This letter was written by 34 year-old William Robinson Ely (1827-1903), the son of William Mount Ely (1803-1861) and Mary Ann Robinson (1803-1871). W. R. Ely married Lavinia Weaver (1827-1907) in Clermont County, Ohio in 1852 and came to Indiana about 1857, settling in southeast Marion County.
We learn from this letter that W. R. Ely and his wife lived near present day Acton, Indiana, and that he was rather down on the war effort and in particular on those who were leading the young Union soldiers into battle. Perhaps his spirits were dampened in general by the loss he and his wife experienced when all four of his children died within three days of each other by an epidemic of the dysentery in 1860.
William’s brother, John Ely (1837-1899) served in the 16th Indiana Infantry.
February 25th 1862
I completed quite an elaborate opinion in answer to Zac’s interrogatories yesterday and now I will write to the whole of you. This is rather unpleasant weather — mud yesterday, rough and frozen today. We are all well as common. Vine is rather grunty.
We got the package “brush and blossoms” that John sent. She has been taking it per directions ever since it came but we don’t know what it is for. But if it is good for anything, it will be apt to help her in some particular unless it is only like the quack doctor “hell on fits” (excuse the quotation). Then I don’t know as it would do her any good.
Look up at the Goddess of Liberty and the Star Spangled Banner — oh long may it wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I will have 6 days to teach after this week which will make 57 days — all I bargained for. I have hired a hand for 6 months by name of Miller. I pasture 2 cows, 2 pigs. I give him [a] garden spot and 13 dollars per month. He boards himself. He lives down on Brandywine [Creek and] will move up this week, I guess. I don’t know whether he is any account or not. They have only 1 child. They are very poor and very destitute of clothing, I think, from his appearance.
I want John to send me those pear trees and some of his choice apple trees and some grafts from that plumb as soon as the weather opens enough to be safe. You can take them up any time now when the ground is not frozen and have them all ready. I want them without fail.
John Ely sent me his likeness the other day. He looks hearty and well. Sallie and Inez knew him. They have been playing smash generally with the rebels and their cause. I have not particular hard wishes for the individual soldiers, but I wouldn’t care much if the devil had the leaders.
There is quite a large number of prisoners from [Fort] Donaldson [Donelson] at Indianapolis. ¹ They have no uniform and are said to be a dreadful hard looking set. One fellow was asked what he enlisted to fight against his country for. He said, “Well now, do you really want to know, sir? Cause I was a damned fool.”
I believe I am about through and as Madam Ely may want to write some, I bid you adieu. I am now at Acton. Vine has not had time to write. The preacher was at our house and I came down with him.
Yours, — W. R. Ely
¹ Many, but not all, of the Confederate soldiers taken prisoner at Fort Donelson were taken to Camp Morton which was located on the state fair grounds in Indianapolis.