Military Biography ~
Dubuque county Civil War Soldiers
Twenty-first Regiment Iowa Volunteer
Historical information, notes &
comments, in some cases correcting the record
Soldier biographies written by
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|JOSEPH L. CARTER
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.