1863: Joseph T. Cotton to his Family

Pvt. Joseph T. Cotton, Co. B, 12th New Hampshire

The following letters were written by Joseph T. Cotton (1836-1878), a native of Gilmanton, Belknap county, New Hampshire, who enlisted in Co. B, 12th New Hampshire Infantry in August 1862 and served in the ranks as a private until he was severely wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville on 3 May 1863. He was discharged for disability a year later at David’s Island in New York Harbor. Joseph was married on 23 August 1862, just days after his enlistment but before he was mustered into the service. He married Sarah A. Varney (1842-1920).

In the wartime letters, Cotton discusses very little in the way of war news but speaks mainly of his leg wound the treatment he received for it at two different hospitals in Washington D. C. All but one of the letters were written by Cotton while he was hospitalized. Two of the letters were written on impressive stationary—one has a colorized engraving of the newly completed Capitol Building (with rotunda) in Washington D. C. The other, on the verso of the letter itself, bears an engraved scene of charging soldiers entitled “Battle of Fair Oaks- June 1st 1862.” 

Joseph T. Cotton was described in the 12th NH regimental history as a “good, brave soldier, a kind neighbor, and a true-hearted man.”

Letter 1

Twelfth New Hampshire Regiment
Camp near Fredericksburg, [Virginia]
February 10, 1863

Dear Brother,

I received your letter a few days ago. Was glad to hear from you and that you were all well and that I can say the same. My health is good—fat as a hog—and I am well contented now.

We have rather cold weather. We have had a foot of snow at a time but it did not last long. We had a great rain after it and then we had to take the mud so you can see that we have to take all kinds of weather.

Clark Leighton is dead—only two weeks. He had the typhoid fever. Was very sick last week. we took as good care of him as we could for the chance we had. Julia is about crazy about him. I don’t believe she will live six months. She is sick abed now.

Leander Sawyer is dead. He died last Sunday morning. He had been in the hospital some time. The folks at New Hampshire don’t know much about what the sick have to suffer here nor they don’t know anything about this war—only what they hear. It is all speculation—every bit of it. There is a great part of our men here that don’t want this thing settled up. They are getting good pay and that is all they want. And as for the Negroes, they are better off today here than one half of the white folks at the North. When these boys get home—these Republican boys, they never will want to hear Niggerism preached to them anymore for they will all be good Democrats then and let the Negro be where they are.

You said something about my going to the 11th Regiment to see the boys. I have seen the regiment a number of times but have not seen Sherman but once. We have to stay in camp the most of the time. We are not allowed to go out of camp unless we get a pass from the Colonel and that he will not give very often. That is the reason I have not been to see them. The 11th Regiment has gone to Fortress Monroe. They went from here yesterday. They went past our encampment and they have been going for two or three days. The cars has been loaded down. It is the report that we have got to go soon but I don’t know how true it is. We may go down to Washington to do guard duty, but I don’t know how it will be. It don’t make much difference where I be. I don’t know but what I am as safe in one place as another.

How is Mother now? Is she well now? Tell her that I am well and not to worry about me more than she can help for I am having good times now. Give my love to all the family. I want to see you all very much. I want you to write to me as often as you can and I will answer. I have not much news to write today—only that we have drawn potatoes and soft bread today and they were good.

The mail will be closed soon and I cannot write any more now. write soon. Goodbye brother, — J. T. Cotton

Letter 2

Stationery with lithograph of the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1 June 1862

St. Aloysius Hospital, 1 Washington D. C.
July 6th 1863

Dear Mother,

I thought perhaps you would like to hear from me today and I will write you a few lines to let you know that my leg is doing well. It don’t gain very fast but is doing well as can be expected.

Have you heard from Smith since you got to Gilmanton? I have not heard from him but expect a letter soon. I had a letter from Betsy the other day. She had a bad cold then. Well, Mother, I don’t know as there is anything more to write now. Give my love to Aunt P. Hope she is better than when she wrote. So goodbye, Mother. Write to me often and I will [too].

1 St. Aloysius Hospital was located in wooden barracks in the St. Aloysius Church. When St. Aloysius General Hospital closed, its patients were sent to Stanton and Harewood hospitals. The barracks then became the hospital for Quarter Master Department employees. George M. Anderson’s article describes how the parishioners of St. Aloysius rallied to rapidly build barracks near St. Aloysius church so that it would not be used as a hospital after the military requisitioned it. The Catholic clergy felt that allowing the military to use the church itself would violate its sanctity.

Letter 3

Colorized lithograph of US Capitol on stationery

St. Aloysius Hospital
Washington [D. C.]
July 26, 1863

Dear Mother and Aunt,

I received your letter last Thursday. Was glad to hear from you and that you were gaining in health. My health is good. My leg is doing well but cannot tell when I can come home. It is gaining slow. If the bone [fragments] all come out, it will soon get well but my courage is good. I have made up my mind to be contented until I can come home. I hope it will be next month.

Mother, don’t get tired waiting to see me for you are more comfortable than I am. You wanted to know if I had clothes. I have clean clothes every week, bedclothes changed twice every week, plenty of water to keep myself clean, everything enough, the doctor to see me twice a day all the time. He goes through the ward twice a day—once in the morning and at night. He is a fine man—as good a doctor as I ever saw anywhere.

About the miniature, I will send you one as soon as I can have one taken. And you shall have one. Last Sunday it was fair here—a warm day. We have a plenty of rain here. It has been very wet here all summer.

I must close so goodbye. I will write again soon, — J. T. Cotton

Letter 4

St. Aloysius Hospital
Washington D. C.
July 21, 1863

Dear Mother,

My leg is feel better today and I thought I would write you a few lines. I had it cut open the other day and the small bones keep coming out. There has eight pieces come out now. It never will get well until the pieces are all out. It will be a long time before the leg will get well. My courage is good and you must keep yours the same. Mother, I have good care enough to eat and everything that I cannot get here, there is two women here in the city that is from New Hampshire—one from Gilmanton. They come to look after me. The bring me wine jelly, underclothes, or anything else that I need. They brought me a pair of flannel shirts. Now don’t worry about me, Mother.

We are having cool weather here now. It rains about half the time. That is better than hot weather for our wounds.

How is Aunt? Has she got better? I want to hear from you all. My health is good. I can eat as much as a hog. I hope these few lines will find you all well. Now I must close, so goodbye with much love. Write soon. — J. T. Cotton

Letter 5

St. Aloysius Hospital
Washington D. C.
September 12, 1863

My Dear Sister,

It is with great pleasure that I write to you. My health is good for me. Yesterday I went out doors for the first time. I this morning I have been out again. I am very glad to get out of my old bed. We are having fine weather here now. Not very warm. Rather cool for this time of year.

I had a letter from Lydia today. She is to Alvah’s now. The folks are all well. Mother has been over there but now is back to Aunt Meribakes. She was not very well contented over there so Aunt wrote but seems to be well contented where she is now.

Sunday morning, September 13, 1863

I will try and finish my letter this morning. We have had a fine shower here this morning. Today I shall have to stay in for the ground is wet and I might take cold. I have to be my own judge about taking care of my health here, you know. I hope by the first day of next month that I can be at home for I am not so well contented now as I have been for I can get out. And now I want to get home. Well, sister, goodbye for a few days. Write often. From J. T. Cotton

Letter 6

St. Aloysius Jospital
Washington D. C.
September 30, 1863

Dear Mother,

I will write you a few lines to let you know that my health is good. My leg is doing well. My name is going in this week to headquarters for my furlough. I will write you in a few days again to let you know when I can come home. Keep good courage, Mother and Aunt.

There is no news to write today. I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know I was well. Goodbye from — J. T. C.

Letter 7

St. Aloysius Hospital
Washington D. C.
October 14, 1863

Dear Mother,

I will try to write you a few lines to let you know that my health is good. My leg is about the same as when I wrote before. If nothing happens to me, I shall be at home next week, I think, but don’t worry if I don’t come. You know I have to wait for their motion. They can give me a furlough when they are a mind to. We privates can not do as we are a mind to [but] have to wait for them.

Give my love to Aunt Meriball and take a good share yourself, Mother.

From J. T. Cotton

If anything happens that I cannot come next week, I will write and let you know about it. Goodbye Mother. I can not write but a few lines this morning. I have got to write to Sarah and Betsey.

Letter 8

Harwood Hospital
Wahington D. C.
October 20th 1863

Dear Sister,

As I have changed my boarding place, I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and my leg is about the same as when I wrote before. I was transported to this hospital last Saturday and have the most splendid place in the world. There is one thousand here. I am not lonesome here. There is fifteen wards here. The ward that I am in is nothing but wounded men. I do have the best of care. There is plenty of female nurses here to wait on me. They give me to eat here as good as I could get anywhere in Washington. I shall be at home before long. The Dr. says I can have a furlough soon but I am going to try for my discharge before I come. What [do you] think of that? Don’t expect to get it but can try, you know. Well, be of good courage. I will come some time.

Direct your letters to Harewood Hospital, Ward [?]

Write to me often. Goodbye sister, from J. T. Cotton

Letter 9

Harewood Hospital
Washington D. C.
November 23rd 1863

Dear Sister,

Thinking perhaps you would like to hear from me, I would write you a few lines to let you know that my health is very good and the leg is doing well. It is healing up and I hope for good. The Dr. says it may be all right for months and then break out again. He thinks it is doing well now and thinks it will not break out again but cannot tell how it may be. The Dr. takes the best of care of me and all the rest.

We are having fine weather here now. The folks are haying here now. I expect that itis very cold to New Hampshire now. It is time for it there.

I had a letter from Smith. They are all well. Alvah and Minnie have been down to see them. Lydia has gone to Massachusetts again. I had a letter from Mother and Meribal. They are well but Mother feels disappointed about my coming home. I hope that I can get home soon this year or the first of next. it is now most seven months that I have been in the hospital. That is long enough for anyone.

How does Sarah feel about me. I write for her to keep good courage about me and hope she will. That will make me feel better than to have her get down-hearted about me. She writes to me often. She wants me to come home soon as I can but you know that I am better off here than anywhere at present for they know what to do for me. I think that I am sure of my discharge when the leg gets healed good but I don’t think that I ever can work on a farm anymore. It will be too hard for me. But Iam not afraid but what there will be a way for me to get my living. That don’t trouble me any—not in the least.

Sylvester Gale was here to see me the other day. He has gone back to Concord now. He is detailed from the regiment. He is in some kind of business there in Concord.

Well, Sister, you must write to me often. Give my love to Aunt and all the friends that I may have in Concord. Yours with much love. From — Joseph T. Cotton

Letter 10

Harewood Hospital
Washington D. C.
December 4, 1863

Dear Mother and Aunt,

I received your letter Wednesday. I was very glad to hear from you and that you were well. My health is good for me. The leg is about the same as ever. I think it is stronger that it has been. It is near healed up again but how long it will keep so, it may break out again the same as Edwin Nelson’s has. That is the way of these old wounds. Get healed, then break out again. This last time there has one piece of bone come out that I have seen and many small pieces that I have not seen that run out in the matter that comes from my leg. There has nineteen pieces of bones that I have seen. One of them was one inch long. The most of the bone is one place is taken out—just enough left to hold the bone of the leg together. But I think that some day my leg will get to be very good again. But it will take some time.

I do enjoy myself here the most of the time. I think I had not better hurry about coming home till my leg is good and strong for if I should get home and then have it break out again, it would be a hard look for me for here they know how to take care of me. I am well contented here but as soon as I am well enough to come, you better believe I am there—very quick too.

A had a letter from Betsy the day that I got yours and the next day one from Sarah. Most every day a letter comes for me that keeps me very busy to answer them. Well, Abbie Easton is married at last. It is well that everyone don’t think alike. He looked some time to find her. Is he steady now? He use to drink, you know, when he was to Gilmanton before he went to California.

Mother, don’t worry about me for I have the best of care. Could not have any better if I was at home. Think how much better here than in the field fighting. Here I have my 13 dollars a month. This is the best place for me as long as my leg is no better than it is now. Don’t think, Mother, that I don’t want to come home for I want to come home and see you all and shall soon as my leg will allow.

My love to Aunt and all who may enquire for me. Write often and I will do the same. goodbye with much love, — J. T. Cotton

Letter 11

Harewood Hospital
Washington D. C.
December 28, 1863

Dear Mother and Aunt,

I received your kind letter a few days ago. I was glad to hear from you for sometimes I feel very lonesome and then I like to get letters. That cheers me up some.

Well, about the leg. It is about the same as ever. It don’t trouble me but every little. Now that is not to pain me much. The trouble is the calf of my leg is sore now. There is an opening under the skin and it don’t like to heal. The Dr. keeps cutting every few days. He tries all ways to heal it and I hope he will do it soon for I have got most tired laying in bed.

Well, Mother, you have got most tired waiting for me to come home I expect but you must keep good courage and be thankful that I am well taken care of.

We are having a great rain here now. It is rather warm for the time of year. I am very sorry to hear that Alfred Lougee is sick. Is it very sickly there now?

…Goodbye, with much love, — Joseph

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