Ole Larson's Folks

I got a long email from cousin Gail. Turns out that his niece Paula found extensive records on the military service of Stephen and his father, Henry. As I understand it, all the documents are related to military pension applications. Here, in a nutshell, is what she pieced together on Henry B. Myers.

Henry’s widow [Fanny, his second wife] and the children Harry B. (b. February 13, 1858), Sarah E.(b. April 27, 1860), and Susan B. (b. November 20, 1861) all were involved in soldier pension details which Paula found and copied.  With a bit of difficulty Henry established eligibility for pension affirming that he was mustered October 1, 1862 and discharged with chronic dysentery March 16, 1864 after service in Helena, ARK and Yazoo, MISS, and other actions with the Iowa 33rd Volunteers.  His rank was First Lieutenant and assigned as Quartermaster.   The widow and the daughters with reams of paper and legal declarations carried on attempts to get arrears of pensions and other entitlements …

Interesting that his pension was only granted after “some difficulty,” even though it is well-documented that he served in a series of Civil War engagements. Incidentally, Henry died, of the same “chronic dysentery,”  just three months after his discharge. It is said that more men died of disease than in battle during the war as a whole. This was certainly true of the unfortunate soldiers stationed in the overcrowded, unsanitary, and grossly uncomfortable conditions at Helena in the winter of 1862-63. Quoting from from the History of the 33rd Iowa,

These were not the most pleasant days in the world, even for soldiers. Though it seemed to rain most of the time, the cold was frequently severe ; and for want of any better accommodation, we had to go go to the woods and gather brickbats, pieces of wood, &c., and make chimneys to our tents. Teams were scarce – for us, at any rate – and we were compelled to go into the cypress swamps, some half-a-mile from camp, and bring up the wet wood on our backs, to burn. The mud was excessive; and as we were not yet provided with rubber blankets, and had not learned, by three years of soldiering, how to do without almost every thing, and “fix up”  in any circumstances, we were of course decidedly uncomfortable.

I can hardly imagine the complexity and stress the job of Quartermaster must have carried under such circumstances. While Henry’s own situation, as an officer, may have been somewhat better, what of the responsibility – and impotence – he must have felt for the conditions of the enlisted men? Perhaps it was bureaucratic hurdles that prevented their better provisioning, as it may have impeded his heirs’ pension application later. On a related note, see the piece on Smith Larson, whose disability was denied, despite his being in and out of hospital (mostly in), both before and after his discharge in WWI, until his death two years later.

Moving on to Great-Grandpa Stephen,  the news is worse. To begin, this quote from Gail’s email.

The packet which Paula assembled on Stephen B. is more voluminous.  He turns out unable to authenticate most his claims for pensions — like his disability for a groin rupture which could not be verified by any medical sources, during any of his enlistments. His applications for pension were refused as late as December 1914 because he “did not serve” during either the Civil War or the War with Mexico which were applicable under the Interior Department’s entitlement act of May 11, 1912.

He floated around a bit, served several times in units of the US Army.  Before eventually settling in Onawa IA , he went from his parents home in Oskaloosa IA back to Sunbury OH (not sure which part of the clan he was staying with) following the Civil War. He then enlisted in the army General Services for three years at Columbus OH (next county to Sunbury’s) on July 6, 1866.  He served his three-year hitch. He re-enlisted in Louisville KY on July 6,1869 in General Service USA and was discharged May 5, 1870 as a sergeant, with clerk speciality.  He re-inlisted May 10, 1870 assigned to Company C 2nd Infantry.  He transferred February 1, 1873 back to General Services and then was honorably discharged August 1, 1873 from the 43rd Division of the South with grade of sergeant.  That itemized record came from the summary refusing his claim for disability and signed November 2, 1914 by Commisioner of Pensions, Adjutant General H. P. McCain (??) Regular Army, War Department.

So, according to the War Department’s denial of his claim, Stephen “did not serve” in the Civil War. Does this mean that in his newly discovered* obituary, not only the detail about being “left for dead,” but the whole story of going to war with his father, was a fabrication? I would say it is evidence of that, but not at all convincing, given the government’s ultra-stingy stance regarding pensions during this period, and Stephen’s purported status at the time, as an underage dependent traveling with his father.  Unfortunately, no other evidence has yet come to light that would tip this question in either direction. Paula is making inquiries at Oskaloosa to search for any indication that Stephen did, or did not, go south with his father and the 33rd Iowa volunteers. Apparently, no letters or other family records from the period survive. A thousand thanks to cousins Paula and Gail for this information.

Another question in my mind involves Stephen’s motivation for enlisting, to spend a total of seven years in the Army, after his disastrous term at the Naval Academy, which in turn came on the heels of his father’s early death, from dysentery contracted during the campaign of the 33rd Iowa.

Here is an interesting piece on underage soldiering, at the Civil War Potpourri site.  It says that about 100,000 soldiers were boys of fifteen or under.

*”Newly discovered,” as far as I currently know. I have not asked whether Paula had found Stephen’s obituary earlier.

Stephen Bennett Myers, Part II
Philip's Brother Michael?

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