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April 20, 2014
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Civil War letters published; Local Union soldier Ira Austin wrote to Minerva Drake


Each letter begins with the words “Friend Nervia”—Minerva’s nickname—after which begins a very newsy and pedestrian account of his day’s duties and other army camp routines. Each ends with the polite phrase, “I remain as ever your friend, Ira.” Only the final letter written in October 31, does he dare to end with “Yours affectionately, Ira.”

A few times, Ira playfully hints at what could be his unexpressed desire for her. When he mentioned that a friend was married, he says, “As for you, I think you are [in a] rather critical position as men are scarce and what few there is must be married or nearly so by this time. I guess you will halve to wait till the wares over or live and die an old maid.”

At another time, he expresses that he has developed household skills in the regiment and says, “You would like to see what a good housekeeper I have become. Be assured that I would make a good one if I had plenty to cook and someone to cook it for me.”

In another letter he says, “You seem to think that the southern girls have a different tune to there song, you could not think otherwise if you were to see some of them. They ware cloaks maid of soulders blankets there are very fashionable in the city.”

On May 10, 1866, Ira McBride Austin and Minerva Ann Drake were married. They had six children—Nellie, Mable, Frank, Lou, Ralph and Minnie. In 1877, they bought a house in Barryville, across from the shop were Ira worked as a blacksmith. In addition, Ira served as justice of the peace and town clerk in Highland, NY.

Ira died at the age of 76 in 1918 while Minerva lived to the age of 87 and died in 1932.They are both buried in Montoza Cemetery, Barryville. Mable Austin, daughter of the couple, married Edward Smith. They were the parents of Austin D. Smith, a highly respected resident of Barryville, who was a founding member of the Shohola Railroad and Historical Society in 1991.

For 52 years, Austin Smith was the historian for the Town of Highland. Austin preserved his grandfather’s letters, and after his death on February 15, 2002 at the age of 91, his son, Dale Smith, made them available to the historical society.

To obtain a copy call Martha Shadler, president of the Shohola Railroad and Historical Society, at 570/296-22304. Visit www.shoholahistorical.org for more.