Saturday, June 13, 2015

James and Caroline Boston's Civil War

Caroline H. Gerlach Boston (1833 -1922)

Last week I did a post on this Memorial quilt, which has been passed
from mother to daughter over five generations of Caroline Boston's family.

Caroline was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, to German immigrants David C. Gerlach and Sabella Wilhelmina Uber. The family moved to Illinois during her childhood. In 1854 she married James Boston in Geneva, Illinois. James, born in Ohio, had lived in Indiana before moving west to Illinois. 

Caroline and James's fourth boy, Ellsworth Boston, was born on July 1, 1861, a little over a month after the country was stunned by the death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, shot while removing a Confederate flag waving over Alexandria, Virginia.

Death of Col. Ellsworth, a Currier & Ives print.
The martyr to the Union cause is literally larger than life here.

The family's commemoration of the first Union hero of the Civil War tells us something about the Bostons' loyalties.

Caroline embroidered husband James's name and company in the 
center of her quilt.

From James's obituary:
"In January 1862, the deceased answered the call of his country, and enlisted in company F, 53rd Illinois volunteers, and saw some extremely hard fighting and many hardships. He was badly wounded in the battle of Hatchie."

The Battle of Hatchie River, also called Mattamora or Davis Bridge, took place in Tennessee and Mississippi on October 5, 1862. James, shot in the abdomen by a musket ball, was initially treated in makeshift hospitals in the town of Bolivar, Tennessee, then transferred to the U.S. General Hospital at St. Louis's Benton Barracks.

Wisconsin troops in front of the Benton Barracks,
the largest hospital in the west during the Civil War.
"All through that summer (1863) the hospitals of St. Louis were crowded to overflowing. From one thousand to fifteen hundred were lying in Benton Barracks alone." Women's Work in the Civil War, 1867
During his hospitalization Caroline applied to be a nurse. She left the boys with relatives and moved to St. Louis. 
"Men, wounded in every conceivable manner, were frequently arriving from the battle-fields [an experience that] so many brave women, fresh from the quiet and happy scenes of their peaceful homes, have been willing to subject themselves for the sake of humanity."

The hospital building was built as an open amphitheater, which in the spring of 1863 had been "enclosed; provided with windows, floored, partitioned, divided into wards, thoroughly whitewashed, furnished with iron bedsteads and good beds, and converted into one of the largest, most thoroughly ventilated and best hospitals in the United States, capable of accommodating two thousand five hundred patients.”

A sunny view of a ward in Memphis

James's recovery was slow. After a few months he was classified as unfit for military service and apparently volunteered to join the Invalid Corps, serving at the Barracks Hospital with his wife.

Emily Elizabeth Parsons (1824-1880)

Caroline's supervisor was Emily Parsons, Superintendent of Female Nurses, who'd trained as a nurse at the beginning of the war. Parson's letters to her mother were published in 1880 as Memoir of Emily Elizabeth Parsons.

After Vicksburg in the summer of 1863:
"The amount of wounded is already very great, by and by they will be coming up the river....I have to keep careful watch over every one of the nurses, as I am responsible for them."
Parsons's letters give us a glimpse of the Bostons' life at the hospital, although she didn't mention either by name.

"A new nurse came to-day, a lady about forty. 
Her husband is off engineering, or something like it,
 and she wanted to do something for the soldiers...."

After the bloody year of 1863, the war in the west quieted enough that the Benton Barracks changed uses, becoming a refuge for escaped slaves, free blacks and convalescent African-American troops.

Photograph by Enoch Long
Liljenquist Collection at the Library of Congress

Another glimpse of life at the Benton Barracks
is provided by a series of portraits of men
photographed in a painted backdrop there.

Same backdrop

These pictures of convalescing soldiers must have reassured
families back home.

The painting behind the unknown soldier is signed "Evans Artist."
The backdrop is similar; the photo is flipped over.

James Boston (1834-1924) after the War
wearing his uniform and a GAR veteran's ribbon.
War records describe him as
5’ 11 ½” tall with gray eyes and dark hair

In April, 1864, the Bostons were discharged from their hospital duties. A few months later they homesteaded land in Pawnee County, Nebraska, where their first daughter Hattie was born that summer.

Read Emily Parsons's Memoir of nursing life here:

Stationery from the Benton Barracks

If you think you might have an ancestor on Caroline's quilt leave a comment with his name (Caroline's is the only female name on her quilt) and her family will check for you.


Alwayskeptintap said...

What an interesting read (as always) especially for me, today. My grandmother's
maiden name was Gerlach (baptised Wilhemina Therese) but aka Wilma Therese Gerlach (m. Gundersdorf, Arthur. Although, my 82 yo mother could not give me much more information, it did at least spark a conversation (to be continued with my younger Aunts). :D THANKS FOR THE SPARK!

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