The Aninversary

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Former enemies come face to face years later to experience the personal impact of the last battle of the US Civil War.

Submitted: November 21, 2007

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Submitted: November 21, 2007



The ANNIVERSARY by James Gagiikwe 2007

Part I: The Telegrapher’s Tale.

If’n it weren’t for this carn-sarned war in Europe I’d be getting’ ready for retirement soon, I would. With so many of you younger folk off to fight the Huns us older fellows have to stay on. War’s been goin’ on for 3 years already. In another 3 years I’ll be 67. Hope the war’s over by then, provided we win. Just like them Europeans, askin’ us to win their war for em. Kinda ironic, your grandpa being a Squarehead, and you wantin’ to fight em. Good thing you got an American name I reckon. My wife Ginny says it’s a good thing I still got work, what with telephones and automobiles everywhere nowadays. Not as many jobs for a railroad telegraphist, and Western Union don’t want an old codger like me. So, I guess the war’s good for me, you see; an’ Ginny likes North Chicago. As long as the Navy needs wireless telegraphists I’ll have a job here at the Naval Training Station. How long they’ll need em is a question. Some officer told me last week that someday there’ll be wireless telephones for ships, can you believe it? Weren’t always that way. When I was young the telegraph was everything, and the railroads crisscrossing the country, an’ paddle steamers on the rivers, and wagons and horseback. Now, I actually have to ride a motorbus to work. I ain’t seen one of those aeroplanes yet, though. ‘God would’a given us wings’, I say. Funny, you come all the way from Norfolk Nebraska to be a sailor.

You gotta’ good ear son. Keep workin’ on your touch, you’re still too heavy on the key. You asked me what stories I got from my Madison days. Lemme think……. I’ve worked for several ‘roads, from Illinois to Nebraska and back. My first job for the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad was as stationmaster-telegraphist at Madison. That was in 1879. I was twenty-six, been married five years and me an’ Ginny had a two-year-old daughter, Millie. She’s grow’d now with kids of her own. My office at the station had two sets of windows, and two doors. One faced the main street, and one the platform. You been there for sure, right? Kin see most of what’s goin’ on. Kin see the passengers and freight wagons, across the tracks to the feedlot; or out the street and who’s goin’ into the stores, or the Huylar Hotel.Not much rail traffic, not many telegrams either, so watching was good fun.

Well, sleepy Madison had its bad side, I guess. Mostly before my time. During the summer of 1871, a settler named Fuller was murdered near Shell Creek. The murder weren’t never solved. Two cattle dealers were arrested and tried for it, but got let off for lack of evidence. They left the county after that, I hear. Reamy probably help that along a bit, private-like, ‘cause he weren’t Sheriff then.

I remember one day we had a bank robbery, sort of. Old Amos Hengstrom, you wouln’t have know’d him, he was the town drunk, he got hold of an old pistol, tweren’t loaded, and tried to rob the bank. Said they’d cheated him outta’ his farm. Bad farmin’ and rotgut was what did him in, twas all. Miss Sarah Crooks, the first schoolteacher in Battle Creek Precinct, caused a stir when she up an married a drummer that came through the county in 1873. Folks would talk about it at every school board meeting; cause they wanted married teachers from then on. You got an education ‘cause them folk was dead keen on schools, so be grateful.

I remember a couple of stories about ol’ Sheriff Reamy. Right peaceable fellow, he was. Didn’t carry a gun unless there was a posse, so hardly ever. In the Sheriff’s office at the courthouse he only kept a shotgun loaded with rock-salt, and an old Sharps rifle. Jail was in the basement. Reamy was Sheriff from 1877 to1883. Your uncle Charlie Smith is Sheriff now I hear’d. County was growin’ when we moved there in ’79. Over 5,000 people in the 1880 census! But Norfolk was growin faster, ‘course, even if they twern’t the county seat. Reamy told me he moved to Madison County in 1871. He’d married a widow, and they had two girls.

They moved up from Virginia with some friends and relatives, the three Hale brothers, and T. C. Osborn and C. H. Reeves. They all settled between Emerick and Fairview. You go to school with some of their grandkids in Norfolk?…..Yup, thought so. Sheriff Reamy had a slight limp. He was only in his early 40’s when I knew him. Been wounded in the war, and used a brass-handled cane. Didn’t need no guns in town with that cane, he didn’t, an’ everybody knew it. Could stop a brawl right smart he could.

Fair too. He got on good with the original Squareheads that settled on the North Fork. That’d be ol’ man Braasch, his son, Gottlieb Rorke, Charles Ninow, William Ruhlow, and your great uncle William Winter. And he didn’t play favourites with his friends and cousins, or with the families what moved up from Missouri either. One’s he didn’t always get on with were the state politicians, Senators Bear and Hayes, and Representative C. C. Wyatt. I guess they didn’t like him ‘cause he was an ex-Confederate. He didn’t like them ‘cause the railroad’s owned em. They backed George Davis in the ‘83 sheriff’s election. Reamy went back to his farmin’ after that. He’d rented out his fields to one of the Passawalk twins, cain’t remember which though.

One day Sheriff Reamy caught a peddler on the main street, beating the old nag that pulled his wagon. Reamy took the whip away called him a ‘damn Yankee carpetbagger’, and proceeded to horsewhip him down the main street to the court house. Locked him up for the night. Went back to the horse, led it to Walker’s stable, unhitched the wagon in the barn, and personally feed, watered and groomed the horse. Kept the drummer in jail for disturbing the peace, a day for every blow he’d seen him inflict. Made the drummer pay the stable bill too. He did love his horses. His own horse was outta Missouri, 15 hands of good walkin’ horse. He had two mares for his wife’s buckboard. He sure could ride. No dandy - just had a good seat twas all. Told me he was in the Virginia Cavalry in the late war. Must’a been a real yahoo when he was a young’un.

We used to talk when he made his rounds and stopped in at the station for some Java. “Only had real coffee when we took some Yankees prisoner,” he told me many a time, “for the rest we had acorn meal and chicory. I do like the taste of real coffee.” I remember in ’85, just before we moved to Wichita, Reamy started using a different saddle than he had as Sheriff. There’s a story for ya’ there for sure.

* * *

Twas late March, 1885. A telegraph message came in for Sheriff - I mean ex-sheriff –Reamy. I called for ‘Chip’, you know - Mr. Wood the bank manager in Norfolk, to take the message out to Reamy’s farm in the morning - Chip delivered the telegrams for me when he wasn’t cleaning the station or handling people’s valises. He’s come a ways since then, aint he? - T’any rate, Reamy gets this telegram. Hadn’t had one since before he lost the election in ’83. It read:

“Sgt Wm J. Reamy Stop Madison Nebraska Stop

Remember Farmville Stop Meet westbound train 2p.m.

April 7th Stop Bring wagon Stop Signed Hancut End”

Chip came back late the next afternoon to say that Reamy only said “Don’t know anyone called Hancut; but tell Caulfield I’ll be there on time.”

Caused me a puzzle, it did, so I watched close on the day. Shur‘nuff, Reamy drove his buckboard into Madison, got there around 1:30. He was dressed in his best Sunday shirt and vest. He dropped his wife and two teenage girls at the Emporium. Tying up the team Reamy came into the office and poured hisself a mug of coffee, like he always did when he was Sheriff. “Didn’t know there was a train due this time of the week?”

“Yep. Special out’a Chicago bound for Yellowstone. Private Pullman car an’ all. Don’t know why they routed it through here though. Even Senator Hayes don’t travel on a private train.”

“No, but he’d like to.”

“Who you come here to meet?”

“I don’t know Sam, I truly don’t.” Pointing at his Sunday-go-ta-meetin’ shirt and vest he said, “But the message made me think that I might be wise to look presentable.”

At two minutes to 2pm a whistle announced the arriving train. There was no one on the platform but Chip, so Reamy and I stood in my doorway to watch. A neat two-four-two engine eased into the station pulling a baggage car, a cattle car and a freight car, a dinning car, a Pullman sleeper and a parlour car. A dozen posh men and women got off the train to stretch their legs. City types. None of em looked at us. An older man stepped down from the parlour car last of all, and spoke briefly to the conductor. Then he walked by us to the baggage car. Reamy eyed him with his ‘sheriff’s eye’, measuring the man.

In his 60’s, with more salt than pepper in his beard, stocky - strong stocky - not fat, about 5’8”, must have been a real bull when young. By the time he got to the car the door had been slid open. He gave some orders to the men in the baggage car, then come over t’us. He was carryin’ an old calico ‘possibles bag’. - You don’t know what a possibles bag is! It can carry juz about everythin’ you could possible need, is all. - Behind him we could see the two men carry a wooden crate, ‘bout the size of two of your Navy footlockers, over to the wagon. He walks up to us, looks Reamy straight in the eyes. They wuz both real quiet a’time; Reamy lookin’ at the man’s scared face and the GAR pin on his lapel, the man, his name was Hancut, lookin’ Reamy over, specially the brass-handled walkin’ stick.

While this was ‘ goin’ on, the two railroad men went down to the cattle car, slid open the door, and pulled out a ramp. Out came a stable hand leadin’ a fine stallion. The stable hand led him over to the wagon and tied him on behind. After a while Reamy smiled, and Hancut followed suite, a real wry kinda’ smile. “Glad to see you didn’t loose the leg, Johnny.”

“Nor your eyes Yank.”

Hancut took Reamy by the arm and started to walk away. “Let’s go take a look at that stallion, Sergent.” I started to follow along to, but Hancut turned and gave me a right cold look. I stayed put, and didn’t hear their conversation. They stood studyin’ the stallion for a while, jawin’ on about the War I shoulda’ thought. Finally they shook hands. Reamy came back to stand with me. Hancut turned, signalled the engineer, and walked back to the parlour car. We watched in silence as the trained pulled out. When it was outa sight among the cottonwoods, Reamy bade me good day, and walked down to the Emporium.

Next time I saw him in town he was using a McClellan saddle on his new stallion. What with his mares, Reamy had the makins of a good stud. I heard that by 1882 he was selling remounts to the US Cavalry. Kind’a ironic.

“Now, didn’t I tell you to be more consistent with the pressure on the key?”

* * * *

Part II: The Elder Daughter’s Version

My telegraphy instructor’s tale about Sheriff Reamy stuck in my mind; because I’d tapped the whole thing out on my practice key while Caulfield was telling it. [My hand is still “inconsistent” because that’s my signature] I ended the war on a destroyer in the Atlantic. When I mustered out of the U.S. Navy in 1921 I went home for a while, before I went to work as a radio operator on the Great Lakes. Next time I visted home I asked my mom about Sheriff Reamy and his family. She got together with old Mrs. Haygarth. Finally they worked out that I should talk to Reamy’s eldest daughter, Mrs Nonius, over near Battle Creek. I drove over there in my Model-T one day and called on her. This is the gist of what she told me – I can’t spin a story like Caulfield could.

* * * *

My father, Bill Reamy, was a good man, but, like my mother, held things about the war close to his heart. He rarely talked to us about those days - my mother told me all this when I grew up. I was 2 and Alice just newborn when we moved to Nebraska. My mother’s first husband was a lieutenant in the 9th Virginia Cavalry. They married when the war started, but he was killed in late 1861. My mother miscarried their only child when she heard. My mother lived with her family just a few miles from Reamy’s family. Most of their young men were away at the war. After the war ended Bill Reamy came home with the menfolk who survived. He worked his own family farm, and hired out to my grandfather during plantings and harvests. Father was 3 years older than my mother. There were lots of widows, and few marriageable men. She married Dad in 1866.

In 1871 we, and several of Reamy’s relatives moved out to Nebraska. I don’t know why they settled in Madison County. I remember my father fondly. He had sisters and girl cousins, so I guess he knew a bit about girls. There was a sorrow about him that eased when we played, went for walks or did chores with him. We could get him to smile when Mother couldn’t. He enjoyed being a father. We went to the Baptist church services when we could, and he liked to sing the hymns. Because of his wound he picked up a brass-handled walnut walking stick in Missouri on our way to Nebraska. He rarely carried a gun. He wasn’t a violent man or a bully, but he could stop a fight very quickly with that stick.

He got himself deputised for a posse that was looking for the murderers of a settler. They caught the men, but didn’t have enough proof for the judge. Father was upset about that, and ran for County Sheriff soon after that. He won, and served a few years, until he ran afoul of some of our erstwhile state politicians. They were making a lot of money on land speculation, and driving up prices for the farmers.Round and round it went for a couple of decades. Anyway, when Father became Madison County Sheriff he rented out his fields to Dietrich Passawalk. During the school terms Mother, Alice and I lived at the farm, and Father would come visit weekends. During the summers and Christmas we would move into the Huyler Hotel with him. I think that he was secretly relieved when he was defeated for Sheriff in ’83.

But you’re interested in ‘85. I was 16 and Alice just about to turn 14. Over the years I have pieced the story together bit by bit. Father told me a very little, Mother barely more. Our cousins in the county told me lots. And there were Yankee veterans around who could tell me other things. Let me start in the middle:

* * *

2P.M., April 7, 1865

His horse was so gaunt after the siege. Water and only a little grass since they left Petersburg. They were rearguard for the now greatly diminished army. The battle at Little Sayler’s Creek had torn a great chunk out of the ANV. Skirmish, move on – skirmish again and again, and again, always moving south and west towards Lynchburg. They were so tired. So very tired. He worried about his horse, his second mount, bought so dearly with the devaluing Confederate money in 1863. And he worried about the men in his company. They’d stopped worrying about stragglers and deserters. So many of the Army of Northern Virginia came from these counties. Some infantry regiments just melted away and went home. There was no time to police the line-of-march, the Yankees were always so close.

His own 9th VA cavalry unit had been whittled down over the week; wounded, captured, killed, cut-off. But the remnant still fought, and fought well. They were veterans, experienced, proud, hardened. Now they were waiting in a copse of trees along a creek bed north of Farmville. Waiting to hit Sheridan’s Cavalry when they ran into the Confederate entrenchments at the Cumberland Church, near the hospital. The Yankee II Corps infantry had already attacked once, and been thrown back. At the bottom of the slope Union cavalry were moving.

Now! The Confederate cavalry burst from their hiding place. Sergent Reamy prodded his horse and moved out with the rest of Company K. They covered the distance quickly, hitting the Yankee column in the flank. Coming down slope gave them the advantage of mass as well as surprise. Reamy aimed his sawn-off shotgun at a Yankee Sergent as that man turned to fire his .44 Remington. They fired simultaneously. Reamy’s shotgun blast, nails and stones, grazed the Yankee on the right side of his face and arm. But Reamy felt a shocking pain in his left thigh. His horse continued its wild career into the Yankee’s horse. As they collided the Union cavalryman brought his pistol down on Reamy’s battered grey forage cap, and the Virginian knew nothing else.


Awakening painfully, Reamy rolled onto his side and dry-retched, as much from hunger as from pain. It was afternoon. He gathered himself up slowly on an elbow and looked around. His horse was nowhere to be seen, nor his shotgun, nor cap. He felt his head. His hand came away with dried blood. He felt his throbbing leg. There was a bandana tied around the wound. Blood had soaked the bandana, and then coagulated. He felt light-headed and lay prone again. The grass was cool. He slept, or lost consciousness.

It was dusk. Confederate infantry were working through the dead and wounded in the field. Reamy groaned when a soldier prodded him. Two men lifted him and carried him to the Cumberland Church building. It was full of Confederate, and a few Yankee, wounded. They laid him down outside next to other wounded, and went back to the field. There were no doctors. “We win?” he asked the man next to him. The man coughed up some blood and nodded ‘yes’. Later someone came by, looked at the wound and gave him a drink of water. The Confederates pulled out in the dark, to continue their rearguard defence against the relentless Yankees. The man next to him coughed out his lungs in the night.

Early in the morning Yankee infantry occupied the area, and the wounded that had survived the night were taken to the nearby Farmville hospital. The Yankees fed them, and there were Union surgeons and medical orderlies. The next day a soft moan moved through the crowded hospital, and men began to weep, but not from their wounds. The news had come that Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. The Yankee bullet had taken a great gouge out of his left leg, but missed artery and bone. On April 21st Reamy was judged mended enough to be paroled home: penniless, defeated, limping on a homemade crutch, and with all personal possessions gone, to rebuild his life at age 27.

* * *

That day at the train station Hancut handed over a calico bag. “I thought today would be a good time to return these.”

Reamy opened the tie and looked in. “Much obliged, Yank.”

“I couldn’t bring your horse, she’s been gone awhile. But I’m giving you one of her grandsons.”

Reamy turned and looked the horse over approvingly, then asked. “What’s in the crate?” “Your saddle and tack.”

“Obliged again, Yank.”

“Moses William Hancut.” He gave a restrained salute. “Took me a while to find you.”

“I can imagine.” “You will find a letter in the crate. Take care, Reamy.” “And you, Hancut.”

“All aboard,” the conductor yelled. The dandies hurried back to the train. Hancut walked more slowly.

* *

Reamy’s daughter still had a mementoe of that piece of family history:

Hancut’s letter:

M. Wm. Hancut & Son - Timber Merchants

112 Elk Avenue Lansing, Michigan Wire “Hancut, Lansing”

To :Sergent William Jarvis Reamy, late of the Army of Northern Virginia:

Honourable Sir,

We have not met except in mortal combat. My hope is that we will have met as fellow men ere you read this letter.

You were unconscious when your compatriots drove us from the field at Farmville. I grabbed the reins of your mount and led you off the field as prisoner. Our troop took up a defensive position. You were still unconscious, so I bandaged your leg, souvenired your cap, and took your horse and gear as spoils of war. We pulled out and I left you behind.

Your shotgun tore my face up some, but your aim was off. My wife said I was so ugly before the war that the new scars were an improvement.

After we were disbanded in July ’65 I managed to take your horse and tack back to Michigan. There she produced 6 foals before I put her out to pasture.

My son had run our sawmill while I was away to war, and we have prospered since. We now have several sawmills in Michigan and Wisconsin counties, and moved our office to Lansing. Eventually, I wondered if you had survived. I had the Pinkerton Agency track you down. Sorry it took so long. I was pleased to find that you’ve raised a family and served your new community. I figured that April 7th would be a good time to return your things. I trust you will forgive my sentimentality.

May you remain in good health, and prosper as your soul prospers.

Very Respectfully yours,

Moses William Hancut

At Chicago, April 5, 1875

- End -

[The actual sergeants Reamy and Hancut both served as cavalrymen in the Civil War, but not in the same theatres. Reamy was wounded on the 7th of April 1865, and paroled a fortnight later. There is no record that Reamy ever moved to Nebraska, but the other Virginians mentioned did. Hancut enlisted in Hillsdale, Michigan, and mustered out at Jackson, Michigan. A list of the actual Madison County Nebraska Sheriffs can be found on the Internet.]

© Copyright 2018 James Gagiikwe. All rights reserved.

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