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    John W. Bell, 73rd Ohio Infantry, Archive of Letters. A group of ten letters, four written by John Bell and dating from January 31, 1863 to April 17, 1864. The other letters included are two written by his brother Mordecai Bell, who appears to call him "Walter", along with three other correspondences answering inquiries by Bell. John W. Bell enlisted at the age of 19 as a private and was mustered into Company I, 73rd Ohio Infantry on December 30, 1861. He was discharged for disability on April 4, 1863, but reenlisted with his same company in February 1864. He was severely wounded at Bentonville on March 19, 1865 and had to have his right leg amputated. He never recovered from his wound, and died on March 30.

    His first letter comes from near Falmouth, Virginia, where the regiment would be stationed until the end of April before setting out on the Chancellorsville Campaign. Bell wrote to his brother on January 31, 1863 about his poor health, something that would ultimately lead to his discharge. It reads in part: "My health at this time is very poor and has been so for a good while, yet I am able to get around. I have not been continued to my bed, nor have I been to the hospital yet...we have an immense army here but all is quiet along our lines how long it may remain so I do not know. At present the roads are too bad to move anything. I do not think that the Army of the Potomac can do much until the wet weather is over and then I think it will be a hard matter to take Richmond by way of Fredericksburg. There is a good deal of dissatisfaction in the army which is not likely to do it any good..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8"].

    Bell became too ill to continue his military service, and was discharged just over two months later. He returned to his unit, however, one year later, and was at Lookout Valley with the 73rd Ohio in mid-March. The regiment had a heavy amount of casualties, but their conduct earned the praise and notice of General Grant. Bell wrote on March 22, 1864, in part: "...proceeded to Chattanooga where we arrived about 9 oclock the next evening. We were immediately placed in the barracks at that place, and soon after put on fatigue duty loading boats. We were kept here one week loading boats and cleaning streets until last Sabbath morning. Just as we had prepared to spend the day to the best advantage, orders came for us to proceed to our regiment. We were glad to leave the filthy barracks, Sunday as it was. We reached the regiment about one oclock the same day. The country is very mountainous and wears a dreary looking appearance...Mission Ridge and Lookout Mountain are in full view from Chattanooga..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8"].

    Just over one week later, Bell was alarmed by the news he received from home of a spread of disease that had affected his town. Sickness was commonplace for enlisted men, but it was a shock for the young soldier to hear that it had spread to his loved ones and other civilians at home. His April 3, 1864 letter reads in part: "Yours of the 26th was recd on yesterday evening and the startling intelligence it contained was entirely unexpected to me: I knew there was a good deal of sickness in the neighborhood but had not once dreamed that anyone was dangerously ill. I was surprised and grieved to hear of the death of L.T. Borer and Mary J. McKinley, who were bidding as fair for long life when I last saw them...but this teaches us the uncertainty of life, and admonishes us to be ready also...But scarcely had I recovered from the shock of feeling produced by your epistle yesterday, when another one today announce the death of Mr. Rutherford. Surely death is reaping a bountiful Harvey among those of our associates and acquaintances...Our regiment is still in camp in Lookout Valley, but I cannot tell when or how long it will be before we have to move. I see no signs however of a move very soon. There has been some talk of returning to the Army of the Potomac, but I think it is without much foundation..." [Five pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8"].

    By two weeks later, Bell was clearly becoming weary of army and camp life. He bemoaned having to go on picket to his brother on April 17, 1864, writing: "...I do not want you to think by this, that I am growing tired of the service. Not so; I would of course - and so would any sane person - prefer a citizen's life to that of a soldier, but yet I am willing to perform the duties of a soldier, so long as my services are required or until my terms of service has expired...[Continuing on April 19th] Our picket is in the State of Georgia; the line of the two states (Tenn and Georgia) running between our picket post and our camp. There are a few citizens in that part of the country, but they are very scared and nearly all of them are old men and women...The citizens are very ignorant, or seem to be so, and I do not expect they deceive their looks very much..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8"].

    Bell was severely wounded at the Battle of Bentonville, where General Sherman clashed against General Joseph E. Johnston's forces. The battle was a Union victory, but there would be no celebration for Bell, as he endured the excruciatingly painful process of having his leg amputated in an attempt to save his life. A letter exchanged between Mordecai and Edgar Bell, dated May 7, 1865, reveals a small insight into what became of the young soldier. Replying to "Yours of Apr 21st", Mordecai writes: "I received a letter from Walter shortly after he was wounded stating that he had suffered the Amputation of his leg he said that I need not write until I heard from him again as he expected soon to be removed to some other Hosptl. After so long a time had elapsed without hearing from him I began to hear that all was not right your letter confirmed my worst fears. When you write let me know if his clothing and other things have been sent home and if any measures have been taken to ascertain where his body was laid and if there be any possibility of getting his remains home immediately though I fear there will be none..."

    John W. Bell was buried at Raleigh National Cemetery. The other letters included in the archive include letters regarding Bell's reenlistment in the army after his disability discharge. Almost all of the letters have retained their original transmittal covers.

    Condition: Letters have flattened mail folds, with varying degrees of toning, soiling, and foxing. Some areas of ink staining. Paper loss to one letter, which does not affect the text, as well as on some of the transmittal covers. Usual wear and soiling to the envelopes.


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