In 1863, Union soldier Stephen Metcalf posted a newspaper solicitation for correspondence with a Northern woman, and requested that responses be directed to the pseudonym "Eugene May." Carrie White, a supporter of the Union forces, was one of several "Great Northern Ladies" to respond. All but a few letters in this collection are a correspondence between the two that started with this advertisement and ended with their marriage in 1868. These letters span the first five years of the couple's relationship, offering detailed and intimate insight into courtship and other social practices of the Civil War period.
Metcalf was Quartermaster Sergeant in the 1st U. S.. Veteran Engineers, and in his early twenties when his advertisement was published. Before joining the army, he had been in college and had considered careers in several fields, including education and medicine. He had come from a family of little means. In 1854 the young family had moved from Wayne Co. Ohio west to Lawrence, Indiana to build a log cabin in a new settlement where they lived on very little (1866 June 1). Metcalf's father had not been educated as a child, and when he learned to read and write from his wife, he vowed that his children would be educated. The fruit of this commitment can be seen in Metcalf's writing style; Stephen's letters indicate a good education. His father's attitude about education may have also influenced Metcalf 's decision to pursue a teaching career.
Carrie White, who occasionally signed her letters Carrie M. Robb, had not completed grammar school. Her home was with her aunt and uncle in Jersey, Ohio where she worked in an Apothecary shop. She made periodic visits to her parents in Columbus. While her letters are not as scholarly as Metcalf's, she was educated and attuned to the political situation of the time.
White was dedicated to the Union cause and involved in aid work; she was a member of and, for some time, the president of an Aid Society in Jersey. For several years this group collected food, clothing, and other supplies to send to Union soldiers. This work was a large part of what Metcalf found so appealing about White. His family and friends at home in Indiana were not supportive of Union soldiers and he cherished White's commitment to the aid society.