On Sunday, Jilly posed the query: Do you believe in love at first sight? In my family, belief in this occurrence has been passed down since the Civil War.
After the war ended, in April of 1865, many of the soldiers walked home. That makes sense: only the cavalry would have had horses, and the trains would have been overloaded (not to mention the great sections of track that were destroyed during the conflict).
According to the family legend, my ancestress and her sister were sitting on their front porch in the spring of 1865 when a soldier walked by their place. My ancestress took one look at him and said, “That’s my man if I never get him.”
Her sister thought that was pure foolishness. “You don’t even know him. Why, for all you know, he could already be married.”
As it turned out, he was married–or at least, he had been. By the time he got home, though, his wife had died. He made his way back to the girl who had fallen for him at first sight and married her.
Is the story true?
My great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Peters, was born on Christmas Eve, 1847, in Scott, Virginia. That would make her seventeen when the war ended. According to the decennial censuses, somewhere between 1860 and 1870, Elizabeth moved from Virginia to Kentucky. And on July 12, 1865, Elizabeth Peters married Nathaniel Thornton Arvin in Estill County, Kentucky.
So, it certainly could be true.
But was it really love?
In a world where approximately 1 out of every 20 men in the country had been killed in the previous four years, just the fact that Nathaniel was alive and healthy enough to stagger home probably made him a prize. Elizabeth and Nathaniel stayed married till they died, to the best of my knowledge, but most couples did back then.
What makes true love more likely, in my opinion, is the fact that the story got passed on to Elizabeth’s daughter, Nancy, who passed it on to her granddaughter, my Aunt Louise, who passed it on to me.
Because true love is the stuff of legends.