Charles W. Howard

Charles W. Howard

C.W. Howard Profile

My cousin Gene James compiled all this information on our mutual Great Grandfather. He served under General George Armstrong Custer in the Civil War. This letter written to his parents is a graphic description of his experiences in the war.

Charles Wesley Howard was one of my four great grandfathers. I never knew him because he died five years before I was born. He was a man who left behind several written accounts that document short periods of his life. I am fortunate enough to have three such documents. I don’t think he was highly educated but probably had a good education for his time and station. His written records did clearly convey his thoughts. This article is mostly about his feelings about conditions in the First Iowa Cavalry at the end of the Civil War as expressed in a letter he wrote home to his parents..

Charles Howard was born in Ohio in 1842. His mother died when he was four years old. By about 1847 the family moved to Stuebenville, Ohio. Sometime before 1861 they again moved, this time to Mount Pleasant, Iowa. In 1861 Charles was a farmer. At the start of the Civil War in August 1861 he enlisted in the Union Army, Company E of the First Iowa Cavalry at Burlington Iowa. He provided his own horse which entitled him to extra pay.

After two and a half years in the Cavalry he re-enlisted in January 1864. A note made in his military record at that time states ” He has been in battle and skirmishes with the enemy at:

Newtonia, Mo. Oct. 4, 1862,

McGuire’s Ford, Arkansas, Oct. 29, 1862,

Prairie Grove, Arkansas, Dec. 7, 1862,

Brownville, Arkansas, Aug 25, 1863,

Bayou Metoe, Arkansas, Aug. 26 & 27, 1863,

Little Rock, Arkansas, Sept 10, 1863,

Princeton, Arkansas Dec. 8, 1863,”

Throughout 1864 and the first half of 1865 the First Iowa Cavalry operated against

guerrillas in Missouri and saw action in Arkansas and Tennessee.

They moved into Louisiana in June 65 then on to Texas in August and to Austin, Texasin October 65. They were mustered out February 15, 1866.

While in Texas his unit was under the command of George Armstrong Custer. Custer was not popular with his men in Texas. From Evan S. Connell, author of Son Of The Morningstar, we find the following statements from men who served under Custer there. “An Iowa veteran, commenting twenty years afterward, said that during the Civil War he had camped in Missouri snow a foot deep, found himself frozen to the earth in Arkansas mud, wrestled vermin in southern trenches, and been doubled up with cramps, but not until he rode through Texas in peacetime with General Custer did he face true hardship.

He said when they started westward from Alexandria the men were instructed to report in ranks with their coats buttoned, and to carry a carbine, revolver, seventy rounds of ammunition, and a saber.

The temperature was about 120 degrees, and there wasn’t a rebel in the land. When the division reached a narrow bridge that had to be crossed single file, Custer and staff stood on either side the line with sabers drawn, and where a soldier overcome with heat had fastened his carbine, revolver or sword to the

saddle, they clipped it off and let it fall into the stream. The arms were charged to the soldier. . . . . Many a poor fellow I have seen with his head shaved to the scalp, tied to a wagon wheel and whipped like a dog, for stealing a piece of fresh meat or a peach from an orchard by the wayside. Custer himself rode unencumbered by equipment and frequently changed horses.”

Emmet West wrote in History and Reminiscences of the Second Wisconsin Cavalry that he did not think it strange the men hated Custer. “I can compare his inhuman treatment of the men under him

that summer to nothing I saw or experienced in four years service, but the inhuman treatment of the Union prisoners at Cahaba (a Civil War prison camp near Selma, Alabama) by Col. Jones.”

Charles W. Howard wrote the following letter to his parents while he was in Texas under General Custer it is apparent that his opinion of Custer was not much different from those expressed above.

Hempstead, TexasSept. 24th 1865

Dear Father & Mother

I thought I might write to you today to keep me out of mischief. I am tolerable well. I had a shake the other day, the first one I ever had. There is several men of the Co. sick, mostly diarrhea and the Ague. We will start for Austin soon. I think General Sheridan was here last week, he seemed surprised to find us so badly used up. Our horses are very poor and a great many have died since we arrived at this place. Our Division has been changed since we came here. The 12th Ills went to Houston report to Gen Mower for duty. The 5th Ills have orders to be mustered out. They have been relieved from duty but the joke of it is that the 5th traded their horses (the best ones) to the 7th Ind.and the Gen. will not let them go until they get every one of them back again. It is doubtful about getting them again. Our Regt. should have been the one but it was not. Our Regt. is the only one veteran Regt. in this division and is the oldest volunteer Cav Regt in the U.S.A. and you may be sure we think we are imposed on. We wouldn’t care so much if we had a general we liked. But Custer is more than we can go. He don’t care as much for a private soldier as he would for a dog. He has had several boys whipped and their heads shaved.! Because they got some Beef out in the country without an order from him. Beef cattle are worth from 3 to 8 dollars per head. We have suffered more for food and forage since we left Alexandria, La. Than we did on all our campaigns under Gen. Herron in the barren parts of southwest Mo.And Northwest Arkansas our last march was through a land of plenty. There was enough to subsist a force 5 times our force and not robbist the Citizens but we were coming down into the country where federal soldiers had never been to “Conciliate the Citizens”. Well the Cits would not take greenbacks for their produce and we were compelled to do without. If we had done right, we would have confiscated their crop, and if they didn’t come to time, burned their houses for them. I have seen old Buttermits (when boys would go to their houses for water) come to their door and demand with the air of a King what they wanted in there and tell them to go down some ravine outside of their plantations to get their water as they didn’t want them on their place. One year ago such talk to a federal soldier would not have been passed unpunished for his house would have been burned to the ground at least and the Citizens know when to talk and what to say. On the march we had to march “by fours” nearly all the way, whenever a soldier had to stop to get water or attend a call of nature he had to leave his horse in rank and fall out dismounted to catch up as best he could. You can imagine how much a man would feel like running when he is nearly dead with Chronic Diarrhea. At the rear of each Brigade were Provost Guards who made it a point to capture all horses of the other Brigade and give them to their own Brigade. Sometimes the boys had their horses taken from them when they first started in the morning and if his Brigade Guard didn’t gobble a horse from the other Brigade he had to walk through, he would have to walk all that day anyhow. All horses taken that way were kept by the Brigade which took them. The way our Division was used would have discouraged Ghenges Khan. We used to think we were free volunteers, but we are not. We are “conscripts” and are treated like we had just got out of States Prisons of the North. You may be sure such treatment don’t go down well with us. I think it requires more Patriotism and Courage to stay in the army now than it did for the last four years. It is more humiliating to us knowing as we do that we have done our duty to our Government in her hour of danger and standing by her through danger and trial. Now after crushing the Rebellion instead of being allowed to go home we are subject to harsher treatment than the men who for four long years have been trying to destroy our Nation! I think we have cause to be dissatisfied don’t you? If I ever enlist to save the Government again I hope to howl. I wish you would write soon and tell me about the Homestead Law. Some of our boys have got a letter from home which says soldiers can get credit for the time they serve in the Army. Thus if he serves 3 years he will have 2 years to stay on the land and if 4 years he will stay one. If five years he will only have to pay $10.00 and get a deed. Tell me all about it for if that is so I am going to have a splendid farm for little or nothing. I have only received two letters from home since we left Alexandria. I get awful lonesome without letters. Tell all the folks to write to me. Write soon and please send me $1.00 of stamps. We have not been payed for more than six months and no prospects of any for six more. I have soured on the U.S.considerably. Write the news, we don’t hear anything for a month after it happens.

Your affectionate son

C.W. Howard

Co. E 1st IowaCav.

Hempstead Texas,

via New Orleans

Father & Mother

Love to all


Charles W. Howard
Charles W. Howard – An earlier photo but I suspect much after the war.

During the war Charles Howard’s regiment lost 58 men killed in action and 235 dead from disease. Charles chose to be mustered out at Austinrather than be transported back to Iowaby the government. By doing so he was able to keep the travel allowance and travel at his own expense. His record shows that when he was mustered out he had lost one saber belt and one curry comb, and he kept one Spencer Carbine and one Navy Revolver.

Charles told the story of how he and other Union

soldiers travelling back to Iowa after the war, stopped at a farm

somewhere south of the Mason Dixon line and asked the farmer if

he would sell them one of his sheep so they could roast it at

their campfire that night. The farmer was so obliging that he

killed and cleaned the animal for them as well. They enjoyed the

meal just fine until one of their party noticed the toe of a dog

on the leg of lamb he had been eating. It seems that southern

farmer had the last laugh on those Yankee soldiers.

This is a letter Charles Howard wrote to Margaret Cordelia Vanorsdol when he was courting her after he returned to Iowafrom the war. It was just over a year before they were married.

Mt. Pleasant Nov. 4th. 1868

Dear Delia,

I have been working in the nursery today and did not go home until after dark. I was agreeably surprised to find your letter. I was disappointed in not finding you at home but it was my fault for not writing to let you know when I was coming out. I wanted to have a good talk with you when I went out but I will have to put it off until the next time. I would have spoken to your Father and Mother about our engagement if you had not told me not to do so. I feel like I should tell them about it for my intentions are honorable and I don’t want them to think otherwise. I want to act right let it cost what it will. I know that I will be asking a great deal but I hope I can be a good enough son for them to nearly compensate them for the loss of their daughter. Delia, I don’t know what I would do if you should prove false to me. I know there is no danger of that but I could not give you up. I have more confidence in you than I ever had in any woman although I came near getting a wife once before I was acquainted with her, how glad I am that she was before it was too late. You may imagine then I resolved that if ever I should take a liking for any other girl I would be sure that I was posted as to her disposition and character. I was acquainted with you a long time before I thought you would be the right kind of girl for me. I was not in a hurry for my mistake in a selection before learned me a lesson. I made enquiries about you of people who never thought I had any interest in knowing. All that I ever heard of you was to your credit. When I was satisfied, I found that some one else was before me. Then I did resolve never to let you know it and I thought I would help you attain the object of your love, you know all about it, how it failed then I told you all, and if I should lose you now after nearly lost you before I don’t know what would happen. Well Delia, I am going out in the country near Londonto husk corn, I will be gone about two weeks. I will write to you again soon, and when I come home I will call again to see you. I am determined to get a good start in the world for you, will do any kind of work which is honorable to accomplish the end in view to let you know how I am progressing. My nursery has increased according to the average price of trees of that age a little over Nine hundred dollars besides the other work I have done which is doing pretty well for one Summer’s work of a man without a team. I am very much encouraged, especially as I have such a prize to work for as I have in you.

Now dear girl I will have to quit writing for it is late and I must start early in the morning. Delia, I will come out when I come back but I will let you know before. I send much love and respect to my Delia. Give my love to your mother and Matt, keep lots for yourself.


.Charles married Margaret Cordelia Vanorsdol, the daughter of Manly Paddleford Vanorsdol and Mary Stratton Ogden on Nov. 15, 1869. They were married by Reverend W.E. DeGarmo.

In 1875 Charles and “Delia” moved to a farm near Bethany Missouri. He kept a diary then as he did later in life. The few loose pages that have survived from that little diary are faded and dog eared now but they offer dramatic evidence of just how much our way of life in this country has changed in one hundred forty five years. They tell of a time when people depended on their neighbors far more than they do today and when a merchant didn’t always expect his customers to be able to pay in advance for the necessities of life. More than anything they illustrate the hard work that was required just to provide a very meager living on a small Missouri farm. There were no luxuries and nothing went to waste on that farm.

Charles Howard spent much of his time fixing and mending, making do with what he had. Like most small farmers of his day, he did not have a lot of money or material possessions but he was not spiritually poor. The contrast with our lives today is sharp. Here are Charles Howard’s notes documenting twenty four days in the spring of 1879. The farm they were living on was owned by Charles Howard’s father, Horton Jefferson Howard.

Sunday April 20, 1879.

Maggie and I with the children took a walk to gather rocks and flowers. Wrote a letter to Em Anderson.

Monday April 21. Commenced to put up fence. Laid up all the new rails and all the old ones about the house. Took the south fence of the hay lot, got them all laid out and stake and ridered.

Tuesday April 22. Hauled out all the South fence from the field and laid up 8 or 9 pounds.

Wednesday April 23. Laid up all the fence and stake and ridered it and hauled home a lot of wood. Mrs. Haight brought out our mail. We got a letter from Mary telling us that father has sold this place to G. W. Dutton and is to give possession in the fall and he wants us to move to his place in Apponoose Co. Iowa. That makes a great change in our calculations. I would not have moved the fence if I had known he had sold the place. I have done a great deal of hard work this spring which will do me no good now. Wrote a letter to Mary this evening.

Thursday April 24. Got up at 2 am, found it raining. Fixed things to catch rain water. Wrote a letter to father and sent him his deed for this place which he had sent down to me for record. Went to town horseback to mail the letters. Registered the one for father. Got soaked coming home. Rained hard nearly all day. Mended a halter, the table and fixed handles on two table knives. Cleared off in the evening.

Friday April 25. Went to Pooles after his breaking plow. Had to wait till he got breakfast and then till he fixed the plow. Took my shovel plow over to have him fix again. Plowed in the Slough in the new ground.

Saturday April 26. Plowed in the slough all day. Henry Miller came over to look at our sewing machine. Maggie wants to trade it for 130 lbs. of bacon.

Sunday April 27. Stayed at home. Scotts folks came over and stayed all evening.

Monday April 28. Planted our cane today. I commenced to plow for corn.

Tuesday April 29. Plowed all day.

Wednesday April 30. Plowed all day. Geo. Morrow got my corn planter. He agreed to give me $1.00 for it before we left in the fall. Bartholomew brought up my clevis and got his.

Thursday May 1, 1879. Plowed all day. Maggie helped me with the trees in the orchard. She planted some radish, pie melon seed and beans. Poole got his plow and plowed for Scott. He took it home in the evening as I don’t want to use it any more.

Friday May 2. Finished plowing at noon, turned the horses onto the grass into the field in the afternoon. I made hills for melons and cucumbers which Maggie and I planted . We also planted some cabbage seed and pole beans. After that I hoed potatoes till suppertime and then stripped hickory bark and put a new bottom in a chair.

Saturday May 3. I went to Bethany this afternoon. Got off S.P.King 24 cts. worth of coffee, a paper of soda and 30 cts. worth bacon. Paid him 25 cts. on the meat and owe him the rest. Got the children’s paper and a letter from Will Van Orsdol. Got Scott’s and Bartholemew’s mail. Maggie took B’s mail down. Quite a shower this PM. Planted our cabbage plants, cut wood and fixed Mrs. Haight’s shoe. Geo. Morrow brought over a shoulder of fresh pork. They killed a pig today. Cleared off in the evening.

Sunday May 4. Geo. Morrow and wife came over and stayed to dinner in the PM. Maggie went over to Scott’s to see Jane York’s baby. The wind began to blow about noon and has been blowing very hard all afternoon. Monday May 5. Made a brush harrow and harrowed all the corn ground and the sweet corn. Got done about 2:00. Furrowed out on the west side of the cane and garden till night. Today has been cool all except about an hour in the afternoon. Maud lost my knife today.

Tuesday May 6. Ice formed across the water trough at the spring last night. The wind was from the NW and this morning is cold for this time of year. Commenced to plant corn this morning. Maggie is helping me. I furrough out a few rows while she drops the corn then I take the hoe and cover. We planted all the west of the east side of the potatoes and cane. Wednesday May 7. Planted corn. Scott came over and helped cover for about an hour. Quite a shower in the PM.

Thursday May 8. Finished planting this forenoon. Plowed in the potatoes and beans near the house. This has been the warmest day for three weeks.

Friday May 9. Planted my beans all around the cornfield and cut wood.

Saturday May 10. Went to town to mill, took a sack of corn for Scotts. Maggie and Hattie Scott went with me. Maggie bought a new dress for 65 cts. I got 50 lbs. of flour at the mill on my wood account (at 2.75 per 100).

Sunday May 11. Stayed at home.

Monday May 12. Rained all day. Set out cabbage plants and mended harness.

Tuesday May 13. Cut wood to take.

This last entry was never finished.

At the time they lived near Bethany, Mo. they had four children. Delia Maud, born in 1870 at Mt. Pleasant, Emma Laura, born in 1872 at Mt. Pleasant, Albert Horton, born in 1875 in MO. and Marietta Nora born in 1878 in MO.Later there would be Nellie Belle in 1881, George Cowen in 1884 and Joseph Benton in 1888.

The family did move back to Iowain 1880. In 1881 Nellie Belle was born near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and she later wrote that the family moved to near Silver Lake, Kansas in January 1884. When the family first moved to Kansas, they lived on a fruit farm owned by George Vanorsdol who was Charles Howard’s brother in law.

Charles Howard worked part time for another fruit grower besides working his own small farm. In March or April of 1890 they moved to Shorey, Kansas a suburb of North Topeka. There Charles went to work for Peters, Skinner and Taylor Nursery Co. Daughter Emma died in 1892 and we know the wife Margaret Cordelia was not well by about 1895 because her daughter Nellie missed so much school taking care of her mother that year that she did not receive her eighth grade diploma. In 1899 daughter Nora died leaving a 13 month old baby girl.

Here is Charles W. Howard’s Account of the 1903 Flood at Topeka, Kansas

Saturday May 30, 1903. Left home about 7 oclock AM and walked up the R.I. track to John Gort’s with my family. My wife, Nellie, George. Joe and myself and Birt and all his family and hundreds of others who were fleeing from the flood. I stayed there till nearly noon and went on to Elmontto get something for them to eat as none of us had brought anything along. I met Mr. John Hows there and he sent me back for my family which I brought to his place where he fed us and Thomas Wright Jr. who was with us.

Sunday May 31, 1903. Rained all day, went to Elmont. Found Wm. Fletcher’s family there. Tried to send a telegram to sister Addie. Lines down.

Monday June 1, 1903. Wm. Fletcher’s family consisting of himself, wife and child and Mrs. Hows fed also two other refugees whose names I do not know. George and Mrs. Hows took my wife, Nellie and Joe back with him till I can get the house fit to live in. I drew rations at Skinners Cellar 5lbs. potatoes, 2 loaves bread, 1 lb. of pork and about 1 pint of coffee.

Monday Miss Eagle and Mrs. Wilson also came.

Tuesday June 2nd Mr. barr and wife also came drew a few rations at Elmont. Wednesday 3rd drew suit of underclothes for Maggie and Nellie also a shirt for self and Joe. In the afternoon Mr. Fletcher ‘s Father and brother came after his family. Mr Hows gave them their dinner and fed their teams and they took Wills family and misses Eagle and Wilson with them. Will stayed at Mr. Hows place.

Thursday 4th I drew a sack of flour 1 pound of coffee and about 3 pounds of pickled bologna from Mrs. Linsher when we got at the reform school on a hand cart.

Friday 5th We came home. Mr Hows brought us down in his wagon. He also gave me 2 ½ bushel of shelled corn for my hogs which are needing it very much. Indeed our house was not fit to live in so I stayed with george and Mr Hows took my wife, Nellie and Joe back with him till I can get the house fit to live. I drew rations at Skinner’s cellar 5 lbs of potatoes 2 loaves bread 1lb of pork and about 1 pint of coffee

Saturday June 6, 1903. River falling slowly, the pile driver at work all night. There is a big force of men making side tracks in Shorey. The talk is that the Roundhouse will be moved to Shorey again. Mr. Stewart had a crib of corn flooded and quite a lot of corn spoiled. I got a sack of it for my hogs and was glad to get it. Yesterday afternoon a man came to me and said he had been to Small’s and he made them go away after getting him to sign a petition for the State to pay him $8,000 for feeding the destitute and the damage they did to his property. The man’s name is Nickles and he has a wife and 4 small children. I let them in the store room and let them cook on the stove. They lived on Fillmore st. North Topeka. Got what Mr. Skinner owed me. $ five and eight cents.

Sunday, tried to get to town via UPRR, could not walk the track where it was washed out East of Updegraf’s. The track was swinging clear of the ground and water in two places, one about 100 feet and the other nearly 200 feet. The last swayed so much I gave it up and came back. Mrs. Brown wanted me to let her have 2 rooms in our house where they could be to themselves. She said it was not very agreeable for them at Holmeses. I told her they might occupy part of the store room with the Nichols folks but that didn’t suit her as she said there was 5 of them and they couldn’t get along.

In 1905 or 1906 Charles Howard and his wife Margaret moved to Wellston Mo.a suburb of St. Louiswhere Charles, his wife Cordelia, daughter Nellie and her husband Ed Kingman all lived with another daughter, Maude, and her husband Joel Neiswender. Charles was employed by the school district as a janitor and maintenance man. His son in law Ed Kingman also worked as a school janitor while he went to business school at night. They moved back to Shawnee County, Ks. in 1910.

IN 1912 Charles Howard and his wife moved in with their son George Howard’s family where they lived until they died. Margaret Cordelia died 8 March 1918 of pneumonia after a week of illness. Charles W. Howard died 7 Sept. 1927, at 85 years 8 months. They are both buried at Prairie Home Cemeterynorth of Topeka.

Charles W. Howard
Charles W. Howard
Charles W. Howard
Charles W. Howard
Charles W. Howard
Charles W. Howard
Charles W. Howard








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