I took a short walk last evening in the Chariton Cemetery, a busy place these days as Memorial Day 2018 approaches --- firefighters planting departmental flags in holders marking the graves of fellow volunteers, hikers and bikers and, here and there, a few bearing flowers. The flags on veteran graves will come later in the week.
Looking back 120 years to 1898, I stopped at these tombstones on the southeast hilltop marking the graves of the Black brothers, Sgt. William T. "Tom" Black and his younger brother, Walter, a drummer, both of whom died that year --- two of Lucas County's Spanish American War losses.
And I thought about this front page --- of The Chariton Herald of June 2, 1898 --- featuring side-by-side reports. One focused on the past, looking back 30 or more years as Civil War sacrifices were acknowledged and aging veterans of that great conflict honored. The other, a dispatch from Tom Black --- written just two months before he was cut down by typhoid fever, focusing on the uncertainties generated by the war fever that had engulfed America in the days after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor on Feb. 15, 1898.
Here's the dispatch from the Memorial Day observance:
Chariton Does Honor to Her Soldier Dead
Col. Moore's Address
A Beautiful Day, an Interesting Address, A Large Crowd Characterize the Exercises Here
The day dawned bright and clear, one of the most beautiful of days to decorate the graves and do homage to those who laid down their lives for home and country. The town was gay with floating flags and bunting, and the number of people that thronged our streets attested their show of appreciation and loyalty to their beloved country and friends.
At 1:30 the procession formed at the court house, being called there by the Myers & Best martial band. The G.A.R. first formed in line and were followed by the W.R.C. Then came the Chariton High school chorus club followed by the school children. A beautifully decorated wagon then followed bearing those soldiers who were unable to walk. After this came the citizens in carriages and on foot, making in all one of the largest processions ever headed for the cemetery on Decoration day.
After reaching the cemetery the graves were decorated by the school children and G.A.R., and a Decoration day hymn was sung by the club, after which they returned to the opera house, where Col. S.B. Moore addressed the people.
After the song "Our Banner" by the club, the audience were led in prayer by Rev. W.V. Whitten. Col. W.S. Dungan then introduced the speaker as "the silver-tongued orator of Iowa," and he is well worthy of the praise given him. His address was brilliant, touching and entertaining, and every one was sorry when he concluded. His closing remarks were to the G.A.R. in particular, and were of such a nature that they carried a lasting impression to all those who were present. He revived the war of 1861 with all its past horrors and cruelties, and spoke comforting words to those who were left and whom we honor and revere.
America was then sung and the audience dispersed.
One feature of the day's exercises which we think deserves special mention is the faithfulness and patriotism shown by the members of the martial band. They never fail in their efforts to please and their promptness to act on any occasion their services are required. All praise and honor is due them, and may they live long to head many more processions as they led Monday is our sincere wish.
On Memorial Day in previous years, the men of Chariton's Iowa National Guard unit, Company H, 50th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, would have been there to march in the annual Decoration Day procession. This year, however, the men had been activated and just a couple of weeks earlier deployed to Florida to await an uncertain future.
Quartermaster Sgt. Tom Black, 25, who had worked as a newspaper editor in Chariton before his unit was called up, had taken it upon himself to send regular dispatches home. The dispatch published on June 2 covers Company H's journey by train from Cincinnati --- first destination after leaving Camp McKinley in Des Moines --- through the South to Jacksonville, Florida:
DOWN IN DIXIE
The Fiftieth Iowa at Jacksonville, Florida
SNAKES IN ABUNDANCE
Sergeant Black's Regular Interesting Letter. Patriotism High in the South. A Pleasant Journey.
Special to the Herald: Headquarters, Fiftieth Iowa Vol. Inf., Camp Springfield, Jacksonville, Fla., May 26.
Your correspondent is situated something like a thousand miles from where the last communication was mailed to your paper.
We arrived at Cincinnati Sunday evening and the train stopped for about three hours. The boys were allowed to leave the train in charge of non-commissioned officers. They took in the town in great shape. The Kentucky vernacular is the prevailing dialect in that city --- on every side, "Where be yous goin'?" and "When be yous all goin' away?"
We started from Cincinnati at 10 p.m., and all night we rolled through the state of Kentucky, and the rising sun found only a few more miles of that state to traverse.
Passing into Tennessee the scenery became mountainous. The "Queen and Crescent" road runs along the valley of the Tennessee river and on either side of the tracks are large bluffs and mountains; for several miles the track is just above the river. At Chattanooga we took dinner on Monday and stopped for three hours, which gave the men an opportunity to see the town and other interesting historic sights, among which was Lookout mountain, which lies just west of the town.
At almost every village and farm house the stars and stripes are displayed, and at Rome, Georgia, where we took supper, an immense crowd had gathered at the depot to see us. The primitive ways of the south are very noticeable to us who are accustomed to the northern progressiveness. Most of the farm and village houses are made of logs, or planks nailed up and down, with stick or stone fireplaces in one end. The largest fields of corn, cotton, tobacco or peanuts you can see along the Southern railroad do not contain over ten or twelve acres, and are cultivated by double-shovel ploows drawn by one horse.
The timber land of Tennessee, Georgia and Florida is full of "razorback" hogs that don't look like they belonge to anyone. In Georgia I saw one with a yoke on it. Oxen and mules are used almost exclusively and two-wheeled carts almost take the place of the four-wheeled wagon.
At Everett, the major of our battalion received orders to go into camp at Jacksonville instead of Tampa. This change of orders was quite welcome to the men, as we have heard so much about the heat and scarcity of water at Tampa that we didn't much want to go there. We arrived at Camp Springfield at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday and at 2:30 our tents were up and the whole battalion was as much at home as if they had been there a week. A regular army officer remarked, "There is nothing slow about those fellows."
We are camped in a pine forest about a mile from Jacksonville, and have an abundance of water, as the city water works have been extended to the camp. The water is warm though, as it comes from a well 900 feet deep. The soil in the camp is only about an inch deep and is covered with coarse grass and bushes four or five inches high. Beneath the sod formed by this growth all is sand and it is so loose it can be scooped with a spoon like sugar.
There are five regiments encamped here, one from each of the following states: Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and North Carolina. The Fiftieth Iowa is conceded by all to be the crack regiment in camp, and, in truth they can't be excelled in equipment, stature and behavior.
This morning I witnessed the guard mounts of the Wisconsin and North Carolina regiments. The Wisconsins did fairly well but the Carolinians have no idea of military movements whatever. Almost any private in Co. H has ideas superior to those of the officers of that regiment.
It is thought by the officers that we will remain here until October. It would be difficult to find a more pleasant place in the south in which to spend the summer. The thermometer stands at a little above 90 in the shade in the day time, and the nights are always cool, and one can sleep quite comfortably with their blanket wrapped around them.
The rations have been extremely short, today's dinner consisting of bad beef, coffee and beans, but no bread. At supper we had more of the same beef which had grown worse, one slice of bread and coffee. For breakfast we will have more of the beef and coffee, but no bread, potatoes or beans.
The timber in this country is composed chiefly of pine, cypress and palm, and looks quite tropical.
The population of Jacksonville is composed of whites and colored people in about equal proportions, with the colored people slightly in the lead.
Co. H bought a new mess tent last Wednesday. They found it to be a necessity in the burning sun, which shines directly overhead at noon.
There are black snakes, cottonmouths and rattle snakes in the brush and along the river. One was killed with twenty-six rattles on its tail. Lizards creep into the tents and gambol over the boys and crawl into the blankets and sleep with them, but such campaigners as we don't care for a lizard two feet long.
The health of the boys is splendid here.
Sergeant W.T. Black,
Co. H, Fiftieth Reg. Iowa Vol. Inf.
The Spanish American War turned out to be rather short, ending with the Treaty of Paris later that year, and the boys of Company H saw no action.
Instead, their talents were turned to building Camp Cuba Libre --- a poorly sited extension of Camp Springfield where the unit first was deployed.
During July of 1898, Sgt. Tom fell ill with typhoid fever and died on July 19 at Camp Libre. The photo here, taken in Jacksonville, is his funeral cortege, formed as his remains were being taken to the railroad depot for shipment home to Chariton on July 20.
Tom's younger brother, Walter, just 17, accompanied his brother's remains home, then returned to Florida where he fell ill with typhoid fever, too. The men of Company H were ordered home to Chariton on Sept. 12 and Walter accompanied them in a hospital car. He died on Sept. 28 at home in Chariton and was buried beside his brother in the Chariton Cemetery.
And so when Memorial Day 1899 dawned a year later and a procession once again made its way to the Chariton Cemetery, the graves of the Black brothers were among those decorated in remembrance.