18 - HOME SWEET HOME: WARREN
Home again! home-sweet-home!. At Warren we were met by the town band and most of the inhabitants of the place. I had kept in touch with the editor of the Sentinel, and so of course, the people were kept informed of our doings and when our special train would arrive.
The following day a dinner was given to us including all of the loyal people who wished to partake of the feast and join in the demonstration of welcome. There were very few of the townspeople who were not enthusiastic, loyal people. The Mayor of the town gave a brief address because he was not gifted with oratorical ability to give a long speech. The Marshall of the day gave a very interesting and appropriate address.
As nearly as I could remember there were about twenty of the original Company left to take part in this reunion. Everyone was soon busy at work again after visiting friends and settling up their accounts.
Father had secured a piece of land to settle for a debt which was situated near Appleton Wisconsin, near Green Bay. We found much of the land covered with water, from a few inches to a foot in depth and it was also covered with tamarack. There were eighty acres in the farm. When we arrived to examine the place father said "well what do you think of it?" "well to tell the truth, I think its not worth ten dollars" I promptly answered. "I don't think it is worth anything" he returned, "but I thought you might be able to make something off the timber".
When we left the scene I had no hope of ever getting anything out of our Wisconsin land, but about six weeks later my chance came to make a disposition of the possession. A peddler came by our way offering a money maker- a patent right to a soap making compound. He asked five hundred dollars for his patent right. I believed it to be worth that amount and that it would be a profitable investment, but had no money to buy it with. Happily I remembered our land near Green Bay and offered to trade him that for his patent, but little believing that he would agree to such a proposition. He did, and an even trade. We never heard how he succeeded with the land, perhaps he traded it off again before long.
I worked the new business together with other work during the winter and did pretty well. We got a draying outfit and had a man running that in Warren while I was doing the soap business and the butcher business. I butchered hogs and delivered them to market for the farmers for from fifty cents to a dollar apiece. I got railroad laborers from Warren to help me in the butcher work. During the winter season many of them were laid-off from the railroad so they were glad to pick a days work in this way when they could. The market required all dressed hog, the price was about a schilling a pound then. The largest ones we butchered that winter were two which weighed seven hundred, and seven hundred and fifteen pounds each. We also spent some time in cutting and grubbing second growth timber. We were paid for this work in wood for fuel purposes. We paid our dray master fifty cents a day and board to run the dray that winter. The following summer I spent all the time at draying, which paid fairly well.
During the years immediately following the war, the farmers prospered, that part of the country developed well, land had been well tilled, and the buildings on the farm good, that was good was worth about forty dollars per acre. Raw land was worth from six to fifteen dollars per acre. Our son's were now considerable help to us. Joe, the eldest boy, was real handy with horses so he helped me considerably. Tom, the next boy, did a good deal of work around us poor farmers for which he got good pay as a boy.
As severe blow came to us in 1867 when wife and mother was taken in death from us. She was sick only three days of blood poisoning attending a premature childbirth. We had five children and the eldest was about seventeen years old. The youngest was three years of age, so I had to employ a woman to help us to take care of the family. The care of the family for the next three years was a heavy burden for me.
In 1869 I remarried; in this marriage I was blessed for my whole life as long as this noble wife and mother lived. She had children, four girls and a boy. She had had her share of trouble too during the long struggle of the war. Three years before the war she was left a widow with three children. Edward Towne, the eldest, was a boy of ten years. Lou was but a baby, and the twins- Sarah and Alice, came between. She remarried and they went to Arkansas just before the war to take of a railroad boarding camp, that is for a contractor who is building the road. The road was being constructed from Memphis to a point in Arkansas. It was through a malarial country, her husband contracted a fever there and died in a short time. He left her with a baby added to the family.
After this sad and trying ordeal she moved to Memphis to stay until she could make enough to take herself and family back to Illinois. Before she could do this the blockade of the Mississippi was on so they stayed in Memphis until the fall of 1863, after the blockade was raised. They returned by the way of New Boston, Illinois, where she had many relatives who were prosperous farmers in that vicinity. Soon after this they went back to Apple River where her mother had a small farm.
She often speaks of the big heartedness of Sherman while he occupied Memphis, and she was one of the great many needy mothers who were helped by that kind old man. He had his soldiers go out into the forest and get wood for fuel for both the Union and Confederate women. He had great quantities of this wood brought in for this purpose. It was sure a blessing to have such a man in command there at that time.
Her mother bought a Colonel's property in town, who had made a rather unenviable reputation in the war, so consequently life was not pleasant for him in his old home place. For several years she worked hard at nursing, keeping borders and etcetera, and other honorable work to keep the home together. She was striving in this way when I became acquainted with her and until our marriage.
To go back a little now- during the war, her only son and eldest child, Ed Towne, eager to help his mother and also to go to war, at the age fourteen enlisted as a ninety day man for a bounty of one hundred dollars. After this time expired he returned home but stayed a short time when he re-enlisted for a year and secured a four hundred dollar bounty money. But fifty dollars of it, he nor his mother never got, for his Captain who was entrusted with the money of many others, embezzled it all.
Also to go back to the time she was in Memphis- a Southern planter and his family took her twin daughters to raise and care for. She thought that she was very fortunate in finding a fine home for them. A misfortunes of war fell heavily upon these people, they were ruined by it. So the poor little girls had to suffer the consequences too. They were compelled to leave these people and find employment elsewhere, and they found a home with an aged missionary. But for sixteen years their mother did not know where they where. At the time of our marriage I was busy at house moving during the summer season. This occasion took place in 1869.
In October of 1870 the annual rally of "The Survivors of Andersonville" was held in the auditorium of Chicago. There was an immense audience to welcome us. The first day was taken up in the visiting of comrades, the second day in the election of officers, the third day we devoted to addresses to the public. The auditorium was filled by a vast throng of patriotic people. The addresses consisted mostly of recitals of the experiences of Andersonville survivors.
It so happened that I was one of the first selected for a speech, and it seemed to me that I failed very much in saying what I most wished to have told. My embarrassment almost overcame me at first. But soon I forgot the audience and was way down in that hell on earth, with the dead and the dying, the sick and the broken hearted, and many hundreds of miles from their home. My blood boiled as I told of one awful incident, trying to picture the conditions of a sixteen year boy who had his feet eaten off by scurvy which terminated in gangrene, and how he had sawed off the bones of his feet when the tendons were laid bare by the flesh all being eaten away; and of my carrying him on the transport, and how in my weakened condition, I fell on the deck with my human burden; there was little more than a skeleton. I was but little more than the same myself.
At this point in my recital I was interrupted by a thundering voice in the rear of the audience, which before it was stilled, caused a tense situation. He said "it's a damn lie!" and added a curse which is better not to quote here. Before I could collect myself to answer such a contemptible wretch, a man who was seated close beside the rostrum ascended to a place near me, sat down and removed his shoes. Turning to the audience he almost shouted "let the man who said that come here and I'll beat his brains out with these shoes which cover my artificial feet! I am John W. January! I am the boy who my friend here has just told you of. There was a stir in the rear of the audience. Those who saw and heard it were aware of what was going on. We heard that the police quickly saved the wretch from violence from the hands of the audience.
It was a very trying experience for me but I was satisfied to tell the truth of our awful experiences in the war prisons of the people of the South. John W. January soon followed with a extemporaneous address, not having expected to be called upon to speak. But under the circumstances he just had to say something of his terrible experience, and he gave a very credible talk. The audience thoroughly appreciated it because they could see that every word of what he said was the truth.
The fourth day we were most hospitably treated by the people of Chicago. Officers who had commanded the Regiments and Companies, which our members had been apart, met with us and were very friendly and liberal. They treated us all to a supper at the Sherman House before we departed for our homes- they treated us royally. I was made very happy by being presented with a gold medal after my address. It was inscribed with a figure of a bloodhound on one side, and on the other side a boy being trampled to death; and also, presented by the "Andersonville Survivors Association". Most unfortunately a few years later I lost this present by it being stolen; I always thought by a young skip-grace in our town.
For some time previous to, and later than this, I suffered extremely by asthma. During the winter months I was almost wholly incapacitated by the distressing disease. The same year I sold out the dray business there were two others engaged in the same work in the town, which did not allow a living for any of us. At this time Warren had about twenty eight hundred people and there was a good deal of business done in the town considering its size. After leaving the draying business I engaged in house moving work. After my first wife died we went into debt for a rather worrisome extent. Mary, my eldest daughter, had to take her mothers place as best she could in the care of the home. We had a woman come to do the heaviest work. When I remarried we found there had been a great deal of extravagance in the management of the household affairs. But I was now blessed with a wife who realized the situation and proceeded to manage the home with economy and efficiency such as comparatively few women are capable of, and she always had been one of the best of wives and mothers, and still lives to help and cheer in the home as very few can do it at the advanced age of 83. She had had her big share of troubles and privations during the war too. But she has the happy faculty of driving trouble from her and not allowing it to incapacitate her for the duties of life. She looks upon life and death reverently, but very sensibly. She often speaks of the big heartedness of General Sherman while he occupied Memphis and she was one of the great many women who were recipients of his kindness. He had his soldiers go out to the forest by the city and bring in great quantities of wood for fuel for Confederate and Union women.
The year following our marriage, the awful Chicago fire destroyed a great part of the city. After this catastrophe advertising for teams and men to clear away the debris was widely distributed through the country. The city, contractors, and owners of the wrecked buildings offered five dollars per day for man and team. So I was not long in responding to this call for help. I had a fine team of percheron horses, which with the harness, weighed thirty six hundred pounds and they cost us two hundred and twenty five dollars. I took with me one of my sons and an orphan from New York who had worked for the farmers around Warren. We were the only ones who went from Warren to work among the ruins of Chicago.
The journey to great city consumed nearly three days. Upon arriving there we put up at the United States Hotel. It was one of the oldest hotels in the city and bore an awful hard reputation for bedbugs, but it was the only hotel available for us at that particular time. The first job we got was for the Field Leader Company. The work was in cleaning the debris from the basement. It was very hard and disagreeable, and the worst part of it was in getting a large safe out of the hole. This job required about fourteen days of hard work to complete. My son received a dollar and a half, and myself with team, five dollars per day. The orphan got work for others nearby. As soon as we finished work for this firm we went to work for Potter Palmer at the same kind of work. This job required two and one half weeks to finish.
Rebuilding of Field Leader and Company's establishment commenced as soon as we were through cleaning up. The debris was all dumped into the lake. There was a bridge built out into the lake for the purpose of facilitating this work. It was a very unsafe structure to go over, especially with a team that was a little shy. So the fellow who was doing the bossing on this end of the job asked my son to drive his team out onto it; he positively refused to do it. The next load I took myself. The sight that met my eyes as I reached the scene provoked me to almost uncontrollable degree. Upon the bridge was a fine gray team which was plainly skittish upon the bridge, or rather, trestle. Upon the passing of a switch engine the team began crowding and one was pushed off the structure; and it hung by its collar for a few minutes which nearly exhausted its mate. But it soon dropped through the ice below, and broke through, and was never seen again.
Though it was early in the winter season, the weather had been bitterly cold and froze quite a thickness of ice. I turned on the fellow whom presumed to boss the job and gave him a scathing rebuke for ordering my boy to drive his team on such an outrageously dangerous place. A man, in standing there, asked an explanation of the whole affair. After hearing what I had to say, he turned to the boss and ordered him to leave the premises immediately. We learned afterward that the would-be boss was a city alderman. There were many horses lost in that work on the dump before the clearing was finished. The debris, which was dumped into the lake, covered about five acres which in later years was valuable property. But there were many, many, more acres filled in before we got through with it.
Rebuilding of the burned district proceeded with astonishing quickness. My part in this work came to an end by a most villainous and heartbreaking deed, by one who was surely possessed of the devil. I went to take care of my team as usual in the morning when a sickening sight met my eyes. One of my horse's stifle joint was cut and the other's- one leg broken above the knee. I got help as quickly as possible. One of the horses was rendered entirely useless and the other, together with a new harness and wagon, I sold for one hundred and twenty five dollars.
I was offered a trade for nearly five hundred dollars for the property a few before the villainous deed was committed. But I considered it to be a hard matter to convert the property into cash at that time, and for that reason declined to trade. I put a detective on the case but the man who I suspected of the crime disappeared entirely from the city immediately. I had sent my son home to go to school before this time. Our boy orphan stayed in the city; he was getting along well when I left for home.
I was very disheartened when I got home, and to make matters worse, the asthma attack came back on me worse than ever so that I was unable to do any work for nearly three months. The next spring we resumed house moving with a smaller team than we had. I could have had work in the planing mill, but could not endure the dust on account of the asthma. We did fairly well in the house moving business. I charged ten dollars per day when not taking a job by contract. I had three hundred dollars invested in the business, exclusive of the team and wagon.