Eaton Family
Papers, 1849-1897

SC17395

Quantity: 1 box (0.50 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Gift, Martin A. Edwards, 1981
Processed By: Fred Bassett, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections, New York State Library, January 2011

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Biographical Note:

Levi Eaton, a stone mason, was born about 1825 in Canada, most likely, Montreal, Quebec. It appears he was of French-Canadian heritage, and his name was Leon Hétu. He probably changed his name to Levi Eaton at the time he emigrated to the United States, about the early 1850s. Settling in Fort Ann, Washington County, New York, he pursued his trade as a stone mason. Census records for 1860 and 1870 show he was married and had three children at the time.

Military service records indicate Levi Eaton enlisted in August 1862 at Fort Ann and shortly thereafter was mustered in as a private in Company D of the 123rd New York Infantry Regiment. His regiment, which was comprised chiefly of recruits from Washington County, was actively involved in a number of significant battles and campaigns during the war, including the Battle of Gettysburg, the capture of Atlanta, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. He was mustered out of service in June 1865 and returned to Fort Ann to resume his trade as a stone mason. 

Scope and Content Note:

These papers consist chiefly of letters Levi Eaton sent to his wife, Elizabeth, while serving in the army during the Civil War. The letters not only record his experiences on the battlefield, but also reveal his attitudes towards the war and his religious sentiments and that he was homesick. On February 9, 1863, he wrote from a camp near Stafford Court House, Virginia: “I live in hope to get home. I don’t care how soon. If they would leave it to me I would settle it damn soon.”  His desire to get the war over soon is stated more emphatically in letter written at Camp Williams, near Stafford Court House, on April 6, 1863: “We get enough to eat, but I am sick of this war. I am willing to do everything to help it along so I can get home. I have not been in a house since I left Salem, N.Y., and have not heard a church bell since I left N.Y. Now tell all my friends not to stand a draft but to come willingly to put this rebellion down.”

The letters also document the fact that he and his fellow soldiers of the 123rd Regiment were actively involved in a number of significant battles and campaigns during the war. After the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 6, 1863, he wrote: “It has been 20 days since we have started, but you will be glad to hear that we have had a hard battle and that I have come out all right. We made the rebels start for Virginia. The battle was at Gettysburg. We are after the ‘rebs’ now.” 

Later, when the 123rd Regiment was engaged in the campaign that ultimately led to the Union Army occupation of Atlanta, Georgia, from June to October 1864, he wrote a number of letters that provided not only a vivid depiction of the battle, but were often peppered with personal comments and anecdotes. In the letter written on the battlefield near Altona Heights, Georgia, on June 1, 1864, he wrote: “We are laying on the battlefield now. This is the 8th day since the battle commenced. Our division was the first to advance and we lost sixteen hundred men in about two hours. The colonel lost one leg. He was hit with a grape shot in the knee joint ... I got out without a scratch ... This letter is written on the battlefield and the muskets are cracking every minute. Keep up good courage and trust in God.”

When the Union Army captured Atlanta, Eaton recorded his thoughts and observations in his letter of September 4, 1864: “We were the second regiment to go in ... After going a few miles we halted and a courier came up saying a squad of our cavalry was in the city. We then marched on and about 3 P.M. took possession of the city and the ‘stars and stripes’ waved over the Court House ... The store houses were filled with tobacco and cigars and we have all we want to last 3 months ... All is quiet here now and the ‘Rebs’ have skedaddled. Gen. Sherman [is] following close after them. The Reb army is about ‘played’ out now ... Before leaving here the enemy destroyed an immense sight of property ... a hundred car loads of ammunition. We certainly have had a great victory.”

Commenting on Sherman’s March to the Sea, Eaton wrote on December 18, 1864, from Savannah: “We left Atlanta the 15th of November after destroying the Rail Road, all Depots and Publick [sic] Buildings ... we arrived here the 10th of the month all safe. We destroyed all railroads, cotton and everything that was of any use to the Confederacy and we lived off the country on sweet potatoes, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, flour and meal and other things. We only drew 18 hard tacks on the march.”

Paper appears to have been somewhat scarce during the Civil War as evidenced by the fact that Eaton occasionally wrote his letters on blank space found on the same stationery of letters he had already received from his wife Elisabeth. Her letters, which were written at Fort Ann, contain news about the family and other news about people and events in the community. This offers a glimpse of what life was like back home. 

Levi Eaton appears to have kept in touch with his family in Montreal as evidenced by a number of letters he received from his brother, François K. Hétu, who was a teacher in a local school.  The letters detail news about the family, his teaching career, and a glimpse of what is was like to live in Montreal at the time. 

These papers also include “boat books” for schooners that plied Lake Champlain, ca. 1849-1853, which contain accounts detailing shipping costs for the cargo onboard, wages due for sailors, and costs for boat maintenance and repair. The books were kept by Orrin Landon of Willsboro, Essex County, New York. The blank leaves in the “boat books” were later used by his daughter, Sarah, for compositions and other writings. Sarah Landon also kept diaries from 1858-1863, which detail her activities and experiences. The relationship between the Landon family and the Eaton family has not been determined.

Inventory of Documents

Box Folder Content
1 0 Guide to collection; information from census and military service records;  excerpts and transcripts of selected Civil War letters of Levi Eaton
1 1 Letters of Levi Eaton to his wife, 1862-1865. [Levi Eaton served with the 123rd New York Infantry during the Civil War.]
  1. Camp Chase, September 21, 1862
  2. Staffords Court House, Va., February 9, 1863
  3. Staffords Court House, Va., March 10, 1863
  4. Staffords Court House, Va., March 24, 1863
  5. Staffords Court House, Va., April 6, 1863
  6. Staffords Court House, Va., April 25, 1863
  7. Staffords Court House, Va., June 5, 1863
  8. Leesburgh, Va., June 24, 1863
  9. Gettysburg, [Pa.], July 6, 1863
  10. Kelleys [sic] Ford, August 1, 1863
  11. Kelleys [sic] Ford, Va., August 7[?], 1863
  12. Kellys Ford, Va., September 9, 1863
  13. Near Bridgeport, Ala., November 1, 1863
  14. Altona Heights, June 1, 1864
  15. Near Merietta [sic], Ga., July 13, 1864
  16. 2 miles from Atlanta, [Ga.], July 25, [1864] (on back is a letter from his wife written at Fort Ann, [N.Y.], June 3, [1864])
  17. On Chattahoochie [sic] River, August 31, 1864 (on back is a letter from his wife written at Fort Ann, [N.Y.], August 16, [1864])
  18. Atlanta, Georgia, September 4, 1864
  19. Atlanta, [Ga.], October 25, 1864
  20. Savannah, [Ga.], December 18, 1864
  21. Near Savannah, Ga., January 15, [1865]
  22. Sisters Ferry, S.C., February 3, 1865
  23. Elk River Bridge, February 9[?], 1865[?]
  24. Goldsboro, N.C., March 28, 1865
  25. Raleigh, N.C., April 20, 1865 (fragment)
  26. Fragments of two letters and a note indicating Levi Eaton’s French name was Leon Hètu
1 2 Letters of [François] K. Hétu to Levi Eaton, 1858-1875 (salutation: To brother and sister)
  1. Montreal, November 8, 1858
  2. Montreal, May 1, 1861
  3. Montreal, December 26, 1861
  4. Montreal, October 10, 1862
  5. Montreal, September 19, 186[?] (portion of the sheet missing)
  6. Lachine, [Montreal]. December 9, 1875
1 3 Miscellaneous letters
  1. Robert H. Peru to aunt, Maryanza, [La.], September 12, 1864 (This letter discusses the 1864 U.S. presidential election campaign)
  2. Merthil [?] to brother, Montreal, October 26, 1896
  3. Postal cover addressed to Mrs. Levi Eaton at Fort Ann, Washington County, N.Y.; it was postmarked from Montreal, May 20, 1897.
1 4 Diary of Sarah M. Landon, 1858-1861 (94 p.; 20 cm.) – unidentified carte de visite photograph of a woman and child enclosed
1 5 Ledger of debit-credit accounts kept by Orrin Landon, 1849-1855 with diary, 1861-1863 that was kept by Sarah M. Landon (ca. 100 p.; 19 cm.)
1 6 “Schooner Excelsior’s Boat Book. Willsborough, June 19, 1850, kept by Captain Saxton Lyon for O. Landon,” 1850-1852; book also contains some writings of Sarah M. Landon Fox, ca. 1865 (ca. 100 p.; 20 cm.)
1 7 “Schooner Waterwitch’s Book for 1850. Willsborough April 16, 1850-1853, [kept] by Captain John Shelden”; the book also contains some writings of Sarah M. Landon Fox, ca. 1859-1869 (ca. 120 p.; 20 cm.)
Last Updated: March 18, 2011