by Joyce Kohl
Genealogy is one of the most rewarding hobbies. It was mine for 25 years. While researching for authentic information for my family tree, a living grandson of one of my paternal great-grandfathers, Jerry Craig, invited me to visit him.
When I arrived at his farm in Norborne, Missouri, he brought out a treasure chest of “genealogical gold” and laid it on the table in front of me. In the box were some very old and very yellowed letters, a small notebook, some other items. He also had in his possession an official church record book in which all the marriages, births and deaths were recorded for a number of years during the lifetime of his grandfather and my great-grandfather. The first date I noticed on one of the letters was one of the years during the time of the Civil War. Carefully opening it, I discovered it had been written by William Samuel Craig to his wife, Levica. I remember being awed and so delighted that I could barely speak. The letters were all written in a beautiful script. They were each dated and signed.
Here before me I had a written history of a Civil War soldier. What would they tell me? I couldn’t help but think about the fact that had he not survived the war, I would never have existed. I was entrusted to take all the letters and other small items home with me to “translate” and to Xerox each letter and each postmarked envelope. From the church record book, I copied some of the information into my notebook.
Soon after I arrived home, I took the letters and drove to the Mesa Genealogical Library which is a facility provided by the Mormons. Though not a Mormon myself, I was allowed to do research there, and they would also make Xerox copies of anything for a very small charge. As they copied the letters for me, they made a set for themselves for their own records, as they instantly recognized the importance of the letters. It was my understanding at the time that they would index them, and glean from them anything of genealogical value.
What is Genealogy?
Before exploring the historical facts as written in the collection of letters, let me first explain what genealogy is, and why I decided to explore the branches of my own family tree.
Genealogy is the study of and the recording of a history of an ancestry. Other more familiar terms are “Roots,” “Family Tree,” and “Lineage.” It was a hobby of mine which spanned twenty-five years – at which point I quit actively researching, and spent another year compiling the information I had gathered on both my side of the family as well as that of my husband’s. Then I wrote two family history books of over 375 pages each, published a limited number of copies, and stored away all genealogical records.
Why Did I Bother?
My objective was to leave my children something of real value, which I believed they would enjoy reading and referring to for their lifetimes and then it would be handed down to their children and their children’s children, and so on. I believed we do indeed live forever through our descendants. Death does not obliterate even the most seemingly obscure person. A name, a birth date, a child, a place of residence, or a military record brings life to an ancestor. Great-grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, and second and third cousins become more than a name.
The excitement of finding a great-grandmother listed as a young mother on a census schedule is an indescribable experience. Visiting a cousin who had in his possession letters written during the Civil War by my great-grandfather was a moment of wonder I’ll never forget. There were significant finds every place I visited, and in the many letters arriving by mail on a regular basis.
As I traced migrations from one state to another and searched the recorded vital statistics, I felt I had known each ancestor. They will be forever, as it says in the title of my genealogical history, “In Our Hearts Enshrined.” The history of my husband’s family is “Of Loved Ones Gone Before.” Neither are copyrighted as I wanted anyone to be able to copy any part of or even the entire book if they desired to do so. Copies were donated to the Mormon Library and to a couple of other libraries where our ancestors lived and where our genealogy originated.
I don’t recall where this was found, but it expressed my feelings so well that I used it on the back cover of both books I compiled:
“We owe it to our ancestors to preserve entire those rights, which they have delivered to our care: We owe it to our posterity, not to suffer their dearest inheritance to be destroyed.”
August 8, 1769; Pseudonym, “Junius;” London Public Advertiser
William Samuel Craig
The writer of the letters, the primary subject of this article, William Samuel Craig, was born in Nicholas County, Kentucky on January 8, 1832. His family moved to McLean County, Illinois when he was around 15 years old. Sometime after 1852, he went to the state of Missouri where he married Levica Payne on July 11, 1858. They raised a family of four children, the last of whom was my paternal grandmother.
This photo of William Samuel Craig was given to me to be published in the family history book. It has no date on it, and no living relative has any clue as to the where it was taken either. Everyone agreed that it WAS correctly identified. The only other proof is my recollection of my grandmother telling me her father had white hair and always wore a beard.
His Family View as it appears in my genealogy software program, “The Master Genealogist:” William Samuel Craig was the son of Robert Craig and Mary Conaway Craig. Levica Payne Craig was the daughter of James Payne and Harriet Ridgell Payne.
Entry In Military Service
During a economical panic soon after his marriage, he was said to have done farm labor four miles from his home for $10 a month which supported he and his wife, but only by strict budgeting. He enrolled in the Illinois Infantry Volunteers on August 11, 1862 at Cheny’s Grove and was mustered in on September 6, 1862 at Decatur, Illinois as a private in Captain Bishop’s Company, 116 Reg’t Ill.Inf. which subsequently became Co. F, 116 Reg’t Ill.Inf.
From the original records received from the National Archives Trust Fund in Washington, D.C., I was able to track William Samuel Craig’s military facts. For instance, on the Company Muster Roll for October 31, 1862 he was reported absent and “sick and on furlough seven days.” Again on the Muster Roll for September and October, 1864, he was “absent on furlough of 30 days from East Point, GA.” There were many others, of course, but one of the most interesting to me was the one which said he was mustered out in Washington, D.C. on June 7, 1865 which ties in with the last letter he wrote to his wife. “There was also a Company Descriptive Book which gave the personal information on him: He was 5’6” tall, dark complexion, grey eyes, dark hair, born Nickolas (sic) Co., Ky., and was a farmer by occupation.
On June 19, 1880, he applied for “Original Invalid Pension” and further states that while in the service and “in the line of duty at Vicksburg, Mississippi on or about the tenth day of June 1863″ he received two gunshot wounds, one in his right leg 4” below the knee joint, and the other in the right hip. On or about the 28th day of July 1864, he was again wounded in the Battle at Atlanta, Georgia with gunshot wounds in his left shoulder. He was wounded two more times: July of 1864 and on August 18, 1864 by a gunshot wound into his right eye at Atlanta, Georgia.
As I read through the letters from the earliest date to the latest, I came to know about a young man very much in love with his young wife, and that leaving her and his infant son had been heart-wrenching. He tells her he doesn’t join in the activities of the other soldiers during their free times, and how heart-broken he feels as he witnesses the massacres of war. The tone of his letters begin to change as the war rages on and the hardening of his attitude becomes most obvious when in one of the letters he speaks of the creek flowing with blood and how he now seems to enjoy killing the enemy. A fact kept hidden for many years by his sons and his daughter is that their once very religious father at some point became an alcoholic in his attempts to flush the horrors from his mind. Many years later, he did “take the cure” and never, so I was told, took another drop of any alcoholic beverage.
Civil War Background
According to historical accounts, Sherman’s 90,000 men advanced on Atlanta from Chattanooga. They occupied Atlanta on September 1, 1964. Sherman’s famous march to the sea began on November 15, 1964 as his troops left Atlanta in flames and set out for Savannah. Sherman’s men marched almost unopposed across Georgia destroying an estimated $100 million worth of Georgia property. Savannah was occupied by Sherman and his men on December 21, 1964.
Rosecrans’ (mentioned several times by W. S. Craig in his letters) entire Union army were badly mauled on September 19, and 20, 1963 in the battle of Chickamaugua. They retreated into Chattanooga. Grant replaced Rosecrans with Thomas and he led the troops to the battle of Chattanooga on November 23-25, 1963. Lookout Mountain fell the first two days. On November 25, they swept up Missionary Ridge without orders and ended the battle in an hour.
Letter of February 10, 1864 from Larkinsville
The letter has not be corrected in any way, but reproduced as written by William Samuel Craig to his wife, Levica Payne Craig.
My Dear Loving Wife,
I just received your kind and welcome letter the 10 of this month that gave me great satisfaction to hear that you was well. As for my part I never enjoyed as good health in all of my life. I am fat, dirty, and lousy and don’t care for anybody hardly but you.
Well, I care for those of my good friends that is at home but I do not know whether to care for them or not. No one don’t write to me but you and hardly you for I have sent you some 4 letters since Christmas, and this is the answer to one. It seems like you ought to write more than you do. You certainly have a good chance to write.
We just have come off of another little trip of 125. We was gone fifteen days. We had a very pretty little March. We got out all the forage that we wanted. There had never been no soldiers in that part of the country but rebels, so we took a great many prisoners and bandards came to us starved and naked.
It is hard to see the suffering of the southern people. Both men and women and children. Thousands of them must starve. I don’t see any other remedy for them. The union troops have taken everything that is edible so they can’t help but suffer. There is going to one more campaign I think then the war will end between this and July the whole army is advancing toward the enemy and the enemy has evacuated several very important places.
I understand that they are evacuating Richmond. I don’t much believe that. I also heard that that Jeff Davis had moved his headquarters to another state. I don’t recollect now what state. I think that is so so I think there will be one more campaign and thing will stop and I think that our brigade will stay right here. The rest of our army corps is gone. Some one way and some another.
I have heard more good news in the last two months than I ever heard since I have been in the army.
My dear, I want to come home and see you all but I believe I had rather stay till I can come to Stay. It will cost right smart and so I had better save my money for you and my babies. If I was to get with you I would rather die than to leave you again. It has been death to me a hundred times since I left.
Anyway, my dear, you have not written to me as you should and while tell the good, I must now tell the bad. I have been banished from you, my dear, for eighteen months and it has been death to me. I have suffered death a thousand times. If you had have died it would not been any worse with me. Therefore you should endeavor to write often. I want you to write plainer. You don’t write as well as you used to. I can scarcely read your letters at all.
I will draw some money the 15 of this month and I will send it to you. I am looking for a letter from you today. The train is just landed. I want you, my dear, to keep enough money with you to buy sugar and coffee. I want you to have plenty of that as you love it so well. I will finish on another sheet.
How many payments do you have to make on the land. Do you pay half down and the rest in six months? I want you to keep enough of money. One has to buy such things as you need.
If I live to get out of the army I want a good wagon and nice set of harnesses and a good spare of horses. And there is enough of money owing to us to have all of those things if we could get it. Have you learned anything about that money the Samples owes us? I want to know who has got them notes. It is time and high time too, that you had that money. It is 62 or 63 dollars and the interest. Write to them that has got them and then collect if possible have you your can has House paid you the money.
If I have good luck I will send you 50 dollars this time. I wish that Papa would go and get our horses and use them and then he could get our money and other things. I will pay all of the expenses.
So, dear, I will close for the present hoping this may find you well as it leaves me. Here is 2 rings of my own make. Take them and remember me. I made them out a missile shell. I am afraid that they are too small. So farewell my dear loving wife.
(signed) WILLIAM CRAIG
Give my respect to all of inquiring friends if there be any.
The Last Letter, June 2, 1865
Letter addressed to Mrs. Levica Craig, Carrollton, MO. It was written on a letterhead which said: “United States Sanitary Commission” and it was postmarked Washington, D.C. No changes in the original grammar, punctuation, or spelling have been made. It is typed exactly as it was written.
June the 1, 1865…1, 1865…..1, 1865
My dear I must write a few lines to you to pass of the time as I have been expecting to start Northward any day. The time seems so long and the only way I can pass the time and good amusement is when I have the privilege of writing so I will now proceed as follows. Dear, my health is good and, dear, I hope and trust that these few lines may find you enjoying the same blessing for good health is the greatest blessing that ever was bestowed upon human life. Dear, it has been some time since I have heard from you but if I could only get to hear from you every week the time wouldn’t seem long.
The weather is very warm but thank God our marching is ended. This time last year we was moving on the enemy through the heat and dust but now when we start on a campaign it will be homeward and would have started for home today but the President requested all business to cease for this is Thanksgiving Day. But, dear, we will start for home soon. I am sure of this fact.
A few days ago I went to see the capital of the United States. I went through the whole building. I once thought I had seen the whole world but I had never seen the cornerstone until I visited this building. Would you believe if I would tell you it was made out of marble stone and it covers 5 acres of land. I also was in the President’s mansion. I was also in the patent office. There I saw George Washington and his army equipment, his sword, and his messbox, his saddle, and his tents.
Dear, I will tell you all about it when I come home. The doors of those buildings has never been open until we came here. It has been open for us soldiers and no one is allowed to visit the Capitol – only soldiers and it is a sight to behold.
Dear, I will send you 5 dollars in this letter as I have borrowed it for that purpose. Maybe it will do you a little good. Dear, I am so sorry that I can’t sent you more but, dear, when I get it now it will all be in one pile. It will be upwards of four hundred dollars and it is said that we will draw one hundred and 50 dollars more according to the War Department so if that should be the case I will be able to go to housekeeping again.
Since the year of 1864 from Larkinsville, Alabama in the month of March I drew the last of my pay and I have only spent fifteen dollars in that length of time. There is 18 months pay due to me today. But it is not the pay I am looking for now it is that sweel little cottage home and loved little family where I was so happy and free but thank God that day is coming again and is now almost at hand.
Oh, my dear, I often think of the good messes that I will get when I come home. So dear, I will close for the present hoping this will find you all well.
(Signed) William Craig to my dear beloved companion
Here is the only known picture of Levica Payne Craig. The original appears to be something like an ink drawing rather than a true photograph. It is on a very thick background of crumbling cardboard-like paper. I don’t recall her age in this picture, but I do remember she was much younger than she looks.
In later years, long after the Civil War, William Samuel Craig and his wife, Levica, raised their two sons and two daughters. Their youngest child, Ella Sue Craig, was the mother of my father. With the money he saved during his military service, he sent to his wife to pay for a farm which had 80 acres of timber. It was said that he wore out seven axes in clearing it. Here is a photo of the Craig home taken when his youngest daughter, my grandmother, was a young girl:
Documents Proving Ancestry
The various documents in my possession include a certified marriage certificate, numerous records of military records, pension records, bible records, letters, photographs, personal interviews with living grandchildren, and many other relatives holding authentic documents such as newspaper clippings and obituaries. I also found the family of William Samuel Craig in the Nicholas County, Kentucky 1850 Census on Page 869, Family #435. William was listed as being 18 years old. There were also the many stories told to me by my paternal grandmother, the last child of William Samuel Craig.
Two of the Muster Rolls of William Samuel Craig which helped verify and prove his date of birth and his military activities.
The last official records I have for William Samuel Craig were from his staying in the National Military Home in Leavenworth County, Kansas on November 29, 1909, his death on March 13, 1913 and his burial in the “Old Stemple Cemetery,” and finally the record of when he was dropped from the pension records on April 13, 1913. During my visit to Norborne, Missouri, I was taken to the final resting place of William Samuel Craig and Levica Payne Craig. Levica died 20 years before William. He never remarried. Note the spelling of Levica’s name. She was called “Levicy,” and her loved ones thought it befitting that her tombstone reflect the endearment.
I would also like to say here that I finally found proof of another great-father’s whereabouts during the Civil War. He was fighting for the South, was captured early in the war and spent the remainder of it in a prison camp. Another note of interest which I feel needs to be noted is that Levica Payne Craig had some brothers in the Civil War. In one of the letters something is said about one brother going off to fight for the North while another is on his way to fight for the South. Though we often hear of such stories, I wasn’t sure I actually believed such a thing happened, but it did, and within my own family tree.
This pedigree begins with my grandmother so that both her father and mother’s ancestry can be seen at a glance. Many times an ancestor is assumed to be related when in fact they are not. And that is what genealogy is all about – proving or disproving the stories handed down from one generation to another.
Though I am no longer an active researcher nor is it my intention to begin again, I will reply to inquiries ONLY if there is a connection directly into any branch of my family roots. Otherwise, I humbly request that you not ask my advice on anything else. I am not, nor have I ever been, an expert in genealogy. The most important thing you must do is to record each and every place you find information.
For example, if you take information from this article, you must be aware that many mistakes can be made during the typing and formatting, and you as a genealogist, must compare whatever you find here with information you already have or will have in the future. Then it is up to you to made the decision as to which source of information you will accept as factual. Not even official records can be relied on as facts! If you wish to begin searching for your own origins, please do a search on the Internet. You’ll find a rich source of everything from software programs and computer aids to complete family records. In fact, you may find someone has already finished a family history on your ancestors.