As are all of the Coltons we write about, Luther and his family of 10 children were all descendants of Quartermaster George Colton. For him it was by way of George, Ephraim, Isaac, Moses, Aaron and his father, Walter (#758). This is the kind of story a person should read on a day when you are feeling sorry for yourself as you will find your lot in life is not so bad after all compared to what happened to this family!
Luther was born in Fort Ann, Washington Co., NY, which is located along the Champlain Cannel a dozen or so miles west of the Vermont State line, on December 7, 1818 and of course we are all familiar with what happened on this date 123 years later! His father was a farmer and had served in the War of 1812 so life for Luther began on the fields of farmland in eastern New York and would end on the field of battle near Charles Town, West Virginia.
During more pleasant times, when you only had to fight the elements and try to keep food on the table, Luther Colton (#1487) married Roxy Jane Hamblin on the 4th of July, 1844 in Gouverneur, NY. She was born January 9, 1821 in Antwerp, NY and died January 1, 1899 in Richville, NY. They were farmers for some years in and around Gouverneur and Richville over in St Lawrence County, New York, up to the northwest and close to the Canadian border.
We can only surmise that life was difficult with ten children to raise but little did they know that their lives would soon become more difficult as the clouds of Civil War fast approached. In particular, there was one day that had to have been the most difficult of all for each member of this family to experience.
It was a warm summer day in 1862 when Luther (43) and sons Heartwell Henry (17) and Franklin (16) mounted the family wagon and headed out of the farmyard while mother Roxy Jane stood on the porch waving goodbye with five month-old Russell in her arms; 2-year-old George, 4-year-old Eveline and 6-year-old Cornelia clinging to her skirts while Eugene (8) and Rosell (10) marched proudly behind the wagon until it reached the main road and finally disappeared in a cloud of dust. Hiram, the eldest of the children left behind at home, was given the honor of driving his father and older brothers to the train station at DeKalb, NY.
One can only imagine the conversation among these men as they journeyed. There must have been talk of patriotism and duty to country, respect and responsibility, and lectures for Hiram, who at the age of 12, was taking a crash course on how to be the man of the family for the next three years until his father’s enlistment would be completed. Most of what he learned was not new as children back in those days all had responsibilities and work around the farm and home that had to be done. From the time they were old enough to do any kind of work at all, each of the children had been given tasks and taught the value of honest work. Now that training would be tested by necessity.
Hundreds of miles to the south, in the Nation’s capital and beyond, events were unfolding that would change the lives of countless north country residents, including the Richville Coltons! The terrible, bloody war between the states was building momentum, fueled by the passions of secessionists and abolitionists, each group harboring righteous indignation against the other and each sure of the superiority of their own motives, the war became an unparalleled killing machine devouring the nations prime group of young men. Something had to be done to stop this bloodshed!
Convinced that it was his patriotic duty to help the cause, Luther Colton made the difficult decision to enlist, even though at 43 he was too old to be drafted. His two eldest sons were also determined to go with him although they were too young for the draft, they lied about their age to enlist. Mustering-in records show them as 20 and 18 while birth records confirm Heartwell was actually a few months past his 17th birthday and Franklin was just three weeks shy of being 16. How different from our youth of today!
Captain Edward M. Paine of Oswegatchie, NY, officially enrolled the three Coltons at DeKalb on August 1, 1862. They joined a group which would eventually number 100 men and be known as Captain Paine’s Company A, 106th Regiment, New York Volunteers. It took just under a month for the Company roster to be filled, from July 17th - August 14th. Apparently there was a training period prior to actual service but most all these men were experienced at hunting and shooting and it wouldn’t take long to mold them into a unit. The official date recorded of their mustering-in was August 27, 1862.
Hiram had made the return trip home with the wagon where he and his brothers milked the cows by hand, cleaned the gutters and carried wood for the cookstove. Their mother, Roxy Jane, tended the baby, trying to fight off the loneliness around the house without the three men by keeping busy with the many things that needed to be done. She harvested the vegetables from the family garden, storing many in the cool cellar of the farmhouse and canning others to be used for winter meals. She cleaned house, baked bread and pies, hauled water for washing clothes by hand, then scrubbed them on a wash board and hung them to dry in the late summer sun.
For the men, it was a succession of hurry up and wait tactics, as was often the case for troops (and hasn’t changed much since then till our modern times) during the Civil War. They were anxious to get it over with and go back to normal life in Richville, NY. There, Roxy Jane would be rocking Russell to sleep and reading the Bible stories to all the other children at bedtime. If the men wrote home, which they most likely did, the whereabouts of any of their letters is unknown. Probably they were discarded with the passage of time, accidentally destroyed or maybe even moulded away.
The battles they fought were sometimes clustered in close proximity, but more often they were many miles apart. Most of the travel was on foot, through marshy land, farmer’s fields, forested tracts and mountainous terrain. From Culpepper, Virginia to the battles at Spotsylvania and the Wilderness near Fredericksburg, Maryland they continued their push. By early June of 1864, they were engaged in combat at Cold Harbor, Virginia, and by mid-July they were giving Monocacy Battlefield a name on history’s map near Frederick, Maryland. With the rugged and primitive living conditions, many of the soldiers fell victim to dysentery, Franklin Colton among them. He was transferred to a hospital on David’s Island, New York, where he died August 2, 1864.
Roxy Jane, doing what needed to be done, took the train to New York City to make arrangements for transporting Franklin’s remains back home to Richville, where they lie in the cemetery next to the little Baptist Church, where the family worshipped on Sundays. This sad task was barely finished when another devastating blow struck this family.
Luther’s Company had gone west and engaged the Rebs at Charles Town, West Virginia. They had been trained to reload their rifles while lying flat on their backs to give no target to the enemy fire. Luther knew he could reload his rifle much faster if he just raised himself slightly upon one elbow rather than the awkward flat position and his quest for speed made him a better target and it was during that moment when the musket ball caught him in the back of his neck, most likely shattering his spine, killing him outright. He never knew what hit him! There was no possible way that Roxy Jane could bring his body home for burial!
Of Luther Colton it was written, “He was an upright man, full of honor and courage, and well deserving of the many testimonials of respect and regard that were expressed by his officers and companions in arms.”
In the meantime, Henry continued on with his Company to the battle of Opequan, near Winchester, Virginia where his father Luther was laid to rest. He was the man of the family now, responsible to uphold the family honor. He was 19-1/2 years old and had taken to the military life like a duck to water and he was good at what he was doing. He had been promoted to Orderly Sergeant and was in charge of his Company. There had been battles through the fall and winter and spring found what was left of Company A heading for the Battle of Petersburg, southeast of Richmond, Virginia.
With Henry in charge, Company A was in the thick of battle at a place called Dabney Farm. Thousands were killed in that battle and most were buried on the spot, individually or simply covered in the trenches where they fell. Henry Colton was one of these, killed in action, leading his men on that fateful day of April 2, 1865, ironically just days before the Civil War would finally end! Later, a National Cemetery was created a few miles away at Poplar Ridge, and crews were dispatched to transfer bodies from the battlefields to the new burying ground. Some bodies had been identified by crude stakes or other markings with names on them and this was how they found Henry Colton. From July 1866 through June 1869, this grim task continued in the Petersburg area and surrounding counties. In all, 6178 men were buried at Poplar Grove but only 2,139 could be positively identified and one of these was Henry Colton.
Roxy Jane never remarried and lived as a widow two days beyond her 78th birthday, on the family farm she had shared with Luther. We can never know the pain she must have endured in those Civil War years and beyond but she still had a family to be raised. Of the rest of the family, Orville had died at 3-1/2 years. Hiram Erwin had taken his responsibilities to heart, tending to the farm and eventually married Nellie Miller, in Morristown, NY Oct. 1, 1877, was a farmer himself and lived the good life at Morristown at a later date. Rosell Luther grew up to marry Libbie Briggs of Richville Feb. 1, 1873 and would reside on the family homestead farm in Richville until Dec, 1899, almost a year after his mother passed away, and then moved to Bethel, Vermont. Eugene Judson married Annie J. Stevenson on May 23, 1877 in New York City. He graduated at Eastman’s Business College in 1871 and was successful in the dry-goods business in Ogdensburg, NY then with the U.S. Life Insurance Co. of NY and the book house of D. Appleton & Co. For twenty years he had been a special representative for the Charles Scribner’s and Sons in various cities in the United States, Canada, England and Scotland. They evidently lived in New York City for some time and their only daughter was born there. Cornelia Ann married a Dr. John G. Carr of Canton, NY Oct 4, 1876 in Richville but at some point in time they moved to Cheyboygan, Michigan as their 3 children were born there and she passed away there in Aug, 1887. Eveline Louisa would marry Rev. Charles Washington Booth April 20, 1880 of Flint, Michigan. They must have moved several times because their 4 children were born in 3 different locations. GEORGE Marion would marry Mattie Roulston of Richville, NY but they moved on to Minnesota where their 4 children were born in Minneapolis and George became a millwright in one of the large saw mills in Minneapolis. That leaves the youngest child, Russell Johnson. He married Nettie L. Jordan on March 13, 1884 in Minneapolis, MN. She had been born June 20, 1863 in Deblois, Washington County, Maine. It would be of great interest to learn how these 2 met, married and ended up in Minnesota?
This is all that is known about this family, all that is except Russell. By a quirk of fate it was while doing some local research among cemeteries, I came across a Russell Johnson Colton with matching birthdate and wife’s maiden name and birthdate as this Russell, plus he had come from Minnesota. How or why he ended up in Illinois I have no idea. He had died Nov. 30, 1947 at age 85-1/2 at, of all places, the Elgin, Illinois state Mental Hospital and is buried in that institutions cemetery on the Hospital grounds. Only employees or unclaimed inmates are so buried in sort of a militaristic order of simple graves and markers. The state is not very willing to share much of their information so it is not known how Russell happened to end up in a mental institution to begin with or why he was in Illinois. To be an inmate or employee you need to be a resident of the state of Illinois. Being Russell was the youngest of 10 children the chances are good he just plain outlived his entire family. Years ago the elderly, with no disorder other than dementia, were sometimes committed to institutions like this when there was no other place for them to go.
Much of the details of this story came to me by way of Donald & Bonnie Colton from Lowville, NY. Most of the Civil War information was obtained through the National Park Service and the Lewis County Veteran’s Service Agency. Compositely, it points up the maintaining of records, our country’s heritage, our family genealogy even down to maintaining the many Parks, Cemeteries and Battlefields so all of us can reap the benefits and enjoy what so many others had to sacrifice their very lives for. We shall be forever grateful!
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