Howe Letters - 1863

Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad
Office of the Engineer & Assistant Superintendent
Clinton, Iowa, 5 April 1863
Baby James born in January -- will die August 27, age 7 mo.
Apparently Western Democrats were antiwar; they were certainly anti-Lincoln..
Dear Sis,
It is so warm and pleasant this afternoon and the fields are so green and flowers so fresh and the air so balmy and the birds so musical that I am trying to forget business and give the weary brain a holiday -- to the old home amid the hills and the dear faces that were once all there. Ah well! These memories may awaken sighs but they are like sad music -- sweet -- if mournful.
I do wish you was with us today -- Annie and I rode out of town into the woods this afternoon and gathered some flowers and green leaves and caught a young turtle dove -- The turtledove is common here and is a beautiful bird. Did you ever see one? Father and Mother Gould came back this week, and Father is busy as he can be in the garden. We have plenty of asparagus to eat now, and a nice, large garden where we can raise plenty of vegetables of all kinds. Annie's health is slowly improving and the little one seems rather better, but does not grow much. He seems pretty well -- often laughs and "talks" and looks around quite bright: but remains poor and little --
I suppose Roys and Han will get here in a few days so we shall have quite a reunion of Northfield friends. When will you come and see us? Tom! I have some nice apples for you if you will come soon. I don't think Net believes as she talks about the "abolition war", and the country going to the devil and all that sort of democratic nonsense: but she has heard the experiences so often that they run in her head and come from her pen. That is the usual language of our western democrats -- and that talk is the only mean talk I ever heard from George Scott. [Net's husband, he was 39, she 31] I suppose he believes it all, just as much as Mr. Bowman used to believe all the New Hampshire Patriot said. Well, thank God! We have plenty of good men who do not think so -- plenty of men who believe there is a God in Israel and a nation that will continue to be called the United States of America. The mass of western people continue to say "fight it through". It is no boys play -- no little matter to "take and hold and repossess" all the southern territory: but in time we shall do it -- we can strangle them! We can hold our heads under water longer than they can.
Tom, do you want any more money? I can let you have some if you do. When you write tell me all about our Mass. friends and relatives.
Yours as ever -- Ike


(old handwriting says: "Death of little Jimmie born Jan. 12, 1863 -died Aug. 27, 1863. ") This was James, their 2nd baby that died. Tana
Clinton, Iowa, Aug. 28th /63.
Dear Friends! [in Janesville Hannah's sister Harriet has lost twins. Eddy is baby son Edwin. Born 15 June 1862.]
God has taken our darling away from us! He died yesterday forenoon at eleven o'clock. He sank quietly away as if to sleep. The angels were good to take him so gently, and he had no fears of the dark river. We bury the little form, this afternoon, in the front yard, for we wish to have it taken east and placed by the side of the other. We shall have no regular, formal funeral discourse, but have a few remarks from Rev. Mr. McLeish and a prayer. It would be a comfort to have you with us now, but considering the health of Harriet and Eddy, we thought it not best to send for you.
You can sympathize with us. You know the dreadful feeling when you awake and remember with agony that he is dead --that you are left all alone --never will hear that gentle voice again! Never will feel those little fingers clasp your own again! --or the bright, laughing eyes look up to you so lovingly.
We know that it is all for the best; but 0, God! it is hard to say "Thy will be done".
Poor wife! She has nothing to do but mourn! In the cares and excitements of business, I shall at times forget, but she will every hour meet something to remind her of our loss. The playthings – the clothes – all about the house she will see some momento of the lost darling.

I cannot write more, now.
Ever Yours,
I. B. Howe



Clinton, Iowa, 20 September 1863

Notes: James' death

Dear Sister! [Sofia]
Your welcome letter has been received and it's words of sympathy fell like rain upon our burning hearts. Yes, God has taken our little darling away from us, and we are again left childless and desolate. Day after day and night after night, with ceaseless watch, we fought with death in defense of our child. At times the skeleton hand ceased its knocking at the door that love and care were guarding, and hope would come and whisper that we were victorious, but it was not to be, so the Angels came and softly and gently took our darling -- not through the dark valley and over the cold river where we must go, but like the snowflake that falls on the violet in spring, he returned to heaven in the bright sunshine, untarnished by the sins of the earth.
"Only a little child" -- but he was "all the world" to us! There was strange magnetism in the depths of those beautiful eyes, there was wonderful power in the clasp of those little hands and the music of his laughter was the sweetest of all on earth.
Now the long, silken lashes droop tenderly over the eyes that no more will recognize us -- the little hands are folded amid the glowers, and nothing remains for us but memory.
Why did God take him from us? Are there not enough children of want and suffering growing up to lives of sin and misery? Children whose cradles are rocked by regret, instead of love! Death could have taken one of these and no home would have missed it and no heart have mourned. With us how different! Everything reminds us of our loss! Kind friends have folded his little dresses and gathered his playthings away from our sightit'sishim andhim, but how lonely the corner looks where his crib was placed -- how desolate the hall, with his little carriage no longer there. We start at the opening of a window, or the creaking of the door, or a heavy foot fall -- and then flashes with withering thought that no noise can awaken our darling! We awake from the dreams of him, and fancy we hear his wailing voice, but it is only the midnight wind moaning over the little grave in the garden.
We assume that all is for the best: but we cannot see it now, for tears are blinding our eyes. Four years ago today we were married, and four years of mingled joys and sorrows have left my Annie the same earnest, truthful, caring wife as then. Her health is not good, but slowly improving. If we remain here another season, I shall send her east during the hot weather. Perhaps I shall go myself, for I am tired of railroad life.
You may say to your friend who wants a situation here that we have no vacant places for bookkeepers, all our best Station Agents need understand telegraphing, as we have a telegraph line and do much of our business by lightning, and no position of any value on trains can be obtained till after years of service as brakeman, baggage man, etc. no "newcomers" can get good situations from me, as it is my invariable rule to promote only those who have proved themselves worthy, and faithfully discharge their duties in some humbler capacity here on the road. None of my clerks or conductors have "come in at the cabin window". There are times when I would like to give some friend a good situation: but as it would be at the sacrifice of some man here who has been through the wars and earned promotion, I let personal feelings have nothing to do with it.
The great business here is agriculture and the next, war -- you will hear farmers say they are hurrying the threshing and marketing of their grain so they can go to the war. And after they get to the war, I need not tell you what they do, for the deeds of Iowa soldiers are well enough known.
It is just possible that I shall make a flying visit east next month and if so may drop in and see you a few minutes. Remember me to our friends -- write often and believe me, as ever, your true brother, Ike

[On same letter -- from Han, The Deacon. Must be September 22, their wedding anniversary.]

Dear Sister Soph,
Roys and I are here at Ike's. We have been eating watermelon, musk melons and apples. It is the fourth anniversary of their marriage. They seem quite cheerful but I know the heart knoweth it's own bitterness. I was thankful for your comforting letter to them. You said what I wished to but could not. Will not God yet take them up and adopt them as his own dear children. We will pray for it.
We are to move this week to a better house and I shall be very busy for a while so you will have time to write me a good long letter before I write again. I want to hear often. Cora [15] and Mattie [13] go to school.
With much love, Hannah

Notes: Hannah and Roys had been married four years and the two families shared a wedding anniversary within a month of each other. Cora and Mattie were from her previous husband, Thomas McGregor who had died in California. She now had two babies from Roys in addition to the older girls. There has been some allusion that Roys was not particularly loving to the older girls.