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I Married a Soldier

December 14, 2010

In May of 1854, congress repealed the Missouri Compromise, allowing Kansas and Missouri to independently determine the legality of slavary. Later that summer, whigs and anti-slavary democrats combined to form the Republican party. And while the nation slowly began edging towards the Civil War, young Lydia Spencer Lane left Pennsylvania to begin an itinerant life as a soldier’s wife in the Southwest.

Four decades later, she published her memoirs as I Married a Soldier, believing that young readers would, “carry the conviction that they will never be called upon to endure what we did”(3). Certainly, Lydia’s description of a winter journey from Fort Clark to San Antonio inspires gratitude for highways and cars with heat!

“The day before Christmas we left Fort Clark for a second visit to San Antonio and Austin. The weather was like summer, and the evening was so warm in camp we were glad to get out of the tent for the air. By morning a stiff norther was blowing, and water in a bucket in the tent froze to the bottom. It was bitter cold, and we were so anxious about the baby, fearing she might freeze to death. Our ambulance was better calculated for a summer ride than a journey on a freezing winter’s day. Our driver, Biles by name, had begun very early in the morning to celebrate Christmas by taking a great deal more whisky than was good for him, which he procured from some unknown source. As it was a warm day when we left Fort Clark, he, soldier-like, “took no thought for the morrow,” and forgot his overcoat. We found out as soon as we started from camp that the man was too drunk to drive, and we had not gone far before he became unconscious. He was propped up on the front seat beside husband, who drove, and who occasionally administered a sharp crack over his head with the whip, to rouse him, and keep him from freezing to death. I sat behind, with the baby on my lap, completely covered with blankets to protect her from the wind, and many an anxious peep I took to see how she fared, lest, while keeping her warm and excluding the cold air, I might smother her”(33-34)

On the other hand, Lydia’s memoir also tells of pleasant memories. In the following excerpts, she tells of two arrivals in San Antonio:

“On the third day we drove into San Antonio, stopping at the Plaza House, then the best hotel in the town. It was on the main Plaza, not far from the Cathedral. San Antonio was more Mexican than American then, and the foreign style of architecture interested me very much; also the gardens, filled as they were with tropical trees and unfamiliar plants and flowers”(26)

“When we returned to San Antonio, husband, much to our delight (or my delight, at least), was ordered to remian there on duty. We rented a small house, or rather two three-roomed houses together, where we lived until May. There were no communicating doors, so we had to go into the street to reach the sitting-room from our bedroom. The kitchen was by itself, in the yard; but these inconveniences were mere trifles.”( 35)

Focusing on the personal over the political, and day-to-day events over the grand strategy, Lydia Spencer Lane’s account provides a close-up view of life in the southwest in the years before and immediately after the Civil War.

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