1864: Nelson E. White to Sarah Malvina (White) Betts

Electa and her brother Robert B. White (ca 1900)

This letter was written Pvt. Nelson E. White (1843-1864) to his much older sister, Sarah Malvina (White) Betts (1824-1898) — the wife of Ephraim Betts (1824-1890) of Greene, Chenango County, New York. Nelson served in Co. I, 3rd Iowa Infantry, and wrote this letter while visiting his mother and other relatives while on a Veteran’s furlough in Waterloo, Iowa. Not long after Nelson returned to his regiment, he was wounded in the right leg at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek on July 22nd 1864 and was taken prisoner. His leg was amputated and he died while in captivity approximately two months after receiving his wound.

Nelson mentions his sister Electa (“Lecta”) Jane (White) Jolls (1831-1922), and his brother Joseph Bailey White, Jr. (1838-1921) who also served as a private in Co. I, 3rd Iowa Infantry, and later as a corporal in Co. C of the 31st Iowa Invalid Corps.

The parents of Nelson, Malvina, Electa, and Joseph, were Joseph B. White (1767-1845) and Sarah Sprague (1799-1884).


Camp Hebron, Mississippi
March the 6th [1863]

Dear Sister [Malvina],

I take my pen in hand to answer your letter which I received while I was on a march of four hundred miles in length. I am well and hearty and have reenlisted in the Veterans to fight three more years. Why should I stay at home like a coward when the rest of my comrades are in the field. Sister, if all of the boys in the North felt as I do in regard to this war business, it would not take long to crush this Rebellion. But they all stay home like cowards and let the rest of us do all the fighting. But you must not think that I mean Merritt [Wilson Betts], for him or his father ought to stay at home. I mean those that there is several in the family.

As for promotion, I did not enlist for that. I enlisted for the good of the Government and country — not to make money or play soldier and drink strong drinks. I would salute a good soldier before I would shoulder straps but I do like soldiering and I think I shall enlist in the Regulars. But you can talk the Eastern counter hoppers can not fight with the Western farm boys if they can. I never heard of the field that it was done on.

About Richmond, we have a Grant that will take it. If he has his old army, he would not have to cross Rappahannock a dozen times like Meade. On our march through Mississippi, we went to Meridian and destroyed all of the railroads for thirty miles each way and had some skirmishing with the rebels.

[Our brother] Joseph is in the Invalid Corps at St. Louis. He is well. Weighs 170 pounds. His address is Co. B, 8th Reg. Invalid Corps, New House of Refuge, St. Louis, Mo.

It is after taps so I must bid you goodbye. Write soon.

— Nelson E. White

I may go home in a few weeks to see Mother on furlough. You are very particular about sending an envelope but I suppose that I can not write well enough to suit you. — Nelson White


Waterloo, Iowa
April the 23rd [1864]

Dear Sister [Malvina],

I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well and in good health at home on a Veteran furlough. Mother & Chancy is overlooking me to see that I do it right. I have wanted them both to help me. Mothers says that I can write her share and Chancy says that he wrote to you last and he thinks that you had ought to write to him next.

I sent you one of my pictures some time ago but I guess you did not get it for you told me that you wanted it after I sent it to you. But it looks some like me, the folks say around here.

I will have to go back in a week or so. When you write to me, direct as heretofore and I will get them. You are sparing of your pictures for I should like to have all of my brothers and sisters pictures. Joseph has been to home on a visit but returned a day or two ago. Lecta and her family are all well. They have been down to Mothers on a visit today.

It is getting late and I must close. Kiss the children, sister, for their Uncle Nelson E. White and tell them I would like to see them all.

Goodbye, — N. E. White


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