These two letters were written by a hospital steward in Hospital No. 2 at Bardstown, Kentucky. He only signed his name “J. L. Stewart” and gave no military affiliation so I am not even certain that he was in the military. My hunch is that he was. Many volunteers who became ill and were unable to stand the rigors of camp life were officially detached from their regiments and kept on by surgeons as hospital stewards to assist them as nurses, dispensing medicines, feeding patients, and otherwise caring for their needs. But there were also some civilian volunteers who worked in their local hospitals. (see Seven Hospital Stewards by William T. Campbell)
These two letters highlight one of their other duties which was to assist in the burial of those who died in the hospitals and to inform the next of kin, when possible. In this case, the deceased soldier was Addis E. Smith of Co. A, 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) who died on 9 April 1862. Notice that the author of the letter has drawn a black line around the perimeter of the sheet, indicating the pronouncement of a death. The first letter was written to Addis’s sister, Mary Ellen Smith, because—as he explains—he found a letter from her to Addis among his personal effects. The second letter, addressed to Addis’ mother, appears to be in response to an enquiry asking him to clarify the date of Addis’ death, to provide more details on the progression of his disease, and whether Addis had any money owed to him for his service.
General Hospital No. 2
April 10th, 1862
Miss Mary E. Smith,
I am very sorry to be under the necessity of conveying the sad news of the death of your brother [Addis E. Smith] at this place. He died on the 9th inst. of typhoid fever. His illness had been of considerable duration. He was brought here sick. As to how long he had been sick, I know not. After being here a few days he appeared to improve and got able to walk about but took relapse and only lived a few days.
I made his acquaintance when he came here and felt a great interest in him on account of the statement he gave me when in conversation. One day he told me that when he got well, he would like to stay with me in the hospital and assist in anything that I might wish him to as he said he did not think that he would be able to stand camp life for some time and that he could be making [ ] wages here than in camp. He said that he wanted to make as much money as possible to send to his mother. He spoke of his mother and sister very affectionately to me in conversation which assured me that he was a noble boy. This was while he was able to walk about. After he was taken down the second time, he was delirious most of the time and said nothing about home or friends.
He had some property here that is worth something to someone, such as his army shirts, drawers, socks, &c. He was buried in his full dress uniform suit and as decently as possible [with] a good plain coffin and head board having his name, company and regiment inscribed on it so as to designate his grave for the present.
I must close as I am in a great hurry. At any future time, I would with pleasure give you any information that you may request. My only source of information as to his address was through a letter from you. Please answer my note. nothing more at present but remain yours with much sympathy. May God reconcile you to his providence.
— J. L. Stewart, Steward of Hospital No. 2
Hospital No. 2
April 27, 1862
Having written to you concerning the death of your son, I still feel under obligation to give you any information that I may be able to obtain. I received your answer in due time in which you state that you have obtained information from some other source conflicting with my statement as to the date of his death. I have only to say that I know my statement is correct concerning the date of his death as I have it on record taken on the day of his death. As to how long he was ill after his relapse, I am not able to say with certainty but I think it was about six or seven days. His relapse was gradual and at first was thought not to be serious.
As to his effects, he had nothing that was of any value, having been buried in his full uniform suit. As to him not having the means to write home, I think that was not the case as I found one postage stamp in his pocket book. It is true that he had no money but he did not suffer in consequence of that. He had all the care that could be given, both medical aid and nursing.
As I have told you, I became somewhat familiar with his circumstances at home which gave me an interest in him that I might not have felt otherwise. As to when he was paid or how much was due him, I did not learn. As to his pay, his Captain is the proper one to draw that as he has his account on his books.
I can think of nothing else that would be of interest to you except that his grave is marked with a head board, his name, company, regiment on it so that if you wish to have tombstones put up, you can do so with perfect certainty. I will assist you in that as much as can if you send them while I am here.
Praying God to reconcile you to His will, I remain yours with respect.
— J. L. Stewart