Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Thaddeus Carleton Journal, 1863

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, February 1994

Summary Information
Title: Thaddeus Carleton journal
Creator: Carleton, Thaddeus, b. 1837
Inclusive dates: 1863
Extent: 102 pages
Thaddeus Carleton's journal provides continuous coverage of the daily activities of a family on the home front of the Civil War in New York.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated, 1986. M-2304..

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.


Copyright status is unknown.


The Thaddeus Carleton Journal was generously donated to the Library in 1986 by Mrs. Bettie J. Foster, a relative.

Preferred Citation:

Thaddeus Carleton Journal, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The majority of entries in Carleton's diary concern the routine matters of daily life in a small New York town, including births, illnesses, and deaths, domestic chores, sending "goodies" to the soldiers, sleighing in winter, trading daguerreotypes, killing rats, and visiting friends and relatives. Other entries, though, enable one to track the course of the war and its effect on the lives of those on the 'home front.' Thaddeus is a faithful recorder of the names of local men who were casualties of the war, whether injured or dying in combat or suffering from disease, and he takes care to note the soldiers arriving home after being discharged or furloughed for convalescence or rest. Two soldiers returned home as prisoners 'paroled' by the Confederates, but Thaddeus suggests that, in reality, they may have deserted after their release. Throughout the journal, Thaddeus' greatest concern seems to be the well being of his relatives in the service.

Current events occasionally attract Thaddeus' attention. He responds strongly to news of the Emancipation Proclamation, the fall of Charleston and Vicksburg, the siege of Port Hudson, the anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumter, and the Battle of Gettysburg. While his reactions are somewhat stereotypical in their patriotism, his interest and desire to serve seem genuine. Many of the war reports he records in his journal turn out to have been nothing more than rumors (e.g., the fall of Richmond and the capture of Jefferson Davis), and following several such rumors, Carleton becomes considerably more cautious in accepting war stories. The red tape involved in soldiers' or relatives' applying for and receiving back pay and pensions is a recurring theme.

A few other incidents are noteworthy. On 22 May, a quack doctor who claimed to be the grandson of Ethan Allen and to be able to cure Thaddeus of his 'contracted cords' arrived in Churchville and offered to help. Having taken his fee, Dr. Allen took to the road, leaving the uncured Thaddeus understandably bitter when, on 20 June, he received word that Allen had been seen in a nearby town boasting of success in curing Carleton. The bloody suicide of Schuilar Bromley (29 May), young resident of Churchville, also attracted a fair amount of Carleton's attention for a time.

On the political front, Carleton's commentary on the Republican victory in the November elections is unusually tinged with emotion: "the poorest, meanest armed rebel in the insurgent army is a good man by the side of the best of [the copperheads]. for has he not the spunk to march up to the cannons mouth and boldly assert their claims, while they are, crawl around (copperhead) like and strike your back in the dark, but their punishment is drawing nigh."

While Thaddeus is not a naturally gifted writer, and while his writing in neither richly detailed, stirring, nor insightful, his journal provides a continuous and dense coverage of the daily activity of a family on the 'home front' in New York. While his reactions are often muted, in the end, because of the regularity of entries and the presence of an occasional more descriptive passage, a complete picture emerges of the experiences of a would-be soldier and his community.

Subject Terms

    • Churchville (Monroe County, N.Y.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Physically handicapped.
    • Polio.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Thaddeus Carleton journal,  1863 January 1-December 31 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    • 1863 July 20
    Bromley, Shuyler, d. 1863.
    • 1863 May 29-June 1
    • 1863 December 8 (and others)
    • 1863 June 19, 22, 26
    • 1863 July 15
    • 1863 August 14
    Churchville (N.Y.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Passim
    Copperhead (Nickname)--New York (State)
    • 1863 November 5
    Deserters, Military.
    • 1863 January 28
    • 1863 February 1
    Draft Riot, New York, N.Y., 1863.
    • 1863 July 16
    Draft--New York (State)
    • 1863 June 16
    • 1863 August 8, 10
    Elections--New York (State)--1863.
    • 1863 November 3-7
    Emancipation Proclamation.
    • 1863 January 1
    Funeral rites and ceremonies--New York (State)
    • 1863 March 17
    • 1863 March 17
    New York (State)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Passim
    Physically handicapped.
    • Passim
    • Passim
    Quacks and quackery.
    • 1863 May 22, 23
    • 1863 June 20
    • 1863 June 26
    • 1863 May 29-June 1
    Thanksgiving Day (August, 1863)
    • 1863 August 6