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“Our Dear Ella”: A Civil War Soldier's Letter from 1863

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

This is a Civil War-era cover that includes the original letter from a Union solider to his wife.


The cover (Figures 1 and 2) has a circular date stamp (CDS) from Washington, DC, September 15, 1863. The stamp - which is US Scott #65, an exceedingly common stamp - is cancelled almost perfectly with the CDS.


The letter was written by Joseph Welsh Butz, a private serving in the 61st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Infantry. Joseph was born on March 11, 1831, in the western Pennsylvania town of Beasville, about 45 miles south of Pittsburgh. He was drafted into the Union Army on July 11, 1863, at age 32. He had been in the Army just about three months when he penned this letter home.


The Pennsylvania 61st Regiment was organized in the fall of 1861 and was engaged in many battles before Joseph was drafted. It fought in the Peninsula Campaign of early 1862 when Union General McClellan, despite overwhelming superiorty, failed to destroy Confederate General Lee's army and capture Richmond. It fought at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of battle in Amercian history, and at the Battle of Gettysburg, the week before Joseph joined.


At the time Joesph joined up, the 61st Regiment was camped out near Warrenton, Virgina - he spells it "Warrington" in his letter - and was serving as a corps of observation along the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers. The regiment engaged in a number of battles and skirmishes while Joseph served including in the Siege of Petersburg that commenced in December 1864 and continued until the war's end in April 1865. Joseph did not serve through the entire Siege of Petersburg. He received a surgeon's discharge certificate and left the service on December 29, 1864. Whether he was wounded in action or suffered some illness that resulted in his discharge, I do not know.


But that was all in the future when Joseph sat down to write this letter (Figures 3 through 6) to his wife Catherine "Kate" Butz (nee Campbell) on September 12, 1863. A complete transcript of his letter follows, with some corrections of spelling and punctuation for wase of reading.


The letter starts off with Joseph telling Kate that he is happy that "our Dear Ella" was feeling better. Ella was their daughter, and she was no more than two years-old at the time. (In the 1870 census, Ella is listed as a 7-year-old.) Later in the letter, he is thankful Kate had Ella baptized and regrets that he was not present for that event. Joseph and Kate had lost a 10-month-old daughter named Delia Lal in November 1861, so Ella's sickness must have been a fright for them.


Jospeh is distressed to hear that a friend or relative by the name of Nannie or Nan was not doing well and feels strongly that she is not getting the medical attention she requires. I have not been able to identify Nan or two other individuals Joseph mentions ("Bigham", probably "Bingham," and a "Dr. Dungans"), but I'm pretty sure "Dr. Beamos of West Middletown" was Dr. Erastus Bemis who was born in Vermont in 1817 and died in West Middletown, Pennsylvania in 1866. His obituary describes Dr. Bemis as "one of the most successful and well-known physicians of the county."


He then describes his typical day - lots of drilling to prepare regiments to efficiently deploy during a battle - and how he is perceived by his fellow soldiers. He writes about having his picture taken with a fellow soldier that he names later as "George Cassady." That was likely George Cassidy from Allegheny County, which borders Joesph's home in Beaver Count. George was only 17 when he enlisted in the 61st Regiment in 1861, and it appears he served until the war's end. George worked as a railroad engineer after the war. He died at age 78 in 1922.


Joseph tried his hand as a matchmaker for George. He writes to Kate, George "is a young man and a first-rate fellow. ... He says if we live to get home he will go home with me. Tell Mariah McCreasy he will make a beau for her. I am going to get him to write to her just for fun. He is good looking tell her and see what she will say." Alas, it doesn't look like George and Mariah ever connected. George was married twice, and neither wife's name was Mariah or a variation on that name. I also don't know what became of Mariah.


Joseph closes the letter asking Kate how she is doing for money and concludes, "Give my love to all and write often for it makes me feel good to hear from a loving wife and child."


Joseph returned to Frankfort Springs after his medical discharge and worked as a wagon and cabinet maker and hotel keeper. He passed away at age 73 in 1904 and is buried at the Frankfort Springs Presbyterian Cemetery. Kate passed away the following year at age 79 or 80 and is buried in the same cemetery.


"Our Dear Ella" survived her childhood malady and eventually married and had two children, one of whom died at 12 days old and was buried with Delia Lal, the sister Ella never met. Ella passed away in 1927.

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Full text of letter:


Mrs. Kate Butz

Frankfort Springs

Beaver Co.

Penn.


Camp Near Warrington Sept. 12th [1863]


Dear Wife


I received your welcome letter yesterday evening and was glad to hear from you and to hear that our Dear Ella was well. I was afraid that she had not got so well as she was before and you did not want to tell me, but if she can nearly sit alone she must be getting along fine. I do hope she will keep her health.


I was very sorry to hear of Nannie being so poorly but at the same time it is nothing more than I expected. If I had my way I would have done something long ago and as for Bigham I am disgusted with him and have been for sometime but it won't do to say anything. If I was in Stephen’s place I would take Nan up to Dr. Dungans and get Dr. Beamos of West Middletown to come and see her. I would not give their judgement for a whole field full of Bighams and I would not ask anyone’s advice about it either but perhaps if they knew that I said anything about it they might think I was meddling myself again but that is what I would do and he is just the one to do it. I have thought for sometime if she did not get active treatment she would go down and I thought I said enough.


I will give you a sketch of what we have to do the first thing in the morning at 5 o’clock. Roll call. Breakfast at 6. Drill at 6:30. Guard mount at 8. Inspection of arms at 10. Drill 11. Dinner at 12. Dress parade at 6, drill immediately after. Roll call at 9 at night taps 15 minutes after and then lights out. And Division drill twice a week and Battalion once a week. It takes place in the afternoon.


I am getting along fine. There is not a man in the company but will do anything for me. I went on guard Thursday morning come off yesterday morning. That gives me two days. After a man comes off guard he has no duty to do that day and Saturday is a day of rest from duty for all but the guards.


In drill I stand at the head of the company. I get the names of drilling better than the old soldiers. Our company commander says he would not give me for ten of some of the conscripts. There is some that can’t learn a bit. I was out on division drill Wednesday. I stand at the head of the company and I suppose that will be my place all the time. Some of the old soldiers I think that don’t like it very well but I can’t help it I was ordered to take the heat in the front rank. If anyone don’t like it they can’t blame me but I think I can get along with them if anyone can.


My tent is full all the time. There was a man give me his picture. Went to the place of taking pictures and got two taken one for hisself and one for me. He wants one of mine. I will send it home one of these times. He is a young man and a first rate fellow. We were talking of the folks there today. He says if we live to get home he will go home with me. Tell Mariah McCreasy he will make a beau for her. I am going to get him to write to her just for fun. He is good looking tell her and see what she will say.


I am going to send a sketch of our camp. If you can understand it you can see the Cos. Headquarters, the officers and the privates. It won’t be very well done but will give you an idea.


I got a letter from Sam and one from Bill McCredy last night. They lay about 10 or 12 miles from here. They were well. The boys were glad to have Sam back. He wants me to go and see them. I had to stop writing on the account of a big rain the first since I came here. I will write to Papa soon. I should have done it before this.


How are getting along for money? Have you got enough to get what things you want? I am in hopes we will get some before long and then you shall have it to get things with. I want you to write often. I am glad you got Ella baptized. I wish I had of been there. Poor little Dear. Kiss her for me. Good bye from your husband J. W. Butz.


[Postscript written upside down]

The man’s name that give me his picture is George Cassady. Did you get Nan’s [illegible] and get it and Ella’s. I will write soon what ailed William Dungan. I won’t send you the sketch now it is spoiled. I will try it again some of them days. Give my love to all and write often for it makes me feel good to hear from a loving wife and child.


Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3 - Page 1 of 4 of letter.

Figure 4 - Page 2 of 4 of letter.

Figure 5 - Page 3 of 4 of letter.

Figure 6 - Page 4 of 4 of letter.

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