Charles Ely was born in Ohio in 1844. He came to Winona in 1853 with his family. He worked as a clerk, and when the war started he enlisted in Company K in April, 1861. He was severely wounded at Gettysburg, but returned to the regiment in 1864. He was promoted to Corporal and was discharged with his regiment in the Spring of 1864. After the war he worked in Winona but spent most of his life in the Dakota's. A few excerpts from Ely's wartime letters appear in the Winona Daily Republican's section of the Manuscript page. Copies of two of his letters are in the Winona County Historical Society Archives. One is a letter to his mother late in 1863, and the other letter which appears here was written long after the war reminiscing on his early life in Winona.
Army of the Potomac December 28th (1863)
Home again, after a deal of trouble and sickness I am now with my most worthy comrads. The regt are looking bully, no sickness as usual. We have good winter quarters and plenty of rations, Sargent Perkins and myself voulunteered to report to our regt and we received special transportation direct. Many of our Genl officers think it strange that our regt does not reinlist. They do not see the point, as yet not one have reinlisted. The regt have bought a $200 flag. It is one we are not ashamed of. The state flag presented to us by Ramsy had faded. I dont see how Minnesota had the brass to palm off that flag on us. I suppose Ramsy thought we never would find out that he sold our old one at 10 cts a sight. At all events he will not get our new one for that purpose. Neither will he get it for his new first Minn of conscripts. Lieut Colonel Adams is in command of the regt. There is some talk of our going to New York to enforce the draft. A great many men who have been back in the hospitals ever sice the war began are now coming back to the regt. Also many detailed men. We number about 250 about a hundred of which have always been with the regt. There is not much chance of our making another advance before our time is out. Our army is too weak at present. How is it about the mony I wrote you concerning it in Philadelphia the day before I left. I saw Dr. Morton before I left, he sanctioned my coming also Dr. Paist he sent his regards.
Chas. E. Ely
P.S. Near Brandy Station
DeSmet So. Dak. Mar 29th. 12
To: Orrin F. Smith, Winona, Minn
When you ask me about the teachers and schools of those early days, you bring me back to life again with a flood of pleasant memories.
Only sixty years ago Winona and the surrounding country was a vast game preserve, owned by the Indians.
They lived dirty and happy, the weird music of the Tom-Tom could be heard upon most any pleasant evening.
Nature had run riot for ages and spread the good things with scenery thrown in; help your self, and go to it.
The day of the white man had come, and among others a bare footed boy, parted the grass and waded through it on the levee that was to be Winona.
The river bank was lined with luxuriant verdure and to the mind of the youth, the march of civilization had reached a beauty spot that put to shame the Garden of Eden itself.
Youth: what is the Glamour of it? The man who wrote of heaven did not know what he was telling about. He was not a youth, nor was he at Winona in 1852.
In 1854 on Front street about 300 feet east of the Railway bridge; was a school of sunburned, barefooted, one suspendered doughnut eaters; presided over by a lady whose name is to memory lost, She wore glasses gracefully, and "made good". She landed on the craniums of the youth with the map of everyplace, and the multplication table set to music.
Her sweet voice and pleasant smile tastes good after these long years.
In 1854 Winona grew like a mushroom, and Miss Almeda Twitchell came to bat; she fought the main springs of deviltry in the youth of that day.
She had a hard job, the town had grown; and fifty or at times more fighters and their sisters, had to be shown the road to civilization. Almeda did not have any time to spare, to crimp her locks, or play with the powder puff.
Her Temple of learning, was on Front street south of the site of Porter Milling Co.
That was during the days that front street or the spot between the two flouring mills was the center of gravity.
It was there you that found the Post Office the Land Office, and near by, not 300 feet away the Swell Café conducted by one of the best women on earthyour mother.
The Banks and the Booze vendors were not far away, they were after the tenderfoots money; now they all sleep peacefully side by side in the Cemetery quite forgotten.
But with the teachers it was different, Where they handed you what they knew either by a smile or a slate frame it stayed.
Henry Bolcom had several terms on second street, most any old place was good enough; but you had to make good because Bolcom was good with a ferule.He did business in his court.
At an old ramshackle building near Fifth street and between Lafayette and Walnut, the first attempt was made to establish a graded school. Primary and intermediate below, and the more advanced scholars above.
Deacon Thomas was the first principal; he opened school every morning with prayer. He had a very bad habit, he would open his eyes during the devotion; some of the bad ones thought it irreverent, it put a handicap on any diversion that might be going on, as often at the conclusion of the service some derelect was due for a trimming; which was administered in public.
The boyswell they were not angels, made his tutorship very strenuous.
V.J. Walker, who followed Thomas, was a scholar and a very conscientious man; one whom the boys of the present day would call easy. He eased off somewhat on the prayer, but got hold of the better instincts of the youth and made good progress considering the large attendance and lack of proper facilites.
Goodie Hubbell, Herbert Hubbell, Rodie Randall, Mrs. Bogart with Euphremia Law, and Lottie Newman were all star students at that time, scholarship and deportment of a high order. They should be able to help you in building pictures of the past better than I can do.
However I am glad you asked me, for it is a real pleasure to run wild over those bluffs and hills again as they were before civilization despoiled them.
Truly Yours, Charles E. Ely