April brings rain and renewal and the green of spring spreading up from the ground to the tops of the trees.
April 1861 also brought war.
Margaret Davison and her sister-in-law, Emily Boyd, were young wives and mothers when civil war came to the United States on April 12, 1861. Their husbands, George L. Davison and James Doud Boyd, Margaret’s younger brother, would soon join lines of Lima area men marching off to war.
Although both men survived, many of those left behind — including James’ wife, Emily, and young daughter — did not. One hundred sixty years ago, diseases such as smallpox could be as lethal as bullets or cannonballs.
Through it all, Margaret and her sister, Anna, wrote to George and to their brother James. Many of the letters, particularly Margaret’s, were donated to the Allen County Historical Society. Margaret’s letters, according to the historical society, “give us a glimpse into northwestern Ohio through the eyes of an independent young woman. At once patriotic, opinionated, impulsive, loyal and loving.”
Patriotic fervor ran high in April 1861.
“We never witnessed such a deep and unmistakable current of feeling as has prevailed in this vicinity since the first news of the firing upon Fort Sumter,” the Lima Weekly Gazette wrote April 24, 1861. “There is scarcely a man who is not outspoken in favor of sustaining the Government against treason and rebellion.”
In Shawnee Township, 63 of those men met at the Morse School in May 1861 “for the purpose of taking preliminary steps toward the organization of a Home Guards,” according to the Gazette. The group resolved that “the members of the Shawnee Home Guards under the present alarming aspect of our national affairs look upon all who will not assist by word or act the cause of Union and Constitution, as against it.” The resolution was signed by G.L. Davison, secretary of the group.
The following summer, George L. Davison and James Doud Boyd, his brother-in-law, joined the 99th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was organized at Camp Lima, which stood on the south bank of the Ottawa River between Collett and Metcalf streets. They were mustered in for a three-year enlistment on Aug. 26, 1862. Camp Lima did not last nearly so long as their enlistments. The camp’s 34 barracks, each 17-by-24 feet, were sold at auction in November 1862.
The 99th Ohio marched off to war at the end of August 1862. The regiment, eventually consolidated with the 50th Ohio Infantry, served in campaigns in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.
In a letter written soon after her husband left, Margaret wrote to George: “How I should like to have a good talk face to face, but that is impossible at present, but our hearts are as deeply linked and I might say more deeply than they were when we were together, for now we realize how dear we are to one another.”
Later in September 1862, she again wrote George. “I am very lonesome this evening. The children have gone to bed and mother is reading. I thought I could not enjoy myself better than I could by writing to you. No one knows the loneliness I experience in your absence. I know it is right that you should leave us to help maintain the freedom of our country, but when I think of the many happy hours we have spent together and that we must now be separated and for aught, we know forever the tears will flow most profusely.”
Margaret’s letters also brought news from home. In late November 1862, she wrote: “Yesterday we were at Charlie Hover’s and had Thanksgiving dinner. All the neighbors were there. Grandpa Boyd read a chapter and made a prayer. It was a very solemn day for us. If you were at home I would enjoy myself better.”
In early December 1862, she wrote that “Grandpa and Grandma visit us whenever the weather is pleasant. They can walk from Uncle A’s (Margaret’s uncle Abraham Boyd) here and back the same day. They think so much of our little ones. Grandpa says they are such smart children.”
At the time George left for war, he and Margaret were the parents of two children – Ida Alma, born in 1859, and Louis Mortimer, born in July 1862. Another four would be born after the war.
“The children are well,” Margaret wrote to George in January 1863. “Louis grows very fast. He can sit alone and handle his play things first rate. He likes to jump in his jumper better than ever Ida did. He is just as spry as a cricket.”
In a letter written the first day of February 1863, Margaret reacted to the deaths of some of George’s comrades from disease while the 99th was in camp at Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“We all feel very badly to hear of poor Bill’s death. Ida had two crying spells about it. … You know he made a great deal of her. She said poor William, he won’t carry me to the barn anymore.”
It is not certain who Bill was, though he is mentioned often in the letters.
Copperheads, a faction of Democrats who favored making peace with the South, never seem far from Margaret’s thoughts, or her scorn. In April 1863, she wrote George: “Today was election day. The copperheads keep very quiet. The Union men say just what they please, and they (the Copperheads) have to take it. They have no more courage than our old ewe that has but one ear and eye.”
Anna Boyd also heaped scorn on the Copperheads in a letter to her brother-in-law George the same month. In the letter, Anna notes improving weather has dried the ever-present winter mud, the “most disagreeable of all things,” which ruined the season’s sledding. Although, she added, “I don’t suppose we would have had any sleigh rides as all the boys have gone to the army except some copperheads that of course, we don’t have anything to say to.”
In July 1863, after the fall of the key Confederate city of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River to the Union Army, Anna wrote George: “Had a jollification in Lima the evening after the news came and it was in the full sense of the term. Some of the very best citizens were intoxicated – some that were never known to drink any intoxicating drink before. I think a few more such victories will begin to discourage our butternuts (southern sympathizers). They will not be quite so bold in advocating the cause of Jefferson Davis and his rebel crew for some of them would glory in the overthrow of the Union.”
In August 1863, Margaret wrote that her brother James has been home for a visit. “Doud was here Friday but did not stay long for the reason there are so many to see he hardly gets a chance to take a free breath and Em (his wife Emily) is most stingy of his company.”
In early March 1864, Emily, 26, died of smallpox.
“It seems she died as she had lived since Doud went away, alone, no one with her but Katy Ann, her mother and Sallie McGibbon, Miss Rudy having left a day or two before.” James and Emily were the parents of two children, Herman Doud, born in 1859, and Ester “Ettie,” born in 1861.
In her letter to her brother, James, about his wife’s death, Anna wrote of the children: “I am writing now with Louis and Ettie both by me, chattering like little birds, so you can imagine what a nice time I have writing.” Ettie died two weeks shy of her third birthday in August 1864.
George Davison resigned from the Army in July 1864. In 1869, he and Margaret moved to LaSalle County, Illinois, where they raised their six children. Margaret died in 1891 and George remarried in October 1909 but died in January 1910.
James Doud Boyd left the Army in June 1865 after the end of the war. He died in April 1916.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.