As spring turned to summer in the year 1862, John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry lay dying in a hospital bed in Lebanon, Laclede County, Missouri. He had enlisted the previous autumn, eager to do his part for the Union, but in April, following the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, he was hospitalized with typhoid pneumonia.1
At the time of his enlistment, John, a native of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England, was a widower with four children at home in Pana, Christian County, Illinois.2 After his death on 7 June 1862, A. W. Bingham, a hospital steward, penned a sympathetic but hurried letter to John’s eldest daughter, Sarah Alice Fenton, informing her of her father’s passing:3
June 7th 1862
You will be of course Serprised in Receiving a letter from one that never beheld your face or eaven had the honor of knowing your nam but through one that is or has been Dear to you your Father, he was admitted in this Hospital on the 22d day of April Sinse then he has been leaberin under Tyford Pneumonia which at last terminated in his death, which was at 7 Oclock this evening June the 7th he was a long time dieing and told me he wished me to write to you and all for him to put your confidence in christ and he hoped to meet you in the world to come he talked of and would of liked very much to see you but when god comes there is no alternative but to resign our will so he done so and diese in piece, you must not take it hard for we as soldiers have no limited time for our lives and when we enlist in our Countrys call we make up our mind to meet death when god thinks proper to call us away, your Father requests me to tell you also to collect what money was due him and put it to as good use as you thought people he wished you to see to the small children and bring them up in his fear and love of God which no doubt you will and he felt satisfyed you would do so, remembering he was your Father although he was on his dieing bed.
Now Miss Fenton
I will give you the amount of Effects he left behind which you can have by giving me the directions where to forward them, I found in his posession in money one Dollar and 20/100 he hade clothing as follows one hat one coat one pair pants 2 pair drawers 2 shirts 2 pair socks 2 Blankets 1 pair of Boots 1 valiese 2 spurs and some small articles to numerous to mention, he has some five or six months pay comeing to him which you children are intitled to and can get it most assuredly his remains will be entered tomorrow in this place with the honors of a soldier, hopeing to here from you soon as to what I shall do with his effects I will now close for the present hopeing if I have neglected to give you any information you desired you will excuse me as it is late and I was up with him all last night and feal very tired however if you wish any thing done you will let me know by return of mail and I will attend to it with pleasure, if you wish to answer it would be best for you to write as soon as possible as we may brake up this Post shortly,
I Remain your &c
A. W. Bingham
I enclose you some of his hair perhaps you would wish it if I could get his picture I would send it
N.B. he spoke of Mr Tylar and others that I have forgotten their names you will please tell them they hade his best wishes”4
1 Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
3 John A. Fenton, minor’s pension application no. 263341; service of John Fenton (Pvt., Co. M, 3rd Ill. U.S. Cav., Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications…, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
4 John A. Fenton, minor’s pension no. 263341; Civil War, RG 15, NA-Washington.
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