January 14, 2012

Better Know a Soldier: Lewis H. Jones

Location: 311 S Queen St, Lancaster, PA 17602, USA

Union army camp scene (Mathew Brady via Fold3.com--Image ID B-270)
Lewis Jones unofficially served as a cook for Company H, 79th Pennsylvania.

Name: Pvt. Lewis H. Jones, Company H, 79th Pennsylvania
Born: December 5, 1824
Residence: 311 S. Queen St., Lancaster City (according to 3/24/1862 letter)
Occupation: Listed as "engineer" in 1860 census, although he was working in a restaurant for a Lancaster County miller named Jesse P. Ronk due to an economic downturn that hit Lancaster's industrial development pretty hard.
Death: Killed at Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, on October 8, 1862. 
Family: First marriage in 1844 to Mary Ann King with child William Henry Clay in 1845.  Second marriage on April 7, 1844, to Elizabeth Boullay/Boley/Boulalay with children: Paul James (1851-1853), Joseph Franklin (b. 1853-1933), Glancy (1855-1864), Washington (1857-1930), Theresa (1859-1940), and Freeland (1861-?). 

PA Civil War Veterans' Card File record for Lewis H. Jones.

Any research attempt to get accurate picture of the men of the 79th Pennsylvania suffers from a serious selection bias.  Illiterate soldiers tended to produce fewer letters, for instance.  Moreover, letters from soldiers to families that could be described as the working poor or working class seem to have had a very low chance of being saved.  Instead, the strongest historical voices from the Lancaster County Regiment come from well-educated men who hailed from economically stable families, often with deep roots in Lancaster County. 

Fortunately, we have a great exception in a year's worth of letters in the collection of the Lancaster County Historical Society from  Pvt. Lewis H. Jones.  Jones was one of a number of a identifiable group of "South Queen Street boys" who enlisted together in Company H, 79th Pennsylvania, and part of a family to whom the Civil War brought compounded tragedies. Jones' letters offer fascinating insights into how one soldier tried to help his wife, their four-then-five children, their relatives, and their neighbors avert disaster that always seemed to loom right around the corner. 

I mention Jones now for the emotional extremes he faced within a few days of each other as 1861 turned to 1862.  First, on December 28, 1861, his wife gave birth to their sixth son (fifth living).  The son was named Freeland after the teenage son of Jesse P. Ronk who with his wife employed Jones in their restaurant after he lost his industrial job and whom Jones held in high regard.  [Sidenote: Jesse P. Ronk was a wealthy miller near Bird-in-Hand.  The community Ronks in the heart of Amish country is supposedly named after Jesse Ronk]

Tragedy struck, though, nine days later when Jones' brother-in-law, Joseph Maxwell of Company C, 79th Pennsylvania, died on January 6 after minor complaints about irritation in the bowels somewhat suddenly took a fatal turn.  Jones, who would write letters for the illiterate Maxwell, and now took care of sending the body back to Lancaster for burial (at the cost of $40) and tended to Joseph's effects over the next month or two, sending much of his clothing back to Lancaster. 

As winter wore on, Jones' family, his sister-in-law's, and other South Queen St. families with men in the 79th Pennsylvania faced serious challenges for finding food, fuel, and medical care.  Lewis Jones even shipped discarded army clothing and food (dessicated vegetables with instructions to make soup) to his wife in March 1862 while the regiment was in Tennessee.  There was even a political and patriotic aspect of their suffering, as we'll revisit Elizabeth Jones, her sister, and her mother when they write an editorial in response to a smear campaign by one mayoral candidate against another that involved them.

There are many letter excerpts I'd like to present and historical angles to explore (what the letters say about relief work, marriage, life in the regiment, etc.), but I've hit the ceiling on the time I want to spend on this post.  I'll refer you to his letters, housed and transcribed at the Lancaster County Historical Society, and recently published in a book linked below. 

Sources and References:

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