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~ Military Biography ~

Dubuque county Civil War Soldiers
 of the
Twenty-first Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Historical information, notes & comments, in some cases correcting the record
Soldier biographies written by Carl Ingwalson

Carl will do look-ups in his extensive records of the 21st Iowa and he is always willing to share what he has.


Joseph L. Carter  was born in Kentucky, probably in 1838 or 1839. Sarah L. Bunker was born on May 28, 1844, and on April 24, 1860, they were married in Dubuque. Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and war followed. On August 30th of that year Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Jennie Carter.

A year later, with the war having escalated, President Lincoln called on the states for 300,000 three-year-men. Iowa was asked to provide five regiments and on August 22, 1862, Joseph Carter enlisted at Dubuque. The following day he was mustered into Company I with David Greaves as Captain. The muster-in roll said Joseph was twenty-three years old, 5' 10" tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion. On September 9th, ten companies were mustered in as the 21st Regiment of Iowa’s volunteer infantry.

They left Dubuque on September 16th on board the Henry Clay and two barges tied alongside, transferred to the Hawkeye State due to low water at Montrose, and went ashore at St. Louis. From there they traveled by rail to Rolla and, on October 18th, started the first of many long marches when they left for Salem. Still there on the 31st, Joseph was marked “present” on the bi-monthly muster roll and he was present on the December 31st roll taken at Houston. With a pre-war occupation as a teamster, he was detailed as an assistant regimental wagon master on January 4, 1863, and was still in that capacity on February 28th at Iron Mountain. From there, they moved to Ste. Genevieve and then Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was organizing a large army with the intent of capturing Vicksburg.

In a corps led by General John McClernand, they moved slowly south along roads and across bayous west of the Mississippi River until April 30th when they crossed from Disharoon’s Plantation to the Bruinsburg landing on the east bank. With a difficult campaign ahead of them, Joseph was reassigned as an ambulance driver. On May 1, 1863, he participated in the Battle of Port Gibson when three members of the regiment were fatally wounded and at least fourteen had wounds that were less serious.

On May 16th, the army fought a daylong battle at Champion’s Hill. The 21st Iowa was held in reserve and did not participate, but it did have one casualty - Joseph Carter. His Descriptive Book said he “was wounded in hand losing two fingers by accidental discharge of own gun while guarding prisoners of war on night of May 16 / 63.” According to Joseph, his gun was resting against a rail fence, he “caught it by the muzzle and the cock caught one of the rails, gun went off.” He was sent to St. Louis’ New House of Refuge U.S. Army General Hospital where he arrived on June 29th. On September 5th he rejoined the regiment then at Bayou Boeuf in Louisiana.

In late November they left Algiers, Louisiana, and were taken to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Joseph was present as they moved from Matagorda Island to Indianola where, on March 2, 1864, he was one of several men detailed as scouts with orders to “report at once to Captain Armstrong commanding Texas Scouts.” He returned to the regiment on May 16th and was marked “present” on bimonthly muster rolls dated June 30th at Terrebonne Station in Louisiana, August 31st at Morganza, Louisiana, and December 31st at Memphis, Tennessee. He then continued with the regiment during its final campaign, a successful campaign to occupy the city of Mobile, Alabama. They entered the city on April 12, 1865, and made camp at nearby Spring Hill. Their final service was in Louisiana and Arkansas before being mustered out at Baton Rouge on July 15, 1865. Joseph was honorably discharged at Clinton on July 24, 1865.

Like many, if not most, Union veterans, Joseph requested an invalid pension. On January 4, 1867, he signed an affidavit saying, “at the battle of Champion Hills Mississippi on the 16th day of May A.D. 1863 he received a gun shot wound from a minnie rifle & the ball entered the first and second fingers of his right hand & both of said fingers were amputated on the same day by a Brigade Surgeon & said fingers were cut off to the second joint.” His former 1st Lieutenant, William Lorimier, said Joseph was wounded while “manfully discharging his duty fighting the enemy.” Military records showed the wounding was accidental, but he was on duty at the time and a pension of $2.00 monthly was granted.

On September 23, 1868, Sarah gave birth to the couple’s second child, a son they named William L. Carter. They were still living in Dubuque, when Joseph applied for an increase, an application that was granted at $6.00 monthly payable through the Des Moines Agency. They moved to Cedar Falls in 1881 so Jennie “could go to normal school,” but on May 5, 1883, Joseph deserted his family. By July 15th of that year, he was living in Sonoma County, California, when, under the name Richard C. Clark and giving his age as forty-four, he “married” Catherine “Kathleen” “Kate” Wyche who said she was born on August 17, 1851, in Illinois and that her age was misstated on their marriage license.

Since leaving Iowa, he had refrained from drawing his pension but, from Los Angeles on September 12, 1888, and under his correct name, the name under which he was pensioned, he signed an affidavit and said “the reason he has not drawn his regular quarterly pension, is because he has not received the necessary papers, having been roaming about from place to place in California but now has finally located in Los Angeles County.” He sought no increase, but asked to be restored to the rolls at the $6.00 rate. After a medical examination, his request was granted.

Meanwhile, in Cedar Falls, Sarah retained J. W. McIntyre as her attorney. There were eighteen pension agencies in the country and McIntyre wrote to most of them. Joseph, he said, “about 8 years ago became involved in a questionable transaction and fled the country abandoning his wife and children since which time they have heard nothing from him.” If Joseph wasn’t drawing a pension through any agency, McIntyre thought he could be presumed deceased and Sarah and the children could draw pensions. Sarah felt the same and, on January 27, 1891, she wrote to the pension office and said she had not heard from Joseph “and a reasonable inference to said silence on his part is that death has occurred.”

In July, 1891, the County Clerk in Sutter County, California, notified the Pension Office that Joseph was living in Marysville and had advised him that his pension certificate had been lost or destroyed. Kathleen moved to a sister’s home in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1895 and Sarah died in Des Moines in 1900. She is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Charles City.

On February 6, 1907, an age-based pension act was adopted by Congress and three weeks later Joseph applied saying he was “73 years of age, having been born 7 day of July 1833.” That didn’t correspond with the age written when he enlisted, something he now said was an error. The Pension Office requested evidence of his birth date and Joseph replied that the family’s birth records were lost in a fire, “but I distinctly remember my birth day.” On February 15, 1910, with no proof of the 1833 birth date, Joseph’s claim was “allowed for age 70 years - $15 per month.”

On April 16, 1910, Joseph was admitted to a Veterans Home in Napa Valley. Despite having moved to East St. Louis, when Kathleen received word “that he was not expected to live,” she ‘sent 10.00 to get him any delicacies that he might need” and then “went to him in April, 1910.” On May 10th Joseph died. He is buried in Veterans Memorial Grove Cemetery, Yountville.
Joseph had told Kathleen he was divorced from a prior wife and was using a new name. On August 2, 1910, saying “she is the lawful widow of Richard C. Clark, nee Joseph L. Carter,” Kathleen applied for Joseph’s unpaid accrued pension and for her own widow’s pension. She then had to prove the divorce and that Richard Clark was the Joseph Carter who had served in the 21st Infantry.

In 1911, the government reviewed the conflicting information - Kathleen said Joseph was divorced when they married in 1883, but eight years later Sarah had requested a pension as Joseph’s wife. A special examination was ordered and depositions were taken in Iowa and California.

Joseph’s son said his parents had “no trouble,” but father “would go on periodical sprees and he got to running after a woman named Palmer” shortly before deserting the family. Another witness said Joseph “was a dissipated man and while at Redondo got into trouble by his dissipation by abusing his wife who had him arrested,” but they had stayed together and moved to Yuba City. Another witness said Kathleen and Joseph “never had any trouble” and the reason she moved to East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1895 was that “he could not support her and give her boy the advantages she wanted to give him. She came here and lived with her sister to educate her son.” Kathleen said Joseph was “a goodhearted man to a fault but he could not care for his family and drink.”

After an exhaustive search in several states and counties, no record of a divorce was found. As a result, Kathleen’s marriage was determined to be “absolutely void at inception.” After the “impediment” to a legal marriage was removed by Sarah’s death in 1900, Kathleen might have tried to prove a common law marriage, but there were two problems - they were living separately and “marital cohabitation was never resumed” and California had abolished common law marriage in 1896. Consequently, her applications were denied.

Joseph and Sarah had three children. Jennie married George M. Wilson. A well-respected schoolteacher, she died on May 8, 1947, and is buried in the Washington Veterans Home Cemetery, Retsil, Washington. Her brother, William, a vice president of the Waterloo Register Company, died in 1846 and is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Waterloo, Iowa. Nothing was found about another brother, Henry, who was born about 1872.

Kathleen said she and Joseph had one son, Eben (or Ebenezer) W. Clark, who, in 1911 was living in East St. Louis, Illinois.





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