Imagine getting a letter from the living child of an American Civil War soldier in which she recounts the stories of her father’s military adventures during a conflict that ended nearly 150 years ago!
I had the privilege of reading that letter by Eileen Shouse Wise, a genuine daughter of a Civil War soldier. It was sent to an 8th grade boy in Peoria, Illinois 11 years ago, in 2002, in response to his request to interview her as part of a school project. I learned about it because I happen to be the “Real Daughters” Chair of my local chapter of the National Society Daughters of the Union 1861-1865. The NSDU is a heritage organization for women who prove their ancestor served the Union during the Civil War.
As the Real Daughters Chair it’s been my honor to correspond with those members of our organization, who are genuine offspring of Civil War soldiers. That means sending them birthday, Christmas and other holiday cards to remind them that their fellow chapter members are thinking of them throughout the year.
Recently we got word that Eileen had passed away, which meant I would have one less Real Daughter to correspond with. In closing our files on this Real Daughter, I came across a copy of the letter Eileen wrote to that boy, who would be 25 years old today. She passed it on to us back in 2002, because she knew our chapter would be interested in her father’s Civil War story.
I’ll let her words take it from here…
Dear Ladies of the John Butler Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the Union:
I am sending you a copy of a letter I recently wrote to Nick, a young 8th grader from Peoria, Illinois. He had written asking me to tell about my father’s experiences in the Civil War. His class project was to write to real sons and daughters of veterans of the Civil War which he thought was far more interesting than reading about the War in a history book. He also expressed surprise that a conflict that ended 137 years ago had living dependents!
Copies of this letter, which are going to you, family and close friends, include lots of information you may not already know.
Eileen Shouse Wise
Your teacher added a note to your letter stating that you would also appreciate any further genealogy information about my family, so instead of starting with my father, I’m going to start with my grandfather:
Lewis Shouse was born in 1800 in Saxony in eastern Germany. When he was 18, he and a brother left Germany to come to the United States. Later, he met and married a young woman named Sarah Kelly, who had come to the U.S. from Ireland with her sister.
After they married they lived for a time in Johnson County, Indiana where my father, Hiram, was born. This is south of Indianapolis. They later moved to Effingham, Illinois. My grandfather Lewis was a teacher and farmer. He and Sarah had a large family with nine children, and one of the youngest members was my father, Hiram Craig Shouse.
Now we come to my father. Let me tell you what I know of my father’s wartime experiences:
In April 1861, President Lincoln realized that a civil war was unavoidable. He issued a call for volunteers. My father was probably about 15 years old at the time when he and a buddy went to enlist. The recruiting office they went to had posted a sign stating that they had an age limit of “16 and older.” So the two boys each wrote the number “16” on a piece of paper, put it in their shoes, and when they were asked if they were over 16, they both said “Yes!”
My father’s official papers state that he enlisted on July 30, 1861 in Company G, 11th Illinois Infantry Volunteers. Not much is known about his training or military life until we come to February 1862.
The Battle of Fort Donelson, northern Tennessee, was one of the first real engagements of the war. As the soldiers marched, they wore heavy overcoats. The weather turned much warmer, and some of them discarded those heavy coats. Unfortunately though, the weather soon turned cold and snowy and they wished that they had kept them.
During the fighting that night, my father was wounded in several places, the worst being his right arm above the elbow. He was unable to help himself and lay on the ground throughout the night. There were no medics to offer help and there were numerous other wounded and dead laying near him. A wounded soldier would often call “mother” or “water” but my father could only share what water he had in his own canteen. While lying there, Hiram resolved that if he made it through the war safely, he would try to become a doctor.
When morning came, the battle had continued south to Fort Henry, Tennessee. Finally, help arrived. The wounded were loaded onto a boat and taken to Mound City, Illinois where a warehouse was being converted to a hospital. When my father arrived there, he had no medical attention at all!
Very luckily, a woman from Effingham, Illinois, Mary Newcomb, had come down to help care for her own husband, who was also wounded. She had known Hiram but barely recognized him. She reported later that he was very dirty and his arm was in bad shape. She got some water and a cloth to clean him and tried to clean his arm. Later, Mary wrote a history of that time. I think the smartest thing now is to quote directly from her story:
“My husband insisted that I care for others, among them, Hiram. His arm was covered with what are called “toad stools”, a light frothy substance resembling thick lather. I got a piece of oilcloth and, after careful sponging for more than an hour, I got his arm clean.
Then the surgeons came around with their instruments to amputate his arm. There were four of them and among them, an oldish man, with a most fatherly face. I told him I thought the boy could keep his arm. But one of the men said “No, it must come off.” I protested that it could be saved. He got quite angry and said to me: “We are sent here to take care of these fellows and we don’t propose to have anyone interfere.”
I said: “I am well aware of that fact, but I persist that the boy’s arm shall not come off! I don’t care who sent you nor what authority you work under. I am no hired hand and I expect no pay for my work. But that boy’s arm shall not come off while I am here.”
The older doctor, Dr. Matthews, examined the arm and finally said: “I think the lady is about correct. I guess the arm can be saved, at least there will be no harm in waiting a little.”
Dr. Matthews remained in the hospital and stood by Mrs. Newcomb in her determination that Hiram’s arm should not be amputated.”
Now you can understand, Nick, why we all owe a big debt of gratitude to Mary Newcomb! If Hiram’s arm had been amputated, his dream of becoming a doctor could never have come true.As it was, after the war, Hiram was able to earn a BS degree at Illinois Soldier’s College, Fulton, Illinois. In 1871, he received his degree and attended Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago. He practiced medicine for many years, first in Davenport, Iowa, and then later in Plankinton, South Dakota.
Hiram did his rounds in a horse and buggy. If he had a night call, he would start to drive home, fall asleep and wake up to find he was in the barn. The horse knew its way home! (He had an old buffalo robe he used in cold weather in the buggy. I recall seeing it many times.)
My father and his first wife, Jenny Jacobs had 11 children. Several years after she died, he married my mother, Bertine Flotree with Norwegian ancestry, and had another 8 children. Adding up all the children, Hiram, Jr. was his 17th child, I was the 18th, and our youngest brother, Henry, was his 19th child!
I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade when my father died peacefully at home in 1932 at about the age of 89. At my age I didn’t appreciate having ready access to more information, a fact I have regretted ever since. I recall that my father’s right arm never did look normal and he had to wear a leather brace strapped firmly, yet he worked as a medical doctor and delivered 1,000 babies, including his own!
Well Nick, I may have told you more than you expected. I think it is a great story…and true! I predict you will never think of the Civil War again like you did! I’m just happy I had a chance to pass this on.
Good luck in your future education.
Eileen Shouse Wise
P.S. Hi Nick! This is Eileen’s fourth child, Jennifer, transcribing my mother’s letter to you. I just wanted to add that my grandfather Hiram might have started a family tradition of both military service and duty to country.
My mother didn’t tell you that she was in the first class of U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Enlistment under Emergency Service) during World War II. She became a U.S. Navy (Reserve) officer during the war, and went on to marry a U.S. Navy (Reserves) Gunnery Officer on a destroyer ship.
Two of her children went on to serve during the Viet Nam war era as well—my brother in the Army in Germany, and myself in the U.S. Navy for five years, which included duty in Spain. She and I could tell you a lot more, but you get the picture.
I hope this is a fun project for you. History is interesting, especially when you know your own. I challenge you to find out as much as possible about your own ancestors. It will be both educational and entertaining to learn about those who came before you!
Eileen’s obituary appeared earlier this year in the Spokesman Review, Spokane, Washington:
WISE, Eileen Viola (Shouse) Born September 25, 1919, at the family home in Plankinton, SD, delivered by her country doctor father. After a year at Mankato Business School in MN, she then attended Huron College in SD. Early in WW II she worked at Fort Peck, MT, during which she saw a cover of Life magazine picturing women in uniform, leading her to apply and be accepted into the first class of Navy Waves.
Based in San Francisco and then Tacoma Navy Shipyards, she enlisted and later was recommended for and sent to officer training school at Smith College in MA. She ended her Navy years as Lieutenant JG. She then worked as executive secretary to the head of King County General Hospital (Harborview) in Seattle, until her marriage to Richard Wise, himself a Navy veteran, in Seattle in 1948.
Together they lived in Seattle; Garland, TX; and finally Spokane. She volunteered as a room mother, Girl Scout leader, CASA volunteer, on the PTA, at the food bank, and for Meals on Wheels for years with her husband. She served Northwood Presbyterian Church as a 50-plus year member and as both deacon and elder. A voracious reader, she also loved music and travel, visiting her kids wherever they were, and eventually going to Europe and Britain six times. Even when disabled from a stroke in 1996, she was still an “armchair traveler”, reading 5-9 books every week up until she died.
Eileen passed away May 5th, 2013, in Spokane, WA. She was preceded in death by her parents, Hiram and Bertine Flotree Shouse, four sisters, two brothers, her husband Richard C. Wise, and son-in-law. She leaves behind a loving, living legacy in her five children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandsons.
Copyright © 2013 Patricia Desmond Biallas