"...the unladylike and outrageous manner": Letters from Annapolis

Annapolis HarborDetail from a letter written by Union solider, John W. Sturtevant, Annapolis, 1864. Maryland Manuscripts Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries

Some women, including Matilda "Tillie" Sterling, accompanied their husbands to Civil War military installations, rather than staying at home or living with family. One such military installation was the Maryland state capital of Annapolis, which was permanently under the control of Federal troops during the war. Annapolis and environs served as a training center for Union troops and as a camp for paroled Union soldiers.

Matilda "Tillie" Louisa Farquhar (1841-1920) married William Henry Sterling (1828-1918) on October 1, 1861, in Philadelphia at the home of her mother, Anna Virginia Farquhar. William had enlisted in the Union Army six months before their marriage and was assigned to recruiting service. During his military career, William lived in various places throughout the country. From February 1863 to February 1864, he was stationed in Annapolis, Maryland, and Tillie accompanied him to his post there. During her stay in Annapolis, Tillie had the opportunity to witness and comment on everyday life in Annapolis, especially the city's social scene. Tillie wrote numerous letters to her mother in Philadelphia that contribute to our understanding of Maryland's divided loyalties and the various ways that women in Maryland reacted to the war.

Readers will note that Tillie was staunchly pro-Union in her letters. She compared women's rebellious actions in Annapolis to those of Baltimore women and used the familiar term "secesh" to refer to persons with secessionist sentiments. Her most interesting news tidbit for her mother concerns the engagements of two women who are sisters, but have chosen beaux from opposite sides of the conflict.

Matilda 'Tillie' Louise Sterling Matilda "Tillie" Louise Sterling, circa 1875. Sterling Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
Annapolis, March 18th [1863]
"The secession feeling prevails here, there being but a small number of Unionists. I hear that secessionists are very bitter in their feelings, but they keep quiet because they are obliged to. They hate all Federal officers and soldiers, especially as their presence here obliges them to behave themselves. Still I hear that the women of Annapolis (although so bitter) have never acted in the unladylike and outrageous manner that the women of Baltimore and the Southern cities have done. There are some thousands of troops here, a large number being paroled men. Almost- every day I see a soldier's funeral pass, the coffin in a wagon, followed by an officer and a small number of men. It is a sad sight, and to think of these poor fellows dying in this way away from home and friends makes one heart sick. A few days ago a funeral passed, and in the wagon near the coffin was seated a poor old woman, whom we concluded must be the mother of the dead soldier."
"I tried the piano here yesterday, it is considerably out of tune and therefore not pleasant to sing with, but it is better than none - I sang a little for Mrs. Green last evening. She is quite a pleasant woman but I am not-inclined to like any one who is the least - 'secesh' - However she is very quiet about it, and I think too lady-like to express any offensive sentiments, whatever she may feel. One of her daughters (Miss Alice Green) professes to be a Unionist; and Mrs. Waite tells me she is engaged to a Federal officer. The other one is engaged to a rebel officer, so you can judge what her sentiments are. I do not think that their feelings can be very violent, for differing in opinions as they profess to, they seem to be perfectly friendly to each other, and such would scarcely be the case if they felt very bitterly."

Family papers collections, such as the Sterling Family Papers, often require extensive background research in order to discover information about family members. Census records, pension files, birth certificates, and other public documents can be used to trace basic family information, such as birth, marriage, and death dates, that is not found in the family correspondence. Manuscript curators perform historical research and use the background information that they uncover to write historical and biographical notes as part of their work in creating guides or "finding aids" to manuscript collections. These "finding aids" assist historians and other researchers in navigating their way through a collection.

Letter from Matilda Sterling to her mother
Mathilda Sterling Letter, March 18, 1863

March 18, 1863, letter from Matilda Sterling to her mother where she discusses her life in Annapolis and her observations of Annapolis women. Sterling Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. [The image at left links to an entire folder of Mathilda Sterling's correspondence from Series 1, Box 1, of the Sterling Family Papers. The March 18, 1863, letter can be found on pages 16-19 in the digital document viewer.]


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