1861-63: Wheaton Montgomery Dutcher to his Family

I could not find an image of Wheaton Dutcher but here are George W. and Miles Kennedy Ramsey of Co. E, 3rd Iowa Infantry wearing their early-war, grey-cloth battle shirts. (Michael Huston Collection)

These letters were written by Wheaton Montgomery Dutcher (1840-1863), the son of master carpenter Newman Dutcher (1813-1905) and Mary Jane Morrison (1812-1841). The Dutchers lived in Oneida and Chautauqua counties, New York, before moving to Cuyahoga county, Ohio, just prior to the 1850 US Census. After a brief stay in Wisconsin, the family moved to Charles City, Floyd county, Iowa, in 1855. Wheaton’s mother died when he was less than a year old and by the time of the Civil War, his father had married twice more fathering at least ten more half siblings. It seems that Wheaton and his father were not close; their relationship described as being not “on confidential terms.” At the time of the 1860 US Census, Wheaton was enumerated in the household of George R. Pete in Butler, Iowa, working as a hired farm hand.

According to military records, Wheaton enlisted on 20 May 1861 in Co. I, 3rd Iowa Infantry, giving his age as 19 and his residence as Waterloo, Iowa. He was officially mustered into service as a private on 10 June 1861 and served with his regiment until 12 July 1863 when he was killed in action during the Siege of Jackson.

While researching Wheaton Dutcher and his service in the 3rd Iowa Infantry, I discovered this interesting article by Chris Masckowski entitled, “A Bold Scheme and a Mysterious Coincidence in the Final Days of the Vicksburg Campaign” which followers of the 3rd Iowa Infantry might enjoy.

[Note: These letters are from the private collection of Michael Huston and are published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

[In this letter, Wheaton informs his father that he has decided against teaching a school in Floyd county during the winter of 1860-61, choosing instead to stay in Waterloo, Black Hawk county, Iowa, to clerk in a store and attend school himself.]

Waterloo [Iowa]
November 28, 1860

Respected Father,

I have concluded not to take that school so I thought that I would write you a few lines so you could get someone else. I am going to attend store night and morning and going to school this winter in Waterloo.

Give my respects to all. Respectfully yours. — Wheaton M. Dutcher

Letter 2

Camp Benton [St. Louis, Mo.]
December 25, 1861

Dear Father,

I received a letter from Frances last night. She said that you sent me some papers which I received a few days ago and am very much obliged to you for sending them for reading matter is pretty scarce here in camp for it is seldom that we get out to get any.

I am well with the exception of a bad cold. The weather is pleasant here. It seems more like summer than winter although the weather is very congenial here.

About eighteen or twenty thousand soldiers is here at present but I expect that we will leave here soon. I hope that you are well. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and New Years. I should like to be there with you but since that can’t be, I will have to wait till next time.

How is all the children? Albert is here. He is well. Give my best respects to all, yourself included. From your son, — Wheaton M. Dutcher

Letter 3

January 19, 1862

Dear Brother,

I received your welcome letter a few days ago. When I write before, I had not received your letter but it came at had the day after I mailed my letters. We left the barracks about three weeks ago. We have had some hard times since then. The first three days we were out we got to private houses, but the poultry had to go. But I presume you have heard of it before this.

The weather is changeable. The ground is covered with snow. I am well, all but a cold which I have had for the last month.

I was out a hunting yesterday and have not much to do here on the account of it being so wet. We have not drilled any since we left the barracks. Several has died out of the Twelfth Regiment since we left. They have gone to Cairo now. I expect they will stay on the North Missouri Railroad this winter.

I haven’t see Lamon Kellogg since we left. I shall have to close my letter for the present for the drums is beating for the guards so I shall have to go giving respects to all.

Address the same as before. Write soon. From your brother, — W. M. Dutcher

Letter 4

Camp in the rear of Vicksburg
June 29, 1863

Dear Brother,

I received your welcome letter in due time after date. I was well pleased to hear from you.

We are now within a mile and a half of Vicksburg. Most of the town can be seen from our lines. We have rifle pits dug within ten rods [@ 55 yards] of their forts. One night last week we had quite a skirmish. It was about ten o’clock and raining & so dark that one could not see more than two rods. The rebels came out of their works & charged on us but did not succeed to drive us out of our pits. It lasted about one hour and a half. One out of our company was killed by the bursting of a shell & two are wounded in the regiment. Their works are very strong. I think that it would be a hard matter to storm them. It may have to be done but I don’t think it will.

I am perfectly confident that our grub will hold out the longest so I think that they will have to give in after awhile. We come on picket every other night.

You must excuse my short letter this time for there is not much to write about. Write soon. From your brother, — W. M. Dutcher

Letter 5

Camp near Vicksburg
July 20, 1863

B. F. Cleery, Esq.
Dear Frank,

You will excuse me for addressing Mr. Dutcher under cover to you and also expressing his effects in your name which will make it necessary for you to give the order upon the express agent. I could not find among his things his father’s address and remembering that he was not on confidential terms with his father, I have barely made the announcement to him without comment.

He was a young man whose loss I regret deeply. He did not fear to do his duty. I have no doubt but you and family will unite with me to shed a tear over his untimely end.

My kind regards to the girls, Father, and brother and believe [me] yours with respects, — J. P. Knight [Capt. Co. I, 3rd Iowa Infantry]

The post war image at right is Newman Dutcher, Wheaton’s father. The document at left, dated 8 October 1863, certifies Newman’s identity and may have been carried with him to Mississippi or wherever he had to go to retrieve his son’s body.

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