Newton, William S. Papers William S. Newton Papers 1862-1879 Ms.2021.024

William S. Newton Papers 1862-1879 Ms.2021.024


Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
Business Number: 540-231-6308

Aaron D. Purcell

Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech
William S. Newton Papers 1862-1879
0.5 Cubic Feet, 1 box
The materials in the collection are in English.
Civil War correspondence, official documents, and other family materials related to William S. Newton, an Ohio doctor who from 1862 to 1865 served as assistant surgeon of the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry and surgeon of the 193rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Also includes transcripts of Newton's Civil War letters to his wife and children.

Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

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Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: [identification of item], [box], [folder], William S. Newton Papers, 1862-1879, Ms2021-024, Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.

Source of Acquisition

The William S. Newton Papers were purchased by Special Collections and University Archives in 2017.

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the papers of William S. Newton, documenting the Civil War experiences of an Ohio surgeon in West Virginia and Virginia from 1862 to 1865. Arranged in four series, the collection includes Civil War correspondence, transcripts of the correspondence, official documents, and other family materials related to William S. Newton.

The bulk of the collection, which is the first series, consists of nearly 170 letters from Newton to his wife and children. His letters document the boredom of camp life, details of battles and skirmishes, and observations on human behavior. Newton's detailed letters cover his living quarters, the extent of southern sentiment in occupied spaces during and after the war, transportation and communication, and the comfort of a good meal. Newton reported on the destruction of the landscape, which had been stripped of anything valuable, including the wooden boards from outhouses. Noteworthy is his description of the role of African Americans in society, both as freed slaves and camp assistants. Newton makes some mention of the politics of the period, especially related to Ohio politics. He provides wartime descriptions of towns such as Charleston, Gallipolis, Fayetteville, Lewisburg, Point Pleasant, and Winchester.

Newton's letters express a deep interest in family affairs. In fact, two of his children, Ned and Mott, visited him in camp. During the day, while he attended to the sick and wounded, his children would fish in nearby rivers and streams for their evening meal. His letters advised on family matters such as buying and selling property back in Ohio, naming his newborn child, urging his teenage son to live an upstanding life through better penmanship, prescribing medicines to remedy illnesses in the family, and preparing a new farm for his return home. His letters convey a deep sense of loneliness, especially for his wife. Several letters include discussion of the challenges of teenage son Ned, who exhibits behavior issues. Newton pens a few letters directly to Ned to reprimand him. Newton also refers to other family and friends including six of his eight siblings, Stephen, John, Oren, Lucy, Mary Frances, and Douglas.

Newton reports on his work as a surgeon. He managed several hospitals (both in seized buildings and in the field), tended to patients, ordered supplies, arranged for the wounded to return home, and informed families of the loss of a loved one. Newton's letters mention taking care of soldiers whom he knew personally from his medical practice. Although a non-combatant, Newton experienced frequent skirmishes with Confederate raiders and was part of several significant military campaigns. His letters describe significant battles in West Virginia and Virginia, most notably the Second Battle of Kernstown, the Battle of Opequan (Third Battle of Winchester), and the Battle of Cedar Creek. Of note, Newton's October 8, 1867, letter to Ohio Adjutant General Benjamin R. Cowen documents his most harrowing moments during the Civil War—Newton's capture by Confederates following the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain in May 1864, his role in operating on wounded Confederate General Albert Gallatin Jenkins, and his brief imprisonment and release from Libby Prison later that month. Other letters describe his working relationships with officers in the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, especially assistant surgeon John B. Warwick and Colonel Benjamin F. Coates. In fact, Newton purchased a farm from Coates in April 1864.

The second series includes a few letters from other Newton family members written during the Civil War. A third series includes official documents such as pension files and Newton's appointment as postmaster in Gallipolis after the war. Finally, transcripts of the letters from Newton to his wife and children make up the final series.


The collection is arranged by material type, then chronologically.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the William S. Newton Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 ( ).

Container List

Series I. William S. Newton Correspondence
  • box-folder 1 folder: 1 Apr - Dec 1862
  • box-folder 1 folder: 2 Jan - May 1863
  • box-folder 1 folder: 3 Jun - Sep 1863
  • box-folder 1 folder: 4 Oct - Dec 1863
  • box-folder 1 folder: 5 Jan - Apr 1864
  • box-folder 1 folder: 6 Jul - Aug 1864
  • box-folder 1 folder: 7 Sep - Nov 1864
  • box-folder 1 folder: 8 Jan - Jul 1865
  • box-folder 1 folder: 9 1867
  • box-folder 1 folder: 10 1879
Series II. Newton Family Correspondence
1863-1865, n.d.
  • box-folder 1 folder: 11 1863-1865, n.d.
Series III. Official Documents
1867-1871, n.d.
  • box-folder 1 folder: 12
    William S. Newton pension file
  • box-folder 1 folder: 13
    Solomon Hayward pension affidavit
  • box-folder 1 folder: 14
    William S. Newton postmaster appointments
    1867, 1871
Series IV. Transcripts
  • box-folder 1 folder: 15
    Transcripts (1862-1863 letters)
  • box-folder 1 folder: 16
    Transcripts (1864-1867 letters)