch supporter of the Confederacy.She wrote to King after his army enlistment: "If my sweet heart hadn't to have went [to war] I don't believe I would claim him any longer." She praised him for volunteering to defend their homes.

East Tennessee was a Union stronghold before and during the Civil War, so the King-Rutledge correspondence is unusual because it describes their Confederate sympathies.

The tone of their letters ranges from sober to passionate, depending on the topic.

King was gravely injured in the June 1864 Battle of Piedmont, Virginia. He was taken prisoner and spent a long painful recuperation with a local family. King's leg wound never fully healed, and he walked with a limp until his death in 1893.

Tennessee began issuing pensions to Confederate veterans in 1891 and to their widows in 1905. Catherine R. King submitted a claim in April 1915 and fought for three years to have it approved. Her application is filed along with thousands of other widows' and soldiers' pension records at the State Library and Archives.

The State Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. The building is open to the public from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, except for state holidays.

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