Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Three sons lost for the Union cause

David Mercer's grave, West Union Cemetery, Crawford County, Kansas (via Find A Grave).

There are many stories of Civil War-related loss in Lucas County --- brothers, even fathers and sons among the more than 150 men from the county who served and died.

But the greatest loss was sustained by David and Catherine (Hammer) Mercer, pioneers along the Chariton River northeast of Derby in Warren Township. Three of their five sons enlisted and died.

Not long after the war was over, the Mercers moved west to Crawford County, Kansas, where he  died during 1878 at the age of 68. Old friends in Lucas County saw to it that his obituary was published in The Chariton Leader of Sept. 21, however --- and the obituary tells something of the story.

"David Mercer, a former resident of Lucas county, died of a fever near Cherokee, Kansas, Sept. 6th, 1878.

"Mr. Mercer was a member of the M.E. Church, a man of deep piety, a warm and genial friend, and a zealous worker in the church. He was among the early settlers of Warren Township, the family tenting in their wagons while preparing to build. On the day of the house raising, he announced to those present there would be preaching at his house in four weeks. Such a meeting none but those who have been deprived of church privileges can realize. All strangers, but friends. A small class was formed, and his house was a regular place of preaching for several years. Theweary minister and traveler always found a hospitable home and word of cheer with them.

"During the rebellion Mr. Mercer was loyal to his government. Being disabled himself, he sent out three sons, all of whom died in the service. Broken in health and spirits, he moved to Kansas in 1869, leaving many warm friends.

"Although quite aged and infirm, he bore his last illness with Christian patience, retaining his reason to the last, perfectly willing to depart and be with Christ, truly a well ripened sheaf for the harvest. Mother Mercer and the remaining children have our heartfelt sympathy in their sad bereavement (Leader, 21 Sep. 1878)."

David was a Tennessee native, born Aug. 15, 1810, who moved as a youth to Indiana where on Dec. 19, 1833, in Putnam County, he married Catherine Hammer. They brought their family west to Mahaska County, Iowa, during 1849 and during the fall of the following year, settled near the river in Warren Township, Lucas.

The first of the Mercer sons to enlist --- and to die --- was James, 18 on the date of his enlistment at Chariton on Oct. 21, 1862, in Co. C, 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Mustered in Burlington on Oct. 28, he survived the unit's early Missouri campaign --- and the deadly battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. But later that year, when the 13th was deployed at Corinth, Mississippi, after the Siege (or First Battle) of Corinth and before the Second Battle, he became critically ill and died of chronic dysentery on Aug. 4.

It was customary at that time for company commanders to notify families when their loved ones had died, so most likely James's family learned of his death sometime that fall via letter.

A year later, on Dec. 1, 1863, John Atwell Mercer --- age 28, married and with a family of five children --- enlisted in Co. I, 4th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. John was captured by Confederate forces near Ripley, Mississippi, on June 11 of the following year, held first at Cahaba Prison near Selma --- a reasonably humane place --- then transferred to deadly Andersonville, Georgia, where more than 12,000 died. John was among the dead, his death on Oct. 14 or 15, 1864, attributed to scorbutus, or scurvy.

A third son, Joseph H.H. Mercer, was nearly 18 on Jan. 5, 1864, when --- like his brother, John --- he enlisted in Co. I, 4th Cavalry, and they would have served together until John's capture during June. During the following spring, however, he fell ill with chronic dysentery --- as had his brother, James --- and died while hospitalized in at Nashville, Tennessee, on June 6.

Joseph Mercer's grave in the Nashville National Cemetery is marked, as is John's, at Andersonville. James most likely was buried near Corinth, then reburied after the war in what now is Corinth National Cemetery. If so, he rests there among the unknowns.

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