Of Wealth and War: Samuel Lowe Writes Home

By Harold Henderson

On the Ides of March 1863, looking up with dread at the bluffs of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Samuel Adolphus Lowe took up his pen and addressed his sister Roxanna (Lowe) Warner. Samuel, age 38, in Company A of the 4th Regiment of Illinois Cavalry, {1} was at a bend in the lower Mississippi River called Youngs Point, Louisiana. Roxanna was back in their home town of Chicago.

Like most soldiers’ letters home, Samuel’s bridged two worlds. In the world of the Civil War, he predicted a bloody and decisive battle soon at Vicksburg. In his home world, he pleaded for news of Chicago friends — Will and Martha Sherman, Chastina Walker, Mrs. Haight and her family, Lou Rucker — affording us a glimpse of the go-getter New Englanders who were prospering there in the 1860s, and who would lead the way into the postwar Gilded Age. {2}

Since November 1861 Lowe’s company had been detached from its regiment to serve as General Ulysses S. Grant’s escort. {3} Grant had been struggling all winter with a military conundrum: the Confederate armies held all the high ground at Vicksburg, and seemingly all the ways to get to the high ground. Bruce Catton tells the tale with characteristic lucidity in Never Call Retreat, the third volume of his centennial history of the Civil War. {4} In the midst of it Samuel Lowe wrote his sister,

It will not be many weeks before you will hear of another terrible Battle with the rebels. Perhaps the greatest Battle of the War will be fought in this vicinity, and that before the first of April. it is not a pleasant sight to look at the fourteen miles of high Bluffs, bristling with Cannon, which we must climb before we reach the enemy in his Entrenchments. Thousands will fall under the horrible fire of the rebels before we succeed in gaining a foothold within the rebel lines, but if we are victorious, it will do much towards bringing this War to a close, and if we are repulsed, it will prolong the struggle twelve months, at least. The whole country is overflowed [flooded], and the rebels think they are safe from attack, for the present at least, or until the waters subside. They have spared no trouble or expense to make Vicksburgh impregnable, and they expect to hold it against all odds. We have much sickness here, but it is principally among new troops. The Officers among the new Regiments are generally worthless and inefficient, and this will account for considerable of the sickness and demoralization among the Men.

It has been a long, very long time since I have heard from you. What is going on in Chicago. How is everybody? do you ever see Will. Sherman or Martha. How is Chastina Walker? Give my best regards to her. it is nineteen months since I left Chicago for the Wars, and it seems an age. Remember me to Mrs. Haight’s family. did not Lou Rucker marry and move to New Carthage, La.? (that is only thirty miles from us?)

Now Sister write me about home and what is transpiring there — about old friends, and matters, that although not interesting to yourself, are all in all, to us who have been away so long a time. I see William frequently. He is well. James has gone back to Memphis. Write soon, and believe me, as ever Truly Yr. bro. S. A. Lowe

According to the postmark, Samuel’s sister didn’t see this letter until 6 April or later — plenty of time for her, and everyone Samuel mentioned, to start worrying about the battle he foresaw. Who were these people?

Samuel and Roxanna were two of the nine children of English immigrant and onetime Cook County sheriff Samuel James Lowe (1799-1851) and his first wife, Roxanna Louise (London) Lowe (1803-1839). The last-mentioned William and James were undoubtedly their brothers. {5} Roxanna’s husband, Dudley P. Warner, was a real-estate broker. {6}

Samuel’s letter shows that the Lowes had close ties to the early Chicago movers and shakers that historian Donald Miller describes as “young, self-made men from New England and New York State,” who “dominated business, politics and the professions” in Chicago from the 1830s on, and who turned an easygoing French and Indian trading post into a fiercely competitive commercial city. {7}

“do you ever see Will. Sherman or Martha”? William G. Sherman and Martha Sherman were married 23 September 1856 “at Northfield, the country seat of the bride’s father.” {8} Born 21 March 1826 in the town (i.e., township) of Barre, Washington County, Vermont, {9} he was one of several children of Col. Nathaniel Sherman and Deborah Hobart (Webster) Sherman who came to Chicago. His brother Alson served as mayor in 1844, {10} and his brother Oren prospered in several businesses including dry goods, quarrying, lime making, and marble. {11}

Martha was born about 1832 in Connecticut, the daughter of Francis Cornwall Sherman and Electa (Trowbridge) Sherman. (It is possible that Martha and William shared a common ancestor in colonial New England two centuries earlier.) Francis C. grew so wealthy as a brickmaker and builder that he retired in 1850. He served two terms as Chicago’s Democratic mayor during the 1860s. {12} Martha’s brother Francis T. Sherman had a distinguished military career in the Civil War, rising to brigadier general. {13}

William seems not to have moved and shaken quite as much as his brothers and in-laws. In the 1860 census, his real and personal property combined totaled $1,000, roughly the median figure in Chicago that year; {14} he and Martha and their children were living with her parents, whose total property was reported at $20,000. {15}

Around 1858, Oren sold a lime works in Lyons to his brother William and William’s brother-in-law Francis T., {16} and they briefly took up the business of making and selling this important ingredient in mortar and plaster. Their partnership may have ended when Francis went to war; in 1861-2 William was working as a ticket agent for the C & C Air Line Railroad. {17} The following year, shortly before Samuel wrote and inquired after him and Martha, he had another career change, becoming a clerk in the mayor’s office — the mayor then being the newly elected Francis Cornwall Sherman, his father-in-law. {18}

How is Chastina Walker? Give my best regards to her. Chastina was the 33-year-old Vermont-born daughter of Vermonters Samuel Bent Walker and Jennette Hamlin. {19} Samuel Walker had been a pioneer of Chicago mass transit (horse-powered of course), which grew up because the city insisted that the newfangled railroad depots remain on what were then its outskirts. Walker was one of several who met the resulting demand for crosstown transportation. Transit historian David M. Young describes the horse-drawn omnibus business in the 1850s as “quite competitive and largely entrepreneurial,” a business one could get into without a lot of capital. {20} Clearly you could make money in it, as in 1860 the Walkers were living at 131 Michigan Avenue {21} and had real and personal property valued at $90,000. {22}

Over the next few years, Samuel Walker and his brother Martin lost out to new technology — horsecars that traveled on rails and were less prone to slipping off the planked Chicago streets into bottomless mud. According to historian Alfred T. Andreas, in 1864, “the entire stock of horses was sold to the West Division Railway Company, and also a number of conveyances.” Samuel Walker then took up the cigar and tobacco, and later, the bakery business. {23} By 1870, the family’s net worth had declined to a still ample $22,000. {24}

Remember me to Mrs. Haight’s family. Mrs. Haight was probably Massachusetts native Eliza Haight, widow of Isaac and aged 67 when Samuel wrote, who in 1860 was overseeing a household at 45 Rush, {25} which included her apparent children Edna and Edward along with merchants Benjamin Soulard and Robert North. {26} In 1870 Eliza was living in the household of her daughter Mary Margaret and son-in-law William M. Larrabee. {27} Larrabee, a New Yorker, had gotten into Chicago railroading as early as 1852, when he became secretary of the Galena and Chicago Union. {28} In 1864 he became secretary-treasurer of the Chicago & Alton Railroad {29} and in 1870 reported real and personal property worth $28,000, {30} up from $7,000 ten years earlier. {31}

Did not Lou Rucker marry and move to New Carthage, La.? (that is only thirty miles from us?) Lou was probably the only non-Yankee in the bunch — 22-year-old Louis Henry (or Henry Louis) Rucker, son of Kentucky-born attorney Henry Rucker and M. G. Heckenuder (the first of Henry’s four wives). {32} Henry served as alderman and judge at various times. In 1860 he was living at 171 Dearborn {33} and reported real and personal property in excess of $30,000. {34}

Contrary to Samuel’s supposition that Lou had married south, a “Lieut. Lewis H. Rucker” is on record as marrying Gertrude L. Briggs of Chicago 27 January 1864. {35} But there is nevertheless a strong family connection with that part of Louisiana, as a compiled Rucker genealogy transcribes an 1858 letter from Henry Sr.’s father Joshua. Writing from “Madison Parish, New Carthage, Louisiana,” Joshua states that he then had two married daughters (Lou’s putative paternal aunts) living in that area. {36}

Samuel Lowe’s friends, then, were anything but a random cross-section of Civil War Chicago. Originating mostly from the northeast, their families worth ten times the city’s average, they had done well and stood to do better in the future.

Fortunately for Samuel and his comrades in arms, his forecast of a bloody and desperate storming of the heights was not fulfilled. General Grant found an unconventional way, using feints and quick maneuvers to get south of Vicksburg on the Louisiana side and cross the Mississippi River into the state of Mississippi. There his army left behind its own supply lines, lived off the land, cut Vicksburg’s one line of supply, and came at it from the east side instead of the west. Grant’s strategy forced the Confederates to surrender the supposedly impregnable garrison, and restored US control of the Mississippi, cutting the Confederacy in half.

Without the bloodbath he feared, Samuel’s unit had helped lay the foundation for the Union’s ultimate victory, and for his Chicago friends’ ongoing prosperity.

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ENDNOTES

1. “Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database,” Illinois State Archives (http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/datcivil.html : accessed 22 April 2008), citing Muster and Descriptive Rolls (RS 301.020) and the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, Volumes 1-8, entry for Samuel A. Lowe, 1SGT 4 IL US CAV.

2. Lowe, S.A. (Youngs Point, Louisiana) to “Dear Sister” [Roxana Lowe Warner], letter, 15 Mar 1863, Warner-Lowe-Whitney family papers, privately held by Harold Henderson, La Porte, Indiana, 2008. The letter is believed to have passed from Roxana to daughter Evalyn Warner Henderson, to Evalyn’s stepdaughter Eleanor Henderson of Chicago, and on her death to the author’s parents of Farmington, Illinois.

3. “Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System,” database, US National Park Service (http://www.civilwar.nps.gov/cwss/ : accessed 22 April 2008), entry for 4th Regiment, Illinois Cavalry.

4. Never Call Retreat (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1965), 78-92, 193-205.

5. Samuel James Lowe Family Records, 1799-1906, “Births,” “Marriages,” and “Deaths”; privately held by Harold Henderson, La Porte, Indiana, 2007. From Eva L. Warner via stepdaughter Eleanor Henderson, one sheet of notepaper written on both sides in the same hand and probably at the same time; the formatting suggests it might have been copied from a more formal record not seen.

6. For instance, T.M. Halpin, comp., Halpin & Bailey’s Chicago City Directory for the Year 1861-1862 (Chicago: Halpin & Bailey, 1861), 358, where he’s listed as “real estate broker and notary public” at 102 Washington.

7. Donald L. Miller, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 76.

8. The Daily Democratic Press, 25 Sep 1856, page 3, column 2. Sam Fink’s Index to Pre-Fire Chicago Marriages, 1833–1871, the well-known typescript index of newspaper reports, gives the date of the newspaper report, not the marriage. The Illinois Statewide Marriage Index (http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/marriage.html), which incorporates most of Fink’s entries, omits this one. The 1860 US census lists no other William, Will, Wm, or W Sherman associated with a Martha in Cook County, Illinois.

9. Vermont, Secretary of State, General Index to Vital Records of Vermont, Early to 1870, microfilmed database and images, William G. Sherman b 21 Mar 1826; record signed by Barre city clerk James MacKay certifying and citing “the old town of Barre Birth Records, Vol. 2, page 8″; FHL microfilm 27,684.

10. A.T. Andreas, History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Volume I — ending with the year 1857 (Chicago: A.T. Andreas, 1884) 184.

11. A.T. Andreas, History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Volume II –from 1857 Until the Fire of 1871 (Chicago: A.T. Andreas, 1885), 518-519.

12. Ibid., 503.

13. Ibid., 242-243.

14. Median figure calculated from the first two census pages of each of Chicago’s ten wards in 1860, excluding households and individuals that reported no personal or real property. This sample is not sufficient to establish an exact figure for the median real+personal property holdings in Chicago in 1860, but I believe it is sufficient to show that Samuel’s friends were an order of magnitude better off than the average Chicagoan of that day.

15. Cook County, Illinois, 1860 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, 1st Ward, pages 86-87, dwelling 475, family 361, Francis Schiver [Schira on ancestry.com] [Sherman]; digital image, HeritageQuest on line (accessed via local library 5 May 2008), citing NARA publication M653, Roll 164.

16. T. M. Halpin, comp., D.B. Cooke & Co.’s 1859-60 Chicago City Directory (Chicago: D.B. Cooke & Co., 1860), 378, Sherman & Co. advertisement.

17. Halpin & Bailey’s Chicago City Directory 1861-1862, 318.

18. T.M. Halpin, comp., Halpin & Bailey’s Chicago City Directory, for the Year 1862-63 (Chicago:Halpin & Bailey, 1862), 365

19. Cook County, Illinois, 1860 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, 1st Ward, page 50, dwelling 279, family 184, S. B. Walker; digital image, HeritageQuest Online, accessed via local library 15 Apr 2008, citing NARA publication M653, Roll 164. Cook County, Illinois, 1880 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, page 436A (stamped), page 1 (penned), dwelling 1, family 1, Samuel Walker; digital image, HeritageQuest Online, accessed via local library 15 Apr 2008, citing NARA publication T9, Roll 194.

20. David M. Young, Chicago Transit: An Illustrated History (DeKalb: NIU Press, 1998), 35.

21. Cooke’s 1859-60 Chicago City Directory, 367. And Smith & Du Moulin’s Chicago City Directory for the Year Ending May 1, 1860 (Chicago: Smith & Du Moulin publishers and compilers, [1859?]), 403.

22. Cook County, Illinois, 1860 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, 1st Ward, page 50, dwelling 279, family 184, S. B. Walker; digital image, HeritageQuest Online, accessed via local library 15 Apr 2008, citing NARA publication M653, Roll 164.

23. Andreas 2:118. The Walkers are listed as omnibus proprietors in city directories through 1862-1863: Halpin & Bailey’s Chicago City Directory, for the Year 1862-63, 356.

24. Cook County, Illinois, 1870 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, 14th Ward, page 558 (stamped), page 153 (penned), dwelling 1151, family 1242, Samuel Walker; digital image, HeritageQuest Online, accessed via local library 15 Apr 2008, citing NARA publication M593, Roll 207.

25. Smith & Du Moulin’s Chicago City Directory for the Year Ending May 1, 1860, 165. Note the value of competing city directories: Eliza is not named in Cooke’s 1859-60 Chicago City Directory (149), although an Egbert Haight is named at that address.

26. Cook County, Illinois, 1860 US census, population schedule, Chicago, Ward 9, page 206 (or 34), dwelling 217, family 259, Eliza Haight; digital image, HeritageQuest online (accessed via local library 5 Jan 2008); citing NARA publication M653, roll 168.

27. Cook County, Illinois, 1870 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, 20th Ward, page 460 (stamped), page 269 (penned), dwelling 1436, family 1736, Wm. M. Larabee; digital image, HeritageQuest Online, accessed via local library 15 Apr 2008, citing NARA publication M593, Roll 211. The census suggests but doesn’t specify their relationship; A.T. Andreas, History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Volume III — from the Fire of 1871 until 1885 (Chicago: A.T. Andreas, 1886), 396, identifies William’s then widow as Mary Margaret Haight.

28. “Obituary. W.M. Larabee,” Chicago Tribune, 30 September 1879, page 7, column 4.

29. Andreas, 2:140-141.

30. Cook County, Illinois, 1870 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, 20th Ward, page 460 (stamped), page 269 (penned), dwelling 1436, family 1736, Wm. M. Larabee; digital image, HeritageQuest Online, accessed via local library 15 Apr 2008, citing NARA publication M593, Roll 211.

31. Kane County, Illinois, 1860 US Census, population schedule, Geneva Corp., page 916 , dwelling 7383, family 4521, Wm. M. Laraby [Larrabee]; digital image, HeritageQuest Online, accessed via local library 24 Apr 2008, citing NARA publication M653, Roll 916.

32. Sudie Rucker Wood, comp., The Rucker Family Genealogy (Richmond, Virginia: Old Dominion Press, Inc., 1932), 33-34. This compilation is largely unsourced, but Henry Sr.’s 1850 and 1860 family census data are consistent with it as far as they go. Cook County, Illinois, 1850 US Census, population schedule, Chicago, 2nd Ward, pages 177-178, dwelling 745, family 760, H. L. Rucker; digital image, HeritageQuest on line (accessed via local library 4 May 2008), citing NARA publication M432, Roll 102. Cook County, Illinois, 1860 US Census, Chicago, 2nd Ward, page 462, dwelling 1147, family 1370, Henry Rucker; digital image, HeritageQuest on line (accessed via local library 4 May 2008), citing NARA publication M653, Roll 164.

33. Smith & Du Moulin’s Chicago City Directory for the Year Ending May 1, 1860, 339. Also D.B. Cooke’s 1859-60 Chicago City Directory, 307.

34. Cook County, Illinois, 1860 US Census, Chicago, page 462, Henry Rucker.

35. Chicago Tribune, 28 Jan 1864.

36. Rucker Family Genealogy, 32-33.

As published in Chicago Genealogy 41(2):57-63, Winter 2008-2009, except that footnotes have been converted to endnotes.