Several years ago I ran across a small collection of letters written by Pvt. Joseph Belton of company H at the Crawfordsville (IN.) District Public Library. The letters do not talk about great battles or life in the field. Joseph Belton became sick sometime in May 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign. Joseph’s letters give a view of life in a Union Army hospital.
Joseph Belton (b.Pennsylvania, 1835) owned a farm & blacksmith shop in Waveland, Indiana. He enlisted in the 40th Indiana on December 15, 1863, when Sergeant Joseph O’Brien returned home from the army to actively recruit for companies C & H. In 1861 Joseph Belton served as Captain in a local state militia, “Waveland Zouaves,” and apparently continued in this capacity until enlistment. Joseph was married to Mary Hamilton, the couple had three children. Frank (b.11/4/1859), Elizabeth (b. 8/8/1861) and Carrie (b. 11/3/1864). During Joseph’s hospital stay, Mary and the children would travel to Ohio in order to be with other family members. Joseph’s brother Samuel, mentioned in the letters, was also a resident of Waveland.
Joseph Belton contracted chronic diarrhea in 1864. At times in the letters it seems that Joseph will make it home. Unfortunately, Joseph would succumb to the disease, dying on March 28, 1865. His remains were returned back to Waveland, Joseph Belton is buried in the Waveland Presbyterian Cemetery.
Letter written on stationary of the United States Sanitary Commission
Camp Joe Holt, August 5, 1864
Dear Wife – I wrote to you yesterday and under the circumstances had to rite rather a discouraging letter, but I have some better news today. My furlough has not come yet, but the doctor in charge says if it don’t come tomorrow he will send another for me, for he says I shall have it , and so if I don’t come home first now you may be sure I will come before long. And I don’t know but it will be better in the end. It is strange that I have been disappointed in the way I have, but I believe it is for some cause and I believe it is all for the best. It may be the means of saving my life. We don’t know these things, but we can only hope for the best and I have come to believe that all things are for the best. But it is not necessary for you to be uneasy about me for I am getting along very well now. It is true I have a great desire to get home, and you are anxious to see me out, it would not do for me to come only by lawful authority, and I will have to wait until I can get that. But that will not be long. I think my furlough must have got lost on the road or mislaid in some office. I can’t account for it nor the doctor can’t in any but the way I have told you. But there has not been any went away from here but what came back except five that went with mine and they are all lost. The train must have been captured that they went on, and it may come in yet in a few days, but I will have another one started for fear it don’t come. But, wife, I would advise you to learn to bear with disappointments for this world is full of them, and so cheer up and look forward to a better day. Mary, I want you to rite to me and tell me all the particulars in regard to yourself and the children. I expect they would like to see me and I hope they will before long. I don’t know the reason that Sam don’t write to me. I would like to hear from him but I will rite to him tomorrow. I tell you, wife, the most of the boys here are in favor of McClellan for president, and I think he is the man. I think it is time to have peace. Well, Mary, I can’t rite much more now, but I want you to do rite and I will be at home before long, yet, if I live. Give my love to Louise’s folks and the rest of my friends. Nothing more, but I remain yours.
Letter written at Camp Holt, December 25, 1864
Dear wife – I will once more attempt to let you know how I am and when I arrived at this place. I got here last Tuesday. I am in Ward 7 in Doc Carpenter’s ward, but I don’t know how long I will stay here. When I came here they give me charge of the medicine, and so I am giving that out to the patients. That is all the duty I have to do but it is as much as I am able to do for the ward is full, and there is some very sick men here. Four men have died since I have been here. It is now half past one O’clock on Christmas morning, and I am sitting up here all alone in the ward, and it is so lonesome to be here with all the sick and wounded. And when I think of home and then I cannot drive the thoughts of you and my little ones from my mind. But I hope this may find you all well.
I am not well – my back hurts me a great deal, and the piles hurt me some yet out not near so bad as they did when I was at home. I am taking medicine to act on my kidneys but it don’t do me any good yet. I don’t think I will ever be fit for any more duty in the field. But it is hard to tell weather they will send me there or not for they have no feeling for a man at all. I have not said anything to them about my discharge yet. I thought it would be best to wait a few days but I don’t expect there will be any show for it. But I will do the best I can for I know I shall never be able to do any good in the army. There is inspection today at ten O’clock and I expect they will send a lot of men (to the) front, but I don’t think they will send me. I have made up my mind to stay here as long as I can for when I think of my family it gives me trouble enough as it is and if I were to loose an arm or a leg the thoughts of it would kill me. And if I can stay here I may get home and be able to make a living. Mary, it was the hardest task I ever had when the time came for me to leave you and them Dear children, but try and keep up your courage and rite me all the encouraging letters you can, and the time will come when this trouble will be over and we can live at home in peace. But Mary, I want you to conduct yourself rite and try to raise the children in a way that they will not learn any bad habits. If you want anything from the store go to Davises’ and get it and if I stay here I think I will have some money before long. But when you get ready to go home (Ohio) Sam said he would see you started safe from Lafayette, and after that when you have to change I want you to call on the conductor to assist you for three children is more than you can attend to.
Mary, I have lost my gun and wool blanket. I left them in ward when I came home, and somebody stole them, and my haversack and canteen and plate, cup, knife and fork. But I don’t need them while I stay here. I don’t know that I have anything more to rite but I want you to rite me as soon as you get this, and let me know how you are getting along, and when you are going to start home. Direct your letter to Joe Holt Hospital, Ward 7, Jeffersonville, Ind. I have nothing more to say now. Hoping this may find you all well, I will close by saying it remain your affectionate husband
Joe Holt Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind.
February 9th, 1865
Dear Wife- I have just received a letter from your hand, stating that you and family are well which I am glad to hear. I am also glad to hear that the money came to your hand all safe for I was afraid it would be lost. I rote to you since I sent the money and I expect you have got it there this time. Well, as regards my own health is poor for I have the diarrhea pretty bad, and the piles hurt me very bad and I have pain in my back yet. As for my discharge I don’t know yet how it will be for I went to see the surgeon in charge yesterday about it and my descriptive roll has not come and so he sent for it, and send my Capt word if he did not send it right away he would report him to Washington, and have him discharged from the service. So I think it will come now. He said he could not fill out my discharge without my descriptive roll, but when it came he would re-examine me, I told him what was the matter with me near as I could and he talked as if he would discharge me and I think he will, but he may not for all that. But I will have to wait and see for they will take their time for it, and they will do as they please about giving it to me. I have just got a letter from Sam. He is well. They are going to pay out of the draft Sam made the payment on out farm. He says it has been cold there.
Mary, I want you to know if you ever rite to mother. I know she is looking for you there and she is expecting Frank to stay with her. I want mother to have Frank awhile, and I think it nothing but right that you should go and stay with her part of the time. And I want you to take particular pains in looking to the welfare of the children. You may think strange of me giving you such advice but I consider it one part of my duty to give you good advice in regard to yourself and them two, and so if you don’t like it you may take the more of it. I think we have got rid of the small pox here. All that broke out with them was sent to the small pox hospital. They have sent about all the men to the front that was fit and so there is not many left here. I think the government is preparing for a hard campaign when spring opens. I think the southern army will be about broke up this summer, but it is hard to tell when the war will be over. I don’t know of anything more to rite that will interest you, so give my love to the folks and tell them to rite to me. Tell Frank and Belle that I would like to see them and little Carrie. Nothing More, but I remain yours most affectionately.
Joe Holt Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind.
February 20, 1865
Dear Wife – I once more sit down to rite a few lines to you. I got a letter from you a few days agao, but I have been so sick that I could not answer it any sooner. I have been confined to my bed for a week, and am hardly able to be up now, but I am a great deal better than I was. I have had the hardest spell of sickness I have had for a long time, but I think I will get along now pretty well. I am undergoing an examination for a discharge, but I don’t know how it will terminate. You must not feel disappointed if I don’t get it for it is almost impossible to get one at all, and they are giving me a very close examination. They have been at it a few days and I don’t know when they will get through. They have been testing my water and pronounce my kidneys diseased, but I don’t know what else they will find wrong with me, but I will have to wait and see. Mary, I am glad to hear that you are well. I hope that you will keep so for good health is one of the greatest blessings we have on earth.
I got a letter from Mother. They are all well. Israel has lost his wife. She died the last of January. Mother is looking for you there. Mary, I cannot rite any more now for my nerves are out of fix that I cannot hold a pen. So kiss the children for me and give my love to all the folks and rite me soon.
Nothing more out I remain your
Joe Holt Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind.
February 29, 1865
Dear Wife – On receipt of a note received from your hand last evening, I will attempt to address a few lines to you for the purpose of informing you of my whereabouts and how I am getting along. I received your letter and read it with pleasure. I am glad to hear that you and the children are as well as you are, and I pray to God that you may be blessed with good health and all other necessaries of life in my absence. It gives me more pleasure to hear of you enjoying yourself. It encourages me and makes me look forward to a future day when all shall be peace and happiness with myself and family again. When I stop to think of my situation being separated as I am from yourself and my children, I do almost give up in despair, but then upon the other hand I look forward to a better day, and I am in hopes it is not far distant. Judging from every movement now we are forced to the conclusion that this is the last year of the war. I acknowledge that I made a bad step when I went into the army and I have regretted it a thousand times, but it cannot be helped, not now, and if you harbor any hard thoughts against me for that act I hope you will forgive me and banish them from your mind. This is a wicked war brought on by wicked men and I was only like thousands of other men. I was deceived in it when I come to study the true causes of the war, they are not what I thought them were when I enlisted. But however we can only hope for the best, and I do sincerely think the end of the war is not far distant. I am well aware the time seems long and dreary for you, separated as we are, and it does to me, but under the circumstances it cannot be helped, and therefore I can only advise you to bear the wait to the best of your ability. I will promise on my part to do everything in my power to make you happy. I have since I have been in the army conducted myself better than I ever did before, and shall continue to do so, and when I draw my pay I will send you some money, and everything I can do to add to the comfort of you and the children you may rest assured I will do. In your last letter you seem to resent the advice I gave you in regard to yourself and the children. I will just say that I meant nothing wrong by it, and I thought you had lived with me long enough to know better than to take offense at anything I might say to you. I rote to you a few days ago, but I directed to Mother, and you may not get the letter at present. For fear you do not I will state here that I have been very sick for about ten days, so bad that I was not able to be up at all, but I am better now. I have been partly examined for a discharge. They pronounce my kidneys badly diseased, but I think there is no prospect of a discharge. I don’t think I will be fir for duty any time soon, but if they have a mind to keep me I can’t help myself. And so I will have to make the best of it.
Well, I don’t know of anything else of importance to rite now. Tell Mother I got a letter from her and was glad to hear from her and the rest of the family. I will try and answer it soon, but for the present you can let her read this and it will answer for both as there is nothing here that will interfere with anybody reading it. Rite me soon – give my love to all. Tell the rest to rite, and I remain your most,
Joe Holt Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind.
March 9, 1865
As it has been some days since I rote to you and I feel bad on account of a dream I had last night, I thought I would rite a few lines to you to find out if there was any truth in it or not. I have lost sleep last night, and have been in trouble all day about that dream, but I do sincerely hope there is no grounds for any trouble. The dream was about Frank. I thought he said he was going to (?)fia, and wandered off and got lost and got to what is called the Franklin hospital 14 miles from where mother lives, and in wandering about there to find me he fell into a well and was dead when we found him. When I got to this point I woke myself up by giving way to my grief, and when I awoke it was raining – storming very hard. I expect I think too much of my children is one reason why I have such dreams, but I can’t help thinking of them, and I hope this is nothing more than a dream. At the same time I can’t drive it away from my mind until I get a letter from you in answer to this.
I hope this may find you all well. The Ohio river is so high that it is very near all around our hospital, but I don’t think it will get much higher. It is about two miles wider here now. The first story of a good many of the houses in Louisville is under water. I got a letter from Louise’s in Waveland. Samantha sends her love to you and wants you to rite her. Milt Kinder has got home and is going to work for Sam. He says everything is in good order about the house. Mary, they have moved me to Ward 3. The patients were all moved out of Ward 7 on account of small pox, and so direct mail to Ward 3. I have nothing more to rite now, but kiss the babies for me and give my love to all the folks, and rite to me soon for I have not had a letter from you for some time.
Nothing more, but I remain your true husband,
Joe Holt Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind.
March 22, 1865
I once more attempt to answer your kind and affectionate letter that I received yesterday, dated February 23rd. I feel rejoiced to hear that you are all well and hope when this reaches you it may find you in the same good health and Mother and family also. As for myself I am not well, but I feel better than I have done for some time. I rote a letter to you and directed to Alliance in which I stated as near as possible my affections and feelings towards my family. I therefore think in unnecessary to repeat it at present. Suffice it to say that I widh you all the enjoyments and necessaries of life both for yourself and children.
You spoke of Miss Belle writing to me. I would like to see one of her letters, but I would a heap rather see the lady herself. You can’t form an idea how well I would like to see the children, for it is so lonesome here that I cannot help but think of home and family most of the time; and to keep from it as much as possible I employ a great deal of my time in reading, such as daily papers and good books – something that will be beneficial to me in this world and the world to come. The papers cost us five cents each, but we take turns in buying them and I generally do the reading for the ward, as I am about the best reader there is here. The boys always call on me as soon as there is a paper comes in. As for the books they are purchased by the Christian Commission and are religious books. Our library consists of nothing else. It would be a good thing if it did, for the most of the boys buy novels and read them where if we had a library composed of histories they would read them and get a great deal of information from them and might change their minds to a different course of life. From the daily papers I get all information in regard to the war and I think from the course that things are taking now , the war will close this summer. I think everything bids fair to destroy Lee’s army this spring and if that is done they will be compelled to give up.
Mary, if Frank is not satisfied to stay with mother you can take him away with you, but I would like to have you stay there a good part of your time for it will be better for you as there is no prospect of me getting home for some time and if you go to Waveland you will not be contented there, and mother will be glad to have you with her, and I know the children will be company for all of you. I am glad to hear that Frank learns so fast. I hope he continues to learn his books. I don’t know that I can write anything more of intrest, but kiss the children for me and accept my best wishes. Rite soon.
I remain yours truly, from your husband,
P.S. Mother, Jane, and Nancy – I will try and put in a line to let you know that I still am alive and able to take my rations if they are not of the finest quality. I have seen the time that I would of like to had a little more than I got, but here we have plenty such as it is. But then I get along better now than I did at first. I expect Nancy often thinks of me when she has something good for dinner, for she was always grumbling at me for being so hard to please. Well, I am not so hard to please as I was; Jane, I hope you are getting along well. I want you to act as schoolmam over Mr. Frank, and I will try and reward you for it sometime. I want you and Nancy to rite to me, or have you forgot that I still alive. Well, Mother, I have rote all in this letter I can think of (nothing) that is of any importance and so I will close for the present by asking you to give my love to Caroline and tell her to rite to me and don’t forget to rite yourself, for I am always glad to hear from you.
I remain yours,
Western Union Telegraph Company
To-Wn. Hamilton From-Jeffersonville, Ind Mch 30
Wooster, O. Date Rec’d – Mch 30, 1865 – 5:07 P.M.
Joseph Belton is dead. I will write you the particulars.