These letters were written by William H. Walton (1841-1864), the son of William Walton (1784-Aft1850) and Mary Ann Brown (1783-Aft1850) of Kensington, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. In the 1860 US Census — just prior to the Civil War — William (age 19) is enumerated in Kensington in the household of John Tilton where his occupation was given as a “carriage apprentice.”
On 22 August 1861, William enlisted in Co. B, 3rd New Hampshire Infantry. Company B “was recruited almost wholly at Exeter and New Market, chiefly by Capt. Wilbur and Lieut. Fogg. The company was somewhat unfortunate in its choice of Captain, as he was arrested at Hilton Head before we had seen much service, remained in arrest a long time, and was finally dishonorably discharged after trial. This untoward circumstance had a depressing effect upon the company itself… [Source: “The Third New Hampshire & All about It” (pg. 7)]
After being mustered in at Concord in August 1861, the 3rd New Hampshire moved to Camp Scott on Long Island on 3 September and then to Washington D.C.. From there they were taken to Annapolis where they boarded ships to embark on Gen. Thomas West Sherman’s Expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina. They remained in the vicinity of Hilton Head until April 1863. During the summer of 1863, they went on expeditions to Seabrook Island, St. Helena Island, and Folly Island before going to Morris Island in August. They remained there until January 1864 when William re-enlisted as a veteran. Following a veteran’s furlough, William returned to join his regiment before they embarked on Grant’s Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864. He was wounded in the right leg on 16 June 1864 at Ware Bottom Church, Virginia. His leg was later amputated but he died of his wounds on 21 July 1864 at the Fortress Monroe hospital [New Hampshire Town records indicate the direct cause of death was diarrhea, however].
William wrote all of the letters (save one) to Mary Esther Blake (1841-1882), the 20 year-old daughter of Col. John Tuck Blake (1806-1883) and Mary Elizabeth Moulton (1807-1882) of Kensington. In the 1860 Census, Mary’s occupation is given as “Shoe Binder.” Her father was a “Shoe Maker.” These two, it seems, would most likely have married each other had not the war thrust them into different worlds. For the first couple of years of separation, William’s letters indicate a deep and committed devotion to his “dearest Mary.” But as the war dragged on, the separation led to doubts which led to suspicions of infidelity, causing each of them to let go of the pledges they had made to each other on the eve of the conflict.
I do not have proof that she is the same person, but my hunch is that Mary Esther Blake married William A. Chesley (1842-1920) in Pittsfield, New Hampshire in October 1869.
William H. Walton, Co. B, 3rd New Hampshire