Superscripts are hot-linked to notes.
Lewis H. Potts was born September 23, 1846 in Jackson, Cape Girardeau county, Missouri. He was the 7th son and the 8th child of William and Dorcas Mitchell Potts. Throughout his life, he went by Henry and frequently listed his name as Henry L. instead of Lewis H. Potts. Missouri left few memories for Henry. At the age of 4, in 1850, the family moved to Rushville, Schuyler county, Illinois. Henry matured in Rushville, a process hastened by the Civil War.
In 1861 all four of Henry's older bothers enlisted in the Union Army. Henry was too young. By the spring of the following year two brothers had been wounded. Despite his youth, then only 16, on August 11, 1862, Henry became private H. L. Potts, Company C, Illinois 119th Volunteer Infantry1.
Company C had 117 men: 82 from Rushville and the balance from the surrounding area2. The unit was activated October, 1862, as part of the Army of the Tennessee3. The Rushville women made a company flag and the men elected Robert Greer their captain4. Colonel Thomas J. Kinney commanded the regiment and readied the troops5. That November, they reported to Major Gen. S.A. Hurlbut at Jackson6. Only half saw the war to its conclusion7.
The 119th served in the Western Theater: the Mississippi valley. The western Rebel army was commanded by C.S.A. Gen. Pemberton, Henry's distant cousin8. Training was close to home, but the company soon entered the war9.
Company C first chased C.S.A. General Nathan Bedford Forest through Tennessee and Mississippi. Failing to capture him, they were assigned to Humboldt, Tennessee10. At Humboldt, and to their dismay, the unit heard of Southern sympathizers among their home town. Local papers reprinted letters from the soldiers, including those from the 119th, denouncing Southern sympathizers11. The emancipation proclamation of 1863 pushed matters to the limits. Commanders of the 119th felt the letters from home opposing Lincoln's proclamation necessitated a meeting of the regiment to gather support12.
From Humboldt the 119th moved to Jackson, Tennessee, where through the winter of 1862/3 they guarded the Mobile & Ohio Railroad13. The Union capture of Memphis, Tennessee in the spring of 1863 brought a relocation for the 119th to that vicinity where they guarded roads and performed other light duty from March, 1863, through the balance of the year14.
The regiment was anxious15. Other than the chase of C.S.A. General Forrest times had been uneventful and the 119th had yet to see significant action16. The unit historian later described this as the "good times" of their service17. By the summer, however, the Regiment had tired of guard duty and were ready to join the conflict18.
The company was assigned to the 16th Army Corps that fall19. The good times were over. The order leading to engagement with the enemy was thought at hand20. Winter, however, brought nothing but false starts. By November it appeared as if the "winter over" would be in Memphis21. To make matters worse, on Christmas eve, C.S.A. General Forrest paid them a visit. Colonel Kinney and 22 men were taken prisoner at the regimental hospital22. Now the Regiment was not just anxious for action, there was a score to be settled. It was some time before the favor could be returned.
In January, 1864, the 119th was reassigned within the 16th Army Corps from the 4th Brigade in Memphis to the 1st Brigade under General A.J. Smith23. Smith, a no nonsense fighting commander, guided the unit through the duration of the war. They traveled down the Mississippi river to join General Sherman's advance from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Meridian24.
The company saw its first action in several small skirmishes during the winter campaign to Meridian. The Confederates offered little resistance and left Meridian deserted when the Unionists arrived. En route, the 119th was introduced to Sherman's philosophy of "destroying the foundations of rebellion." Any article of use was destroyed, all structures burned and all livestock killed. As Sherman put the matter himself, his forces made "a swath of desolation fifty miles broad across the State of Mississippi which the present generation will not forget."25 Continuing beyond Meridian was too risky without reinforcement. Accordingly, the van returned to Vicksburg that March26. Reports home told of the exploits but left the tactics of Sherman unstated27. After so much guard duty an empty chase was better than no chase at all and the letters home showed the excitement28.
Back from the Vicksburg march, national and international politics became a driving force. The Lincoln administration focused on Texas and Louisiana - then heartland of the cotton empire. Confederate trade with Europe continued through Mexico despite a strong Union naval blockade. Indeed France's Maximillion, a Confederate sympathizer with alleged intents of invading the South, occupied Mexico and traded with the Rebels. A successful expedition through Texas could place the vast cotton areas under Union control, check the Confederate's European trade through Mexico and permit Federal concentration on prosecuting the war east of the Mississippi. Thus, the "Red River Expedition" was conceived29.
The Red River Expedition was commanded by once Massachusetts Governor, now General, Nathaniel Banks. A.J. Smith's forces, including the 119th, were "loaned" to Banks' for the campaign30. The military objective was 20,000 Rebels under C.S.A. General Kirby Smith at Shreveport - the Red River's head of navigation. To achieve this objective, Banks commanded the largest force ever assembled west of the Mississippi supported by Admiral David Porter's fleet who traveled with them up the Red river31.
The forces assembled at Simmesport, Louisiana32. The 119th traveled down the Mississippi to the 31st parallel, there crossing over to Marksville on the Atchafalaya river. They faced light action on their way and upon reaching Marksville the first order of business was to capture Fort De Russey thirty miles to the north.
De Russey, fabled to be near impregnable, stood between Banks and the first objective of the expedition: Alexandria, Louisiana. A.J. Smith's forces were assigned to take the fort. The Confederates were commanded by C.S.A. General Richard Taylor, a Texan experienced in conflict and who had cut his teeth as a brigade commander in the Shenandoah Valley under Stonewall Jackson.
In the afternoon of March 14, 1864, the assault on De Russey began. For two hours the artillery dueled. Then it was time to charge the fort, the 119th at the Union far left. Within 10 minutes the first Federals reached the fort: the 119th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. A flag of surrender was seen. Indeed, C.S.A. General Taylor, unprepared to meet the Union forces, had left but a skeleton crew at the fort as he fell back. A full assault on the Federals awaited Rebel reinforcements from Texas and Arkansas33.
From De Russey, the unit traveled 150 miles up the Red to Alexandria, again occupied by Banks' forces with little effort34. Banks declared Alexandria "liberated" and held an election for representatives in a newly formed Louisiana state government35. With Smith's forces, the 119th boarded transports to continue up the Red river to Grand Ecore, the last significant stop before Shreveport, the main objective. At Grand Ecore, Banks took an inland route to Shreveport, leaving the Red and Admiral Porter's fleet with it36. The van extended a full 20 miles with A.J. Smith and the 119th taking up the rear. What the 119th didn't know was that they would soon become the front.
Dividing from Porter's fleet left Banks vulnerable. He exacerbated this weakness by placing supply trains at the front of his van. Supply wagons blocked reserves from supporting the leading units without terrible confusion. Similarly, the front units could not retrench if attacked without running into the wagons. C.S.A. General Taylor recognized the mistake. Outside of Mansfield, half way to Shreveport, he waited. On April 8, 1864, at 4:00 p.m. the battle began.
Bringing up the rear 20 miles behind the 119th reached Pleasant Hill and retired, unaware of the fighting at the front. They received notice soon enough. At two o'clock the next morning, the unit rose to continue the advance. While cooking breakfast, Federal soldiers came running through the camp &endash; the wrong way. These were deserters. They told of a slaughter at the front and advised retreat as the Confederates would soon be present. Indeed, the meeting between Banks and Taylor the previous afternoon was a Union route. Banks was retreating in disorder37.
A.J. Smith prepared his units for battle. He moved the brigade in front of Pleasant Hill. At 10:00 a.m. they stood ready to meet the advancing Confederates. For 5 hours only skirmishing was heard in the distance. Many thought there would be no attack38. They were wrong.
By 4 p.m. a full battle was underway: hotly contested and confused. The 119th held the extreme Federal left flank. Here they faced a Missouri regiment under Taylor's divisional commander C.S.A. Brig. General Mosby Parsons. Poorly positioned, the Union right and center crumbled. The Union left, with the 119th, held firm, allowing the balance of the line to regain composure. The Union advance began.
Somehow, the 119th was separated from the balance of the brigade and oblique to the main Rebel thrust39. The battle raged for two hours, suspended only by nightfall. It was a clear Union victory. The 119th retook a lost Union battery and captured a number of Confederates, but for the most part did not participate in the main action. This was the result of their separation from the brigade, to the dismay of Col. Kinney, who attributed the separation to a failure of command when the brigade commander followed his own unit into battle instead of commanding the brigade as a whole. Kinney would not let this happen again.
For the brigade's conduct A.J. Smith was a hero and Banks credited his men with "saving the army."40 That night they gathered the wounded and prepared for further conflict the next day, all quite certain that now Kirby Smith and Shreveport were theirs. That evening, however, Banks' war counsel determined further retreat was appropriate. Anticipated reinforcements from Arkansas were checked by the Rebels41 and Admiral Porter's fleet was sorely missed. The counsel felt a retreat was appropriate, at least to Grand Ecore where Porters' naval support could be secured.
A.J. Smith, feeling victory was certain, strongly protested42. Many of his dead and wounded remained on the field and he requested at a minimum permission to stay until mid day to gather them. The request was denied and the retreat commenced over Smith's objection. The 119th was sleeping in a line of battle when the retreat was ordered at 3 a.m. that morning. They watched the dead and wounded left on the field as they fell back43.
The retreat halted at Grand Ecore to permit Porter's fleet, still 60 miles up the Red river, to catch up. While there, the Confederates surrounded them, one force to the rear of the retreating Federals and another 40 miles to the front where the Red and the Caine rivers met. Through a swift 30 mile march and the appearance of reinforcements, the Rebel force at the Cain was scattered and the Union soldiers continued on to Alexandria. The 119th, again at the rear of the van, found considerable action along the way fending off the Rebel Cavalry44.
All along the path of Banks' retreat, A.J. Smith's units, including the 119th, practiced the philosophy learned on Sherman's Meridian campaign. Homes were looted and burned, livestock killed and the area generally laid to waste. Banks' Eastern units had never experienced war "western style." The conduct of Smith's forces so infuriated them that one commander posted a reward for evidence and court-martial of any marauding individuals45.
At Alexandria the Red was too shallow for Admiral Porter's fleet to pass. It appeared that the ships would have to be scuttled. Lieut. Col. Joseph Baily, a Wisconsin engineer, felt otherwise. He suggested a series of wing dams, now called the famous "Baily Plan," to route the Red River into a deeper narrow channel to accommodate Porter's fleet46. The 119th was employed several weeks building dams. When complete, the dams proved successful and the forces resumed their retreat47. Once again,. A.J. Smith, with the 119th, took up the rear. In retreat, however, the rear was the focus of pursuing Confederates.
The Rebels remained determined. At Mansura the Rebel cavalry appeared in front of the brigade. As Smith advanced the cavalry unit fell back, fought across a prairie and made a stubborn stand in a patch of woods. After three hours' skirmishing and artillery dueling the Confederates were flanked both right and left: the latter by Smith's brigade. The Rebels withdrew without much loss on either side. The Federals continued on.
By the middle of May, two months after the campaign began, the Union forces were crossing a bridge hastily made of boats across the Atchafalaya at Yellow Bayou. Smith was positioned to protect the crossing units when the Rebels appeared in force. Midmorning on May 19th, with the bulk of Banks' forces across the river, skirmishing was heard in the rear. The Battle of Yellow Bayou had begun.
The 119th was at first some distance from the battle. Brigade commander Lynch was absent and in his stead Col. Kinney of the 119th assumed command. The Confederates numbered 21,000, the Federals only 3,000. Within the hour the 119th moved to the scene of action. Kinney, not to have Pleasant Hill repeated, put them in front. By noon they were facing a Rebel line and exchanging artillery. The order to charge was given and the Rebels were repulsed.
No sooner had the enemy in front retreated when a additional Rebel force appeared on the left. The 119th was turned to address this force and the brigade as a whole worked itself back to its original position. Reformed, a second charge was made. Again, the Confederates retreated and again a second Rebel force appeared on the left. The Federals again returned to their original position. Finally, Union reinforcements came, but by that time the Confederates had had enough and pursued Banks no further. The costs were high. Col. Kinney was wounded and the brigade counted 159 casualties. Of the fighting, one historian states:
The day was excessively hot, and many had fallen from the heat. When they again advanced it was with a sudden rush. The enemy withstood them stubbornly. The two lines frequently intermixed. The fight was often hand to hand48.
The Federals crossed the Atchafalaya and proceeded to Vicksburg. Thus ended the Red River campaign. Union losses were over 5,000 men, 9 ships and a great deal in supplies, wagons and pride. For the performance, General Banks lost his command. The 119th, however, were now true veterans of the war. They no longer spoke of a desire for battle or the glory of the Union. Cousin George Potts summed up the expedition best: "It was a most terrible affair."49
The campaign over, the 119th was no longer on loan to Banks. From Vicksburg the unit proceeded up the Mississippi. Most of Smith's Veterans marched to Tupelo under General Sturgis. The balance, including the 119th, were assigned to disperse a Rebel force under C.S.A. General Marmaduke operating around Lake Chicot, Arkansas. Marching around the lake, the unit successfully engaged the Confederates, who put up stubborn resistance but in the end gave way50.
The portion of the brigade that attended General Sturgis was heavily defeated at Guntown by an old friend: C.S.A. General Nathan Bedford Forrest. To wipe out this disaster, and to return the favor given to the unit by Forrest the previous Christmas, the brigade reconstituted and continued up the Mississippi to Memphis, arriving June 24, 1864. The unit then advanced to LaGrange by rail and commenced marching through Mississippi. On July 14th, Forrest was met a second time at Tupelo. The 119th's historian:
The battle was admirably planned, skillfully and desperately fought, resulting in a victory fully convincing the enemy that Guntown was remembered. At bugle sound we assumed position, and poured a deadly volley upon the forces, now so near that we could see the men face to face. The dead and wounded were many; and after several advances, charges and retreats, we rejoiced a signal victory51.
Returning to Memphis, the unit made a second campaign into Mississippi. There they found no enemy but while they were gone, old friend Forrest raided Memphis itself! Retaliation was left for others. The 119th was needed in Saint Louis to attend to C.S.A. General Price52. Again the unit was "loaned out," this time to the command of General Rosecrans53. As the fall of 1864 gave way to winter the unit marched throughout Tennessee to challenge Price. They traveled 700 miles without significant engagement54. Price was ultimately caught and defeated at Big Blue. The battle was heard by the 119th but by the time they arrived Price was defeated.
November, 1864, marked a national election and assurance of a favorable vote for Lincoln and the Republican Party required voting by the troops. As this was not possible unless they were home, Illinois Governor Yates requested President Lincoln to furlough the 119th along with 3 other regiments for the election55. Lincoln was returned for a second term.
For the last 4 years the South had hoped a stalemate would remove Lincoln and that a new President would negotiate a peace recognizing Confederate independence. Now Lincoln was again in office and the war was not going well for the South. Grant was pressing in the West and a Confederate victory was necessary. C.S.A. General John Bell Hood, commanding the Rebel Army of the Tennessee, desperately wanted that victory. Although General Sherman was reeking havoc in Georgia, Hood determined to bring the war to the North. He left his pursuit of Sherman to attack the center of the Union's western operations &endash; Nashville Tennessee.
The Confederate army moved north. Union troops, including the 119th, were gathered to meet the Rebel advance56. Hood's advance was desperate. In late November, 1864, he unnecessarily sacrificed a good portion of his Army at Franklin, southern Tennessee. Despite the defeat, he continued with an effective force of 23,000 Confederates to Nashville, where 55,000 Federals waited. For two weeks both Union and Confederate works were constructed within sight of each other over a 5 mile line outside of Nashville. A.J. Smith, with the 119th, sat opposite of a Rebel force under Hood's Lieutenant, C.S.A. division commander Major General K. "Allegheny" Johnson, commanding the Confederate left. A seasoned veteran, Johnson, like Hood his commander, came from Virginia with more battles to his credit than most57. The 119th repositioned regularly in front of Johnson, waiting for orders to advance58.
The Confederates hoped the Federals would come out of their works and attack. On December 15th, 1864, they obliged. Thomas' planned to take evasive measures on his center and left and then have A.J. Smith on his right roll up the Rebel left. The 119th assumed the middle position of Smith's three brigades at the Union far right. At 10 a.m. they formed a line of battle and proceeded forward, part of a counter-clockwise "grand wheel" movement to box in the Confederates59.
Smith placed a heavy skirmish force in front. The 119th with two other regiments formed the first line of battle. They advanced a mile under heavy cannon fire and then halted to reform. The main Rebel works were now immediately before them. The 119th guarded Union artillery as they shelled the redoubts. Late afternoon came, as did the order to continue the advance. The skirmishers overtook the Confederate works, however the main line found its advance obstructed by the Union 4th Corps. The 4th was somehow marching directly in front of the 119th. At odds with its own forces, the 119th followed over the crumbling Confederate left in the second wave and encamped for the night without seeing further action.
By the end of the day, Thomas had his victory over Hood. The matter had been a route and the Confederates were in poor shape to continue. Hood, however, prepared for the morrow, and on the morning of December 16th the action resumed. A Union battle line was formed at daybreak. The 119th occupied the furthest position on the Federal right. The Rebels established new positions on the heights behind them and pounded the battle line with artillery fire throughout the day. At 4 p.m. a grand charge began.
A.J. Smith, misaligned with the Confederate works, charged in a wheel movement to the right and took the Rebel front with ease. Sufficient work for most Federal units, this was not the case for the 119th. Colonel Kinney advanced the Illinoisans after the retreating Confederates leaving the rest of the Union forces behind. Kinney reported that they were "capturing prisoners at every step." One of those prisoners was C.S.A. General Johnson himself, brought in by none other than the boys of Rushville, Company C, 119th Illinois Volunteer Infantry60.
Nashville was the end of Command for C.S.A. General Hood. The Rebels had 4,462 casualties to the Federal's 2,140. The 119th, for all that it had seen, got off easy with only 8 wounded and none killed. The 119ths historian:
On one bright day, December 15, we left our defenses, and moved on the enemy, and in two day's battle, officers and men acquitted themselves honorably. Our loss was slight. We captured a battery of brass guns. We never fell back in any movement during the battle61.
The Rebels routed, a long pursuit ensued, over Granny White Peak and through Franklin, Columbia and Duck River. The 119th reported: "[W]e enjoyed our Christmas and New Year's on this trip. How we enjoyed it, we knew."62 The unit ended the campaign at Eastport, Mississippi, on the Tennessee river guarding supplies.
The following month, February, 1865, Smith's brigade was assigned to Dauphine Island, Mobile Bay, Alabama. As with the Red River campaign, the unit was again loaned to the Department of the West Mississippi63. General Banks was gone, replaced by Maj. General Edward Canby. The objective was to remove Mobile from the control of C.S.A. General St John Richardson Liddell. Mobile was one of the last ports that could accept Confederate runners through the Union naval blockade. Securing the bay meant Forts Tracy, Huger, Spanish Fort and Blakeley had to be taken. The Mobile Bay Campaign had already been delayed a year due to the unfortunate outcome of the Red River Campaign64.
Liddell was a proven adversary. He had risen from the staff of C.S.A. General Hardee to the command of his own department. A seasoned commander, he had seen action at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and the Red River.
The 119th first focused on Spanish Fort half way up Mobile bay at the mouth of the Fish river. Positioned three miles from the fort and facing the rear, the 119th guarded against attack from that direction. Siege of the fort commenced March 27. For the next week this position was maintained by the men with little action. Indeed, C.S.A. Gen. Liddell was evacuating Spanish Fort, which he completed April 8th. The fort was taken without a shot. Now only one fort remained: Blakeley65.
The 119th did not remain at Spanish Fort to see its surrender. On April 3rd the division, Brig. General K. Gerard commanding, was marched along Blakeley road to a hill overlooking Fort Blakeley. Blakeley was the final Rebel stand at Mobile, a 3 mile semi-circle of works surrounding the town of Blakeley66.
Smith's brigade dug in to the left of Blakeley road and a skirmish line was sent to within 800 yards of the Rebel works. If this wasn't close enough, the 119th was on April 5th re-assigned to the division's far left which was also the far left of the entire Union line. They were positioned 600 yards from the Confederate redoubts. Over the next 4 days the men threw out a skirmish line and moved to within 300 yards of enemy trenches. Rebel artillery pounded them and not a few became casualties.
The morning of April 9th saw the Union line in position for a siege. With Spanish Fort taken the previous day General A.J. Smith returned personally to command his Red River veterans. He ordered divisional commander Gerard that morning: "assault Fort Blakeley at the earliest practicable moment."67 Gerard felt it necessary to first approach the fort with a heavy skirmish line to determine the enemy's strength and position. Only once this was determined was a full assault to begin. Gerard's report detailed the strategy:
I directed [the brigades] to move their commands into the trenches, placing one half in the rifle-pits of the skirmishers and one-half in those of the reserves. That at 5:30 p.m. a single line of skirmishers should advance, and as soon as it appeared that they were advancing with success that a second line of skirmishers should follow, and when the first line reached the enemy's works then the main line should charge. I was induced to adopt this plan owing to the terrible obstructions in my front and to avoid loss of life, and hoped to silence the enemy's guns and drive off their sharpshooters before I exposed a large mass of my men to the enemy's fire68.
In other words, one regiment acted as turkeys in a turkey shoot to see how many were shooting! The orders were issued to brigade commander Col. John I. Rinaker, who in turn selected the turkey: the 119th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.
A light rain fell that morning. The 119th targeted redoubts 8 and 9 on the Confederate right. As the weather cleared, the First Indiana Heavy Artillery began pounding the rebel batteries from Blakeley Bluff behind the 119th. The weather worsened, and the time for a charge drew near. The existing skirmishers returned to their units and the 119th took their place in the front at mid afternoon. Thirty minutes before the charge was to commence, at 5 p.m., all artillery fell silent. Colonel Kinney stood to the far left of the 119th as it prepared for the assault. He noticed, however, that the Rebel skirmishers in their front were retreating in disorder. The confusion thus created was not an opportunity lost on Kinney. The buglers sounded "forward," and the charge began. The 119th's historian:
The time came for a charge on this stronghold. So struggling with all manner of obstructions, and amid shell canister, grape shot and musketry for about an hour we overcame all obstacles and resistance; mounted the works, took the Fort; captured the enemy, and complete victory was ours69.
Complete it was! The turkeys turned into vultures. Within 10 minutes they were over the Blakeley works. The fighting continued as the 119th found itself "compelled to shoot down several of their artillerists, who continued to work their guns upon our advancing lines."70 By the end of the hour the 119th had taken 10 cannons, 2 mortars, several Rebel officers and scores of enlisted men. Among the regiment's prisoners was C.S.A. General Liddell himself, along with the colors of three of the units under his command. The flag of the Alabama 63rd Infantry was in the hands of Company C itself71. Colonel Kinney, with feigned apology for his early advance, concluded his report:
I would also say that the commanding officers of the division and brigade have my hearty congratulations for the manner in which they directed this engagement, and I most humbly ask their pardon if I have committed one of the blunders to which military men are subject, by taking the enemy's works with a skirmish when the intention was only to feel of his lines and learn their strength. But it seemed to me to be the only way to save the lives of my men and add one more victory to the invincible Sixteenth Army Corps, and particularly to the Second Division, which never was drilled in the art of feeling an enemy's lines without taking it on out of the cold72.
The 119th lost but 2 killed and 14 wounded from the charge73. This was the last battle of the Civil War, completing a campaign skillfully planned by General Canby74. It occurred 6 hours after General Lee's surrender of the Confederate Army of the Virginia at Appomattox. The 119th, "paraded" for their performance at Blakeley, had work left to do75. General Smith started them off to Montgomery, still unaware of Lee's surrender. The men marched, resenting that Smith further employed them when surrounding units hadn't seen a fraction of the service the brigade had over the past year. Many men turned on Smith and signs of protest were posted along the way76. Still, the unit marched until news of Lee's surrender reached them a day before the siege of Montgomery was to begin.
During March, 1865, Henry was hospitalized in New Orleans for reasons undisclosed in his military papers. He fully recovered, however, and was discharged in St. Louis, Missouri May 31, 1865 &endash; eighteen years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall with gray eyes, brown hair and three years of war behind him77. The regimental flag carried the battle credits of De Russey, Pleasant Hill, Yellow Bayou, Tupelo, Nashville and Blakeley78. Yet this experience did not deter him from staying close to Army life. Upon discharge Henry joined his brothers in the Illinois 28th Infantry until they were mustered out in Brownsville, Texas79.
During the war the Henry's parents with the younger children relocated from Rushville to Jasper county, Iowa. Older brother James settled with his wife's parents in Jefferson county, 50 miles to the southeast80. Henry choose to live both with his parents and James. In Jefferson with his brother, Henry worked as a painter. His future wife to be, Melissa Rail, lived in Van Buren county just over the county line.
Melissa Zelmaugh Rail was born March 20, 1846, in Van Buren county, Iowa, the eldest child of Benjamin and Agnes (Robison) Rail. She spent her entire childhood in Van Buren, then a land of pioneer settlement.
The courtship of Henry and Melissa was quick. They met in the spring of 1872, both in their mid 20's, at Libertyville, Iowa. Soon thereafter they met again at Melissa's parents81. They were married August 25, 1872, by Rev. Condon in Jefferson county, Iowa. The newlyweds moved to Sac county, Iowa, to live with Henry's brother Charles82. Charles had purchased land on the north shore of Wall Lake in Sac where he managed the lands of nonresident owners and represented certain agricultural firms. Living with brother Charles, first son William was born83. Three years later, along came second son Walter84. As for the second boy, brother Jeremiah wrote "...a five pounder, rather a small pattern for a boy."85
By 1880 Henry & Melissa moved to Madison township, Page county, Iowa. Here Henry farmed and Melissa kept house. The local town was Villisca just across the county line in Montgomery county, where Melissa's parents and siblings lived86. Henry & Melissa may have themselves moved to Villisca where a "Melissa Potts" purchased Villisca Lot 71 for $600 in December, 188287.
By 1890, Henry and Melissa relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, where they lived the rest of their lives88. The capital of the Nebraska Territory until statehood in 1867, Omaha was in all respects a city and an important railroad and agricultural center. The family lived at 1137 South 27th Street.
In the early 1890's, Henry worked with the Railway Mail Service as a clerk. They adopted a child later in life: daughter, Mable. In 1897, Henry became a teamster for the Board of Education, a position he held until he was no longer able to work due to disability. During this time, the family residence changed regularly, never being more than 4 or 5 years in one rented home or another, but always in Omaha. Henry and Melissa frequently visited Henry's brother, Jeremiah, then living in Des Moines in Polk county, Iowa, just across the state line89.
Henry and Melissa never found financial wealth90. By 1904, at the age of 59, Henry was totally disabled91. He and Melissa received $8.00 per month as a pension for Henry's Civil War service. Henry died January 23, 1905, of angina reactions with "edecua of lungs." He is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Douglas county92. The death notice in the local paper merely included his name and current address, 817 Leavenworth Street.
By 1910 Melissa moved in with adopted daughter Mable, now Mrs. Glen Gerken. Mable, at age 16, had married the previous year, suggesting she was 18 to get a license to do so. Melissa continued the stipend until her death in 1918, at which time she died at her home on Pine St., of valvular heart disease, in Omaha. She is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Omaha93.
Son Walter married three months after William, May 2, 1899, to Jenny Carse94. The couple first made their home at 25th and Corby streets, Omaha, Nebraska, but the following year they resided at 2229 Ohio Street, Omaha95. By 1924 Walter and Jennie were living in Cedar Rapids96. The couple had two children97. Walter is said to have died in Peoria, Illinois98. Jenny lived with son Walter in San Bernardino, California99. Jennie died October 16, 1954, in Los Angeles county, California.
In 1924, Mable, then Mable Gerken, was living in Long Beach, California.
DOB: 09/23/1845, Schuyler co., MO (Civil War Discharge & Letter to Mother)100
DOD: 01/23/1905, Douglas co., Omaha, NE (Death Cert. 524)
DOB: 03/24/1846, Van Buren co., IA (Cert. of Marriage, Death Cert. 12356)101
DOD: 11/23/1918, Douglas co., Omaha, NE (Death Cert. 12356)
DOM: 08/25/1872, Jefferson co., IA (Jefferson co., Marriage Book F, p. 18 (LDS Film 969379, item 5)
b. 03/25/1875, Iowa (Pension File and DRAFT CARD) (02/13/1875 from headstone, per picture with Vince, place of birth if from William's son, Ross', birth register)
m. 02/15/1899, Rose Lindstrom, Douglas co., Omaha, NE (Cert. 7478)
d. 08/18/1924, Douglas co., Omaha, NE (Death Cert. 7617)
b. 03/16/1877, Iowa, (Pension File, 1900 U.S. Census for place)
m. 05/02/1899, Jennie D. Carse of Council Bluffs, IA, Council Bluffs, Pottawatamie co., IA (Pottawatamie Marriage Book 11, p. 498)
b. 04/24/1893 (believed to be adopted) (Pension File)
m. 12/14/1909, Mr. Glen A. Gerken, s/o Henry & Jane (Rhynes) Gerken, Douglas co., Omaha, NE (Douglas co. Mar. Cert. # 24150)
d. 05/__/1971, Paramount, Los Angeles co., CA (SSA Index)
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