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Josiah C. Smith


Posted By: Steven Showers (email)
Date: 2/11/2012 at 19:46:36

Born: Bedford County, Pennsylvania, 28 April 1823
Died: Pleasant Valley district, Fayette County, Iowa, 1 March 1875; buried in West Union Cemetery, block 2, lot 60 (headstone missing].
Married: 14 Jan.1851, in Sangamon County, Illinois to Matilda Almira Winn (b. ca. 1825, Ohio, daughter of Dr. Charles L.? Winn),
Children: Emma L (see her biography),
William Henry (b. ca. 1855, Iowa or Minnesota {?})

The life of Josiah C. Smith has been difficult to trace due to his common last name. However, included among the articles he passed down to his daughter Emma was his Civil War discharge, a family Bible, a pocket size New Testament with a bullet hole (it had been issued to him during the war), a watercolor painting of himself in uniform, and the bayonet from his service rifle. The bayonet has since disappeared, but the other items are in the possession of his descendants, so there is no question of his family connection. And the discharge provides a physical description which matches the painting: he was 5’9” in height, with a fair complexion, brown hair, and black eyes.

According to his discharge dated 15 August 1865 when he was 42, he was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, which places his birth about 1823, and the family Bible he presented his daughter Emma when she married confirms his birthday as 28th April of that year. As noted in the biography for his father Henry F. Smith, there appears to be a connection with the Henry Smith who served in the War of 1812 from Bedford County and who is named in the 1820 census for that county. Perhaps our Josiah was named for a relative since a Josiah Smith in Bedford died in 1813. The reference to Josiah’s sister Barbara (described in the biography of her son Henry Rickel) states she was of both German and English descent, which applies to Josiah as well.

The 1850 census places him at age 27 in Sangamon County, Illinois in a household with two of his brothers and in-laws (see Henry F. Smith biography). Perhaps of greater interest, the location places him close to Springfield, and this might provide another clue to explain why he later enlisted at age 39 to serve in the Civil War.

Most men his age with a family of two small children did not serve, but given that he spent some years near Springfield, it is possible that he knew of or perhaps had met one of the locally celebrated lawyers and politicians, Abraham Lincoln. As noted for his father Henry F. Smith who was possibly a lawyer in Sangamon County, Josiah could have felt a connection to Lincoln through his father who had the inclination to become a community leader, and this connection with Lincoln might have led to his support of the Union cause. This is a question we are likely never to answer, but it remains an interesting possibility. Indeed, Josiah is indirectly connected with Lincoln through his wife Matilda Almira Winn and her association to the Pickrell family (see below).

Josiah married Matilda in 1851 in Illinois, but the bride’s name on this line in the Bible is so smudged, it is difficult to make out the words other than the date and the official who married them. However, the State of Illinois lists marriages for this period, and it clearly reports Josiah C. Smith married Matilda (Almira) Winn in Sangamon County on 14 January. The 1856 Iowa census for Fayette County in Iowa where Josiah settled states his wife’s initials as “M.A.” We later know the A stands for Almira which she apparently used at times since it appears for her in the 1860 census.

Josiah and Matilda Almira apparently met in Mechanicsburg, Illinois when she lived with the family of William S. Pickrell as noted in the 1850 census where she is listed as part of the family, aged 24 and born in Ohio. How Matilda and Josiah met is unclear, but there was a business connection between the two families since Josiah’s brother Nathan bought a hide tanning business from William Pickrell’s brother Jesse. They all must have seen each other in the town of Mechanicsburg, and Jesse’s son Abel George Pickrell could have met Matilda’s younger half-sister Emma H Winn through her, since they married in 1864.

Matilda was born ca. 1825, the daughter of Dr. Charles L. Winn (aka Wynn, born 13 Aug. 1800 in Virginia), and his 1st wife. Her name has not been found in any of the records, and it is likely she was deceased a few years after their marriage. Dr. Winn seems to have taken a second wife, Nancy Branson, whom he wed on 23 June 1829 in Sangamon County. The 1830 census for Sangamon lists Charles Wynn (adult male between 20 and 30), 1 adult female between 20 and 30 (Nancy), and one girl aged between 6 and 10 (Matilda). Soon the family began to grow with the birth of Matilda’s half-sister Corilla in 1830, and this was followed by Byron, Richard D., Charles L., Robert, Emma H., and Florence M.

Dr. Winn was a pioneer in Illinois, recorded in the area of Athens by 1828 where he was the first to practice medicine at Indian Point (the nearest doctor had been in Springfield). He later moved to Waynesville. A fascinating notice for Springfield on 3 June 1834 states that young Abraham Lincoln was appointed by County Commissioners' Court "to survey the road from Athens to Sangamo Town in place of Charles Winn and that the viewers have to next court to make their report." ("The Lincoln Log," Record D, 91). This notice is unclear but it could mean that the road surveyed ran to Charles Winn’s place (rather than the much less unlikely idea that Dr. Winn was not going to do the surveying).

The doctor is named on the 1835 tax list in Sangamon County, and he was still in the county in 1841-2 when his name appears in some legal actions to recover funds he was owed. This case was another occasion when his name was associated with Lincoln as noted in "A. Lincoln, Esquire" by Allen D. Spiegel: “Dr. Charles Winn sued Frederick Stipp on April 19th, 1841 to collect a $32.75 debt for medicine and services. Winn subpoened F.S. Harrison, Charles Maltby, Catherine Stipp, and David Wheeler. Stipp summoned Nancy Griffin. After hearing all the evidence, Justice of the Peace David Montgomery ruled; it appeared there was due from the defendant to the plaintiff twenty-eight dollars. Judgment for $28.00 and cost of suit bringing the award to $33.60. Stipp appealed to the DeWitt County Circuit Court on May 11th, 1841. During the October 1841 term of the court, Winn spent $5.81 while Stipp spent $5.80 in fees including two days for his witness, James Lemon, at fifty cents per day. In the May 1842 term of the court, the fee book showed that Winn spent $12.53 for assorted court fees including one day for witness Charles Maltby at fifty cents per day. Some time after this docket entry, Stipp dismissed his appeal. In all probability the parties settled out of court. Lincoln wrote an account of the case, but his role in the suit is unknown and no other attorneys are noted in the documents” (pg 173-174).

Whatever the connection with Lincoln, this suit perhaps made Charles fed up with practicing medicine in Illinois since he soon left with Nancy and the younger children to return to Springfield, Ohio where his step-mother and siblings were well established, and he might have still owned property in the area. However, it is likely Matilda stayed behind in Illinois when her father’s second family moved back to Ohio since she was about 16, much older than her siblings, and perhaps she felt out of place with them. Thus she is found in Sangamon County in 1850 living with the William Pickrell family, and so she might not have ever left for Ohio.

Matilda lost her father Charles who died on 17 August 1847 in Clark City, OH. It might have been after her father’s death that she moved back to Illinois where the family had connections. Her apparent step-mother Nancy perhaps could not care for the family (she died 4 Nov. 1852 at Columbus, Adams Co., Illinois). Matilda might have been taken in by the Pickrells who were friends or relatives. She could have been a nanny, governess, or servant, although the census does not identify that she works for the family. Josiah’s family Bible states that Wm. Pickrell performed the marriage ceremony for him and Matilda, so there is no doubt about the identification.

As part of the Pickrell household Matilda herself was likely to have been acquainted with Abraham Lincoln who was connected with the Pickrells several ways since they shared legal, business, and political interests. In 1845 Abel Pickrell senior and his son William Pickrell were witnesses in a suit brought by the state on behalf of people from several townships against Shepherd and others who had failed to fulfill the conditions of a bond. Lincoln and his partner William Herndon were appointed by the state’s attorney to represent the townships, and the court ruled for the people for $41,802 in debts and damages. In 1846 William’s brother Jesse was one of the six delgates appointed to vote for Lincoln at the Sangamon County Whig convention. In 1847 Lincoln and William Pickrell were members of a 10 man committee that advocated the project to build the Alton and Springfield Railroad in order to connect the state capital with the Mississippi River. William Pickrell was a juror in 1848 when Lincoln represented John Broadwell in a trespassing case brought by John Billington. Broadwell was acquitted. In another case in 1850, William Pickrell was the administrator for the estate of the deceased William Taft in Sangamon County, but Taft’s window did not want him to sell her husband’s 160 acres to settle his debts, so Pickrell brought a suit against the family to settle the estate. Lincoln’s partner Herndon was appointed by the court to represent Taft’s children to protect their interests. Eventually the court ruled for Pickrell to sell the land which garnered $538.20 (the debts were $698.26). In any of these events, Lincoln could have visited the Pickrell homes in Mechanicsburg.

The Pickrell-Lincoln connection continued on into the next decade. In 1853 Lincoln represented the widow Margaret McDaniel against others in her family who opposed her desire for the return of her dower from the estate of her deceased husband. The court ruled in her favor and appointed three commissioners including William Pickrell to determine what part of the estate represented her dower (later determined to be 143.74 acres). In a similar role in 1854 William Pickrell, now along with his brother Jesse, was a court appointed commissioner to determine the property that belonged to the minor child Mary Smith from the estate of her father, James Smith. Lincoln, Herndon, and Stephen T. Logan were successful in representing the child’s interests against her Conkling, Dickerson, and Green relatives.

Letters by Lincoln also include the Pickrell brothers. One short note in 1856 written to Jesse asks him to provide the names of prominent men in Mechanicsburg who are Fillmore supporters. Lincoln intended to contact them, apparently to sway some to the Republican cause. In 1858 he refers to a visit with Jesse Pickrell to get his background information about a land dispute concerning third parties. In 1859 he wrote again to Jesse, asking for political support from him and his brother William to get out the local Republican vote for the gubernatorial candidate John Palmer. In 1860 Jesse was one of the 15 delegates from Sangamon County which nominated Lincoln for the Republican Presidential ticket at the Illinois convention. Lincoln honored his friend that same year by giving Jesse a personally signed copy of the recently published text of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

It is likely many if not all of these connections between Lincoln and the Pickrells were known to Matilda Almira even after she left their house since it seems she continued the connection with Pickrells after her marriage to Josiah and the move to Iowa. The newlywed couple welcomed their daughter Emma L. into the world in early 1852 and the child's name seems to reflect Matilda Almira’s affection for her young half-sister who herself would marry into the Pickrell family. It is likely that Emma H. Winn was introduced to Able George Pickrell through our Matilda Almira. Thus, the several family connections with Lincoln might be one of the reasons for Josiah’s decision later to enlist in the war and fight for Lincoln and the Union.

In 1852 Josiah moved his family as they accompanied the households of his adult brothers to join his parents and younger siblings as pioneers in West Union Township, Iowa. The 1852 Iowa state census only gives the name for the head of each household, and Josiah’s listing notes one male and two females, which are Matilda Almira and their infant daughter Emma L. The birthplace identified for Emma in the 1860 census is Illinois, so she appears to have been born just before the family became settlers in Iowa, although in later life she named Iowa as her birthplace.

More revealing information about the closeness of the Smith family is found in the land they owned. In 1855 Josiah purchased a federal patent for 80 acres of virgin land in Fayette County. The paperwork was filed in the Dubuque office, and he received document #25,155. These documents were issued by the authority of the executive branch, and as such they had to carry the president’s name. In this case it was signed on 15 June in the name of Franklin Pierce, but the document notes it was written for him by his assistant secretary, H. C. Baldwin. Another document signed on that very same day concerned the purchase conducted in the same Dubuque office by Henry F. Smith, Josiah’s father, who likewise acquired 80 acres in Fayette, document #26,093. It turns out these two tracks of land are adjacent to each other, with a common border along 40 acres. Both purchased in section 36 of township 94 N (the area of West Union). Josiah owned the northern half of the Southeast quarter, and Henry owned the east half of the Southwest quarter. This is yet another confirmation of the close relationship of the Henry F. Smith with his sons, and it is possible the two farms were run as one unit, or perhaps used some of the same equipment and shared manpower.

J.C. Smith (our Josiah, incorrectly stated as age 29 and born in Ohio) is named in the Fayette County state census for 1856 for nearby Dover, and this also includes M.A (Matilda Almira, also incorrectly stated as age 26), E.L. (Emma L. age 4), and a new addition to the family, W.H (William Henry, an infant). Josiah had a farm to run, and this census offers an interesting snapshot of Josiah’s livelihood since the state asked for agricultural information, particularly the acres cultivated and the bushels produced for several crops. These include spring wheat (15 acres, 290 bushels), oats (4 a., 25 b.), corn (17 a., 950 b.), and no winter wheat. Concerning other farm commodities, Josiah sold 25 hogs for $195 and 6 cattle for $228, while the farm produced 400 lbs of cheese and gained another $58 from the sale of farm goods.

The 1860 census provides less information, but perhaps more accurate personal data. Here Josiah’s wife is called by her middle name Almira, age 37, and born in NY. He is 38, from Pennsylvania, and since we know this birth state matches the 1850 census in Illinois, this information seems to be more reliable than the 1856 process. He owns $350 in land and $300 in personal property. There is also a teenage male of 16, A.E. Smith born in Pennsylvania. This is a puzzle since he does not appear in any other census. He seems to be a younger brother of Josiah or perhaps a nephew or cousin. Emma is now listed as being born in Illinois. Henry (no longer W.H) is 5, born in Minnesota. Could the family or Matilda Almira alone have gone to Minnesota briefly before W. Henry arrived, perhaps for the assistance of her family with the pregnancy or the birth? This is possible, but it is also possible the census taker was mistaken (such mistakes were common), and the family is likely to have stayed in Iowa. Since in her life Emma stated she was born in Iowa, perhaps we must take parts from both the 1856 and 1860 census records to find the truth.

When the Civil War started the following year and Lincoln called for men to step forward to defend the Union, Josiah did not immediately enlist, but his father Henry’s service in the War of 1812 might have been part of the inspiration to do his duty like his civic minded parent, and there was also the family connections to Lincoln. Indeed, when Lincoln called again for men in 1862, Josiah signed on. He was not required to since Iowa filled its required troop levels with volunteers; he was not drafted. However, despite his age and a family of small children, something gave him the compunction to support the cause, and he enlisted for a three year period on 15 Aug. 1862.

After mustering on 4 Nov. 1862, Josiah became a private in Company F, 38th Iowa Infantry Regiment (it was later consolidated with the 34th Iowa Infantry in 1865). Much of the history of the regiment is explored in the book "Iowa's Martyr Regiment - The Story of the 38th Iowa Infantry" by David Wildman, and this is supplemented by the diaries of several men including Captain Horace Baldwin and private Warner Parkhurst of company F. The men of the unit arrived in Camp Franklin at Dubuque where there had already been a minor measles outbreak according to a letter of Henry L. Sholts who was a corporal in Company C. The 38th was in the backwater of the action most of the war but did participate in the siege of Vicksburg for which it paid a heavy price in men lost, not to enemy action (2 men killed) but to the diseases it encountered in the swamps where it was posted on the siege lines. Josiah survived, but hundreds died.

It seems this illness is what Josiah refers to in his pocket New Testament which all the men had received. A the lettering of the note written on 28 June is smudged and faded, but it appears he states

Mississippi June 28 1863

Andrew sent to the hospital

---------- 27 June

This must be Andrew F. Booth from Company F whom Josiah would have known since both were from West Union. Official records show indeed Andrew became ill, and he never recovered. He lived long enough to learn that Vicksburg surrendered, but he died 11 Sept., 1863 in the hospital at St. Louis where many of the suffering troops were sent.

A year later an entry by Josiah's company commander Capt. Rogers laments that the men were selling their pistols while stationed at Brownsville, Texas on the border with Mexico. Capt. Baldwin had sold his for $40 and other men had done so as well, and Rogers noted that he believed Josiah had sold the one issue to Andrew Booth. Since Josiah was close to Booth, it might have been that he gave his pistol to Josiah, who kept it for a year, and then perhaps sold it to supplement his pay and food in the seemingly forgotten backwater of the war.

Later entries by Rogers also lamented the decline in discipline for the citizen soldiers so far from action on the Mexican border, with troops not showing up for duty, a sergeant appearing before him in old pants, and Josiah Smith arguing with him how unreasonable it was to expect him to report to the captain with his rifle and cartridge box (when not needed for duty it seems).

The unit went on to to other posts and duties including support of the artillery for the Battle of Fort Morgan on Mobile Bay (it surrendered 23 Aug. 1864 and is noted as one of Josiah's battles on hiss discharge). By December 1864 the 38th was so depleted that its men, including Josiah in company K, were incorporated into a combined unit with the 34th Iowa which was in a similar state. The new unit, the 34th Iowa Consolidated Battalion, formed part of the Union forces at the siege and Battle of Fort Blakely, April 2 to 9, 1865. This was the last great battle of the Civil War and might have been the occasion when his pocket New Testament stopped a bullet. It dug into the back cover and down to the Book of Revelations for the opening of the Seventh Seal. The chapter and verse “8/1” are visible at the bottom of the whole.

The war service for which he volunteered as he neared middle age had taken him to Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Florida, and he had seen St. Louis, Vicksburg, New Orleans, Brownsville on the Rio Grande, Matamoros in Mexico, Mobile, Selma, Galveston, and Houston. His old unit, the 38th, had suffered tremendous loss of 315 dead from disease and 2 killed in battle. He had lost his commanding officer, and dozens of men who had served in his company. At Fort Blakely three more of his comrades in the battalion lost their lives. Yet he had survived when many younger men had succumbed. What did he think of all he had seen?

There are few clues. When he returned to his family in Fayette County, Josiah seems to have settled back into the quiet farm life he lived before the war. Yet he did have the portrait of himself painted in his Union uniform with is rifle and bayonet, so he must have looked on that part of his life with pride for his service. He kept his discharge as well, along with his pocket New Testament with the bullet hole, and all three items eventually reached his daughter Emma who passed them to her children along with the family Bible Josiah gave her when she married Henry J. Foland in 1868. It is only from these actions that we can get a hint of his feelings for his service and his family.

What about his final years? Only a few details exist. The History of Fayette County of 1878 lists J.C. Smith as a farmer in the Westfield district just south of the West Union district with the Brush Creek Post Office. Also there are H. Smith who ran a lime kiln and W.H. Smith who was a drayman. These seem to be Josiah’s brother Henry and his son William Henry. However, the information is out of date by at least three years.

For the last years of his life little more is know except two land transactions in 1868 and 1870. He seems to have been missed in the 1870 census, and it is only upon his early death in 1875 that we learn something of how others viewed him. The "West Union Gazette" of March 5, 1875 reports in the “Fayette Correspondence” section:
"In the afternoon of that day, the 1st of March, occurred most painfully at his house, the death of Josiah Smith, after a short but severe illness. The deceased was a quiet and worthy citizen living immediately in his own family and a circle of friends, who will mourn his loss. Today (Wednesday,) we understand that the remains of the departed will be taken to West Union for Interment."

Perhaps the rigors of his service in the war had aged him prematurely leading to his death two months shy of his 52nd birthday. He was buried in West Union Cemetery, Block 2, Lot 60, but the grave marker, if there ever was one, has disappeared. However, his name does appear in the cemetery on the monument erected to the men buried there who served in the war. Under the heading “38th INF. CO. F” are listed W. ROGERS, CAPT., D. CAMPELL, LIEUT., THOS. HENNINGS, JOHN MATHEWS, H. CLEMENTS, and J.C. SMITH. And our final notice for Josiah is found in the 27 May 1898 edition of "The West Union Gazette" which produced a front page list of veterans graves in the West Union Cemetery which were to be decorated for Memorial Day. At the top of the page is the father H. F. Smith, a veteran of the War of 1812, and further down is printed his son Josiah C. Smith, honored as a veteran of the Civil War.


Fayette Biographies maintained by Constance Diamond.
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