What a joy to share this letter from David Patrick to his mother Laura.  I was on the Rally Bus heading home from the Women’s March in Washington DC and could not sleep. To pass the miles, I started searching for Civil War soldier letters and the 40th Iowa.  I never expected to find this genealogy gem. It was waiting for me in a manuscript archive in Arkansas.

Just got to poke around…

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Citation: David Patrick Civil War Letter to his mother, 29 October 1863, MSS.13-.14, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas Studies Institute, Little Rock, AR.


I’ve been working for years on the story of David Patrick.  There are three known Civil War soldiers in my family.  David was our casualty.  His life is tragic to me. 

I am taking classes and workshops this year with the Family History Writing Studio.  Right now I’m enrolled in How to Write a Family History Scene.  I plan to blog my progress and assignments.

What follows is a first draft I worked on during the February Family History Writing Challenge


David’s belly had been empty for the last two days. It was cold coffee breakfast and a cold coffee supper as the soldiers marched out of Camden, Arkansas.  

The 40th Iowa and General Steele’s Brigade had been scurrying back to Little Rock for the past 10 days. The big plan had been to capture Texas, but hadn’t made it out of Arkansas. They had run out of supplies. The troops had been instructed to forage the countryside, but the countryside had already been thoroughly foraged. The supply trains had been captured. The Army skedaddled out of Camden at midnight and had been running for Little Rock ever since. 

With the Confederates in hot pursuit, the Union troops slogged their way through the mud, their wagons sinking up to their axels.  The weary soldiers dropped knapsacks, blankets, clothing, “property and plunder” along the military road.  When they finally made it to the Saline River the banks were overflowing and water rushing so fast the men could not ford across.  The troops deployed a pontoon bridge and commenced moving the supplies, artillary and soldiers across the water. 

To protect the retreating army, David’s company was holding the line in  a swale right smack in the middle of new corn just germinating. David knew all about corn fields, he never thought he would be running across a mucky field of baby corn during spring rains. It made no sense to him as a farmer, he was a soldier now. Yet, in his farmers heart he knew that any sensible person stayed out of a wet field so the soil didn’t get all mucked up. 

David had wanted to be a farmer and here he was laying in another farmers field. He knew all the toil, hopes and effort the farmer had put into plowing the cornfield. He knew the farmer would have to replant if he would have any crops that year. A farm boy can’t help but turn toward farm matters. Farmer knows.

There’s no reason for anyone to be in a muddy field. But now, in this field, there are 10,000 soldiers converging on the farmers fields right before Jenkins Ferry. 

This was where they would make their stand. The soldiers were ordered into defensive formation.  David crouched down in the standing water rising in the plowed furrow.  They were holding their line when they heard the call to fire. They had drilled in Iowa City and all winter in Columbus, Kentucky and in Little Rock for this day.  David started firing. They all started firing at each other. There was nothing to see but fog and gunsmoke mixed that hung in the air. The rain kept the air from rising.  The only sight lines were from stooping below to aim and fire.

The “firing, now incessant, was terrific and the struggle desperate beyond description…the severest fighting I ever witnessed.” 

With the rain beating down, soaking wet and hungry. David felt a sharp pain and fell. 

The battle continued on around him as he lay in the mud. The bullets cracked around him but he didn’t move or run anymore. 

The rain beat down as he heard the bugler call retreat. As he lost consciousness, the rest of the troops made a successful crossing over the river and were on the way to Little Rock, food and safety. 

The Union dead and wounded were left behind on the battlefield. They left a bloody mess of men in the cornfield.  The cries and moans of hurt and dying soldiers mixed with the hard rain soaking what was left of their clothes. Some were dead and blown apart. Many more wounded and laying in pain and terror. The rain didn’t stop and they were cold, wounded and hungry. 

Pain was everywhere the soldiers had fallen.

Finding the wounded men and getting them out of the rain fell to the surgeons who stayed behind. The men who were wounded and left behind enemy lines were prisoners of war. The were no hospitals to care for the wounded men. Hospitals had to be set up in the homes of the people where the battles had taken place. The supplies to care for the wounded were limited and had to be rationed. 

It kept raining. Collecting and protecting the wounded men took all day and night after the battle was over. The locals took care of their own boys first. David was just another wounded farm boy far away from home.  Finally, he was brought in from the rain and transported with the other wounded men to a local farmhouse. David was wounded but still alive. 

The horrors of the Rebel prison and lack of sanitary hospitals were well known to the soldiers. David was just a private, he didn’t rank for a prisoner exchange. David was transported to Tulip, Arkansas from Jenkins Ferry. It was a journey of about 20 miles, to a make shift hospital. But it was a temporary measure. The primary Enemy Hospital was set up in Camden. 
The 40th Iowa had just left Camden as occupiers and now David was returning as a wounded enemy soldier. 

There were few supplies and food in Camden  The area had been scavenged and foraged by the raiding Union armies. Everyone was hungry. The wounded might be fed, but their wasn’t enough nutrition to go around to keep healthy people healthy, much less to keep the wound ill soldiers enough nourishment for healing. 

David was far from home and hurt badly. He was wounded in April and nursed in the Enemy Hospital in Camden all through the summer and the harvest season. 

How long does it take to die from gangrene of wounds? At some point his wounds didn’t heal but became infected.  

Medicine was in short supply behind confederate lines. Pain relief was not readily available. 

At what point do you know your wounds are not going to heal, but are just getting worse?

As the harvest season came to a close, David knew he was not going to heal. In that Enemy Hospital 500 mile from his home and family, David faced that he was not going to hold his wife again. 

David would not own a farm, build a barn or teach his son to plow a furrowed field. 

He died alone, in pain and left behind.

He never saw his son. 

Photos from Civil War Daily Gazette

Poet Katherine Allen, the grandmother of my great grandmother

My name is Cindy, my mom’s name is Sandy, her mother is Fran, her mama is Girtha, her ma is Fannie, who is the daughter of Katherine Allen. I don’t know the name of Katherine’s mother. 

Katherine left us a poem. She tells the story of her life and shares important milestones. Her worry about her soldier son is palpable. She is still irritated at his captain not allowing him leave to come home. I feel her deep affection and longing for her childhood home in Kentucky and her thirst for water from the old spring. 

“How well I remember our old cool spring to which no bottom was ever found;
To me than the gurgling of its crystal waters there is no sweeter sound…
I’ve flung myself to taste it; and never has anything slacked my thirst
Like the water that burst fresh from this old spring.”

The poem was framed and on the guest bedroom wall at my great-grandmothers home. I would read it and imagine myself to be that girl flinging myself to taste the cool spring water.  Reading her words filled me with awe and respect. Katherine gave me pride in being descended from a poetic and passionate woman. 

I felt sad that Katherine was so lonely and missing her children. Her empty table cries for reunion with her far flung family. Her daughter Fannie left home when she married and made her way all the way to Portland, Oregon. There is no evidence that Fannie ever returned to Missouri or saw her mother again. 

My name is Katherine Kiper; In Ky. I was born and bred,
And in 1841 by James Kiper I was won and wed. 
To us nine sweet children were given breath, 
But of those, one was taken, by the Angel of Death.

In 1863 they beat the drum, they played the fife
And then my oldest son volunteered his life.
With knapsack and gun to the war he went 
And there one and a half dreary years he spent;

On Mulders-hill which is in Kentucky state,
This brave soldier boy awaited his fate. 
His father and I went to see our hero son, 
Who was, of all others, to us, the dearest one.

When we met, the joy and happiness I can’t express, 
For it was great, as all mothers would confess 
The next morning we walked out into the fresh air 
The sky was clear and all was calm and fair;

The soldiers took us in, the cannon for to see,
But in this horrid place was no happiness for me
For I knew my boy would face the cannon-ball
And perhaps before the cruel enemy would fall.

He wanted to go home but his captain would not comply; 
And this pleasure he was compelled to deny. 
We talked to him and told him his officers to obey 
For none were interested in him more than they

We told him all snares and temptations to shun;
To be honest, upright, and by no evil be won.
We bade him good-bye the deep pangs of sorrow, No one but mother can know;
To separate from loved ones, God knows, is to her a cruel blow.

Our hopes and our prayers were that he be protected from harm.
And when the cruel war was ended, return safe to our arms. 
God was good to us and my boy’s life was spared.
How thankful we were that our joys might be shared.

When I was young my mind was free from care and pain; 
Not one sad thought had I, my life to stain. 
In 1869 we left our “Our Old Kentucky.” home and to Missouri came 

All my children have married and gone
And left me alone with my afflicted son;
He went to the Dr. and left us sad and lone, 
And then it was, I thought of “Old Kentucky Home.” 

How well I remember our old cool spring to which no bottom was ever found; 
To me than the gurgling of its crystal waters there is no sweeter sound.
Under the tall trees that let no sunlight through,
With a trickling drip o’er the rocks cool lip, the waters came down like the dew;

And not even the fabled nectar, the classic poets sing,
Did I dream could be as sweet to me as the waters of this old spring.
Down ‘mongst the grasses glad of the shady place,
From the hay at morn to the noon hot corn, full on my eager face

I’ve flung myself to taste it; and never has anything
Slacked my thirst like the water that burst fresh from this old spring.
I have often thought of my father, mother, brothers’ sisters’ face
How we have enjoyed those winter evenings about the old fire place 

They are all laid in their silent graves hope have gone to a better land;
By the grace of God I hope to meet them Over on the Pearly strand.
I am 72 years old my husband is seventy-eight;
Together hand in hand, we are nearing the Golden Gate. 

When I sit down to my lonely meals I often recall
The old family table, around which I have gathered my children all,
Then when I think of the long distance between us
It is almost more than a mother can bear.
But if I never meet them on earth I hope to in Heaven.
There’ll be no parting there.

When death comes to claim me as its own
Don’t bury me here on this lonely hill by rude winds blown,
But in the silent graveyard, there lay me down
To await my Savior’s coming to bear me safely home.

The poem also works as a song. According to the 1880 census,  neither Katherine, nor her husband James, could write. James could not read.  But she created a poem anyway. I sing it sometimes and image Katherine sharing her heart song to a scattered family.  Singing makes beauty from sorrow.  

I haven’t been able to verify the name of Katherine’s mother. I’ve been looking to gather her mama in for over 20 years. I hear her calling me through umbilical magic. I have an idea she was a Mattingly.  My DNA verifies a connection to the Mattingly family.  I’ve looked at countless census and tax records for the Mattingly family, but she still eludes me.
When I follow Katherine through the census, I see a woman who lived on rented farms. Their possessions are only worth a few hundred dollars. Katherine and James are poor folks. Their children have moved on looking for a better life. Yet from her poverty she creates art. 

I carry her spark within me, choosing poetic beauty, even in the face of ugly reality.  My voice is also her voice as I “sing my way home at the close of the day.”

Grandma Barlow and the Dalton Gang


(From news paper in Portland, OR)

“She has always know what to put on her head — Mary Jane Barlow formerly of Kansas and Oklahoma. 

When the slender, aristocratic little lady stepped off the train in Portland to be met by her daughter, Mrs. Fern Craghead, 1944 NW Johnson street, with whom she will make her home, a black hat with a curling scarlet feather topped the soft waves of her white hair. Nevertheless, a more famous bonnet belongs to Mrs. Barlow, one which became notorious on a crisp day in October, 1892, at the then tiny border town of Canney, Kansas. 

Irish Mrs. Barlow, a dark-haired colleen who’s husband was mayor of the town, was out hanging clothes up on the line. She heard shots and the wild clatter of hoofs coming from the direction of the Caney Valley Bank only a block away.  Before she could turn around, however, a bullet clipped through the top of her peaked sunbonnet. 

It wasn’t till later that she learned from frenzied townsfolk that the bank had been robbed by the Dalton gang and that it was one of their bullets which had missed her head by inches. Two of the lawless Dalton’s, Grant and Bob later were shot down at Coffeyville, fifteen miles away, when they attempted robbing two banks at once. Emmett Dalton, imprisoned and later pardoned, would too suffer from his wounds for a lifetime. 

Hardier survivors than they are Mrs. Barlow and her bonnet; the first an alert and vigorous 87 and a great-great grandmother; the second still reposing in a trunk at home.”


Gathering in my grandmother Mary, I sometimes think she is the one actually gathering in me! I want to find this newspaper article to give it a proper citation. The story is questionable and I don’t know if it a story or an actual experience.  More research is surely needed!

Yet even if the facts are incorrect, I feel that I can hear Mary’s voice coming through the newsreport. Mary is a teller of tales. She doesn’t just wear a sun bonnet, she wears a peeked sun bonnet. It’s the details a storyteller remembers to add. 

Mary’s people on her mothers side came from Ireland in the early 1800s.  After arriving, likely in Philadelphia, the family made their way west to Pittsburg and on to the Ohio river.  Her people were among the early settlers of Fleminsburg, Kentucky.

My mom, Sandi Taylor, remembered her Grandmother Barlow having the bluest eyes she ever saw.  I remember my mom’s beautiful blue eyes.  Looking out in the brilliant blue winter sky, I honor them both.


Walter Hanson Pedigree Chart

Walter Thomas Hanson is my grandfather, my father’s father.  I remember at Christmas time my dad drove us kids to Burnside Street in Portland, Oregon to visit him and Grandma Margaret.  I could tell he was a “real Norwegian” by his blonde hair and blue eyes.  The idea of being part Viking fascinated me and I was absolutely convinced real Vikings would look like my grandfather or Uncle Ronnie. 

My pedigree charts are maps, places to travel around searching for my people. I’m seeking verification of the information in the charts.  Sometimes what I have are fragments of whispered stories appearing to match a 100 year old handwritten record. Other times I’ve found primary source evidence, an actual fact.   I treasure them all.

As I share stories and gather in my people, the pedigree chart shows the lines between me and my beloved ones. The chart shows the end of my known information and the beginning of speculation.  Is Margaret Johnsdatter’s father named John?

I’ve sifted through a number of possible Hans attempting to locate my Hans Hanson.  He was one of thousands of Norwegians migrating to America. Hans Hanson is a common name around Madison, Wisconsin between 1880-1910.  His wife Carrie is listed as a widow in the 1900 census. Did she become a widow in Norway, Wisconsin or somewhere along the way? 

There are ideas that can’t stand with actual facts.  I’ve had to cross out, erase, delete information that I later confirmed just wasn’t true after all. There is speculation in the pedigree chart. The connections are there to prove or disprove. 

I do think it is so.  I may hope it is so.  I might wish it were so. 

My grandma, Fran Bailey, used to say, ” If wishes were horses, us beggars could ride.”

Gathering in Aunt Rikka

I grew up knowing that I was 1/4 German and 1/4 Norwegian.  I was told my great grandfather had immigrated from Norway. I held a vision of young Hans Hanson coming over by himself on a boat from Norway when he was just two years old. Brave baby Hans, wind in his Viking face, heading to the New World to start a new life in America.

Researching my family history is constantly offering surprises. I eventually learned that young Hans actually travelled with his mother Carrie, his father Hans and his sister Rikka. They likely started out in 1882 or 1884 from Nordre Land, Opland, Norway and made their way up the Erie Canel and over the Great Lakes to arrive in Madison, Wisconsin. 

It was an emotional moment for me when I first found my great aunt Rikka in the 1910 census records.  I found her mother Carrie Hanson listed as a widow living with her widowed daughter Rikka Schuette and her grandson Henry. I wondered if there were other Hanson siblings, but I discovered through the census that Carrie Hanson reported that she had two children and two of them were alive. Hans, Carrie, Hans and Rikka made the journey together. I held the reunited family close to me and rejoiced they were together again. 

I starting searching for Schuette’s in Wisconsin and learned there are a number of variant spellings–Shute, Chute, Shewite. But I found Rikka again in 1900 living in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband Henry William Schuette, their children Marguerite and Henry William, her widowed mother Carrie, her younger brother Hans ( my great grandfather) and a roomer, Edward James.  The men worked as day labor and had worked all year with no weeks off.

But Rikka’s young life met with tragedy.  On May 19,1904 her husband died of heart failure and the next day her daughter Marguerite died during an operation. Rikka was only 25 and now a widow herself, responsible for a five year old child and her widowed mother. In 1905, Rikka worked as a laundress and in 1910 she was ironer in a laundry and her mother Carrie worked at home as a dressmaker. They lived on East Main St in Madison in a rented house with another family and a boarder. The women had to work to get by on their own. 

Rikka likely did not remarry until after her mother Carrie died, sometime after 1910. When she did remarry, it was a man we met earlier in the 1900 census–a Norwegian immigrant named Edward James. Edward was an naturalized American citizen and had served in the Spanish American war.  In 1918, Edward registered for the draft and listed his next of kin contact as his wife Mrs. Rikka James. They lived on 826 Woodrow in Madison, Wisconsin.  This was a different part of town than Williamson Street or East Main Street. 

They did not stay long in Wisconsin. By 1920, Edward and Rikka were living in Venice, California.  Her son Henry was now Henry James and would be for the rest of his life. Edward worked as a plasterer and Rikka was able to stay at home and never had to work again. 

By 1926, the family had moved to Alhambra, in a residential area outside of Los Angeles. Their home at 1228 Buena Vista is in a single family residential neighborhood with good sized city yards. It was worth $7500 in 1930, but only $3500 in 1940–perhaps a reflection of the Depression years on home values.  Rikka and Edward lived together in their home in Alhambra until Edward was admitted to a Home for disabled soldiers in 1932. Edward died in 1938.

Rikka was a widow again. But now she had a home. She did not have to work to support herself. She lived on her own in Alhambra for 15 years with her son and grandson in a nearby neighborhood.  Rikka is buried next to Edward in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. 

I wonder if she was in contact with her brother Hans.  When he brought his family to California, did they go to Rikka?  Her nephew Carl Hanson settled in Huntington Beach, not too far away from Alhambra. Or had she built a new life in California that didn’t have room for her brother Hans and his family when they arrived poor and destitute in the late 1930’s?  She is living in a home worth $3500.  Hans is living in cars, tents and migrant labor camps with his large family. 

Rikka and Hans had traveled together as children from Norway to America. But they had taken different paths as adults to California.

A farm boy joins the Union army 

Enlisting in the 40th Iowa Infantry was the most important decision of David Patrick’s life. It changed everything for him and his family. He  was on the path to becoming a farmer. His family was just starting to grow. David didn’t have his own land yet, but he was saving up and had hopes. 

There were no battles in Iowa, but Iowa farmers and men from all walks of life signed up and joined the Union army. Iowa had a large part of the eligible population enlist, and did not have to draft soldiers to meet quotas. 

War fever was everywhere, the Kansas compromise, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and a battle on Fort Sumter. The Iowa pioneers were motivated by patriotism, a call to duty, and the example of their grandfathers and fore bearers who had served in 1812 and the Revolutionary War. David’s family had settled in Ohio as part of revolutionary war grants. Military service was their duty as a self regulating citizenry to defend their country. 

Many in David and Mary’s family had already enlisted–cousins, uncles and his youngest brother Joe.  His brother had signed up when he was just 17. Joe joined in the first flurry of recruitments and died of disease in training camp in Iowa City during the winter.  Having his brother Joe die and not even leave Iowa must have hung heavy. David may have felt a longing to make his family proud. To go and fight. To be tested and found courageous is a desire nursed by young men through the ages. 

There was no promise of return or returning whole. By the time David joined, the Union had a number of spectacular defeats at Shiloh and Bull Run. Thousands of dead and wounded had been reported in the local papers. In the decision to join, David was risking his life for his country.

David left his pregnant wife and year old daughter. He was not drafted. He chose to enlist. Perhaps it was the incentive of bounty money. A soldier received cash money payment when he mustered in. A soldier also received monthly cash pay. In an area where cash money was seldom seen, it was a big incentive. A three year enlistment for cash money to add to their savings was a strong inducement to an ambitious young man just starting out in life. 

Did the decision to enlist happen all of a sudden.  If you are in town, looking for a buyer for your crops and all the talk is about war, it could set a man to thinking if maybe he should enlist too. Was David was in town, seeing his contemporaries enlisting? The desire to join up and be part of the war of his generation must have been a strong pull. The sentiment of the times made heroes of the young fathers leaving the family behind. To be a man had changed from being a farmer to being a soldier.

The call went out and David signed up. He joined in July. The crops had been planted, the spring wheat had been harvested and the mustering in didn’t start until November. As they worked preparing for David to leave, the land would appear more precious, his wife more and more beloved and his child more in need of having her papa home. He worked all summer knowing he was leaving for three years and might not return. 

As David watched  his daughter Hittie grow that summer, he would do so knowing that when he returned she would be five and likely not even remember him or recognize her daddy. The child Mary carried would be almost three years before old when David returned. 

But the decision had been made. David would leave the life he knew behind and become a soldier.