Letter – David Norton, 30 September 1861

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Letter written by Captain David Woodman Norton of Company E, 42nd IL Volunteer Infantry, to his mother, from Benton Barracks in St. Louis, MO. Norton begins by describing the weather conditions on the march from Camp Douglas to St. Louis, MO. They arrived at General John C. Fremont’s house for a review before marching to the barracks. Norton brags about his company and the hard work he has put in to make them great. He describes the Confederate troops in Missouri as being undisciplined, and that they “fight much after the manner of Indians.” Norton mentions his company is lacking in arms, having only a couple hundred Colt’s revolving rifles. Norton laments that the young lady he was hoping to court (Mary T. Dodge of Dodgeville, WI) has married another man. He feels that he will likely not marry for some time, as he still has great feelings for Mary. He has decided to focus his energy on his military achievement instead. Norton notes that there are more enlisted men than can currently be armed, and that they would have an easier time recruiting if the government could provide the weaponry. He asks his mother not to worry about his safety, as others have gone through greater dangers and survived.


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Benton Barracks, St. Louis. Mo.

Sept. 30th 1861

My Dear Mother

You have probably learned from the Chicago papers, sent you by Mr. Haskell, that our Regt. left Chicago on the 20th of this month. We had a wet march for our first. It began to rain just as we started from Camp Douglas, and we had a long 3 miles to march, and got wet to the skin. The men did admirably and the only grumbling I heard was from some of the officers whose new uniforms were somewhat damaged by the rain and mud. -O can assure you that I was proud of my regiment! The remark was universal, that we made the best appearance that that has been made by any army regiment in the streets of Chicago, since the war began.

One gentleman told me that he had seen most of the Regts. in the field, both east and west, and that the only one that equalled us in marching and soldierly bearing was Fletcher Webster’s regt.

We arrived at St. Louis Saturday afternon.

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without accident. We marched to Gen. Fremont’s house and were reviewed just at dark. He has paid us some high compliments. – After the review we marched to these Barracks, which are about 3 miles from the General’s Headquarters but through the blunders of our guide we went between 5 & 6 miles to get here. The camp is a very pleasant one with the best barracks and parade ground in the country. There are, at this time, about 8000 soldiers in this camp. There are four or five other camps in and around the city. – Our Regt. is the best in camp. We are proud of our field officers and intend to make a name for ourselves under them when we get into active service.

My company is about as well drilled as any one in the Regt. and has been complimented by the field officers, for being the cleanest. When I first took command of it, it was in a very disorderly condition. The Col. was affraid I should not be able to bring them ‘under’ at all. He said I would not be tyrant enough, – but he has seen his mistake. I had to be very severe for a week or two, but now I can be as easy with them as any other Captain on the ground. They have

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become well enough acquaintance with me to know that I never allow an order to be neglected. They know what the penalty of disobedience is, and that nothing can save them from the punishment if they are not prompt. They have learned that I make no orders for the fun of it. I don’t believe that I have a man in my company of 95 who will not stand by me under all circumstances. They know that although, at times, severe I am as just as I can be. My officers and privates fare alike, and that prevents complaint. – I am determined to do my duty as well as I know how, – and to have my men do theirs.

We can not tell how long we shall remain at this camp, – but hope it will not be long. We are all anxious to be in the field, where we can have a chance to gain some glory for ourselves, and do some good to our cause.

We have still, some little hope of being sent eastward, where we can have more chances of field fights than in this state. Here the Rebels are, for the most part ununiformed and without much discipline. They fight much after the manner of Indians; – they will not meet us in the field, unless they greatly outnumber

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[blank]

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us. They fight best in small parties, in the woods, where the fatigues are as severe, and the chances of gaining honors much smaller than in a field battle. We shall not be ashamed to put our regt. by the side of any other in the eastern army. We have a dark blue uniform – pants – blouse – & caps without any trimmings of any kind to make it easier to hit. We have out outfits complete, with the exception of our Arms. We have only two hundred colts revolving rifles, for the flank companies as yet. The rest of the companies are to have a rifled musket, which has been promised from day to day since we arrived.

Mother you will remember a lady I have often mentioned in my letters, as one who might at some future day be nearer than a friend? My fortune has been the same in this case as in most things since I came west. My poverty put it out of my power to win and another richer and perhaps more suitable man has carried off the prize. His attentions and the wishes of rich and aristocratic friends were able to carry the day against me. It happened sometime since but I have not before felt like writing on the subject even to you. I can now write, and I

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believe I could talk the matter over with you as cool as any other subject in which I might be interested, but nevertheless I don’t think the edge is blunted but only sunken in out of sight of outsiders. I may appear to talk as is usual in such cases, but I don’t think you will be at all likely to have a daughter-in-law on my a/c [account] in some time to come. My attachment was quiet – holy – and will not soon be weakened, for May has never done anything – not even in her marriage that has, in the least, lessened my respect and admiration. Mother, I believe I have lost the prize, to gain which, a life might well be spent. – I shall now strive to win glory enough to fill the void. I wish for nothing else now than to make a name that my friends and country may be proud to point to. – I have no confidence that I shall succeed in this aim, much better than in my past aims, – but what is life without some higher aim than to live? – I am almost selfish enough to wish that I did not respect and love her so much as I do – but her influence has saved me from committing since that you never thought I could be tempted to. Her influence will still have its affect on me, for I will never do anything

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that would, if she knew of it, tend to lessen the respect which I know she has for me. None of my enemies shall ever through it in her face, that I was unworthy of her respect and friendship, – for I know that she is really my friend. Of course, you will not mention any of the personal part of this letter. The facts of the case can not be changed and the less there is said about the matter here-after the better I shall be pleased. I have told it to you and do not wish it to go any further.

Mr. Haskell’s family was in good health when I left.

Where is Joshua now? Still at New Port News? Has John gone soldiering again? He aught to stay at home now. – he has done his share & there are plenty of men to take his place; there is no such scarcity of men as the papers say. There are more men enlisting than can be armed and equipped as they aught to be. We have been ready for the field for four weeks and have not yet received our arms. If the government could arm regiments faster, men would be more ready to enlist. But men who are fit to be soldiers, do not want to lay round camp without clothes or arms. We could fit our Regt.

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for fighting in one week if we had guns enough to teach the manuel of arms, but we can’t get them. We are about as well drilled in all but the manuel as we can be until we get guns to drill with.

We You must not worry over the supposed dangers by which I shall be surrounded in the field. You must remember that others have pased through greater dangers on the field than I shall probably encounter, and passed them in safety.

You will see me with my ‘laurels‘ – if I can win any.

I left my trunk in Mr. Haskells care and if I don’t want it again he will send it to you.

Give my love to all and write me a good long letter yourself.

I received a letter from Father a few days before we left Chicago. Tell him that I shall try to follow his advice.

Good by, Mother, for the presant.

Your Son

D. Woodman Norton

Capt. Co. ‘E’

1st Regt. Douglas Brigade

Benton Barracks

St. Louis MO.


Major David Woodman Norton was born 31 January 1838 in Chelsea, MA. He had two other brothers (Joshua and John) who also enlisted and served in the Union Army. He enlisted with the 1st Zouave Regiment of Chicago and was then promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of the 42nd IL Infantry then Captain on July 22, 1861. He eventually joins Major General John M. Palmer’s staff as acting Assistant Inspector General. He was killed in action near New Hope Church, GA on June 2, 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign.

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