Joseph Belton Never Returned Home Alive

By: Karen Zach

Recently, I was honored to write one of my Around The County articles about James Cameron Fullenwider who died from wounds received in the Battle of Thompson Station and whose government stone was placed by his great grandnephew, Dave Fullenwider, Waveland Presbyterian Cemetery board member, Jim Thomas and 33rd Indiana historian, Chris Walker, History Professor at Indiana Wesleyan.

Brown Township sent and lost many to the Civil War, including today’s subject, Joseph Belton. Sadly, little is known about this man. For one, there is no birthdate for him. He is found in only two census records – from these we can glean he was probably born in late 1834 or early 1835 in either PA or OH. It seems fairly obvious that he lost at least his father but was close to his brother, Samuel, whom I don’t believe ever married. Sam was quite a bit older than Joe (24 years and thought I had found Joe’s father but found proof later definitely his brother) and was born in PA but imagine Joe’s birth occurred in Ohio with his parents having been born in PA. Although I was frustrated I didn’t find his parents, I’m not the only one – hard to find! I suspicion Israel Belton who passed 19 Nov 1852 and Elizabeth Pacey both born in England (Lincolnshire) who married there at Heckington 18 August 1817, came to America on the Sarah Ralston to Philadelphia 18 March 1824 with Eliza, 11, a male with name beginning with “G” or “S” age 9; Mary 5; Caroline 3 and John age 1 are probable to be but found no specific records as such. Just hints such as in Sam’s 1900 census record it states both parents were born in England. In 1850 the family (Joe working as an apprentice blacksmith elsewhere in the county) is in Stark County, Ohio with Ann and Jane with them. In 1870, Elizabeth age 78 is still in Stark County, Ohio with daughter Nancy age 40. There is more proof when we talk about Joe’s letters below.

Joe married Mary Elinor Hamilton in Columbiana County, Ohio 16 October 1856, Mary one of the oldest of ten children born to William Wallace and Isabel McKnight Hamilton. They lived in Ohio (Alliance, then New Lisbon) but were in Waveland by 1859, having a small farm and he using his blacksmith skills quite extensively with his brother, Sam. Hiram Pratt, long time barber in Waveland noted several times that he had purchased beef from Sam and Fountain North Johnson wrote about working as a blacksmith with Sam and Joe Belton, making carriages and wagons. Sam became quite active in the local Masons, a member until death. Joe was active in protecting the town, serving as head officer, major for the local militia (11th) but then joined (8 January 1864 Co H) the 40th Indiana as a private in the regular service, his majorship meaning nothing in the regular Army.

His letters to Mary when he was in the army gave glimpses into his earlier life. As per above (1870 census) if Elizabeth is his mother (he speaks of Nancy and several of the other children of hers and Israel’s thus it is likely this is the correct parentage) he is fairly insistent that if something happens to him that Mary takes their children and goes to live with “Mother.” Mother especially wanted Frank to come to her, as an educated woman, she could teach Frank individually, but Mary could read and write just fine, too and she certainly had other plans.

Little touches of humor are in his letters “I expect Nancy often thinks of me when she has something good for dinner for she was always grumbling at me for being so hard to please. Well, I’m not so hard to please as I was.” He asked sister Jane to also help with Frank’s schooling and that he would try to compensate her later for it.

In almost every letter to his “Dear Wife,” he tells her he will likely get a furlough and that his doctor was trying hard to do that (as he was in the Joe Holt Army Hospital in Jeffersonville, Indiana for several months). He was still waiting at his death but a few days before had told her his bowels were bad, couldn’t even get out of bed, and his kidneys failing and that he was being examined for a discharge. A couple of times he apologized to her – he was occasionally a bit bossy but can you imagine the times? In one letter he admits that he made a mistake in joining. He promised when returning he would do everything in his power to make her happy. Trying to keep things light, he tells her of the books he has read and that he read the daily news aloud to the whole hospital ward and that for several weeks when he was feeling fairly well he was assigned medicine duty but was so tired after getting it all doled out then starting all over again.

Not sure he even saw his youngest (Carrie who was born 2 Nov 1864 married Arthur Kleiser, having two wonderful daughters, Mildred and Wanetah) he thanks Mary for telling him of Belle “writing to him” but said the only thing better would be to see Miss Belle herself. Another son was born as well as another child lost young, Willie 1858-59. Son Frank later owned several businesses in town, marrying local gal, Jessie Herley, then Emma Garland and having one son, Rupert. Joe often said to kiss the children for him. Bet he would have been so happy to see them grow up and enjoy his close to a dozen grandchildren.

– Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County. You can reach her at [email protected].