A newly digitized collection of Civil War love letters is now available online through the Tennessee State Library and Archives' Tennessee Virtual Archive website.
The Oliver Caswell King and Katherine Rebecca Rutledge King Papers document the intimate correspondence of two Sullivan County youths prior to and during the Civil War. About 150 letters are included in the collection as well as political essays, college compositions, and original poetry. Olivia King Inman and Judge Dennis Hisey Inman of Morristown donated these family treasures to the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The collection can be viewed online at: http://tsla.tnsosfiles.com/digital/teva/sites/kingpapers/index.htm.
"I want to thank Olivia King Inman and Judge Dennis Hisey Inman for their generous donation of their family papers," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "These papers will provide researchers with an interesting glimpse at life before, during and after the Civil War. These papers contain a great deal of information about what everyday life was like for soldiers and civilians during a traumatic period in our country's history."
The collection is extraordinary in its content and breadth. It offers valuable social, political, and domestic context for researchers interested in period courtship practices, college experiences, Civil War camp life, and family dynamics. The letters between Oliver King and Katherine Rutledge are peppered with humor, playfulness, gossip, political commentaries, and advice.
Both were well-educated, he at Tusculum College in Greenville and she at the Masonic Female Institute in Blountville. Both enjoyed active social lives, which are richly documented in their letters. Researchers examining antebellum curricula will find the collection particularly useful.
King lovingly called Rutledge 'Toad,' and she addressed him as 'Oll.' Most of the letters were written between 1861 and 1863 while King was serving in the Confederate army. King and Rutledge were Southern sympathizers in East Tennessee, a region that was overwhelmingly Unionist in sentiment. (Sullivan County was one of the few exceptions.) King enlisted in the 19th Tennessee Infantry two days before Tennessee voted to secede in June 1861. The correspondence between the couple tapers off in 1863 after King was severely wounded at the Battle of Piedmont in Virginia. For weeks, the chances of his recovery looked gloomy.
King and Rutledge eventually married. The papers in the online collection include Katherine King’s Confederate widow’s pension application found in the massive number of state pension board records on file at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The application contains approximately 25 letters supporting her claim.
Oliver King died in 1893, then Katherine King died in 1925.