1863: Ellen (Smith) Davis to Frederick A. Dutcher

I could not find an image of Ellen but here is an Ambrotype of a woman with a sweet disposition of about the same age. (Megan Kemble Collection)

These letters were written by 32 year-old Ellen Davis (1830-1902), the daughter of Pratt Smith (1788-1874) and Eleanor Wheeler (1788-1859), and the wife of John Henry Davis (1820-1883) of Deerfield, Oneida county, New York. Ellen’s mother, Eleanor Wheeler, had been married to Wheaton John Dutcher (1781-1813) before she took Pratt Smith as her second husband.

Ellen wrote all of the letters to Frederick (Fred”) A. Dutcher (1834-1863), a distant family relative with whom she apparently carried on a correspondence throughout the war though only these letters from 1863 remain which were kept by Fred when he fell ill with chronic diarrhea and eventually died of the disease. Fred enlisted as a corporal on14 August 1862 in Co. G, 27th Iowa Infantry. From the letters we learn that Fred had become hospitalized by mid summer 1863 and grew progressively worse in the ensuing months. He was officially transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps in mid September 1863 but discharged for disability on 21 November 1863, returned home, and died a couple weeks later on 7 December 1863.

Ellen’s letters remind us of the countless hours loved ones devoted to writing soldiers during the Civil War in an attempt to lift their hopes and spirits when they faced hardship and disease.

Letter 1

Deerfield [Oneida county, New York]
February 3, 1863

Dear friend Fred,

Your letter was gladly received yesterday, and I was glad to hear that you are as well as you are, for it found us sick. John is very sick. Pratt and Aunt Abby have had an attack of the typhoid fever that run about two weeks. John has some inflammation of the lungs with it. As the consequence of sickness in the family, I am very tired if not sick. Still I must write a few lines to you while I know where you are. Surely you have had a long and tedious journey since I heard from you. Little have I thought what you were going through, though I heard that you had gone to Min. but felt a little sad that you did not stop a line to let me know how it was with you. I had almost given up ever hearing from you again.

I wish you would write often even if you are moving about so that I cannot answer. You know where I am and am anxious to hear from you, and feel more so now that you are in the heart of Rebeldom. Fred, take care of yourself as well as you can. May God shield you from the hurtful bullet and the temptation that must surround you. I have been reading of the intemperance of the officers of the Army of the Tennessee. What example is that for the soldier? And I know their temptations are great, being so much exposed to hunger and suffering of every kind. But there is one that is able to keep you from all harm and bring you home in spotless manhood.

We have felt very little of the war here yet and money is plenty. Some things are getting very dear, but we have felt no inconvenience as yet.

I did not have time to finish this last evening and now our family all retired and the sick one asleep, I wish to talk a little with you and say how much I wish you was here today. And if you ever get in a situation where you can get a discharge, don’t refuse it. I think you have suffered your share. Is there anything that can atone for the suffering of your noble ones for the last two years? How many brave, educated, talented in every sense noble men have been sacrificed on the altar of this rebellion? Is it possible that God reigns and permits all this? Yes, I believe He will overrule this and bring great good out of all this evil. In your hardship, trust in Him whose eye is never off of your hope that you may be kept from all danger and permitted to come and see us where a hearty welcome awaits you and the best the house affords.

Don’t forget we are always anxious to hear from you and the more you write the better. All the particulars of a soldier’s life and hardship meets with sympathy here. Hoping to hear from you soon, I must close this. From your most sincere friend, — Ellen Davis

There is many local matters and things I would like to tell you but must leave all such things till I see you. Please excuse these blots. You would if you knew how many times I have to drop my pen.

Letter 2

Deerfield [Oneida county, New York]
July 6, 1863

Dear friend Fred,

I sit down once more to speak a little with you. Your letter was gladly received very near the same time. I imagine you thought I was insane to write twice before your answer had time to come. I thought it was longer than it really was and I saw an account of fighting at Jackson. As the paper did not say, I supposed it was Jackson, Tennessee, but I see afterward it was Jackson, Mississippi, and I hope all is quiet about your camp. But how do you stand it this hot weather? It seems to me I never knew it so warm here before and how must it be there? We are afraid our dear Northern boys will all perish with the heat.

I saw a mother yesterday who had two sons in the Potomac Army. One has had it hard ever since he was there. She said he was in battle then and she almost wished they would desert and come home, and I could not blame her, such works as they have there. But we are looking for good news now and hope this rebellion will have its death blow before you get this. But Dr. Eaton and Abby have been here and he thinks it will never be. But my faith is stronger than that and I will hope and pray on that. God will take it in His own hands knowing that nothing is impossible with Him. Our God leave us not to perish in thine anger, neither chasten us in thy bad displeasure for who have we in heaven but thee and what is there on earth we desire beside thee. If every soldier would send up this fervent petition, it seems to me they never could be defeated for I believe God hears and answers prayer, and His eye is ever on us, and he has a healing balm for every wound, a cordial for every fear. How sweet it is to trust in Him and know that He cares for us.

Are you in the hospital yet? If so, you have the privilege of doing for the sick and perhaps wounded. I have often wished I was where I could do something for the suffering soldiers though I could not so much today. Dr. Eaton and Abby came down two weeks ago. He stayed one week and went home. She has gone to Trenton now. We had a very good visit but it was too much for me. It made me worse than ever. I hope the day is not far distant when we shall see you here. I have a nice lot of chickens which I am fatting up against you come. We are a going to the city this evening. If you happen in at five or six o’clock, you will be very likely to find us there. We often go down after tea.

Now, hoping God will take you under His especial care and that you will be true to Him, I shall have to bring this to a close. Please excuse this poor specimen of a letter and send me a good long one with all the particulars and when we may hope to see you here. Don’t you write a short letter because I have for I have no time. Now don’t let me write twice this time. Now I hope you are well. I have been better but I had to over exert myself to wait on my big bug visitors. Give me a plain home spun visitor. It would do me more good.

As ever your most sincere friend, — Ellen D.

Letter 3

Deerfield [Oneida county, New York]
September 1, 1863

My dear friend Fred,

Your oh! how welcome letter came to hand about one hour ago. I need not nor can I tell you the anxious hours I have seen since I received your last. I was afraid August could be a hard month for you, but I hoped you would be here and I would have done for you all that could be done and every delicacy that could tempt your appetite you should have had. I shall not give up the hope that I may have the pleasure of nursing you up yet.

It pains me to see your indifference and your seeming discouraging spirits about getting a furlough. You think it would not think. it would only pay for so short a time. Don’t go home if you can get a furlough. Take the most direct route for Utica and if I cannot prove to you that it will pay, I will pay your expenses. I was in hopes that you would get a discharge on account of your knee but if you cannot, come on a furlough if you are able to travel. Write as soon as you receive this and let us know when to meet you at the cars. If you only knew how I have watched to see you coming, how I have scrutinized every countenance ad they got off the cars to see that face of yours, you would not talk about it not paying.

Now, my dear friend, there is none that can sympathize with you in the loss of [your brother] dear Wheaton more than I do and it seems to me that I can never enjoy the blessings that cost so dearly. I will cherish his memory as a sacred insence precious to my soul, but I can not realize yet that it is so. Dear friend, if you have his likeness or know of anyone that has, will you secure me one when you can ad I will send the money to pay for a copy in my next if you are not here. I wish to have a large one taken which we do here from the small ones and put in a gilt frame and your beside it. And I want you to come and pick it out.

As Bub is waiting to carry this to the office, I shall have to close now hoping that you are better and that we shall have the pleasure of seeing you soon. All hearts here are waiting to welcome you. Keep up your spirits and do not be discouraged for Jesus is your friend and I will pray to Him to watch over your sick bed and hasten the hour when I shall see you fully recovered. If you can come, I have plenty of time to take care of you which I will most faithfully.

As I received your letter, I was thinking of going to a camp meeting but I gave it up at once. Your letter sent a chill over my heart that disqualified me for everything and I almost felt that God had forgotten to be gracious. But I know by experience that behind a frowning Providences he hides a smiling face. I can but think how many costly sacrifices has been laid on the altar of our country, but life is short and uncertain at best. If we are only prepared for eternity, what matters if when we go, if we can only meet our friends on the other side, where sickness, sorrow, and death never come. What a blissful meeting that will be. My friend, may we meet there. God help us to live to that end. Then Jesus will make our dying bed feel as downy pillows are while on his breeze I lean my head and breathe my life out sweetly there. As ever your friend, — Ellen

Letter 4

Deerfield [Oneida county, New York]
September 25, 1863

Dear friend Fred,

Your welcomed letter that was almost despaired of, has just arrived. I feel very sad to hear that you are so very weak and feeble although it is no wonder considering how long you have been sick. If you was in this climate, I do not think but what you would soon recover. I know of one that came home very low and the last I heard from him he was going back, and now the weather is getting cool. I hope Providence may so order that this may find you much better. It seems to me that I must see you coming and I have yet to learn the reason that you cannot come when you get able to travel.

There is a Dr. I am acquainted with that doctors chronic disease and nothing else. He lives in Buffalo but comes to Utica once in four weeks. I know of many cures he has done and I think if you could take his medicine, with proper care, you would soon recover. And if you continue in your present, feeble state which I supposed is caused by chronic diarrhea, you had better let me send you a prescription if it is possible which I think it is. I don’t think I should been living today if it had not been or this medicine.

It is a satisfaction to me to hear that you seem so composed and contented. We never can feel better than we do when our will is lost in God’s will. That is the way I wish to live. I know by experience it is sweet to trust in Him and I think I can say all my trust on thee is saved, all my help from thee I bring, cover this defenseless head with the shadow of thy wing. What poor creatures we are when left to ourselves. But he says not a sparrow falls to the ground without His notice. And again He says your very hairs are all numbered. Again ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find. Let not your heart be troubled nor be afraid.

Peace troubled soul, thou needs not fear. Thy great provider still is near. Who fed the last, will feed thee still. Be calm and sink into His will. (You do not say whether you have good care and comforts that your feeble state demands. I should like to know.) And did you get your pay when you was inspected? If I knew you had not, I would send you a little. Will you let me know in your next. There is an invalid corp in Utica. The soldiers that I have seen came from Illinois and Indiana and have been through those western battles and suffered almost everything and have not one cent of money in six months and it does my heart good to give them. They are young and all that I have seen are farmer boys, so gentlemanly and intelligent.

I thought you might be here to go to the fair with us but as you was not, Nella and me took our money and bought our basket full of pears ad peaches ad went to the cemetery which is very near the fairground while the boys went to the fair. The crowd was immense. I am afraid I shall weary you and must close.

God willing, I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you at pay day not far distant. In the meantime, I would be very glad to hear from you every week at least, if possible, and I will try and make amends for your trouble most sincerely. Hoping this will find you much better but should He decree otherwise, I hope we may meet on the other shore where sickness and sorrow never come. God knows what is best for us, and what He does, we know not now, but we shall know hereafter. Most heartily commending you to His love and protection, I remain as ever your most sincere friend, — Ellen Davis

P. S. If you do not feel able to write get someone to oblige your anxious friend. God grant you may be able and He shall have all the thanks. E. D.

Letter 5

Deerfield, Oneida county, New York
September 29, 1863

Dear friend Fred,

Although I have just answered your letter, I did not write half I wanted to for fear I should weary you and as I think of going does tomorrow, I thought I would write a little more. I feel very anxious about you, a way off there with no kind relative near, and where it is only of our power to do anything for you. But my heart’s sympathies are with you, to think how very weak you are and I do not know whether you have good care or not. How I wish you was here today. But though this very beautiful sun shines where you are, yet long miles lie between. Yet I hope you are better today than when you wrote me. You seem to think you will regain your usual health and I do hope and pray you may, dear Fred. I miss already those good long letters I used to get, though most thankful for a short one now.

When your last letter was brought in and laid on the table before me as I stood ironing, how quick I missed that dear familiar hand that was want to direct them and almost made me fear to open it, and sadness gathered over my heart as I read how very weak you was, and my mind was pressed with alternate hopes and fears as to how you may be by this time. And although my trust is in God and I know He does all things well, on some points I am weak. I can’t help but bring home to my heart how I should feel if one of my boys was in your situation, and they may be in a worse one even. If they should be, I hope some friendly heart will feel for them as I feel for you.

Fred, the shadows are lengthening on the wall and tells me the sun is setting and the hour I gave myself to talk with you is almost past away. And so too the sun of life is ebbing downwards. A few more rising and setting suns and the strongest of us will have done with all things here. I believe we may attain a state here when we will have no more fears of death and the future than the present hour. God so unfolds the veil from the eyes of his believing ones that like Jacob, they can almost see the angels of God ascending and descending from the throne of God. I do hope and pray that He will manifest to you the exceeding riches of His grace and grant that you may be enabled to read your title clear to a mans in the skies though I hope He has years of happiness in reserve for you here and I hope to hold this pleasant correspondence with you yet a while longer, and hope yet to behold your face here. Gladly would I pay all the cost to see you here. God only knows whether we shall ever meet in this world but I have many dear ones of the other side and I hope to see you among them.

Shall we meet with many a loved one that was torn from our embrace? Shall we listen to their voices and behold them face to face? Yes, if we believe the Bible, we must believe that for every witness says yes. Dear Fred. I monist you to our Father’s care. With Him all things are possible if consistent with His holiness. I most devoutly pray that He may restore you to health. If not, may He bear you gently inHis arms to our home above. But I cannot endure the thought that it could be so and I shall hope and pray on. Now I shall have to close for this time hoping to hear from you before this get there and that I shall hear you are better when I get an answer to this.

I remain as ever your most sincere friend, — Ellen Davis

Letter 6

Deerfield [Oneida county, New York]
October 6, 1863

Dear friend Fred,

Your welcome lines of September 26th I received on the 1st of October. I need not tell you how thankful I am that you are better and that you are so much nearer than when you wrote last as the recent date of your letter showed. I feel very sad that you are so very weak, but most sincerely hope that you may soon get over that. I hardly know what to think of your symptoms but hope you’re Dr. will guard against inflammation and yourself guard against taking cold. It takes but a trifle to prostrate one so weak. In the meantime, I am hoping you are quite smart by this time and that I shall hear the same from you before you get this,

I intended to have wrote a few lines as soon as I got yours but company and other extra hindrances prevented though I think of you every day and wish that I could do something for you. But you have a friend nearer than I am and one that can do more than I am capable of doping if you only commit yourself to Him, and I humbly trust you have. Jesus love is worth more than gold dug from out the richest mines. Jesus love like death untold around the heart entwines. I hope I know something about this love and can say that it is a source of happiness that the world knows not of, and I hope my dear friend is abiding in this love that makes the should happy and contented as you appear to be.

I must close this as you have my late letters and paper most likely by this time and I am afraid I have written too much already. If so for friendship sake, you will forgive, as your present and eternal welfare lays near my heart.

I hope you will keep gaining till you are able to come here if you wish tom and it is God’s will you should, I hope to see you some day ere long. Write soon and often. I should like to hear from you every day. Let me know how long you expect to stay where you are and if you are loose from the army, I suppose you have not forgotten what you promised in your letter of July 5. If you have, I have not. I remain as ever your most sincere friend, — Ellen Davis

If you can’t come and like it, I will have a copy of that paper sent you every week. If you are able to come on here and if it don’t result to your benefit, it would be my fault, as ever, — Ellen

Letter 7

Deerfield [Oneida county, New York]
October 16th 1863

Dear friend Fred,

Your welcome letter of the 10th of October I received this morning. I am very sorry that you have had another relapse but glad to hear you are mending again, and I hope you may get the advantage of your disease after awhile as you seem to think. You do not say as you have had more than one letter from Memphis though I think you answer questions that was in both letters but do not speak of the paper that was sent between them. It seems I have written two letters and sent three papers that you have not received as. the writing of your last which I am afraid will get to be and old story by the time they get around.

I am anxious to know how communications go from here to your present quarters. My last ought to have been there soon after your last was written. I was very thankful that you have fared as well as you have and had good care when you was so sick at Memphis, but do not see how it is that you do not fare as well where you are as you did at Memphis as it is not as far to send and I. suppose all the hospital stores are sent from the North.

I thank you very much for the satisfactory answers to my questions and think you done wisely in keeping your money as you have o one to look out for but yourself and if you ever need anything, it is now. I supposed you had some or I should have tried to send you some. As it happened I have been a little short of pocket money on account of letting fifty dollars go (to make up a certain sum we had an opportunity to let) which I meant to have kept by me. It is beginning to come in now and I don’t mean to be caught in that trap again. I am glad that my friendship is not misplaced, that you possess the principle that I admire of all things to relieve the needy. Every good act is its own reward and will feel the truth of that verse, that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I feel that the many blessings and comforts I enjoy are the gift of God, and not to be used selfishly by me.

I am perfectly content with my portion here, though some would think it a humble one. I have kept Aunt Abby [Wheeler] seven years and I told Schuyler W[heeler]. He had better get her a place as her year is up the first of next month. He was here the other day and is determined I shall take her for life—that is, bind ourselves to take good care of her as long as she lives for what she has got, which is nine hundred and fifty dollars in money and enough other things to make up a thousand. And I think I shall do it (she has been here so long she seems about as near as the children). She wants Nellie to have one half and me the other,

You said you would write a few things you would like me to send but I do not see anything of it in the letter. Don’t forget to put it in your next. We shall likely butcher as soon as it gets cold enough to keep fresh. In the meantime let me know what you would like no matter what it is. I shall have to close this as our folks are going to the city and I wish to send this to the office.

Now hoping this will find you much better and that I shall hear again soon, and that God will take care of us all and make us just such creatures as He would own and bless, I remain as ever your most sincere friend, — Ellen Davis

Write soon. Do not forget. This is one of the loveliest days. God’s sun is shining in all its loveliness. Do not forget Him who has kept you in all your months of sickness.

Letter 8

Deerfield [Oneida county, New York]
November 23, 1863

Dear friend Fred,

I take my pen once more to address a few lines to you, hoping that you are still in the land of the living and recovering your health and spirits, both of which seemed so bad when you wrote your last. I had hoped you would write a few lines just to let me know how you are getting along without my answering your last as I have nothing of interest to write. But as you have not, I feel very anxious to know how you are and if you are able, I hope you will write a few lines just to let me know.

I have been very anxious to send you a few delicacies that you could eat in your present state if I knew how and what you you would like, and propose to do so as soon as the weather gets so that I can get around to find out and if there is anything you think of that would taste good, let me know what it is. We shall butcher some next week but perhaps you could not eat hearty food. But if I have anything or the Utica market affords anything that can do a sick soldier good, it will be a pleasure to me to forward the same.

Now hoping that this will find you much better and that I shall have the pleasure of seeing you some day in better spirits than when you wrote, I remain as ever your most sincere friend, — E. Davis

Don’t forget to write a few lines when you get this if able.

P. S. John requests me to tell you we are hoping to see you here as soon as you are able to travel. — Ellen

Deerfield, Oneida county, New York

Fred’s Discharge papers from Co. G, 27th Iowa Infantry based on a Certificate of Disability, issued at Saint Louis, Missouri, on 21 November 1863. Disability described as “chronic diarrhea, great emaciation and debility, Has done no duty for six months. He is not fit for Invalid Corps.”

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