A Passing and a Loss: The Abraham Family’s Civil War Story
Joy Lynn Conwell, Author
NOTE: I had a file stuck on the bottom of a pile of Civil War materials on my desk…a Civil War story I wanted to share in May 2015 at the end of the Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Civil War. It was to be a story about one of Henry County’s citizens…a woman who I had heard about for years but just met about 12 years ago when she was desiring to close out her home and donate a collection of Civil War era newspapers to Special Collections at Iowa Wesleyan College…a woman who laid claim to a title which no one in the State could lay claim to…she was believed to be the last living daughter-in-law of a Civil War soldier. Her name…Virginia “Peggy” E. Abraham. Her home was Mount Pleasant and she passed away on October 8, 2014 at the age of 102 years.—Joy Lynn Conwell
The story begins with her father-in-law, Lot Abraham. In 1841 at the age of 3, Lot Abraham moved with his family from Ohio, his birthplace, to Iowa and they settled here in Henry County. His father, John Lot Abraham, died in 1843 at the age of 37, leaving Lot to grow up under the supervision and direction of his mother and manage the family farm.
Six months into the Civil War, on November 25, 1861, Lot joined the 4th Iowa Cavalry as a private. On July 1, 1862, he received a commission and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant “with the consent and by vote of his company”. A year later in 1863, he reached the rank of captain. Capt. Abraham saw action in fifty-four battles, fights and skirmishes, including Vicksburg and the Battle of Selma.
Toward the end of the war he received one more promotion. In the spring of 1865, Union General Edward F. Winslow proposed, “I respectfully recommend that the rank of major by brevet be conferred on Captain Lot Abraham, Company D, Fourth Iowa Cavalry. This officer has frequently displayed great courage, handled his command in a very gallant manner at Columbus and Selma, captured a four-gun battery at Selma repulsing the enemy in his attempt to recover it.” The recommendation was accepted.
After Lee’s surrender, Abraham was sent to Georgia where he was charged with the collecting and transporting the Archives of the Confederacy. Coordinating the shipping and protecting the documents, including the records of service by the Confederate soldiers, was no small task. Rail cars were used to ship the documents north to Washington D.C, and today these records form the core of the National Archives’ War Department Collection of Confederate Records.
In the fall of 1865, Abraham returned to Mt. Pleasant where he married Sarah Alden, the sweetheart he left behind. Sarah Alden Abraham was a direct descendant of John Alden, who came to America on the Mayflower. And the love letters which Lot and Sarah wrote to each other during the war are available for Civil War enthusiasts to read.
During the summer of 2013, William James Griffing, a Civil War preservationist, discovered Lot and Sarah’s love letters were being sold one-by-one on Ebay. As each letter was posted for sale, Griffing copied and transcribed the letters and has made them available without cost for “the benefit of any descendants and/or historical scholars and for educational purposes only.” Griffing’s website, https://lotabrahamletters.wordpress.com/, shares over 50 original love letters along their transcriptions as well as links to Lot Abraham’s diaries and other related documents.
Following Sarah’s death in a runaway carriage accident in 1888, Lot married Mary Elizabeth Blaut Blacker on October 12, 1891. Lot was 50 years old and Mary was 34. He brought into the marriage 3 daughters and a son. Lot and Mary would have one son, Frank P., born on July 27, 1892.
Lot Abraham, forever active in Civil War reunions and veterans organizations died on July 25, 1920. Mary E. Abraham out lived him by 41 years, passing away in 1961 at the home of her son Frank at the age of 103. At the time, Mary was the oldest member of the American Legion Auxiliary, State of Iowa. And she was one of the few remaining Civil War widows. (The last surviving Civil War widow was Gertrude Janeway who passed away in 2003. She was 18 years old when she married. Her husband, a Civil War soldier, was 81 years old at the time.)
According to Mary E. Abraham’s obituary, “despite her age she maintained a keen interest in local and national politics and events.”
Lot and Mary’s son Frank would lay claim to being one of the last surviving sons of a Civil War soldier when he passed away in 1994 at the age of 101. Frank was a 1910 graduate of the Iowa Wesleyan Academy. He served in World War I as a lieutenant in field artillery. In World War II, he was the chairman of the Henry County Selective Service Board. He was also the longest surviving member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Grenville M. Dodge Camp #75 of Davenport, Iowa. At the time of Frank’s passing his only surviving relatives were his wife, Peggy, and his nephew, Everett Wright (now deceased).
And now, Henry County has lost Virginia “Peggy” E. Abraham….believed to be Iowa’s last daughter-in-law of a Civil War soldier at age 102. She never knew Lot Abraham as Peggy was only 8 years old when he passed away. However, she and her husband, Frank, protected what could be called the archives of Lot Abraham. In her last years, her desire was to make sure that the legacy of the Abraham family not be lost or forgotten.
Understanding the importance of preservation of documents and diaries, Lot Abraham’s efforts have provided Civil War researchers with a treasure trove of primary sources. Additional papers, which include diaries, muster rolls for the 4th Iowa Cavalry, army purchase records, parole lists and other documents, as well as files related to Lot’s life as a farmer and an Iowa State senator, are part of the University of Iowa’s The Iowa Heritage Digital Collections and can be viewed on-line.
And so it is in memory of Peggy, that I write this column…Henry County has lost a historic treasure.