In the early 1860s, Thaddeus Carleton lived in his parents' house along with his sisters, Thirza (b. 1835) and Mary and four younger brothers. Originally from Maine, the nucleus of the large family had settled in Churchville, N.Y., near Rochester, in 1844, while other relatives continued westward to Michigan and Iowa. It was in Chuchville that Thaddeus Carleton was stricken with "rheumatism" --possibly polio -- in 1857, leaving his leg so badly affected that thereafter he was able to walk only with the greatest difficulty and was essentially confined to the house. He struggled with his physical condition, writing late in 1863, "I went over to Aunty's yesterday for the first time in five years, it is five this fall, and then I walked over" (1863 December 8). Carleton planned for a career as a writer like his relative, Michigan poet laureate Will Carleton.
Unable to serve in the Army due to his disability, Carleton followed the events of the war with rapt attention, all the more so since so many relatives were in the service. His young brother Robert (b. 1847) was wounded three times in four battles, including Gettysburg; a brother-in-law William (b. 1826), died from disease in December, 1862 while with the Army in Virginia, and two other brothers, George (b. 1845) and James (b. 1848), enlisted in the cavalry in December, 1863. Still more relatives served with Michigan and Iowa regiments in the western theatre. Thaddeus' patriotism was unflagging and seems to have been thoroughly genuine. When an enrolling officer for the town of Riga listed Carleton as eligible for the draft, he wrote "Would to God that I were able to help defend my beloved Country in her hour of distress, and grief. Thank God I can pray" (1863 June 16). He remained a staunch Republican, applauding Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation and cheering the news of every Union advance and Republican electoral victory.
The most important event of 1863 for Carleton was not, however, related to the war, but was the protracted illness of his mother and her death on March 17th. His emotions fluctuated wildly during his mother's illness, ranging from a tentative optimism when she rallied, to a sense of despair at her death, probably worsened by the fact that he was unable to attend the funeral. Carleton paid particularly close attention to the state of health of his community, recording cases of croup, dysentery, typhoid, rheumatism, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and other diseases, as well as assorted injuries and accidents. His awareness of health issues may have been sharpened both by the fact of his own infirmity and because his father was frequently employed as the grave digger.