This effort to list and then track down Lucas County’s Civil War dead takes interesting twists some days. And also serves as a good reminder of how soon we forget (150 years isn’t that long after all).
Take Nelson Davenport, for example. Although among the 150 or so young men from Lucas County who died during Civil War service, there seems to be no explanation of why he was here in the first place. He was not listed in the 1860 census of the county and I’ve been unable to determine if any of the Nelson Davenports enumerated elsewhere might have been him. He did not own land here, nor did he marry here. He does not seem to have been related to anyone who lived here after the war.
Basically all official Civil War records tell us is that he was born in Ohio and was 24 and a Lucas County resident when he enlisted for service in Co. G, 34th Volunteer Iowa Infantry on Aug. 12, 1862. He was part of the regiment’s original muster at Burlington on Oct. 15, 1862.
The regiment, which moved through St. Louis to Helena, Arkansas, during late November and early December of 1862, had participated in a couple of engagements and escorted prisoners of war to Chicago before returning to St. Louis in early February 1863. Nelson became ill then with smallpox and died on the 20th of February.
Soldiers who died at St. Louis during the war were buried quickly in various locations and after the war, those scattered remains were disinterred and reburied in the newly-designated Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Most bodies by that time, however, were unidentifiable --- and that seems to have been the case with Nelson. He has no locatable grave.
That might have been all there was to know about Nelson if it weren’t for a rare survival --- a letter he wrote to his wife, Rebecca, then living in Oskaloosa, shortly after the 34th arrived in St. Louis en route to Helena during late November 1862.
That letter, nearly 150 years later, ended up for sale on eBay and was located there by Jim Miller of Murfreesboro, Tenn., who did not buy it --- but did download the images that accompanied the sale offering. He then posted a transcript and the images on his excellent “Civil War Notebook” blog, which is where I found them with a quick “Google” search. I’m reposting them here with his permission.
Jim, by the way, is a native of Murray just over west of here in Clarke County and lived in Osceola before moving to Murfreesboro some years ago.
The letter, in addition to providing the name of Nelson’s wife, offers a little insight into the very early history of the 34th Iowa. Here’s the transcript (images are at the end of this post).
Saint Louis Nov. the 25, 1862
Dear wife I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at present and hope that these few lines will find you and the children all well. We landed here yesterday morning after a long and tiresome ride on an old steamboat. We left Burlington on Saturday morning and come to Montrose and stayed there and expected to stay there until morning but all of the regiment but three companies was on another boat and they got to Keokuk about the same time that we got to Montrose and the boat was ready to start for this place and the colonel sent the cars for us about twelve o’clock at night and we had to get up and get on the cars and go to Keokuk. I must tell you now that our captain fell into the river at Montrose but he had good luck to get out again there was three or four boys fell into the river but there was none drownded, one man lost his gun. The thirty third reg. is here in St. Louis but I have not had a chance to see any of the boys that came from thare, but if we stay here long I will go and see them if I can. The thirty six will be here in a few days. There was a man come down on the boat with us that belonged to the company that the boys is in that come from Montrose and he says that Henry Andrews is dead he had the measles and went home and he took cold and died. No more at present but write as soon as you get this and let me know how you are getting along direct your letters to
St. Louis 34th Iowa regiment company G.
The online index to pension records held by the National Archives shows that Rebecca Davenport filed for a widow’s pension during 1865 and that a dependent’s pension in the name of Samuel Shepherd had been granted a year earlier. Following up by ordering those files from the National Archives would no doubt tell us more about Nelson as well as clarifying the relationship between Samuel, Rebecca and Nelson.
I’m not going to do that because I really want to get this roster of Civil War dead done this winter and detailed research is beyond the scope of the project. But at least we know that a fairly amazing document somehow managed to survive to tell us a little more about Pvt. Davenport --- as well as providing a research route for anyone who wants to learn more.