Thursday, June 02, 2005

Never say "only": Lt. G. W. Alexander


Confederate Army Lt. George W. Alexander is buried on the Branner lot in the Chariton Cemetery. His wife is buried here, too, in an unmarked grave.

Three rules if you're going to dabble in local history: Never say "first," never say "last" and never say "only." Sure as you do, you'll be proved wrong. Doesn't hurt to never say "never" either.

I pronounced last week that Elijah H. Morgan's Salem Cemetery tombstone was the only official Confederate States of America marker in Lucas County. Not.

Out for a stroll in the Chariton Cemetery soon after dawn Memorial Day --- a golden morning when it seemed as if all could be right with the world and the door between past and present was slightly ajar --- I rounded a corner on the main north-south drive and there a good trot beyond, just on the right, stood Lt. George William Alexander of Co. C, 31st Tennessee Infantry (reorganized as the 39th Tennessee Mounted Infantry after Vicksburg).

I recognized him immediately by the pointed top on his tombstone (Union stones have rounded tops), the Southern Cross of Honor carved into its peak and the initials "C.S.A" below his rank, name and unit.

This wasn't midnight, it wasn't Montgomery and old Hank's songs weren't in the air. But the smell of whiskey surely could have been at that hour of the morning: Lawyer, Confederate veteran, Southern gentleman with a Tennessee drawl, seven times mayor of Chariton, Alexander also was one of Lucas County's most notable drunks.

Not that it seemed to bother him much, nor did it apparently bother the good people of Chariton who just kept re-electing him. But it sure did bother newspaper editors of that era who spent a good deal of time and ink squawking and flapping their wings about it.

The editor of The Chariton Herald reported briefly on 29 August 1889: "The case of Iowa vs. G.W. Alexander, Mayor, charged with intoxication, was tried before Esquire Gardner, on the 19th Inst. The defendant was found guilty and it was adjudged that he pay a fine of ten dollars and costs. It is by no means a pleasing task to note such events and we are sorry that any such should ever occur, yet as a public journalist we regard it as a duty we owe to the public."

A report in The Herald of 8 February 1906 headed "Mayor gone to Knoxville: Mayor Alexander sent to inebriate asylum at Knoxville for a year's treatment" was substantially longer:

"It is something that we are sorry to record, yet the fact remains, that Mayor George W. Alexander, of Chariton, was taken to the state inebriate asylum at Knoxville last Saturday, in charge of Sheriff Bown, sentenced to a year's stay for treatment as an inebriate. Words fail us when we try to express the humiliation that Chariton has been brought to by this event ...."

The article goes on to state the Alexander, "after several years abstinence from liquor, which was in his earlier years a strong habit" had again taken up "liquor drinking" the previous fall, at about the time of his wife's death.

Alexander, according to ther eport, "did not seem to take the affair very seriously, and said he had friends whose influence would get him back here in a few days."

"Perhaps the Herald editor is over-sensitive," he wrote, "but the situation to us seems disgraceful and humiliating. That our mayor is an inebriate who has to be sent to a state institution for treatment, and that he has gone to this extremity without resigning his office or offering to resign, almost passes belief."

"So only the good Lord himself knows what is going to happen," the editor concluded.

Somehow, both Alexander and Chariton survived and by December of 1908, as Alexander's healh declined, the Herald editor had mellowed. Incorporated into a report of Alexander's hospitaliztion was a paragraph that gives some indication of the sort of person he was and why Lucas Countyans admired and respected him:

"Hundreds of people will turn their thoughts to him (Alexander) with kindly consideration for his interest and generosity during the many years he has been legal advisor, to the poor especially," the editor wrote. "He is a pension attorney and many veterans, soldiers' widows and their dependent children have been cared for through his zealous attention to the case in question. The many friends in this city and surrounding country will remember him in his affliction, hoping that his physical condition may respond to the combination of medical aid and splendid surroundings.

Alexander did recover, returned to his law practice, lived eight more years, then succumbed during February of 1916 to injuries sustained in a fall down his office stairs. Was he drunk? I don't know.

But his obituary, published in The Herald-Patriot of 17 February 1916, tells the compelling story of a brave and honorable Lucas Countyan:

George W. Alexander Succumbs
"Captain George W. Alexander, who fell down the stairway leading to his office on Wednesday afternoon of last week, succumbed to the injuries received at that time on Sunday morning, February 13th, 1916, at 4 o'clock, never having full regained consciousness. Funeral services, under the auspices of the Masonic order, were held from the Melville undertaking parlors on Monday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock, after which the remains were laid to rest in the Chariton cemetery.

"Mr. Alexander was a Confederate soldier, but the old Union soldiers of Chariton manifested their esteem for him by wrapping him in an American flag, an act worthy of special mention of commendation.

"George W. Alexander was born in Dandridge, Jefferson county, Tennessee, on March 7th, 1845, where he remained until 1861, when he enlisted in the Confederate service as lieutenant in Company C, 31st Tennessee Infantry, and served until the close of the war, participating in over sixty battles, including those at Richmond, Perryville, Stone River, Vicksburg, the battle of the Wilderness, and all the engagements between Gens. Sheridan and Early, until September 24, 1864, when he was captured and imprisoned until the close of the war. His brigade was mounted after the capture of Vicksburg. During the service he was promoted from lieutenant to captain.

"During the war he received four wounds, and at Martinsburg, Virginia, a horse was shot under him.

"After the close of the war, he came to Iowa in July, 1865, locating in Dubuque where he remained eight years. While in that city, he studied law with W. T. Barker, and was admitted to the bar in 1871. In 1872, he came to Lucas county and has since practiced law at this place.

"On December 30th, 1872, he was married in Delaware county, Iowa, to Mrs. Clara H. Dodson, nee Hendricks, who passed away about ten years ago. Mr. Alexander was a member of St. Andrew's Episcopal church at this place, having been confirmed in one of the first classes. He was also a member of the Masonic and I.O.O.F. orders. Seven times he served the city of Chariton as mayor, and was a most capable official. He also served as justice of the peace for some time.

"George Alexander was generous and kind hearted and was liked by all who knew him. He was well posted and had a splendid memory and was faithful in all duties and obligations. During his long residence here he had won a host of friends and his untimely death will be deplored by all.

"He had no near surviving relatives. A step-daughter-in-law, Mrs. Mary Murphy, of Davenport, was in attendance." (Note: Although the obituary identifies Alexander as a captain, his tombstone gives the rank as 2nd lieutenant.)

The source for a good deal of the obituary information about Alexander was a biographical sketch published on Page 55 of "A Memorial and Biographical Record of Iowa" (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1896). This was a "vanity" publication --- its subjects paid for the privilege of being memorialized and wrote or shaped their own biographies. That gives us insight into Alexander's view of himself.

He was, according to the biography, "a representative of a well-known and highly respected family of east Tennessee, members of which were found in the ministerial, legal and other professional ranks there before the war."

The account of his role in the Civil War is substantially more detailed than was included in his obituary:

"While yet a boy in his teens," according to the biography, "he allied himself with the cause of the Confederacy. With him, as with many others in the South, it was a matter of principle. His interests were South, his friends were there, and the cause he was taught to believe was a just one. Whether right or wrong in this, he is entitled to more respect from his late opponents than the stay-at-home secessionsts of the North.

"Mr. Alexander enlisted as Lieutenant in Company C, Thirty-first Tennessee Infantry, in which he served throughout the entire war. The regiment was at various points throughout the South and participated in many of the great battles of the war. The first engagement in which our subject participated was at Walling's Ridge in east Tennessee. He was at the siege of Cumberland Gap, the battle at Perryville, Kentucky, was sent to Vicksburg to intercept General Sherman, was in the battle of Champion Hills and finally was among the surrendered at Vicksburg.

"He was paroled on the field by order of General Grant," the biography continues, "and the parole given on this occasion is still owned and treasured by Mr. Alexander. It bears the date of July 10, 1863, and was executed by Captain J.O. Pullen, of the Twentieth Illinois. Since the war, Mr. Alexander has had the pleasure of meeting Captain Pullen at Chariton. The final oath of allegiance was taken at Fort Delaware, June 17, 1865, and is also in Mr. Alexander's possession.

"After being exchanged September 14, 1863, he returned to duty with his command at Athens, Tennessee, and participated in the battles between Longstreet and Burnside. In all, Mr. Alexander was engaged in over sixty battles; received four wounds, all in different engagements; and at Martinsburg, Virginia, a horse was shot under him. He was an active, energetic and continuous (participant in the) struggle for the supremacy of the Confederacy from the beginning of the conflict until the final capitulation at Appomatix, and his entire service was characterized by bravery and fidelilty."

After the war, according to his biography, Alexander returned to Tennessee, but "owing to the intensely bitter feeling prevalent in the vicinity of his home in Tennessee, which invaded families as well as communities, Mr. Alexander left the South and came to Iowa, arriving here in July, 1865."

After admission to the bar during1871 and his 30 December 1872 marriage in Delaware County to Clara (Hendricks) Dodson, he came "immediately" to Chariton, "where he has been successfully engaged in the practice of his profession; and in addition to his general practice of law he also gives much attention to pension work, having secured pensions and increases for hundreds of his late opponents."

Mrs. Alexander, Clara, was born according to her obituary during October of 1840 in Vermont (Alexander's biography says New York), moved with her family to Wisconsin when 14 and married Edward Dodson at Mineral Point, then removed to Dubuque County, where they were living when the Civil War broke out.

"Four of her brothers and her first husband (Dodson) were soldiers in the Union army," according to  Alexander's biography, "the latter dying from disease contracted while in the service."

Clara (Hendricks) Dodson/Alexander died not long before her 65th birthday, during late September, 1905, in Chariton, and was buried in the Chariton Cemetery, although her grave there is not marked. Her only survivor beyond her husband was a granddaughter, Ethel Dodson, who "was at her bedside at her death."

According to Capt. Alexander's biography, Clara had one child by her first marriage, Charles M. Dodson, described in the 1896 biography as "a well-known citizen of Oskaloosa, where he died." Her obituary states that Charles died "about 14 years ago," ca. 1891.

Although Alexander's obituary states that he had no "near surviving relatives," that probably was not accurate. His biography has the following to say about siblings:

"We further record that Mr. Alexander had two brothers in the Confederate army. One, Captain J. M. Alexander, was commander of Company F, Forty-third Tennessee, and also served with the same rank in the Sixty-first Tennessee, and the other, James K.P., was a member of our subject's (George W. Alexander's) company. The latter was severely wounded in his first battle and was discharged; is now a resident of Cartersville, Georgia. Captain J.M. Alexander was postmaster of Dawson, Georgia, under President Harrison's administration; and of the other members of the Alexander family, be it stated that two sisters of our subject reside near the old home in east Tennessee, and one sister recently died in Portland, Oregon."

On that beautiful Memorial Day morning earlier this week, as the rising sun cut through the deep shade over his grave, Alexander's C.S.A. tombstone was flanked by two flags: On the left, a U.S. flag in a Grand Army of the Republic holder, reflecting still the affection Lucas County's Union veterans had for him; and on the right, the memorial flag of the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department, of which he was a member.

1 comment:

Laura S. Morici said...

My Grandfather was Jeremiah Miller. My name is Laura (Miller) Morici and my father is Ernest L. Miller from Chicago, originally from Williamson Iowa. My grandfather Jeremiah was a man of few words but, I always remember him telling me "Never say Never". I have carried on that family saying and tell my kids the same.