Eleanor H. Cohen, daughter of Charleston pharmacist Philip Melvin Cohen and Cordelia Moïse Cohen, moved to Columbia with her family in pursuit of safety during the Civil War. She was there when Sherman’s army marched into the capital in February 1865. As fire engulfed the city and the inferno approached their neighborhood, the Cohens ran for their lives, leaving behind their dearest possessions—“letters of loved absent ones, pictures of our precious relations, tokens and souvenirs of childhood.” Among the treasures consumed in the flames were the journals Eleanor had kept for ten years. She wasted no time beginning again.
Eleanor’s brother, Lawrence Cohen, had traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany, as a youth, to study painting. By 1859, he was back in Charleston, earning his living as a clerk. The sketch of Eleanor, reproduced here, likely is the one that she sent to her beau, Benjamin Mendes Seixas, in anticipation of his birthday. On June 23rd, 1865, she informed her diary: “Next week is Mr. S.’s birthday, and I have written him and sent him a small picture of myself done by Lawrence. I hope it will please him.”