This letter was written by Robert (“Bob”) F. Norton (1836-1918) of Co. B, 7th Minnesota Infantry. The following biographical sketch of Robert claims that he was discharged in 1863 for disability but military records indicate otherwise. The official company roster and Robert’s pension file both state that he served with the regiment until the men were mustered out on 16 August 1865.
Robert F. Norton, of Homer, Minnesota, was born in Washtenaw County, Michigan, February 10, 1836. His father, H. B. Norton, was a native of Victor, New York; Margaret (Martin), his mother, was a native of Sligo, Ireland, and is of Scotch descent. In 1846 he went to learn the printer’s trade at Ann Arbor, Michigan. All the education he ever had was received in the district school prior to this time. In 1852 his parents moved to Rockford, Illinois, where young Robert worked at his trade for some time. He came to this county in 1854, settling in Minneoah, where he followed various pursuits until the opening of the rebellion. August 17, 1862, he enlisted in Co. B, 7th Minn., and was on the Indian raid through the north part of the state. March 25, 1863, he was commissioned a sergeant. On account of disability he resigned August 17, 1863, and came home and worked for awhile as a wood workman. August 6, 1872, he opened at Homer a stock of merchandise, the cost of which was $52. 88. The business has since increased until he now carries a stock of general merchandise worth $4,000. In the November following he issued the initial number of the “Novelty Press,” devoted to home news. This was sold in 1876 to Norton and Trueman and merged into the “Winona Democrat.” June 28, 1871, he was appointed postmaster at Homer, a position which he retains. January he issued the first number of “Bob’s Own,” a paper devoted to his own interests. August 25, 1881, he married Mrs. George Eagle. [Source: The History of Winona County, Together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, Etc. by: A. T. Andreas, H. H. Hill and Company, Publishers, Chicago 1883.]
I was able to compare Robert F. Norton’s signature lifted from a widow’s pension file to the handwriting in this letter to confirm that it was penned by Robert.
May 16th 1865
It has been so long since I have written to you that I thought that now that I had time, I would write you a good long letter to make it up. When I wrote to your mother last, we were at Montgomery — the Capitol of this state. It is about fifty miles from here by the road but nearly a hundred by the river for the Alabama River is a very crooked stream. We came here in boats which were brought around from the Mississippi River. The Rebels had burnt all the steamboats that used to run on this river for fear we would get them. They also burnt millions of dollars worth of cotton and other things. They are very sorry for it now but it is too late to help it now.
We have very good times now to what soldiers generally do for we have good board shanties to live in and very little to do. There is four of us live in one about as big as your wood-house which seems like a very large house to us who have been used to living in a tent made of four pieces of cloth about as large as a sheet put up over a pole on two crotches like this [sketch]. We slept crossways of the tent and had two pieces of tent to put up at the ends so that we slept quite warm, but a man could not sit up in one without bending his neck or back, so we could [not] stay in them daytimes without lying down and a man don’t want to lie down always.
Yesterday one of the boys went outside of the “picket lines” and got about a gallon of ripe blackberries and I made them up into pies and we are living high now. The strawberries are nearly all gone but we had a few of them. We also have lots of mulberries and wild plums are just getting ripe. There will be plenty of them too soon.
I suppose you know as well as I do now that that the “war is over” and we will have no more fighting to do, but then we have got to stay here a spell to protect the citizens from their own soldiers who have been sent home without a cent of money or what is as bad, with nothing but Confederate money which is good for nothing (I offered eighty dollars of it for a pint of butter milk and could not get it for that). And if we were not here, their soldiers would plunder the people of everything. After they all get home and things get settled, we will go home ourselves when I will try and come out and see you and tell you all about the war and the people down here — and how the planters made their Niggers believe that the Yankees had horns on their heads a foot long — and how they “God bless” us &c. &c.
My health is the best it has been since I left home and I hope to get quite well here yet. From your homely Uncle Bob & I
Co. B, 7th Minnesota Volunteers, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 16th Army Corps, Selma, Alabama
to Katie Hinds, Aurora, Illinois
P. S. The envelope that this letter is in is of Rebel make. How do you like it? Is it as good as ours?