The American Civil War, or War of the Rebellion, was a long, bloody war. Certainly many deaths were the result of combat, but just as significant is the numbers of soldiers who died due to disease. Such was the case for Alson L. Day, who was drafted into the 16th Maine on 30 September 1864. It appears that he did not actually begin his service until the beginning of the following year. What follows are letters written by Alson to his family:
24 February 1865
Camp of 16th Maine
Having a few leisure moments I will [write] a few lines to let you know where I am[.] I left Camp Distribution the 18th and arived at the Regiment the 21st, I was paid three months pay yesterday. I shall send home about twenty dollars. If you have a chance I wish yo would exchange my bounty money for green backs. I should lik[e] to know what Osgood has done about paying that note. Uncle George [Grover] went to the Hospital before they started on this last move[.] I don’t know what Hospital he is in[.] you can send me a pair of stockins by mail by puting on about six cents postage you can roll them up in a news paper or do them up snug and put a wraper around them. I don’t think of any thing more now to write so I will bid you
Alson L. Day
Please write as soon as you get this.
Shortly after his letter home, Alson is hospitalized. After joining his regiment, he writes another letter to his mother:
Camp 16th Me Near Hatcher’s Run,
March 12th, 1865
I received Cynthia and Albert’s letter this morning and was glad to hear from home[.] you ask how my health is well it is about the same as it was a month ago[.] I have been so hoars for a week past that I could not speak out lowd but am some better now. I don’t think I shall ever get entirely well of this cold. I have not received the letter with the dollar in it as yet you sent it about the time I left the Hospital I guess. I thought after I was paid off I would send what money I sent home in a letter but I had a chance to express it so I expressed 25 dollar[.] Please write as soon as you get this and let me know if the money comes safe to hand. I have not done any duty since came to the Regiment except a little fatigue. I cannot think of any thing more to write this time so I will close.
A. L. Day
P.S. please send a chew of gum when you write again. They say the pack mules have been ordered to be packed ready for a move but I guess it is only a camp story.
Alson’s next letter home shows he is showing the signs of his illness. His spelling and writing isn’t nearly as clear as the previous two letters:
Farfax Seminary Hospital
June 10th 1865
I thought I would try and write aline to day to let you know where I am and how I am a getting along. I have had the meassels and it has taken me down very weak ther is no flesh on my bones now at all.
I am going up to head quarters to be examined for a discharge. I was up this forenoon and was examined but I don’t know what they will do with me but I guess they will discharge me after I get a little stronger[.] I am in hopes to get home in a fortnight from this time[.] I must close by hopeing that will find you all well and hearty
Alson continued to decline, and the next letter is from the chaplain, sent on his behalf:
Fairfax Seminary Hospl
Near Alexandria, Va.
June 19th, 1865
I write at the request of your Son, Alson L. Day. He has been here since the 21st of May, quite ill with Diarrhea. He is a good deal run down in strength & much emaciated. He says though that within a day or two the disease has been some what checked, and I trust that he will be carried safely through. He wishes you should know that he has good nursing and a good Dr. How is Jasper? He wishes you would make some Currant Wine against his coming home, as it will be good for him.
He has not heard from you for a long time. Write at once, directing to Faifax Seminary Hospital Near Alexandria, Va. (Ward C.) This Hospl is 8 miles from Washington, D.C. Your Son sends love to all.
John A. Jerome
Unfortunately, Alson did not recover. Chaplain Jerome sent the following letter to Alson’s parents, notifying them of their son’s death:
Fairfax Seminary Hospl
Near Alexandria, Va
June 26, 1865
Mr. Jno Day
My Dear Sir
I wrote you some days ago, stating that your Son, Alson L. Day, was very ill. Now I must send you the sad tidings of his death. He passed away on the 24th, at 4.20 P.M. Cause of death, Consumption of the Lungs. We buried him last evening in the U.S. Cemetery, Alexandria, Va., with Religious Services and Military Honors. His grave is marked by a decend head board, bearing his name, Co., Regt., and date of death. He left $2.50, a Corps Badge, 2 ambrotypes, 1 Pocket Book, and several articles of clothing; all of which I will forward to you by Adams Express, if so desired.
On the 1st of this month, I had quite a long conversation with your Son on the subject of religion. H said it was a good thing to be a Christian and not backslide, and then showed considerable feeling when I urged him to seek Christ with all his heart. I was afraid then that he would not recover; indeed he was too weak to travel, had his Discharge Papers been here. I spoke to the Main Surgeon (a kind hearted Christian man) about hurrying up his Papers, so that he might start at once if he got strong. And he spoke to the Chief Surgeon, but they did not come until a few days ago. However, he could not have gone, if they had come sooner.
Saturday prenoon last I saw that he could not live many hours, and told him so, or rather, that I feared so. He had been sinking indeed, quite rapidly from the evening previous. His mind was unhinged, and he talked one minute, as though you were present and the next (in answer to my question where I should not write you), as though you were at home. And so about getting off, he was just as incoherent. Poor fellow, he was near his end truly. He said he would like to have me write you, and send love toyou and Brothers and Sisters. He said that his mother died here last night. This, of course, showed that he was not in his right mind. When I spoke of casting himself on Jesus, he replied that he “would do it.” I said I want you to trust Him as your Savior; he replied, “Yes, I will.” I prayed that his would be very gracious to our departing Brother, and left him. I was so occupied in the afternoon that I could not see him again. This is a sore affliction to you. May God sustain and comfort you and sanctify it to you eternal good. He always chastens us for our profit.”
Jno. A. Jerome Chaplain U.S.A.
Alson should never have been drafted. His uncle, Joseph W. Day, voiced his surprise when the Union accepted him into service, as Alson had been plagued “lung trouble” for years. Indeed, the documents in his Mother’s Pension application file showed he suffered from Tuberculosis (“Consumption”). Alson’s immune system was not able to fight off the many diseases common to camp life, and so the life of this Union soldier ended without ever having been in battle.
Mary Ann Day, Widow’s pension application no. 258,789, Civil War, RG 15; NA-Washington.