In recognition of the 160th anniversary of the Civil War in 2021, the following is part of a series highlighting my Civil War ancestors.
(Spoiler alert! Click here for Part 1 to learn about Stephen A. Powers’ Civil War story before continuing with Part 2.)
The first gun fired by the Rebellion against Fort Sumter awoke Northern Indiana, as it did the whole North. Before that day the subjects of this record and their friends knew not war, nor the spirit of war. With the exception of a few men scattered here and there, none had seen military service. Thousands of the middle-aged, and those entering upon manhood, had never seen a soldier in line or in uniform. The terrible struggle in the heart of the peace-loving citizen, between love of home, wife, children, and dear friends, and that patriotism aroused by insult to the national flag, was a new and painful experience. But a new day had dawned for the people and the country. Every man, and woman, and the children of discerning age, commenced to live a new life in thought, feeling and action. The hearts of mothers and wives sank in anguish, and then rebounded with patriotism, and sons, husbands and fathers sallied from every hamlet and neighborhood, voluntarily, and offered their services to the imperiled Union.1 ~John H. Rerick
Stephen A. Powers enlisted with Co. A of the 44th Indiana Volunteer Infantry on August 25, 1861, serving under Capt. Charles F. Kinney. We don’t know exactly when Stephen left home, but in early October men assigned to the 44th started to gather in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while the regiment actively recruited and organized the volunteers. The 44th was officially mustered into service on November 22, 1861.2
(Note: Due to the nature of recruitment, men often served in companies and regiments with family, friends, and neighbors. Stephen’s nephew by marriage, Elias O. Rose, was the 1st Lieutenant of Co. A when Stephen served. To read what Rose had to say about Stephen and the Powers family, click here.)
The 44th left Fort Wayne the next day, on November 23, in the middle of a snowstorm. They first marched to Indianapolis, followed by Evansville, Indiana. Upon their arrival in Evansville, “for a few days (they) suffered no little from exposure to the cold and unusually inclement weather. It was then thought rather rough soldiering, but many times after would have been accepted with feelings of much relief.”3
Those early days and weeks of poor weather and rough living were just a foreshadow of the disease, exposure, and fatigue that would claim as many as two-thirds of the lives lost over the course of the War, or roughly 400,000 to 500,000 soldiers. Disease snaked its way through the 44th from the very beginning. After arriving in Evansville, approximately 150 men lay sick in hospital with the measles.4
On December 11, the 44th marched the twelve miles from Evansville, Indiana, to Henderson, Kentucky.5 By mid December, Stephen’s troubles began.
“He caught several severe colds on account of exposure and fatigue while in camp, which settled on his lungs and throat, and finally caused Chronic Bronchitis.”6
During this time, perhaps Stephen’s superiors suspected he would struggle physically with the demands of a soldier’s life and assigned him to a job fitting for someone of his age and physical ability. The Powers Family History states that during his time with the 44th in the winter of 1861-1862, Stephen served as the regiment postmaster. He acted as postmaster during his early days in York Township, Steuben County, as well, so the job of regiment postmaster was probably a familiar one for him.7
Unfortunately, the exposure, physical trials, and complications from illness that winter proved too much for him.
On February 28, 1862, near Fort Henry, Tennessee, Capt. Charles F. Kinney signed Stephen’s Certificate of Disability for Discharge, stating that, “owing to old age, said Stephen A. Powers was unable to endure the exposure and fatigue to which the whole Regt. was subjected during the winter.”8 In the previous two months, he had been unfit for duty for 30 days.
Dr. W.W. Martin confirmed that Stephen could no longer serve due to “Chronic Bronchitis and General Debility, the result of exposure and fatigue whilst in the service of the United States. His disability is permanent.”9
We know that in his heart, Stephen wanted to serve and fight for his country, but his body, particularly at his age, just could not withstand the perils of the soldier’s life. One could say that his spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak.
Stephen A. Powers was officially discharged from service due to disability on March 1, 1862. He was 62 years old.
Stephen’s time in military service was short, but his health problems continued for the remainder of his life. As Martin confirmed, his disability was indeed permanent.
Following discharge, Stephen went back home to Steuben County, Indiana, where he and his wife Mary lived for several years. He continued to work as a teacher and a surveyor.10
Plagued by his ill health, Stephen filed for an invalid pension in January 1870. Hugh D. Wood, M.D., supplied an affidavit supporting Stephen’s claim. Wood, a local doctor, family physician, and nephew of Stephen’s by marriage, was well acquainted with Stephen before and after his war service. (To read about Wood’s involvement with committing his mother-in-law Hannah Powers to the insane asylum, click here.)
Dr. Wood confirmed that “previous to (Stephen’s) entering the service of the United States he was well and hearty, and not afflicted with Bronchitis nor general debility,” and that “since his discharge from the service to the United States for Chronic Bronchitis and General Debility, contracted in my opinion, in the service of the United States, from exposure and fatigue, and in my opinion, is in consequence thereof, totally disabled and prohibited from attending to his labors.”11
Between July 1870 and September 1871, Stephen and his wife Mary moved to Antrim County, Michigan, and applied for a claim under the Homestead Act of 1862. Stephen managed to teach one more winter of school for the 1871-1872 school year.12 While there, in September 1871, D.E. Cushman examined Stephen and submitted an Examining Surgeon’s Certificate as part of Stephen’s invalid claim. Still suffering nearly ten years after entering service, Stephen’s health was indeed permanently altered.
Cushman confirmed that “said Applicant is very feeble, voice broken & tremulous, Pulse frequent, Resparation (sic) short & hurried. I should think him unable to labour except at some very light work as violent exercise produces a stricture of the Lungs & constant cough, for instance walking a few miles during the day causes said Applicant to cough the whole night.”13
Stephen’s health continued to wan over the course of the next year. In May 1872, Andrew and Diana Croy temporarily moved in with Stephen and Mary, their friends of over thirty years, until they could build their own house in the neighborhood.
Andrew “came to (Stephen’s) House, by a Reckommend (sic) from Him of Country.” In an affidavit for Mary’s widow pension, Andrew declared, “I must Say I felt Sad to find Him as I did. When I first approached Him I saw Death and the Grave near by (sic). He had a very bad Cough which Haunted Him up to His Death, which I have no doubt was Contracted while in the Army and I humbly believe on the Side of Justice and Law His Widow is entitled to a Pention (sic) which I hope you will try to procure for Her.”14
Over the summer of 1872, Stephen’s health continued to decline. Mary Powers stated that her “late husband had no Family Physician attending him in his last illness, for the reason, that he had no faith or confidence in them in Antrim County, and thought that he would soon die of his illness, chronic bronchitis, as it had surely attacked his lungs.”15
Stephen, it turns out, was right. That summer would be his last and he would soon die of his illness. Andrew and Diana Croy testified that “during the summer of 1872 and untill (sic) the time of his death, the said Stephen A Powers was quite poor in health, and was troubled with a severe cough all the time; that he kept getting weaker and weaker by degrees.”16
Although he did not pass away during his military service to his country, Stephen A. Powers still gave his health, and ultimately, his life, as a result of his military service.
You may recall the family lore from Part 1 that Stephen dyed his hair black to look younger when he enlisted in 1861. He lived in Michigan only a short time, but Stephen still made his mark with his characteristic hair and beard.
Many years after his death, in 1896, a newspaper article in the Steuben Republican recounted a story from the annual Steuben County “Old Settlers Reunion” held in Angola, Indiana. A group of Native Americans visited Angola and attended the meeting that year. The Native Americans included missionary John Jacob, Enos Petoskey, and Moses Wakazoo, who was the husband of Lizzie Petoskey, daughter of the Potawatomi chief, Petoskey.
Judge Stephen Powers, a nephew of Stephen A. Powers, “asked Mr. Jacob if he ever knew his uncle, Stephen Powers, who once lived in Antrim county, Michigan. He said ‘No.’ Then in Indian language asked the others. They motioned to the hair and beard. He said: ‘They knew him, he was an old good man; his beard was long and like the snow. He died 24 years ago when Wakazoo’s brother died. They buried him within ten rods of Wakazoo’s home, and when the railroad run through the burying ground the white people moved him, we know not where.'”17
Indeed, Stephen had died 24 years earlier, and he was originally buried in Antrim. About five years after his death, Stephen’s body was moved to his final resting spot among many family members at the Powers Cemetery behind the Powers Church in York Township, Steuben County, Indiana.18
What a testament to Stephen’s character is shared in this story! It is high praise indeed to be remembered as a “good man” 24 years after his death, by people he would have known only a very short time, and who likely did not share a common language with him! He must have had positive interactions with the people who shared this story, who even described where he was buried and that his body was later moved.
And let’s not forget that beard! They specifically remembered his beard – that long, white beard that he may have dyed black to hide his age when he felt the call to serve his country. This short recollection from the Native Americans visiting the Old Settlers Reunion in Angola, Indiana, that day is truly remarkable and speaks volumes about Stephen A. Powers, the man.
It is a challenge to draw out the stories of our ancestors from old records that focus more on names, dates, and places rather than on the individual. What kind of person was Stephen A. Powers? Sometimes we get lucky and stumble on written accounts of people long passed, like that exchange between Judge Stephen Powers and the Native American visitors, who confirmed that he was a “good man.” Other records show that he was a man of intellect, hard work, dedication, and family focus.
A written account about the 1892 Old Settlers Reunion found in the Steuben Republican describes the unique side of Stephen’s personality.
That year, Stephen’s nephew L.I.C. Young spoke to the crowd and shared this about his uncle:
“Stephen A. Powers was one of the pioneers of Steuben county and for many years he was an influential citizen of Clear Lake township. At one time he owned the whole northeast corner of the state of Indiana. He taught school forty terms before he left Clear Lake, and served as trustee, county surveyor, etc., several terms. He was not a prohibitionist, neither was he an excessive drinker, as recently published by some base calumniator, though sometimes his eccentricity was stimulated. On one occasion he went into the court room happy as a lark, and the judge said ‘Keep still.’ Uncle Steve looked up at his honor and drawled out: ‘Judge, did you ever see two twin pigs?’ All in the court room enjoyed a hearty laugh. While he was trustee he had a ‘wild cat bank’ $20 bill that suddenly became worth twenty-five cents on the dollar. He said: ‘Take this bill and repair the bridge in your district.’ So I bought $5 worth of plank for the bridge and gave Uncle Steve a $20 voucher and the next month the bank was dead broke.”
In the same article, Young wisely noted, “The world is full of unwritten history. What we do not know of the past is simply immense. The history we have is a brief statement of a very few facts that occurred, and gives but a few names of the many generations who have preceded us.”19
How true that is! The world really is full of unwritten history. What we do know is just a brief statement of a few facts. That is how I feel about Stephen A. Powers and so many others – I know a few facts, a few names, a glimpse into his past. I dig in the records and piece together a story, but how I wish I could know more!
And now you know the rest of Stephen A. Powers’ Civil War story, though it may be a “brief statement of a very few facts that occurred.”
He volunteered. He served. He suffered. He lived. He worked. He dreamed.
And then, he died, because he volunteered.
Thank you, Stephen A. Powers, for your example, for your service, and for your sacrifice!
Coming soon: Stephen A. Powers was not the only member of his family to serve in the Civil War. Three of his sons also joined the ranks. One returned home, two did not. And let’s not forget about his wife, Mary! She sacrificed much as her husband and sons served in the War. As an elderly widow she accomplished an impressive task. Look for future posts about Mary Powers, her sons, and their service and sacrifice.
- “The Forty-Fourth Indiana Volunteer Infantry,” by John H. Rerick. Lagrange, Ind: The author, 1880, page 7. Available at https://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/inauthors/VAB1849.
- Ibid, 8.
- Ibid, 20.
- Ibid, 24.
- Ibid, 21.
- Declaration of Invalid Pension, dated 8 December 1869, in Widow’s Pension Application for Mary Ann Powers, widow of Stephen A. Powers. Original located at National Archives and Records Administration. Box 33959, Certificate 175983. Copy in possession of author.
- “The Powers Family,” by Lee Earll and Viola Powers Amidon, page 37.
- Certificate of Disability for Discharge, dated 1 March 1862, in Widow’s Pension Application for Mary Ann Powers.
- See item 6.
- Hugh D. Wood, M.D., Affidavit, dated 8 December 1869, in Widow’s Pension Application for Mary Ann Powers.
- “The Powers Family,” by Lee Earll and Viola Powers Amidon, page 37.
- Examining Surgeon’s Certificate, dated 3 October 1871, in Widow’s Pension Application for Mary Ann Powers.
- A. Croy, Affidavit, dated 26 July 1873, in Widow’s Pension Application for Mary Ann Powers.
- Mary Ann Powers, undated Affidavit, in Widow’s Pension Application for Mary Ann Powers.
- Andrew Croy and Diana Croy, Affidavit, dated 10 February 1874, in Widow’s Pension Application for Mary Ann Powers.
- “Old Settlers Meet,” Steuben Republican. Angola, Indiana. August 19, 1896.
- “The Powers Family,” by Lee Earll and Viola Powers Amidon, page 37.
- “The Old Settlers,” untitled section by L.I.C. Young, Steuben Republican. Angola, Indiana. August 24, 1892.
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