1863: John T. Johnson to Nancy (Johnson) Hanchett

Charles F. Ballou of Co. I, 44th New York Volunteers wears the standard clothing of the regiment in 1863. Earlier in the war, they wore a modified Zouave uniform. Ballou was wounded at Gettysburg. From the Charles T. Joyce Collection.

These letters were written by 35 year-old Pvt. John T. Johnson (1828-1900) — a member of Co. C, 44th New York Infantry. John wrote the letter to his wife, Catherine (Coons) Johnson (1830-1915) whom he married in 1854 and with whom he lived in Italy, Yates county, New York.

One letter was written to his sister Nancy Louise (Johnson) Hanchett (1829-1877) and brother-in-law, Orson Hanchett (1829-1877), while the other was written to his brother, Nathaniel O. Johnson.  John, Nathaniel and Nancy were the children of Stephen V. Johnson (1787-1864) and Caroline Clock (1798-1873) — longtime residents of Italy NY.

John enlisted at Italy, New York, on the 7th day of August 1862 with Lt. Edgar B. James. He participated with the regiment in the battle of Fredericksburg where he received a slight head wound. He later participated with the regiment at Gettysburg where the regiment was brigaded with the 20th Maine and two other regiments in defending Little Round Top on 2 July 1863. In the Battle of the Wilderness on 5 May 1864, he was severely wounded and spent several months in a hospital.

In these letters, John includes a good deal of war content, mentioning Beverly’s Ford, Rappahannock River, Culpepper, Bull Run, Centerville, Fairfax, Washington, Warrenton Junction, etc. He also mentions his wife Catherine or “Cate,” his “Father Coons,” and his twin brother Jesse G. Johnson (1828-1908). He writes of camping in the woods, marching, rations, and a great deal about making sure his wife will be comforted with money he is sending to her in case he does not make it home. John also notes the death of Jerome Wheaton, another member of his company.

Camp of the 44th New York Infantry near Alexandria


Wednesday, October 28th, 1863
Camp 5 miles North from Warrenton or close by Auburn

Dear Brother Nathaniel O. Johnson,

I [sit] tonight about 7 o’clock by a warm fire with 5 of our company on picket and about the same number from each company all enjoying the same comfort by the side of the woods. The timber here is white oak and yellow oak of the second growth — small in size and one of a late growth.

I received your letter the same day that I put mine in the mail bag and it was a pleasure to read it part of it — all except death which is not a pleasure to see or hear of. But you are at home a living at your house. How lucky. How much you have to rejoice that you are free yet. I am well and yet I have all that my health can endure. Our hardship is so severe and our marches are fatiguing and long, with 8 days ration on our backs on every march — long or short — and we yet carry them. I have not time to write it now for the hardship has been hard.

We have been North as far as Fairfax, Centerville and all around there. Yes, we have traveled the road between there 2 places 4 times which [is] 45 miles and from there to Bull Run battleground. The face of the earth there is like that of the rolling waves of the sea, and from there [to] here. And our supplies from Gainesville on the Railroad, which is from Warrenton Junction and Warrenton about ½ way the other part to Warrenton is
all destroyed by the rebels.

9 o’clock tonight
about 1/2 of a mile from camp

Our fire — the back of it — is made of 3 logs 8 feet long and one foot through piled top on one another by the side of a tree and enough in front of them to keep us a respectful distance from it and our tents in front a little in the rear. Here we eat, drink, and be merry. Such is our comfort to night. It has now happened that our little camp here is in the midst of a battleground and the wood that we have cut is raked with cannon balls and musket balls. Some of the trees are cut into and lay on the ground.

In turning back into my diary book and looking to see where I was which was 2 miles southwest of Culpeper and preparing for a long stay there after getting my pay, I then was unwell. But now I am well and hearty — so much that I cannot eat enough to satisfy my appetite. But it has not been only about a week or more so I had a long spell of camp diseases — say 8 weeks. And now I hope that I shall be able to do my duty after this. My money went home to Catharine again and I will soon have more to send to pay on my place or rightly saying — Catherine’s — and she I think will deed it this winter coming which you know is 20 acres. She has been very saving all summer and now has a firkin of butter to sell which will come to a little. Now add $6.00 dollars that I have picked up since I wrote to you and $20 dollars from the firkin of butter which she says that she shall save is as good as 2 months of my wages. Now take my last money that I received for wages and a balance on my clothing bill which was $37 and 33 of it Catherine has received, the $20, and $6.00 that she has got by this time, and the $26.00 that is to come in a few days which is already earned the first day of November, and there little number will pay for a number of acres.

I am now sitting by the warm fire yet and all is still. I will say or saying to myself just now as if you was here with me. One year last September I received from the state $75.00 in bounty which is now in good hands and with interest. The horse $60.00 more and in April, 4 months pay $52.00 and I sent home $55.00 In August, 4 months again and then I sent  home to Catharine $56.00, and now the $75 that I mentioned first. Just add these up and see how much they amount to. And yet there is about $75 that I have not mentioned yet that I have sent in small amounts that I shall not say anything about now for Catharine has to live as well as I do and she has to have something to get it with. Now she has paid $50.00 on the place. If I am not mistaken, the whole amount on the place was first or now $330. Now this is the first time that I have made any estimation whatever about it and you may say it is rather rough. We was mustered in last night for 2 month’s pay, 31 Saturday.

My occupation is such here that I keep no account of anything at home or even know where the money is there, or who has it or how much there is left of it. Catherine has the whole and if I never should go home or should fall in this Jeff Davis fracas, that she will have something to help herself with. Catherine shall have the place when she gets a deed and I, John T. Johnson, have said it to her and it is right in my hearing. If I live or die, Catharine shall be comforted. I have wrote to her that when the land was paid for now, she should have the deed and no one else. I wish that you could see to it for her. I would be glad. And give her some advice and especially when it is deeded; to be there with her. You might save 25 or 50 dollars on it and she would pay you for will for they know you there.

I am glad that Jesse is doing well. I sent him a letter the other day. I know not how long we shall stay here.  Write soon. Your dear Brother in the army, —  John T. Johnson

November 1st. Sunday.

The army has moved on the Warrenton railroad about 5 or 6 miles from that place. We came here Friday 30th and how long we shall stay I do not know. The place is called Three Mile Station. We moved about 4 miles from Auburn mills, or near New Mexico [?]

I received yours and Nancy’s letter today and the papers. I am well and all the Co.


Saturday, November 21st, 1863
Camp 2 miles south of Kelly’s Ford, Virginia

Dear Sister Nancy & Brother Orison,

It is a long time that I have been a writing to you since I received your last letter — which was pleasant to read. But now I take time and will write a few lines and [I hope] that they may find you all as well as myself, enjoying the best of health now, and so are all of the boys that are hear with us — and those at the hospital we hear but little from. We have had a hard time this fall ever since we left Beverly’s Ford on the Rappahannock river. [We went] from there 2 miles beyond Culpepper and then back to Centerville, west of Washington — yes — to Fairfax 6 miles beyond Centerville, and now back here in hell again. Now you see that we have been on the wig wag for along time. But it may not be lost after all for our victories has been great and our fare rather hard — with 8 days on our backs, half bushel in all.

It has been rainy all day today from the morning and yet it rains hard. The roads have been dirty & hard most of the fall and good to travel on. I have been in no battles this time and I do not admire the privilege of doing it again, but like the woman, if I must, I must & then go it with the rest.

In the last fight on the Rappahannock there was one killed from our company — Jerome Wheaton. He lived about one mile from Italy Hollow towards Italy Hill. They being on Picket war led on the left of the line in battle and in front there was 9 from each company from the regiment and 3 killed in all, 2 wounded. It was a hard fight. The pickets of our lines — or the 5th corps — took one of the forts. There was 3 charges made on it but the 3rd time they went and no turning around and they dove in it like hungry varmints. A fort is some like a cellar without a building on it and take the cellar windows out for the cannons mouth which is on wheels on every side on a hill.

Nancy, I get letters from Catharine often. She is very well and cheerful. Well, she ought to be. She left Stephen Davis’s — or her sister’s — one mile this side of Penn Yan with $280.00 dollars in her pocket and was going to Bath to deed my place of 20 acres which she had already paid $50.00 on it before and she has the opportunity of getting the deed in her own name & will, no doubt, which will amount to in all $330 dollars this fall. She has been very saving of my money and she has sold a firkin of butter 24 cts per lb to 24 ½. Twenty of this money for her butter she puts in with mine to deed the place. I sold my horse to Father Coons for $60 when I enlisted and Catharine has sold the cow — or will — for $20 to Stephen Davis which makes $280. I will send you her last letter but let no one see it but send it back to me again and be sure to do it. It is right that I should deed the place in her name for she deserves it under my circumstances and it is right in my sight and I have not said anything to our folks there about it but I have to Oakly and Jesse. But when Cate gets a deed, then I will tell them something right just as you would, Nancy.

I will comfort her now and if I should fall here, she will have a home independent of any one for it is all my wages that have done and fixed the place, and if I ever go home I can step on and over my long troubles and I am well-suited with everything yet. I got 2 months pay yesterday — $26 dollars — and I nor Catharine owes it to no one now. I do not know what she will do this winter but I guess that she will miss the old way.

I can afford to send you $1.50 and the 50cts is a new currency just struck off at Washington and you can use it at your will. Write when you can from your near brother in the army, — John T. Johnson

¹ Jerome Wheaton enlisted at Italy NY on the 30th day of August 1862 with Edgar B. James was engaged in battles of Fredericksburg Gettysburg and Rappahanock Station was killed in last mentioned engagement was a good soldier. [Source: handwritten diary belonged to Royal George Kinner, a Civil War soldier from Penn Yan.]


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