Life in Madison County During the (Civil) War
Written by: Caroline (Holaday) Murray, dated 17 March 1908, describing life in Madison Co during Civil War times
Source: The Collection of the Madison County Historical Society:
Caroline (Holaday) Murray was the daughter of George and Lydia Holliday, early settlers in Center Township. Caroline married Benjamin Franklin Murray in Madison County on 11 Aug 1864.
I am asked to bring before this generation a reproduction of the times, scenes, emotions, hardships, and general experiences through which we passed during the trying times of the Civil War.
I ask myself - can it be done, does anyone live who could properly depict it?
The passing years have softened that feeling of hatred we then felt for our foes and the southern sympathizers living in our midst, whom we spoke of as Butternuts, Copperheads, and Rebels.
Terrible as war is with all of the losses of the notorious, noble, young manhood, loss of treasure, which many generals must assist in paying, loss of happiness in the homes from where these young hopeful, patriotic boys went out, many of them never to return - must be added the privations and sacrifice of those left at home.
My paper today will treat of conditions here in Madison County, where I fear there were not many Spartan mothers who buckled on the armor and bade their sons go forth and battle for their country. No, the mothers of whom I have knowledge although noble and patriotic, held these boys tenderly to their hearts, while the tears blinded their eyes, and the sobs followed those boys as they marched bravely away in their new uniforms.
The tears must soon be dried and their attention turned to the practical things of life, the crops must be raised, the affairs of everyday life must be attended to, as many of the men left at home were too old, and others too young to enlist, the women had to assist in the outside work, but I never heard any complaining, they did what they could.
There were many ways by which we could help the boys at the front, by frequent letter writing by making little articles for their convenience, needle cases, etc, and we often met to scrape lint from linen for their wounds. Our conversations at these gatherings were not of the latest fashions nor idle gossip but of the battles, of the different moves of the armies and always of our boys.
It will be hard for this and future generations to realize our almost primitive modes of living — our facilities for news and transportation were very different from what they now are, instead of taking our much abused train for Des Moines, a stage coach was drawn up in front of the St. Nicholas Hotel (then the "Pitzer House" and always spoken of as a tavern) each morning for passengers. It also carried the mails, and its return in the evening was watched for with great interest.
The pride of those stage drivers in making a rapid entry, and the peculiar crack and wielding of their whips and the masterful way of rounding corners was something only attained by long experience. Then they were also news carriers, anything that had happened in the outside world since they had left in the morning was quickly told, and. eagerly listened to by the many by-standers who had congregated to witness the grand entry and hear the latest news.
When the newspapers were distributed, each man possessing one was immediately surrounded by a crowd of eager listeners and the latest news from the front was read aloud - and each man on returning home, after hearing it read, would stop and tell everyone he met the latest war news.
When the first call was made for 75,000 volunteers, the excitement all over the county was intense. No place was too small for the interest and excitement to penetrate, and all supposed that Uncle Sam’s boys could clean them out in no time, and some of our patriotic and hot-headed boys were so anxious to get in and help with the job that they did not wait for a company to be formed here but took a carriage and rushed over to Indianola and enlisted with a Company then forming there…the Third Iowa Infantry. These were Miller R. Tidrick, Samuel G. Ruby, Benjamin F. Murray and N. C. Newburn. Samuel G. Ruby and Miller R. Tidrick are still living. Perhaps no greater patriot ever enlisted than N. C. Newburn. When he was so severely wounded at the battle of Hatchie, that one leg had to be amputated, and when just emerging from the effect of anesthetic, he heard the nurse as a company of soldiers were passing, his emotion found vent in a stream of patriotic eloquence seldom equaled, a copy of which may be found in the History of Madison County. It was written by a war correspondent and published in a Cincinnati paper. When this thrilling account of the event reached Winterset, great was the interest and excitement. A copy was taken to school where he had attended and read aloud by Sophie Ogden later Mrs. S. C. Ruby. I think some of us tried to hide the tears, which streamed down our faces during the reading.
Another home boy who left our school to enlist, and who never returned was Dwight Ewing, who had reached the rank of Lieutenant when killed.
As the years went by and the conflict continued and companies were formed here, and more and more of our boys went to the front, there came a time when there were not enough enlistments and a draft had to be resorted to fill the fast thinning ranks.
Our lives were spent in watching the movements and actions of the various armies. We were not a rich community, nor was this a rich county at that time, but we did what we could to aid the families of the enlisted men; we gave supplies and held socials for raising the money for the purpose.
Our dressing in those days was not exactly the latest Paris and New York styles. As young girls we felt very well dressed in a new calico dress, for had not the material for one cost five dollars, and when it was worn over the large hoop skirt then so much in vogue, we felt well dressed. A word regarding the dressing and style of hair at that time…we did not think it necessary to wash the hair as often as we now do, but we used hair oil, and plenty of it -highly perfumed - the druggist’s shelves were filled with it of various kinds and scents.
The women wore the style of hair known as “waterfall", which consisted of a very large ill-shaped back bunch with a net over it.
I can’t give you the name of the style the men used - they made a part from the crown of the head to the collar behind, then the hair was carefully brushed toward the ears. The old men wore the Galloway whiskers.
As far as jewelry, we were not burdened with that, but when silver coin went entirely out of circulation, and we had paper money in all denominations, even to five cents, a silver piece was much prized, arid each lady who had a breastpin made of a silver quarter, one side made smooth and her initial letter engraved on was just as proud of it as she would be with a diamond pin today. Our jeweler, Jerry Banker, did quite a business in this line, and when a pin was finished it had cost $2.25.
When news of a defeat came, our sorrow was deep, and when we were victorious in a battle, we had a jollificial turn. But unfortunately all in our midst were not loyal. We had some "undesirable citizens" - citizens who were southern sympathizers and were a constant annoyance in all that pertained to the war. We really felt more bitter toward them than we did toward the southern rebels. They were constantly stirring up strife and insulting our patriotism. It was discovered that some of the men were organized and secretly drilling out in Union Township under the leadership of one Blair. They called themselves "The Knights of the Golden Circle." They had various places of meeting one was above Sam Snyder’s grocery store, at which place W. C. Newburn and Samuel G. Ruby, after their return from the War, made a raid on them and broke up their meeting. They also held meetings at Brown’s Bridge at North River at Blair’s and at St. Charles.
Seven of the leaders were arrested and taken to Davenport. They were Jack Porter, J. K. Evans, David McCarty, V. M. Gichan, Peter Mann, William Evans and James Keith. Soldiers from Des Moines were sent here after them in 1862. In 1863 a petition was presented to the government and they were released and returned home and their friends gave them quite a welcome. At one time they became so troublesome that a squad of soldiers under the leadership of Capt. Henry was stationed here for some time, during which time we heard no boasting by our home rebels. Under the leadership of Brad McCarty they had threatened to tear down the flag, mob the printing office, burn down the town etc. J. M. Holaday was at that time editing the Madisonian and when he was not in the service and had changed the name to "The Hawkeye Flag" he was sending hot sheet with each issue Samuel Ruby and Benjamin F. Murray had set a splendid flagpole in the center of the square, which was in pretty constant use. The stump of it was recently found in making some excavation under the courthouse and the County Auditor, Mr. Herman Mueller, had it tenderly cared for and. it is now preserved as a relic and reclines in an upper room of the courthouse.
We one time we thought we were going to have a taste of war right here in Winterset. The report came that Anderson with his guerillas was going to make a raid on us. When the news came we were in consternation - all the church bells rang - squads of men were sent in every direction to intercept them, valuables were hastily buried in backyards. No one slept any that night. The next morning the news began coming in and we realized it was a false report.
It is hard for us now to realize that the much loved, martyred President, Abraham Lincoln, was so thoroughly hated and constantly abused in language, not only by the southern rebels, but equally as much by our home ones, and they spoke of our soldiers as "Lincoln Hirelings" and at the time of his assassination an ignoramus on our streets was heard to say, "I would like to have a stone as large as I could carry and drop it on him as he is put in the grave."
One of the events that stands out prominently in my memory is the sight of Jonas Brock making a speech from a wagon to a crowd as large as could hear him. He had returned from a long siege in southern prisons and was reduced to almost a skeleton. His denunciation of the hellish southern prison pens were hurled out with all the feeling and eloquence that his feeble body would permit, and was listened to with intense interest.
When Benjamin F. Murray fell in the battle of Shiloh, his comrades thought he was killed, and that report was believed here for some time, but he had fallen from exhaustion and was taken prisoner, and for two months was dragged from one prison to another, as they were driven farther south in retreat. After he was finally exchanged, and after spending some time in a hospital in St. Louis, he returned home. His return was an event in Winterset. His father, Nicholas Murray, laughingly said that the Rebs would have hard work shooting Frank as his legs were so thin a bullet would pass between them. While he was in Andersonville Prison, the conditions became so intolerable that some of the prisoners decided to get a remonstrance and send in; believing that they would be shot for it, but thinking that they would die a worse death under existing conditions they prepared the paper and wanted someone to sign it. Frank Murray immediately put his name to it and it went in, he expecting to be shot for it, but somehow they did not, but it did not improve things.
We were not drinking coffee in those days. Neither did we have the delicious postom. We had to get along without southern products, so all kinds of berries (principally peas and rye) were parched and ground and made into beverages to take the place of coffee. But we had pie and plenty of it. The wonder may be, what we made them of - as it had not then been discovered that we could raise any fruits here except apples. Well, I want to tell you that pies made of dried apples, vinegar and even green tomatoes tasted pretty good. We had the wild. Fruits - plums, blackberries and gooseberries. If any pie was left over, it was just as much enjoyed next morning for breakfast. The Mason fruit jar had not made its appearance and our surplus stock was prepared for winter use by drying and preserving.
California with her wealth of delicious fruits was only in her swaddling clothes commercially. She was only known for her gold at that time. Luther Burbank was probably too young to realize the wonderful things he was to do in the improvement and evolution of fruits.
Reverend John C. Ewing who had a long pastorate in the Presbyterian Church here, and who had two sons in the service, was suspected of reporting on the doings of "Knights of the Golden Circle" or of another secret organization - the "Ku Klux Klan" was twice warned to keep indoors after dark, but he was not to be daunted by them but walked the streets at any hour that suited him.
After a battle in which some of our home boys were killed, it became the duty of some friend to carry this sad news to his family. Mrs. Jesse Truitt whose husband was in the south fighting rebels, told me that this became her duty more than once, and what a sad duty it was.
But we were not always sad in those trying times. We girls wrote letters not only to our sweethearts but to all the boys of our acquaintance, who had much of homesickness, and when one came home on furlough we all exerted ourselves to make his short stay with us as pleasant as possible. We had little parties and showed him every attention, and felt very proud of them. They looked so brave and splendid in their uniforms.
Our patriotic songs written for those times, "They've Drafted Him into the Army”, "John Brown's Body Lies Moldering in the Grave" , "Dixie" , "The Year of Jubilee" and many of the Negro melodies were hummed by every one, were soul-stirring in their words and tunes.
Another of the very exciting events was the encounter between two women in a store on the south side of the square. One of the rebel sympathizers appeared with a butternut pinned on the front of her waist. Mrs. McNeil, whose husband was in the service, heard of it and immediately rushed down and with the vigor of her young womanhood proceeded to remove that hated rebel emblem. A lively fistfight was on, but the by-standers separated them and thus spoiled what promised to be the liveliest female battle of the war, and all of us who had missed being present deeply regretted it.
The chief amusement for the young people was the dances which were held in the hotel dining rooms and in Pitzer Hall, which was above and to the west of Pitzer’s store on the west side of the square where Shaw’s store now is. The music for them being violin exclusively. Our stores were Pitzer & McKnight's. We had one bank, managed by Albert West.
Our merchants carried for dress goods besides calico, delaines, challies, poplins, poplinettes, ginghams, mozanbiques and jaconnettes. I think they usually had a roll or two of black silk. We had no traveling salesmen in those days, but the merchants made trips to New York twice year to buy their stocks of goods and returned with nice presents for their wives, either a dress pattern, a wrap or a hairnet sent by the merchant of whom they had purchased their goods.
The doctors were Levi M. Tidrick, David D. Davisson, Alfred Kelley and Chancy. The lawyers - M. L. McPherson, George N. Elliott,John Leonard, Fred Witt and perhaps one or two others.
Another meeting place for rebels, copperheads and bad characters generally was at Joel Graves, who lived about three miles east of Buffalo. They also used to drill, and the beating of their drums could be heard by the farmers in that vicinity. Mr. Graves himself was a pretty good citizen, but Mrs. Graves and the other members of the family seemed to be the leading spirits in the rebel cause.
One incident in which the pathetic was equally mixed with the comic, was that the wife of a cavalry soldier who was killed in battle. She asked a friend to write for particulars of his death, and added - "tell them to send me the feather off his hat, as I want to wear mourning and can put it on my hat.
Slang, like everything else, changes with the passing years. While it is much more voluminous now than then, it was quite as expressive as the article we now have. "Bully" was one of the most used words to express anything that was particularly to our liking "Petered out" would now be expressed by "played out."
It is probably difficult for our "youngsters" of today to see in this Company of the Grand Army of the Republic - young, active, enthusiastic, vigorous young soldiers of ‘61 and ‘65.