Joel W. Gardner was born 1833 in Russia, Herkimer County, New York, the son of Gilbert and Orvilla (d. 1870).
Gilbert was living in Russia, Herkimer County, New York in 1830. Joel left New York and moved westward, eventually settling in Ottawa County, Michigan. By 1860 he was working as a “chopper” or lumberman and living at the Ewing boarding house in Blendon, Ottawa County. (James Hanna, who would enlist in Company K, was also a chopper living at Ewing’s).
Joel stood 5’6” with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion, and was 28 years old and possibly living in Grand Rapids or in Georgetown, Ottawa County when he enlisted in Company B on May 13, 1861. Joel was with the regiment at Camp Michigan in Virginia when he wrote home to his parents on March 5, 1862.
It has been some time since I have wrote to you; although I have wrote a number of letters to Sally, the last I have not received any answer from. It is not because I have forsaken you that I have not wrote before. I have a good deal of writing to do more than I can find time to do. I am well and hope this will find you enjoying the same blessing. We are very busy just now making preparations to march. We expect to take up the line of march tomorrow morning if the order is not countermanded on account of the weather which is very bad for camping out. It rains most every day and is cold. The roads are almost impassable for foot men. . . . We shall be obliged to camp in the open fields with but one blanket to cover us from the inclement weather. We shall not return to camp till the war is settled. We have got a hard place to march through but we have got a strong army and a resolute set of men & with God’s help we will put them [rebels] down. But be assured of one thing. This campaign settles the war in Virginia. It may cost us some hard fighting and many valuable lives but that is the common casualty of war. I hope the time is [not] distant when the war will be brought to a close and I can have the privilege to once more visit my home and the scenes of my early days. I am in tiptop spirits and my health is better than it has been in a long time.
I have sent you forty dollars [by express mail]. I shall be anxious till I hear from it you will please let me know the earliest opportunity that the next pay day I shall draw fifty-two dollars. I have sent Harriet $20.00 twenty dollars if anything should happen that I should not return you may write to him and he will send it to you. I have a deal owing owing to [me] in Michigan but it can’t be collected at present if I get it at all.
There is not much more I think of to write so I will close by saying good by for this time.
From your affectionate son, Joel W. Gardner.
And on April 4, Joel wrote home shortly after the regiment left its winter quarters and began the spring campaign down the Virginia “Peninsula.” The regiment was in camp near Hampton, Virginia when he wrote his father
It is with pleasure I sit down to answer your letter of the 17th. It came to hand the second of this month. I was glad to hear from you that you were all well and also that you received the package safe. I had some apprehensions about it. There has been a good deal of money lost by sending it by express and I did not get it insured but it is just as well as it has turned out.
We left Camp Michigan the fourteenth of March and [arrived] at Fortress Monroe. . . . There must be quite a contrast between the weather there and here. When we arrived here the Peach[es] and other fruit trees were in blossom. There is a . . . scarcity [?] of fruit in this part of the country.
[T]he coast winds and storms are extremely cold and disagreeable. Our tents are field tents which are pieces of linen cloth about six feet square made with buttons and button-holes so we can fasten them together. We roll them up and carry them on our knapsacks. We are getting a large army at this place, a hundred thousand strong. The call has been given for brigade drill and I must finish this tonight.
[With the drums and bugles that I can scarcely think of much more to write. We are preparing to march early tomorrow morning. . . My health is not quite as good as I could wish it just at this time. I have been having the chills, have taken a bad cold but am some better now. You must [not] worry about me, I shall get along well enough I guess.
There is a great deal I should like to write but I can’t, . . I have not time nor room. Sally must excuse me for not writing to her this time. I will try and write to her next time. I have also received a letter from William and Lucy but be obliged to neglect answering it this time. I am sorry but I can’t help it. Tell them to write again and I may have a better [chance] to answer it.
I wish you to write to me as soon as you get this and have Sally write too. Tis getting late and I must close.
Please excuse the pencil writing for I could not get ink to write with.
Tell Gouvenour [?] Conklin I have [written] to him and have not received an answer. Guess he has forgotten me.
You will please excuse all mistakes. This from your affectionate son, Joel W. Gardner.
And on April 25 from the regiment’s camp near Yorktown, Virginia, Joel wrote to his father,
You will find enclosed within twenty dollars. We have received two months pay today. I have saved out six dollars to use in case I should need it.
I am not very well today. You must excuse me for not writing more this time. We are at work night and day building fortifications. We are getting along very rapidly with out work. It will be some days yet before we have much of a battle.
I have not time to write more at present. Write as soon as you get this. Good by for this time. This from your son Joel W. Gardner.
Direct as usual to Washington. I wrote to Sally but have not received an answer. Please write soon as you get this and oblige, Joel.
He was reported absent sick from July of 1862 through April of 1863. He eventually recovered, returned to duty and on December 23, 1863; he was a Sergeant when he reenlisted at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Grand Rapids. He was presumably absent on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864 and returned to the Regiment on or about the first of February.
Joel was transferred as a Sergeant to Company E, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864.
He was shot in the head on June 22 while on picket duty near Petersburg, Virginia. He died either in the field on July 1 or in a field hospital on September 18, 1864, and was originally buried just south of Petersburg on the Westbrook farm or in the back of the Wood house, in the Fair Grounds hospital cemetery, near Petersburg, Virginia. In any event, he was reinterred in Poplar Grove National Cemetery: grave no. 1511 (original division D, section D, no. 173).
His father applied for and received a pension (no. 167975). By 1874 his father was living in Potsdam, St. Lawrence County and in 1882 in Richville, St. Lawrence County, New York.