1862: William H. Foote to Betsey Webster

This letter was written by William H. Foote (1824-1905), the son of Elisah Percival Foote (1803-1858) and Roxalana Freeman (1808-1849) of Ogden, New York. Though born in New York, William was raised in Wellington, Lorraine county, Ohio. In 1846, William relocated to Nepenskun, Winnebago county, Wisconsin, where he married Mary Jane Vankirk and raised a family.

This home front letter details, among other things, the great hardships soldier’s families experienced during the Civil War and the way families had to pull together economically and emotionally to survive.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published here by express consent.]


November 30, 1862
[Winnebago county, Wisconsin]

Mrs. Betsy Webster
Dear Aunt,

We received your long letter and read it with much pleasure although it was a great while coming. We had been wondering why we did not get a letter from you again. Am glad to hear that your health is some better than it had been. We are all well with the exception of hard colds. We have a little daughter 4 months old—her name is Jennie Ione. We think her a very bright little child.

[Brother] Alvan’s folks have a daughter 3 months old. I believe I told or wrote to you that Alvan ¹ had traded farms and lives about 5½ miles from us. There were all over here last Thursday which was our Thanksgiving.

We all took dinner to Mr. Sheldon’s and spent the evening to Uncle Jon’s. Had a very good time. Mr. [John Edwards] Sheldon & Orlena are well. ² They have adopted a little girl which they seem to think a great deal of. She is 3 years old.

[Sisters] Mary & Sarah live in the city of Berlin 8½ miles from here. Mary’s husband [Abram Albert Devore] ³ enlisted last winter and left Mary with 6 children to the mercy of the world & friends. She was living in Berlin when he enlisted but we moved her up here where we could see to her expecting of course that she could get his wages once in two months as this was all she had to depend upon for her support. Well he went to Tennessee and the Battle of Shiloh the last of last March and was taken prisoner by the rebels. It was a little over 7 months before we heard a word direct from him. About 4 weeks ago, we received a letter from him stating that he was paroled and in the hospital in Washington. He had been through all sorts of hardships and was pretty much used up as the saying is. He has not heard a word from any of his family or friends in all of that time. He said it seemed as though he had been gone 5 years. You can imagine that he was somewhat anxious to hear.

Well there was 4 or 5 letters directed to Washington but the next day after he wrote, he was taken down with fever & was out of his head for 8 days and as soon as he was able he was taken to New York City. Of course we did not hear from him again till a few days ago. We had concluded he was dead but he writes that he is now on the gain. Now you see his family have not received a cent from his wages in al this time but they have had donations from friends and relatives so that they have not suffered for necessaries.

We had two brothers that enlisted at the same time he did. Both were wounded—one in the breast, the other in the ankle. The former died on his way home. The other came home and was discharged. H. has two brothers living in Berlin. They wanted Mary to move down there this fall so she has gone back. Some of us are down most every week and carry something to her.

(Well I shall have to take another sheet to finish this. You will find how they go by the pages.) I believe she is getting along very well. He is going to send home some money as soon as he can get it but how soon that will bet he don’t know. Such is the effect of this terrible rebellion—the worst ever known or that we have any record of. But I hope it will yet be put down and the cause (which is slavery in my opinion) be removed and that forever from this country. But enough of this for the present.

I spoke of William’s folks being in Berlin. He was owing about $100.00 dollars which he borrowed to get onto his farm. Well the ties were hard here & his farm being small, he thought he would work out about a year or so & try and pay it so he went to work for Uncle for this summer till fall. He thus had a chance to go into Berlin & work for 3 doctors who were in company. He had to take care of their horses. He has no hard work to do. It is mostly chores. He gets $22.00 per month & board himself. He likes his place very much. They have a nice little son about 2 months old so you see there has been three additions to our families within a little over 4 months. We have now 4 daughters & 1 son, Alvan a son & daughter, Mary has 3 girls & 3 boys, [and] Sarah [has] 2 girls & 2 boys.

But I must draw to a close. We have had a very fine, pleasant fall. We had but very little snow yet the snow came last night and this morning but it is thawing some now. Our wheat crop was not first rate this year. I only had 215 bushels off from 17 acres which is about an average crop. It is worth from 80 to 90 cents per bushel. Had 252b oats work about 35 cents per bushel. I have not husked all my corn yet. Had not very good crop because not very well tended. Labor high and scarce at that. I have fattened 5 hogs, sold 3 on foot $2.00 dollars live weight. I expect to winter two horses, 4 cows, 1 [   ] old, 2 yearlings, 2 calves, 20 sheep, 2 hogs. Cows are very cheap from 10 to 12 dollars per head and no sale at that. Sheep are very high—say from 3 to 6 dollars per head.

We have Methodist preaching once in two weeks at our schoolhouse; otherwise if we attend church, we have to go to Waukau which is three miles which we sometimes do when pleasant. But I must draw to a close. Now you must not wait so long before writing because we want to hear from you often.

Addie thinks she will write by herself and guess she will have to as there is no room here. You must excuse mistakes. Mary Jane & children send much love to all. From your nephew, — W. H. Foote

¹ Alvan F. Foote (b. 1835) married Martha L. Jewett.

² Orlena Foote (b. 1831) married John Edward Sheldon. They had no children but adopted Minnie Louise (b. 1859 in Fondulac, WI).

³ Abram Albert Devore was born in Harrison county, Ohio in 1825. He enlisted in Co. H, 18th Wisconsin Infantry and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Shiloh. He served as a sergeant in Co. C, 38th Wisconsin later in the war.

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