1862: Joseph Donnell Eaton to Jeremiah M. Eaton

J. D. Eaton in later life

J. D. Eaton in later life

This letter was written by Joseph Donnell Eaton (1838-1916), the son of Jeremiah M. Eaton (1804-1875) and Nancy Donnell (1804-18xx) of Wells, York County, Maine. Joseph enlisted at age 18 as a private in Co. I, 1st Maine Cavalry in October 1861. He was wounded and taken prisoner with a couple dozen other members of the regiment at Louisa Court House on 2 May 1863, exchanged a couple of weeks later, and rejoined his company in September 1863. He mustered out on 25 November 1864 at the end of his term of service, and returned to Wells where he married Laura Jane Littlefield in 1868.

This letter was written from Frederick, Maryland on 27 November 1862. At the time, Joseph was on detached duty from the 1st Maine Cavalry who had departed Frederick in early November after spending several weeks patrolling the town, performing provost duty in a city populated with numerous southern-sympathizing residents.


Addressed to Mr. Jeremiah M. Eaton, Ogunquit, Maine

Frederick City [Maryland]
November 27th 1862

Dear Father,

I received your letter some time since and was glad to hear from you, and as I have an opportunity to write, I will improve a few moments in writing a line to you to let you know where I am and that I am well. I hope this will find you all enjoying good health. I am still here in Maryland although the regiment left here some six weeks ago and is now in the vicinity of Fredericksburg, Va.

Capt. John C. Crane

Capt. John C. Crane, Quartermaster

A few days before the regiment left here I was detailed as an orderly for Capt. J. C. Crane, ¹ Post Quartermaster, and as I had my choice to go with the regiment or stay here, I chose to stay — for although my duty is harder here than it would be in the regiment, I am not exposed as I should be in active service and I had much rather stay here. Capt. Crane is now ordered away and I am transferred to Capt. [John W.] McHarg, his successor, and I shall stand a pretty good sight to spend the winter here in Frederick. I have good quarters, grub about so-so — smoked hog, salt horse & hard bread. Then I get $7.50 per month extra pay.

Today is Thanksgiving in this state and about as dry one as I ever saw. Though I have had bean broth three times, I call it a dry Thanksgiving. But never mind. I hope I am alive in one year from now to spend Thanksgiving down East where people know how to live.

There is hardly anything going on for news. The Army of the Potomac has come to a halt at the Rappahannock but I trust it will soon be on the move again. Burnside will cross in spite of all opposition, though no doubt he will have to burn the city of Fredericksburg. He hold the very position that McDowell held last May when we were there and I tell you, when he opens his siege guns on that city, it will be a hot place. I hope this winter campaign will close this war. The weather is fine now and if it continues so for a few weeks, no doubt there will be considerable fighting. I would like to see it all, but in this war — especially this winter campaign — it is a duty of each soldier to himself to look out for himself. I am not afraid of the fighting for I can go into a fight as easy as to a day’s work in the field, but the exposure that cavalry is subject to will kill ten to the bullet’s one. And as long as I have the privilege of good quarters and a chance to take care of myself, I shall do so.

I would like to see you. Write and let me know what you are doing this winter. Tell the rest to write and tell me all the news. How does my colt work? Don’t have her drove hard. Raise all the horses you can for they will be very scarce when the war is over. It is very hard getting them now even at high rates. I must now bid you goodbye. Write as soon as convenient.

From your affectionate son, — J. D. Easton

P. S. If you or any of you write to me before yo hear from me again, use the enclosed envelope.

J. D. Easton
Frederick, Md.
Care of Capt. McHarg
Post Quartermaster

¹ Capt. John C. Crane served as a volunteer quartermaster during the civil war. He entered the service as a private in the First Missouri Cavalry but quickly transferred into the role of quartermaster and eventually rose in rank to colonel. Later in the war, he and Daniel Craig McCallum were credited with rapidly rebuilding the railroads in the South to keep pace with an advancing Union army.

Description: November 6, 1861 Letter from Private Joseph D. Eaton of Wells, Maine. He served in Company I of the 1st Maine cavalry and was a POW. In part, “I received a dispatch last night that the great Naval Expedition has taken Charleston, South Carolina also that General Freeman has taken Price’s whole army in Missouri {A reference to the Battle of Morristown in September).” Eaton was a POW at an undisclosed location.


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