1862: Joseph Edward Kimball to John Calvin Kimball

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1st Mass. Infantry Coat Button

These letters were written by Joseph Edward Kimball (1839-1896), the son of John Kimball (17800-1876) and Rebecca Gould (1804-1888) of Ipswich, Essex county, Massachusetts. He wrote both letters to his older brother, Rev. John Calvin Kimball (1832-1910) who served as chaplain in the 9 month 8th Massachusetts Infantry (from October 1862 to July 1863). This regiment spent most of its time in North Carolina.

John E. Kimball was mustered into Co. B, 1st Massachusetts Infantry on 23 May 1861. He later accepted a commission as a lieutenant in the 3d North Carolina Colored Volunteers (afterwards the 37th USCT) in 1864; later breveted a Captain in March 1865. He remained in the service until January 1867.

According to an obituary record, Joseph E. Kimball participated in 37 battles during the war, including First Bull Run, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and Appomattox. For his bravery in the Battle of New Market Heights, he was breveted for gallant conduct. He died in 1896 at the age of 56. The inscription on his monument in the Mount Vernon Cemetery, Abington, Mass, reads:

“One Who Never Turned His Back,
But Marched Breast Forward;
Never Doubted Clouds Would Break;
Never Dreamed, Tho’ Right Were Worsted,
Wrong Would Triumph…
Held We fall To Rise,
Are Baffled To Fight Better,
Sleep To Wake.”


Addressed to Rev. J. C. Kimball, Beverly, Massachusetts

Hampton Hospital [near Fortress Monroe]
September 30, 1862

Dear Brother,

Your letter of the 23rd inst. has been duly received. I dispatched you a few lines the day I received your box stating that it came safely and tendering you and those other generous contributors the grateful thanks of myself and comrades. We are still enjoying the fruits of your kindness and it is doing us much good. I don’t think all of the pamphlets which you send me reach here. I got the [  ] you sent—also some papers, but no sermons. The money also came safely.

I don’t know that my principles have undergone such a great change in relation to slavery. I am only disgusted with that Radical Party where every movement since the opening of the Rebellion has been to make the restoration of the Union second to the liberation of the negroes and the carrying out of their own pet schemes. Do not tell I got this idea from the New York Herald—your own writings betray it. Why are you so slow to acknowledge the merits of Gen. McClellan in victory and so ready to overthrow him in defeat? If you would displace him, who would you put in his place? Is there any other in the list of generals who is more capable? Is [John Charles] Fremont’s experience in Missouri and the Shenandoah more serious than McClellan’s in Virginia and Maryland? Have [James Samuel] Wasdsworth and [David] Hunter higher claims? If so, where are they? Do you wish to experiment again with lesser generals? [John] Pope’s  experience has been too bitter for you to attempt it again. Would not McClellan be quite good enough if he were an abolitionist? Can you better McClellan’s plan of disposition of troops as were noticed in the late battles in Maryland. Could Fremont do better or as well? If McClellan is only an ordinary general, then we have only ordinary ones. So we may as well be content. An ordinary general may do much with a united government to back him, while a great general would utterly fail with a powerful faction opposing him.

President Lincoln has issued his Emancipation Proclamation. It is hard to say whether its results will be of good or evil. At any rate, the People should be a unit in supporting him. Those who have the good of the Union at heart must feel that as the Proclamation has gone forth, they have no other course open but to use every means to strengthen the government in order that it may be effective. Much of its result will depend upon the progress of our armies between this and the first of January. Of course, it will greatly intensify the struggle.

I am not opposed to abolition. I speak of the ultra abolitionists because they are the Rule or Ruin Party. Do you not see the great importance of the People being a unit in order to crush out this Rebellion? Are there no tens and hundreds of thousands of good loyal people in the North who are opposed from purist principles to prevent Negro emancipation? Having arrived at this conclusion, how can they cordially aid you in carrying out your ultra ideas any more than you could relinquish yours to aid the opposite ultra’s in carrying out theirs? But there is a ground on which all can meet. It is aiding—not embarrassing—the government in carrying out its own measure.

The present government is as of your own choice and you ought to trust its ability and [   ] of purpose. If President Lincoln says emancipation, let the people be a unit in supporting him. I think President Lincoln desires to execute the will of the People. I think he has striven to act so as to keep them united. In his delay in issuing the late proclamation, I think he has adopted its policy and the approval of the majority of the People. It is all twiddle about our inability to crush the rebellion without interfering with slavery. Let us have united will and action and we must either crush it or acknowledge ourselves cowards and imbeciles. It is the fault of this faction who have left no means untried to thrust this one idea of slave emancipation upon the President, thereby embarrassing the government which has so long prolonged the struggle. They would displace the greatest chief of our armies today solely on account of party. If this is the talk of the New York Herald, then the Herald is right. Why do you cling to Fremont? What is there on his career which is so brilliant and promising? He has not the claim of nine tenths of the junior Brigadiers. I pray God the opposite party will not give the government the trouble which you have given them in the past, now the President is adopting measures to which they have been opposed.

I may understand the affairs of state but poorly, but I think we have all seen enough in the past to lay aside the party schemes and devote all our energies to strengthen the government. If sir, we don’t act just as you would like, it is far better to strengthen him as far as he goes than to make a division.

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Col. Robert Cowdin, 1st Massachusetts

I have heard of the animosity which Charles Sumner has towards [our] Col. [Robert] Cowdin. I heard it from the lips of Col. Cowdin. He had the effrontery when we were encamped at Camp Banks, Georgetown, to request Col. Cowdin to resign. Lucky for him at the time that we did not know it for if we had, we would most assuredly have kicked him from camp. I have heard Col. Cowdin [say] many times that Charles Sumner, and [Gov. John A.] Andrew were intriguing against him. Look at the disgraceful intrigues of J____ & Andrew to displace him before he left Massachusetts. Hawker has recommended Cowdin for a Brigadier. Sumner wouldn’t have made a very strenuous effort to second it without succeeding. Don’t say anything about Sumner or Andrew to any of the “Armed Mob.”

I received your anti-slavery sermon—it is very fine.

I shall go to my regiment this week. Direct your next letter there. Please enclose in your letter two more dollars in Boston money as before. I may need the money much when I get to the regiment to purchase me some articles as I presume my knapsack is lost.

I have heard it said that the soldiers are not allowed to write home from the army. This is rather hard times if it is so, but we must put up with it. You however can write to me. I feel strong now and am anxious to get back to the ranks. The wine you sent me has done me a great deal of good. I shall keep one bottle to carry with me—also some preserves. I am very thankful, dear brother, for what you have done for me. I have had a rather hard time here—much more so than I would have acknowledged before. But is is quite over now and I find myself in good trim to stand another twelve months or more. I have been fortunate that perhaps I may safely survive the struggle. [   ] has serious whims. I have been deluded many times during the last six months when I regarded the chances of my getting out safe as pretty slim. But somehow when my comrades have been shot down by my side, I have come off with scarce a scratch.

A very dear comrade of mine—one whom I have chummed with throughout the campaign, who was wounded beside me at Williamsburg with a cannon shot and again slightly at “Fair Oaks” has received a very bad wound at [Second] Bull Run [on 29 August 1862]. The ball entered one cheek and came out of the other, fracturing the jaw. I don’t know that he is living now.

Please write so that I can get your letter at the regiment next week enclosing the two dollars. Direct to J. E. Kimball, Co. B, 1st Mass. via Washington D. C.

Love to Emily, — J. E. K.


1st Regiment Mass. Volunteers
Near Seminary, Alexandria, Va.
October 7, 1862

My dear brother,

Mr. William H. Knowlton, ¹ the bearer of this note—a member of this regiment and a tried and much esteemed comrade of mine, now returning home on a discharge of physical disability—I am most happy in introducing to your acquaintance. Mr. Knowlton has served with honor and credit through all the campaigns which the regiment has, and his accounts you will find truthful as well as interesting. He is a little too much tinctured with abolitionism but I doubt not you will find his acquaintance valuable.

Sometime when you go home, invite him down with you to visit the old folks.

Trusting he will find you in good health, I remain affectionately your brother, — J. E. Kimball

¹ William H. Knowlton was a “wood turner” from East Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted at the age of 31 in Co. B, 1st Massachusetts Infantry and was discharged for disability on 10 October 1862. A note on the roster suggests he subsequently served as an officer in the US Navy.


Fairfax Station, Va.
November 17, 1862

My dear brother,

I take the present opportunity of forwarding you a few lines and with them two letters which I this day received from sister Anna. I send them for the double purpose of having you preserve them for me and to satisfy you that that affair is settled I think perfectly satisfactorily. The dear girl has new desire—had a severe struggle with herself and has indeed nobly triumphed in the Right. Like all severe mental struggles, the victory once gained in the Right, the balance fairly turned. The Right course seems clearer and purer. Anna has done much better than I could hardly dare hope. She has certainly shown herself thhe Right stuff for a true woman. I was greatly affected with her letter as indeed you cannot fail to be. If Bean is really of the Right stamp, he may come back at some future day worthy of her love. I think her idea of him and indeed the whole affair as expressed in her letter is not a great way from being correct. But it is best to let time work out this matter in silence.

Anna has a nature that is easily worked upon by kindness. Let us all forget or make no allusions to this past affair but strive to encourage her in her new course. You had better speak to Henry who is rather apt to be harsh with one whom he does not understand and impress upon him the importance of using kindly. You had also better have a talk with her. I have just written her a letter in reply to the two enclosed. My heart was too full to say much but all that I can do for her in any way, I shall certainly do. I sympathize with the poor child from the depth of my heart.

I have nothing of importance to write you in regard to myself. You no doubt think the late insult to McClellan all right, so there is no use to speak of that matter. The future to me looks dark and gloomy. We are in Hooker’s Corps so we may expect to be in the Van of the Army. I hardly care where they send us.

My love to Emily. Write often. Address as [  ].

Affectionately your brother, — J. E. Kimball

[enclosed letter]

November 13

My own dear brother,

I was surprised and pained by learning from your letter received tonight that you had not received my letter directed to the hospital at Hampton. I wrote you there I should think more than a month ago, and have been anxiously looking day after day for news from you. I at length concluded you must be offended at something, although I could not conceive what which I had written in that letter and again wrote you which I put in this morning. I hope you will get it, but fearing you might not, I am writing you again. Far, very far was I from being angry with you for what you wrote to me. On the contrary I then and now thank you from the bottom of my heart and have never for a moment entertained for you one harsh thought.

I took your advice and in two days after receiving your letter, I was perfectly free. My dear, brother I think you judge [Edward] Bean harshly. I know that he entertained for me the purest feelings of which a man is capable of feelings of which a man is capable of feeling for woman and I thought that I returned it at the time and perhaps for a short time I did, but it—like many other youthful fantasies—has entirely wore off and today I am as heart-free and careless as I ever was in my life. Edward Bean has many noble qualities and sorry am I that so fine a nature as his must once have been should become so perverted. I do not doubt but he was truly sorry for the past, but of what avail is repentance! Once down, always down in this world. Not but what I think one may out live deeper disgrace than that, but I fear he had not the strength of character to do so.

I have heard nothing directly from him since we parted, but learned casually that he had enlisted in the 44th and was off for the war. Every letter he ever wrote me I always read to mother, Sarah, and they were at the disposal of anyone who chose to read them. I never received a line or heard a word from him which I had not just as soon all the world should hear. He was ever noble, generous, and upright to me in spite of the past, I can’t help thoroughly respecting him. He always said he did not blame any of you for what you had done and were doing. He should do the same by his sister and should think nothing of you if you did not do it by me. It wore off with me, but every day convinced me ore and more that he thought as much of me and I hated to inflict the pain on anyone which I knew I should on him so I let it go week after week, and God knows I felt bad enough when it did have to come. But it is better so. We could never mate together. He always said the sacrifice was too great and I was mad to ever dream of it. But I saw so much that was good in him and found him so perfectly unselfish, I thought one error could be forgiven and I know no one on earth was perfect that to err was human, and he was not alone. Over that record I think the recording angel will drop a tear which will but out the evil and leave only the good….

[more of same, including a second letter signed by Annie]

Ever your sister— Annie

4 thoughts on “1862: Joseph Edward Kimball to John Calvin Kimball”

  1. I have John C. Kimball’s memoir (in diary form) for 1860-1870. It is almost 1300 pages, handwritten, incorporating parts of letters including the one you posted) and sermons. I’m interested in where you found this letter and where it now resides. Thank you.


    1. The letters were sold on eBay a couple of years ago. I was given permission to transcribe and post these three letters on Spared & Shared by the seller at that time who I think had previously purchased them on eBay. Not sure who owns them now.


      1. Thank you. We should correct your preface to the letters. John C. Kimball served as Chaplain in the second (9-month) iteration of the 8th Mass Inf., from October 1862 to July 1863. He spent most of that time in North Carolina, in New Bern or the Pamlico and Abemarle Sound regions; on the return to Mass, the regiment was routed into MAryland and northern Virginia in an attempt to intercept Lee in the retreat from Gettysburg. He never served in a black regiment.


  2. I owned John C. Kimball’s memoir (in diary form) for 186–1870. It is almost 1300 pages, handwritten, and incorporates letters (such as those you’ve posted). We are transcribing it from a digitized copy, having given the original to the Mass Historical Society. Where did you get these letters, and where do they now reside? Thank you.


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