In Memory of Charlie

At  Charlie Moores' grave, Memorial Day 2014

At Charlie Moores’ grave, Memorial Day 2014

In Hattie’s War, Charlie Moores plays base ball with Hattie and the other neighbor children in the backyard–until he enlists as a drummer with the 39th Wisconsin Regiment, heading to Memphis for the summer.

President Lincoln really did put out a call for 100-day regiments, with the thought that the war could be won in that time with a surge in troop numbers. Several such regiments departed from Milwaukee in June of 1864–and a drummer named Charlie Moores was among them.

Those of you who have read Hattie’s War are aware of Charlie’s fate. His true story is just as tragic. Charlie never made it home from Memphis–he died of fever while serving with the Colonel Buttrick’s 39th Wisconsin Regiment that summer.

Last Memorial Day, I took part in a wreath-laying ceremony with the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society at Forest Home Cemetery. I carried the wreath for Charlie Moores, who is buried there. As the May breeze blew through the towering oaks, I thought of Charlie–a boy who died too young, who left no direct descendants to remember him. What might he have really been like? Did he play base ball? What was his favorite subject in school? What did he like to eat? What did he plan to do when he grew up? What made his heart sing?  I felt both humbled, and heartbroken, to carry his memory.

There are thousands of young soldiers like Charlie. They lie forgotten in cemeteries across the country and over the seas. On Memorial Day, it behooves us to remember them–not as white gravestones, but as people–people who laughed and cried, went to school, learned a trade, played sports, sang and danced, and kissed their mothers or sweethearts good-bye.

Even more important, let us honor these fallen soldiers by working for peace and understanding among people, cultures, and countries different than our own, so that the cycle of fighting and violence may end.

Categories: Civil War, Hattie's War, West Side Soldiers' Aid Society | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Play Ball!

IMG_2484Hilda and I never played baseball with uniforms, referees, coaches, or practices. Baseball, to us, was the game you played on the diamond by the well pit or out in the sheep pasture, whenever a family picnic brought in enough players. Players ranged in age from the six-year-old just learning to swing a bat, to Dad, who was permanent pitcher.

With Dad pitching, the young child’s hit managed to roll right past the pitcher’s mound, yet Dad always seemed to catch the ball hit by the teenager. Our games were more about everyone playing together than keeping score.

When writing Hattie’s War, we drew on our childhood experiences to create the neighborhood ball games in Hattie’s yard. This Saturday, we’ll be watching the Milwaukee Cream Citys play vintage baseball. Their games, played in an open field in a park ringed by oak trees, are much more like our games in the pasture than like watching the Brewers at Miller Park.

Please join us at Greenfield Park at 1:00 on Saturday, May 2 to see how base ball was played in Hattie’s day. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and enjoy an afternoon outdoors.  Details can be found on the Cream Citys webpage. Books will be available for purchase as well.

 

 

Categories: Childhood Memories, Hattie's War, Racine County, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

From Jubilation to Mourning

In Hattie’s War, Hattie and her family celebrate the war’s end with the rest of Milwaukee. Little did she know how quickly the joy would pass. The city was still decked out in red, white, and blue when the news came from Washington–President Lincoln had been shot and killed. Those who can remember President Kennedy’s assassination, or the days after 9/11, can imagine the grief and horror experienced by the people of Milwaukee when the news reached them on Saturday.

The Milwaukee Daily News for Sunday, April 16, 1865 headline read “The City of Milwaukee in Mourning.”
The appearance of our streets yesterday presented a sad and striking contrast with that of last Monday. Upon the receipt of the news of the fearful crime at the National Capital, the people were stricken with a paralyzing grief and horror. Men gathered together in little groups at the corners of  streets, and many wept while listening to the recital of, or perusing the dispatches. Never has such a deep gloom settled upon the people. So sudden and unexpected was the whole affair, that it seemed like a frightful dream, and people seemed to be in a [d]aze — loth to believe the report till the signature of Secretary Stanton confirmed it beyond doubt. The mayor, Abner Kirby, promptly issued a proclamation requesting the suspension of business, and that all buildings be clothed in mourning. The request was at once complied with. Flags upon buildings and vessels were placed at half-mast, and the solemn black and white drapery was hung out from very many buildings, reminding one and all of the sorrowful calamity. The whole of East Water Street was clothed in mourning — far different from the colors which were exhibited on Monday last. All business was suspended. There was no bustle, no activity. Men and women walked in silence, many bearing some emblem of mourning. No one but expressed sorrow and regret, and denounced the murderers. Less than one week ago it was our lot to chronicle one of the most jubilant celebrations Milwaukee ever witnessed, today one of the greatest reasons of mourning. May we in future be spared the latter trial.

In my last post, I mentioned that Colonel Buttrick had been put in charge of the celebration parade for the city. Here’s the rest of the story.

The Death of the President— The Funeral Ceremonies In Milwaukee
“The celebration of the nation’s victories, fixed for the 20th, is abandoned, and in its stead the people are called upon to pay tribute of respect to the memory of our chief magistrate, whose tragic death has filled us with horror, and whose loss to the nation has bound us together with the bonds of a common sorrow. The funeral ceremonies, consisting of a procession and orations, will take place on the day of the funeral of President Lincoln to be announced hereafter. Meanwhile, all associations, societies and organizations in the city are requested to report as soon as practicable, to the undersigned that they may be assigned a place in the procession. We have called upon those who have been and still are in the service, to rejoice with us. We ask them now to unite with us in our public manifestation of respect to the memory of one whom a nation honors and whom history will make immortal. Details will be published hereafter.
By direction of the committee,
E. L. BUTTRICK,
Chief Marshal”

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“Enthusiastic Rejoicing of the People”

One hundred and fifty years ago today, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U.S. Grant, ending the Civil War. For Hattie Bigelow, and the people in the northern states, this was a joyous day. Most Americans, too young to remember the end of World War II, can probably not imagine what this meant to the people. To imagine what Hattie would have experienced, we went to the newspapers of the time.

The Milwaukee Daily Journal dated April 11, 1865 reads “The wildest enthusiasm prevailed throughout the city yesterday, and the people turned out en masse to celebrate the last and greatest victory of the Union army. From morning till night the streets were filled with people, every one bearing in some device the national colors. East Water Street was decorated along its entire length with red, white and blue, as was also Wisconsin, Maine West Water street, and from nearly every building in the city “waved the starry flag.” 

“Early in the morning the people began to congregate in numbers at the corners of the principal streets, and as if by common consent, all places of business were closed. Every one was all animation, and in a short space of time was inaugurated one of the largest and most jubilant celebrations Milwaukee has ever witnessed. The cannon were brought out, and peal after peal shook the earth. The bells were rung [with] untiring zeal. Every available carriage or other conveyance was brought out, and every horse bore the national colors affixed to some part of the harness. The Chamber of Commerce took an active part in the celebration, and a delegation from that body hurriedly visited all the prominent business establishments, and organized in a surprisingly short time The Grand Procession.”

That evening buildings of the city were lit up in celebration, as the Milwaukee Daily News states: “In view of the glorious news of the surrender of Lee, the near termination of our bloody war and the prospect of early peace, The Daily News Building, together with the whole of Ludington’s block was illuminated last evening from the fifth story to the street. On East Water and Wisconsin streets and on the front facing Spring street the windows presented one blaze of light. It ia well to rejoice in a time like this. Our country has lived through four years of desperate war, and the government has been shaken to its very foundation. And now that the end approaches, and we hope for a speedy termination of our present great trouble, and the preservation of the old Union, and look to see the starry flag wave over the whole country with not a star erased, it is meet, we say, to rejoice. The hearts of a patriotic people are enlivened with this hope, and in accordance with and symbolic of this, the windows of THE NEWS office were illuminated, presenting a brilliant and gorgeous spectacle of light.”

How exciting it must have been for Hattie and her classmates to be let out of school to join in the celebrations. After four long years of war and suffering, peace had come at last. Colonel Buttrick was put in charge of the more formal procession and celebration to come the following week–but that’s another story.

 

 

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Abolitionists Pardoned!

In Plank Road Summer, Yorkville pioneer families debate whether citizens in the free state of Wisconsin should help runaway slaves. Today it is hard to believe that such actions could be considered criminal, but in the 1840s and ’50s, aiding fugitive slaves was against the law even in Northern states.  Nobody can ever know just how many unknown abolitionists risked their livelihoods and reputations by assisting runaways, but records exist of those who were caught and convicted of the crime.

How inspiring to read that Illinois governor Pat Quinn recently granted clemency to three 19th-century abolitionists. Back in 1842, Dr. Richard Eells of Quincy, Illinois, gave Charley, a runaway slave, a change of clothes and tried to transport him to a school for missionaries that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. When Charley and his conductor were caught, Dr. Eells was found guilty and fined $400. Today the Eells home serves as a museum recognized by the National Park Service, but until a few days ago, Dr. Eells was still a convicted criminal.

Two years ago, the Friends of the Dr. Richard Eells House began seeking a pardon for Eells. As Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon worked to assemble the case, the stories of two more Illinois abolitionists were uncovered. In 1843, Julius and Samuel Willard, a father and son from Jacksonville, were convicted of trying to help an escaped slave.  According to Lt. Gov. Simon, “It’s important for all of us to remember heroes who spoke up and acted at great risk to themselves for what was right, even when they knew it was not what the law would support.” After reviewing the cases, Governor Quinn issued pardons for all three abolitionists, calling them “early warriors for freedom.” (For full Chicago Tribune story, click here.)

Hattie’s War and the Plank Road books celebrate the lives of ordinary people who work together to do what is right, whether by assisting fugitive slaves, aiding families devastated by disaster, or supporting veterans and their families. In this New Year, may each of us remember the unsung heroes and do our part in our communities and our world.

Categories: Hattie's War, Plank Road Summer book, Underground Railroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Hattie’s War

Hattie's War book cover

Our sister Gretchen Demuth Hansen took this stunning photo of Faith, a young Civil War re-enactor, featuring a vintage bat and ball from the Milwaukee Cream Citys.

We are pleased to announce that Hattie’s War will be released by Crispin Books on November 1:
In 1864 Milwaukee, eleven-year-old Hattie Bigelow, who is more interested in base ball than in sewing circles, loses her back yard to a garden for the new Soldiers’ Home–and then rebels against her family’s expectations during the difficult final year of the Civil War.

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Fair Days

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Fifteen years ago when my ten year-old daughter Katrina began showing 4-H lambs at the Porter County Fair in Northwest Indiana, her nine year-old cousin David came to visit from suburban Chicago.   City boy David swept the aisles between the animal pens so faithfully that the sheep barn won the Cleanest Barn contest.

When we were not at the fairgrounds, David’s mother Emily and I worked on an idea for a book we called “Girls of the Plank Road,” a story of pioneer Wisconsin featuring the first Racine County Fair.   We had fond memories of our own county fair days, and my daughter’s Hampshire lamb was descended from the sheep that Emily and our brothers and sisters and I had shown in the 1970’s as members of the Yorkville 4-H Club.

Back then, the sheep and many of the other animals were exhibited in tents, but today the fairgrounds features an extensive array of permanent structures, including a long row of livestock barns.   The Plank Road families of the nineteenth century would be amazed to see what enormous enterprises the county fairs of the Midwest have become.

The Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fairs took place in the 1850s.

Today the Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fair took place in the 1850s.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, Racine County | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making History at the Home Farm

Hilda and Emily Demuth grew up on Bo-Mar Farm in Yorkville, Wisconsin, a few miles north of Union Grove.

Hilda and Emily Demuth spent many hours working and playing in this barn in Yorkville, Wisconsin.

Tonight at 6:30 Emily and I will talk about our books in one of our favorite places–the hayloft of the big old barn at Bo-Mar Farm in Yorkville Township, Wisconsin.  The History Seekers of the Union Grove Area have invited us to speak, and our sister Gretchen Hansen and her husband are hosting the event.

Six of us Demuths grew up on Bo-Mar Farm, known to our readers as the McEachron homestead, and we have vivid memories of working and playing in that barn.  For many summers we sweated and scratched as we hauled and stacked bales of hay in that loft.  In cooler weather we built castles–complete with dungeons–of straw bales.  Our 4-H lambs were born in that barn, and Mr. Vyvyan came to shear every June.  My horse and our two ponies grazed in the pasture for many years.

After we all moved out and Mom and Dad no longer kept livestock, Dad laid a new floor in the empty hayloft, hung basketball hoops and a swing, fenced off the open end, and built a staircase up to “Grampa’s Playpen.”   Twenty Demuth grandchildren and plenty of adults have played in that hayloft in recent years, including musicians at a genuine barn dance.

barn building pic

In the year 1900, the Yorkville community worked together to build this barn.

One of the Demuth family treasures is a photograph of the barn-raising, a turn-of-the-century community event.  I hope the men who built the barn and the women who fed them all had time and energy for dancing when the work was done.

Many different kinds of activities have taken place in that barn over the past hundred and fourteen years, but one of the most unique occurred just a few years ago.  On a brisk autumn day our nephew Thomas Martin Hansen was baptized in that hayloft, which was hung with family quilts as a backdrop for a marble baptismal font and conveniently furnished with church pews.

 

Categories: Childhood Memories, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Glimpse of Hattie’s War

soldiers' aid fair signold abe at soldiers' aid fairEarly in Plank Road Winter, Hans and his father reminisce about seeing Old Abe, the eagle mascot of the Eighth Wisconsin regiment, at the Soldiers’ Home Fair in Milwaukee when Henry Hoffman returned from the war.  Later, when Sophie visits the Soldiers’ Home, she notices that her mother is “as proud of the new building as though the donations from Yorkville ladies had funded the entire project.”

 

women at soldiers' aid fair          The Soldiers’ Home Fair of 1865 was the most significant fundraising event of Civil War Wisconsin.  In this grand version of the popular soldiers’ aid fairs, Milwaukee women enlisted the help of communities statewide to raise over $100,000 to purchase land and build a permanent home for returning soldiers on property that still serves veterans today.

fish pond at soldiers' aid fair

 

In our forthcoming book Hattie’s War, Emily and I tell the story of eleven year-old Hattie Bigelow, a Milwaukee girl deeply involved in relief efforts, including the Soldiers’ Home Fair.

On June 21, 2014, the modern West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society of Milwaukee recreated the sights and sounds and smells of that fair, treating visitors to the Civil War Museum in Kenosha to a glimpse of Hattie’s world.  In the spirit of the dedicated nineteenth-century citizens who continued to support American soldiers after the war, the sponsors of this modern fair donated all proceeds to the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative.

Emily and I are eager to share the rich heritage of Wisconsin’s Civil War history with readers of Hattie’s War this fall.

Categories: Hattie's War, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mom–Our Number One Fan

Marge Demuth at Plank Road Summer celebration at St. John's Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Mom attends many of our book events–and she schedules them for us, too.

Long before Emily and I began working on the story first known as “Girls of the Plank Road,”  our mother, Marjorie Demuth, encouraged us to write.  Mostly we wrote accounts of county fair projects for our 4-H record books, but we also wrote essays and speeches for local contests by groups such as the American Legion.  Back then I did not always appreciate my mother’s prodding or her forthright criticism of my writing and public speaking skills.

Now that Mom is our financial manager and number one promoter–she sells more books than Emily and I do, and she even gives presentations, using those public speaking skills she worked so hard to teach us–I am grateful for her long years of effort on our behalf.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!  The Plank Road books wouldn’t be here without you.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, On Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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