Military service became something of a tradition in James Follett’s family. His paternal grandfather served in the Revolutionary War. James Ivan Follett enlisted in Company F, 12th Michigan Infantry as a Corporal on 4 December 1861 at Kalamazoo. His 19-year-old son, James Saxton Follett, followed him into the same company three weeks later. The elder James was steadily promoted and was finally commissioned Captain of Company H about six weeks before he wrote the letter reproduced here. The younger James was a prisoner of war from May 1864 to May 1865, but survived the war. Father and son were mustered out together at Camden, Arkansas on 15 February 1866 and returned to their family in Kalamazoo.
Like many immigrants to Michigan, James Follett was a native New Englander, born in Massachusetts in 1818. He married Calista Saxton, a New Yorker, in 1842. For a few years they lived in Indiana, where their son James and daughter Ellen were born. They moved to Kalamazoo in early 1850 where they had another son Frank. James was a carpenter and joiner by trade, and Calista was working as a tailoress when the 1860 census taker found them in Kalamazoo. After the war, both Jameses manufactured bricks here. Sometime in the early 1870s, after the death of their teenage son Frank, the Folletts moved to Whitewater Township in eastern Grand Traverse County and took up farming. James Sr. and Calista both died there in 1884 and 1895 respectively. James Jr. moved on to Antrim County and lived until 1926.
The following letter from the Local History Collection was written by Captain James I. Follett, of Kalamazoo, to his wife Calista late in the Civil War. The James about whom he is concerned toward the end of the letter was his son, a prisoner of war.
Camp of 12th Mich. Vet. Inf.
Devalls Bluffs Ark Feb. 22 1865
Dear Wife & Children
I find myself in usual health, and able to eat my rations which are ample just at this time as I got some pay on my muster out Rolls the other day and made an investment in eatables. I have been under the necesity of starting a new mess(?) by being transfered to Co. “H”, and I have a first rate cook, and it seams, now when I go to my meals, like what the solder calls “Siting down and eating a square meal, like a man “Up in God’s Country” I went to the Express office this morning and sent you (425$) Four hundred and twenty five Dollars, and paid the express charges, and you will find the riceipt in this letter. When you find the money has got thare, you will have to call on some one that you are acquanted with in town to call at the express office with you and identify to them the fact that Calista Follett is your name &. I should of sent more, but I dare not spare it. I had to buy about two hundred Dollars worth clothing, which is extreamly high. I sent to Chigago with other officers for clothes. My dress coat cost Sixty Dollars two pairs pants cost forty dollars Boots 15$, Hat 8$, slips (?) $2,50/100 Military silk velvet vest 25$, Straps 10$ and every thing in proportion and then I had lots of debts to pay, pay my servant, buy cooking untinsils (sic), and a thousand things that I will not stop to mention; which absorbed a “heap of money”, But I care but little for all these things; I can forget them all in my gratitude to God, for the health and strength that he has given me to do the work that seams aloted to me to do. Pray that I may do it well, and hold out faithfull to the end, Capt. Binns has resigned, and I expected he would go directly home and I waited a few days to send my money with him, but he told me this morning that it would be three or four weeks before he could leave and went directly to the express office and sent the money that way. I thought last month that I should try and get home this Spring coming, but as my health improved I began to doubt the propriety of the move, and now dont hardly think of such a thing, but still, If I get sick again I shall not wait for anything, but make a bold start for Michigan, if I have to beg my way, I should like to be with you all next Spring, but perhaps it is best otherwise, You spoke about the Parker place in your last letter, and I have though the matter all over, I would be glad to have it or a part of it on account of the room, and you must do as you think best, but I feel ancious to get the old place paid for, before the war closes, for it will be almost imposable to pay a debt afterwards, for money will be hard to get in a short time, and the price of every thing will be low, especially labor, and our liveing, and our all depends upon my health and, ability to labor or do something els to make our bread, and secure a home; I feel that we are geting Old, and what we do must be done quickly, e’ar the stream of life dries up, or runs so feably on that we can hardly keep the margin of our existance green and verdent. God will help us let us put our trust in him, whare he leads let us go, and leave the consiquences to him, it will all be well, I know it. We will never forsake. I have no more news of James, it seams as though I could not controle my patience & wait, when I get to thinking about him, for the time must seam so long and tiresem to him, and then at the best, his condition is almost unendureable, aside from the privations, that he has to endure, thare is the insults, and taunts of the rebel crew. If he is not ruined in person, and spirit, I will be thankfull, I think that he will certinly be exchanged soon. Direct your letters to Company “H” 12th Mich. Vet. Infantry. (I want sem shirts)
Yours Affectionately, James I. Follett
Transcribed by Jeff Rybicki, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, April 2011.