The Commencement of My Davis Line as I Know It: Corporal John F. Davis, 1810-1863

"While a battle is raging, one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure; but after the battle these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to alleviate the sufferings of an enemy as a friend." ~ General Ulysses S. Grant

Everyone has a few ancestral family lines that don't go back very far. Information becomes harder to find after a certain time period. The farthest back I can go on my DAVIS line is John F. DAVIS. So for this week's theme (“commencement”- and actually it's one of the May themes that I missed) I'm going to talk about John, the beginning (commencement) of my DAVIS line as I know it right now.

John F. DAVIS was born in 1810. Most researchers say he was born in Onondaga County, New York. However, the 1860 census and his Civil War Draft Registration state he was born in Kentucky. The earliest record I can find about him is his marriage to Rachel CHENOWETH on 15 January 1835 in Perry, Pike County, Illinois. The 1840 census only shows the name of the Head of Household which, in this family, was John. The rest of the family members only show up as tic marks on the form. The 1840 census shows three John DAVIS families living in Perry, Pike County, Illinois in 1840. Only one is going by John F. In John F.'s household there were two adults (one male and one female) in the age “20 & under 30” category and two girls in the “under 5” category. The two young daughters were Sarah C. (my great-great grandmother and wife of Nicholas W. REITER whom I wrote about in this blog post http://happy-girl-24.livejournal.com/16813.html) and Chloe Jane.

In 1850, John and Rachel are still living in Perry, Pike County, Illinois. In addition to Sarah and Chloe, they had Jonathan, John, Nancy, and James in 1850. John's occupation was “laborer”. Sarah, Chloe, Jonathan, and John were attended school that year. Three-year-old Nancy and 5-month-old James stayed at home with Rachel.

In 1860, John, Rachel and children- Jonathan, John, James, Nancy, Charles, Alpheus, Harvey, Horace, and Susan- were living in Perry, Pike County, Illinois. John was a farmer. Sarah had married Nicholas REITER 8 years prior to the census. Chloe had married John REEDER 2 years prior to the census. All the children from Jonathan down to Alpheus had attended school the year of the census. Harvey, Horace, and Susan stayed at home with Rachel. In this census there are a few details that are changed from the previous census. Those details are that John's birthplace was listed as Kentucky and that children Nancy and James have been reversed in the order of children AND so have their ages. This census lists James as being the older (and being the age Nancy should have been) and Nancy being the younger (and being the age James should have been).

Don't You Know There's a War Going on Here?!

Dear Brother & Sister I write these few lines to you to let you know that I am still alive…” ~ Letter from Thomas Barnett, Alton, Illinois


Kurz and Allison Siege of Vicksburg color lithograph.  Found at http://www.loc.gov.

In July of 1863, John completed his Civil War Draft Registration. He listed his birthplace as Kentucky. He stated he was 51 years of age and was a farmer. He gave his physical description as: 6 feet 10 ½ inches high, fair complexion, grey eyes, and light hair. He listed his former military service as Company F, 99th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, Civil War. He listed his residence as Perry Township, Pike County, Illinois. He was a Corporal in Captain Eli R. SMITH's Company F of the 99th Regiment of United States Volunteers (Infantry). He was enlisted by Lemuel PARKES at Perry, Pike County, Illinois on 2 August 1862 to serve three years. He mustered in on 23 August 1862 at Florence, Illinois.

The timeline leading up to his death:

Battle of Port Gibson- I Hope God Will Remember Us In Mercy

Such a day I never saw before. It made it so very Horrible to us because we had to go in and fight in the same place all the time, where the ground was already soaked with the blood of our comrades. But I hope God will remember us in Mersy.” ~Diary of Job H. Yaggy, Plainfield, Illinois

1 May 1863
Battle of Port Gibson (Mississippi).
Despite Union forces losing more men than Confederates, the Union won this battle. General GRANT had an elaborate plan to take Grand Gulf and deceive enemy troops in Vicksburg but had to make a change in plans when he was unable to gain a decisive victory over the Confederates on the first attempt. In the end, however, he was victorious. Wirt ADAMS' cavalry (CSA) was the only one in the area. Major General John S. BOWEN (CSA) decided to perform a reconnaissance. BOWEN moved south from Grand Gulf and positioned troops just southwest of Port Gibson near Magnolia Church. The terrain the Confederates were in consisted of “one-hundred-foot-tall (30 m) hills separated by nearly vertical ravines choked with canebrakes and underbrush”. Just after midnight on 1 May 1863, the first shots were fired in the battle. You can read more about this battle at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Port_Gibson or for a more detailed account: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/battle-of-port-gibson.85379/. You can also read more here and see photos of the Schaifer House and the Old Magnolia Church site: http://www.nps.gov/vick/learn/historyculture/battleportgibson.htm. Still interested? This blog has an article about the battle. Scroll down not quite halfway. https://mississippiconfederates.wordpress.com/category/mississippi-regiments/. For some great book recommendations, look at this site: http://www.illinoiscivilwar150.org/chronos/chrono1863.html.

Battle of Port Gibson drawing from http://www.nps.gov/vick/learn/historyculture/battleportgibson.htm.

Champion Hill, Hinds County, Mississippi – Grant's Crown of Immortality

… for a while the bullets came like hail stones but we soon got down onto the rebs and drove them up, took meney of them prisoners and left a great meney laying, killed and wounded…. This is called the ‘BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS HILL’ ” ~ Diary, Job H. Yaggy, Plainfield, Illinois

"Grant's crown of immortality was won, and the jewel that shone most brightly in it was set there by the blood of the men of Champion Hills …… Six thousand blue and gray-coated men were lying there in the woods, dead or wounded, when the last gun of Champion Hills was fired.” ~ Major S. H. M. Byers, Fifth Iowa Infantry

16 May 1863
Battle of Champion Hill (Hinds County, Mississippi).
Wikipedia describes this battle as “the pivotal battle in the Vicksburg Campaign”. It began about 7:00 a.m. on the “beautiful and cool” morning of 16 May 1863. To give you some idea of the number of men present, the Confederates alone had a defensive battle line of men that ran about 3 miles long. The defensive line was along a crest of a ridge above Jackson Creek. At 1:00 p.m. Union forces took the crest. Confederate reinforcements showed up and the Confederate men trapped on the ridge utilized the one escape route that was left open to them. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Champion_Hill; http://www.illinoiscivilwar.org/cw93-hist-ch4b.html) An excellent website to learn more about this battle is: http://battleofchampionhill.org/. Among other things it includes diary accounts.


Battle of Champion Hill drawing found at http://www.battleofchampionhill.org.


Map of Champion Hill battlefield area.  Found at http://www.illinoiscivilwar.org.


Aerial view of Champion Hill, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~abney/mshistory.html.

Battle of Big Black River Bridge – My Army is Starving

I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.”~ General Robert E. Lee

The Confederates who were able to retreat only made it to Big Black River. They spent the night there at the bridge and the following day fighting began again in what would be the “final battle before the Siege of Vicksburg”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Big_Black_River_Bridge). In front of the battle line, they placed trees with the trunks formed into sharp points as obstacles. The points were facing outward toward oncoming Union troops and the branches were facing inward. Typically the tree branches were interwoven with wire and/or other obstacles. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abatis). However, once engaged by Union troops, Confederates began withdrawing via the railroad bridge and a steamboat. To delay Union troops, the Confederates burned the bridge and steamboat after they crossed. Later that day, the Confederate soldiers arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi. “Fewer than half of the Confederates who had fought at Champion Hill made it into the defenses at Vicksburg. This battle sealed Vicksburg's fate: the Confederate force was bottled up at Vicksburg.” (Wikipedia, see link above.)


Photo of Big Black River Bridge after it was burned.  Found at http://www.battleofchampionhill.org/history/big-black.htm.

Siege of Vicksburg – The Key in His Pocket

"Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket." ~ Union President Abraham Lincoln

"Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together." ~ Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Vicksburg is taken Glorious more Glorious most Glorious…. I may live a thousand years and not see a more glorious 4th.” ~ Letter from Francis W. Tupper, Minooka, Illinois

Corporal DAVIS most likely fought during the first part of the Siege of Vicksburg as his illness did not commence until about 25 May 1863 and the Siege of Vicksburg began on 18 May. The Siege was the final major action of the Vicksburg Campaign. After being aggressively pushed back by Confederates, General GRANT decided to besiege the city of Vicksburg on the day Corporal DAVIS became ill. Corporal John DAVIS was honorably discharged at a hospital in Vicksburg, Mississippi on 4 June 1863- one month before the Confederates surrendered at Vicksburg. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Vicksburg) You can find a much more detailed account of the history of the 99th Illinois Infantry here: http://www.old-new-orleans.com/ILLINOIS_CW_reghist.pdf or here: http://genealogytrails.com/ill/pike/milcivil99.html.

Corporal DAVIS was discharged due to chronic bronchitis and diarrhea. These conditions were contracted during his military service and in the line of duty. Military records state that he suffered from chronic diarrhea until the time of his death and that this was the cause of his death. He was able to make it back home to Perry where he died on 17 November 1863.

Rest in Peace – Then the Cries for Water Ceased; We Could Not Help Them.

As private soldiers we considered that the day was lost but Grant said 'No!' As we had no Breakfast, dinner, or supper on Sunday, and were on guard Sunday night, we were about all in. Never-the-less we went after them on Monday morning. That Sunday night was the longest I ever experienced. I will never forget the cries of distress of the wounded who lay on the battle-field that night. They called for mother, sister, wife, sweetheart, but the most piteous plea was for water. One would be praying and another singing. Some one started the old hymn, ‘Jesus Lover of my Soul’, singing the first verse. Another sang the second, another the third, and still another the fourth. This continued until sometime during the night when it began to rain; then the cries for water seased. We hoped that many were refreshed. As the wounded lay between the battle lines we could not help them.

We were promised medals of honor for our service on this special work but we never received them…. I suppose that the order never reached head quarters.” ~ Memoir of George O. Smith, Monmouth, Illinois.

When Rachel filed for a widow's pension the information listed in that packet stated John was born Onondaga County, New York, although he gave his birthplace as Kentucky on his draft registration. It took Rachel a year to get the pension approved and it amounted to $8 per month. The only children that Rachel listed on the pension documents as belonging to she and John were James T., Charles D., Alpheus B., and Harvey D. Since there were only a few of the children listed, I made some preliminary theories about why all the children weren't listed. I hypothesized that the form listed the children still living at home with Rachel. Sarah and Chloe had already married and moved out. Jonathan and John were over age 18 and likely had already moved out of the home as well. Nancy was young but still old enough to have possibly been married and out of the home at the time of the pension process. Horace and Susan, the youngest two children, were also not named. Either they were deceased at the time of the pension application, or Rachel had been forced to give them up after the death of John in order to keep the rest of the family together and support them all. As I continued reading through the file, I found out why only certain children were listed. The only children that Rachel was supposed to list on the application were those children living at home AND under the age of 16 as of a certain date. She also had to sign a sworn affidavit that she had not given up any children for adoption nor had she abandoned the care of any of the children. So it stands to reason that Horace and Susan were deceased by the time Rachel filed the pension application.

Nicholas REITER (my great-great-grandfather, listed as 'Nicholas RYDER' in the pension file), who was then 36 years old, gave a statement in support of his mother-in-law, Rachel, in the pension documents. Nicholas apparently could not write as he had to make his mark in lieu of a signature. Sarah REITER (my great-great-grandmother, listed as 'Sarah RITER' in the pension file) also gave a statement in regard to the legitimacy of Charles being John and Rachel's biological child. Sarah was 29 years old at the time of her sworn statement. In regard to his disability, the military records showed that he was first unable to perform his duties at Houston, Indiana in January of 1863 and was unable to perform duty at any point after that time although it appears that he stayed with his unit up until the Siege of Vicksburg. John himself attributed his illness to old age and exposure during the winter, according to the military's statement. At the time he became ill, he was stationed at a camp near Vicksburg. He was described as being debilitated and emaciated at the time of the onset of his illness.

Life Lessons in Tenacity and Courage

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

I can't imagine what it would have been like to be 50+ years old, intermittently deprived of food, exposed to the elements, people dying violent and painful deaths all around me, marching from Indiana to Mississippi- ill, dehydrated, in pain, emaciated. I admire him for his tenacity. I am so glad for him (and for Rachel and the children) that he made it home before his death.

One year after burying her husband, Rachel lost her two youngest children. Seven years later she would bury another daughter (Sarah) and eight years after that, another daughter (Nancy). Rachel did not marry again. I am certain she was well taken care of in her final years because as late as 1880, four of her adult sons were still living with her and (presumably) taking care of her. Living with her at that time were Jonathan (a laborer), James (an engineer), Alpheus (a blacksmith), and Harvey (a blacksmith). She passed away in 1883.

I am thankful to have such incredible examples of tenacity and courage in the face of difficult life circumstances. Have an attitude of thankfulness this week for the privilege of coming from a long line of strong, courageous people!  

Until next week,

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

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