Yes, there were some lacy, beautiful, Victorian Valentines sent during the Civil War, which came a few decades after the advent of the commercially-made greeting card. Here’s a nice roundup on the Kansas Historical Society’s website of engraved cards lauding “angel bright” soldiers’ sweethearts, who are “near at the dead of night/when I my vigil lone am keeping.”
The other kind of wartime Valentine, above and below, was bitter and cutting, rather than saccharine sweet. They come from a tradition of “vinegar valentines,” which, as I wrote on the Vault in 2013, delivered a payload of burn to their unfortunate addressees. People often sent these cheaply-printed comic cards anonymously, using Valentine’s Day as a chance to police their friends’ and acquaintances’ gender presentation, personal grooming, and moral choices.
In that initial post, I included a few Civil War “vinegar” cards, including one that slammed Army surgeons (“Ho! ho! old saw bones, here you come…You are always ready with your traps/To mangle, saw, and hack us”) from a soldier’s point of view. This small group of satirical wartime valentines, on the other hand, seem to be written from a civilian’s perspective. (I found them on the Flickr page of the Library Company of Philadelphia.)
“The Brave Volunteer” lampoons the pretensions of a soldier who’s lighting a cigarette on a bomb, while cannonballs fly toward his unsuspecting head. “The Private” looks downright evil, his cranky face a humorous counterpoint to the fake-sentimental verse underneath. And the “Bull Run-ner” is a terrified deserter, fleeing the field of battle.
These cards are a good reminder that many civilians didn’t experience the war as a rapturous crusade, but rather as a grief-filled slog, whose reality was very different from fantasy.
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