BRUSHES WITH FAMOUS PEOPLE

Considering that Love and Valor starts in a small town in Iowa before the Civil War, the Love and Valor brushes with famous people is remarkable.

Abraham Lincoln – James Harlan

In terms of a brush with a famous person, it is hard to top this one any time or any place. There is a man from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa named James Harlan who is buried right next to Emeline’s parents in the cemetery just south of town. One of his claims to fame was that he became the co-grandfather of three grandchildren along with Abraham Lincoln. James Harlan was also a US Senator from Iowa during the Civil War. His daughter, Mary Harlan, married Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln.

 

When people refer to Abraham Lincoln’s wife, it is frequently as Mary Todd Lincoln. This is partially to differentiate her from James Harlan’s daughter, who became Mary Harlan Lincoln.

 

A cousin of James Harlan was in Company B of the 25th Iowa Infantry with Jacob. The book has frequent mentions of Bill Harlan.

 

John Brown the Abolitionist

I tell the story of “Movie Making Meets History Research” below, as to how I learned of this story. 

 

Jacob Ritner’s Aunt Mary Ritner ran a boarding house in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. For six months in 1859, one of the lodgers was the famous abolitionist John Brown, who was planning his raid on Harpers Ferry at that time. John Brown was moving around a lot during that time, but Aunt Mary Ritner’s boarding house was one of his bases.

 

Daniel Webster, the Washington Monument, and Jacob’s grandfather Governor Joseph Ritner

In 1848, federal officials sealed a time capsule into the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Included in the time capsule are documents of national interest. This set of documents of national interest include correspondence between the famous politician Daniel Webster and Jacob’s grandfather, Joseph Ritner who had previously been the governor of Pennsylvania. 

 

I believe their correspondence had to do with George Washington, and whether George Washington, while officially being a Mason, was truly a Mason.  

 

George Armstrong Custer

In terms of hating George Armstrong Custer, and doing something about it other than through physical violence, Emeline’s brother Major Thomas Bereman did two things of historic note (historic for those interested in the history of Custer).

 

Two of Emeline’s brother served under Custer’s command immediately after the Civil War, when Custer took a brigade of cavalry to Texas as part of reconstruction. One of the regiments in the brigade was the 1st Iowa Cavalry and Emeline had two brothers in the 1st Iowa Cavalry.

 

The reaction of Emeline’s brothers to Custer was that they hated him. Partly, the war was over and they wanted to go home. But Custer brought on their hatred with his actions during that time, some of which was directed to soldiers in the 1st Iowa Cavalry.

 

While in Texas, Major Thomas Bereman, along with two other officers in the brigade, wrote a scathing report about Custer, essentially accusing him of conduct unbecoming an officer. 

 

Major Bereman then resigned his commission and returned to Iowa, where he became a State Representative in the Iowa General Assembly. In that capacity, he introduced resolutions, which passed, where the State of Iowa formally passed resolutions condemning Custer for his behavior. 

 

Women, Women Leaders

Part of what makes Love and Valor somewhat unique are the stories of Emeline and the women in her town. But the book also includes references to women who either were leaders or became leaders.

 

Emeline and the Women in Town – the main women stories have to do with how Emeline, while Jacob was away, managed the family farm, raised four small children, and interacted with the other women in town.

 

Frances “Franc” Roads – one of the founders of P.E.O., a modern women’s organization whose mission is women’s education and women’s philanthropy, is mentioned in one of Emeline’s letters as a twelve year old girl. Frankie Roads and her cousin came over one afternoon to play with Jacob and Emeline’s daughters.

 

Annie Wittenmyer – during the Civil War she was the president of the Iowa State Sanitary Commission, a group organized to bring supplies to Iowa soldiers. Jacob mentioned her in several letters during the siege of Vicksburg. After the war, in 1874, she was elected the first president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was an important organization dealing with women’s issues and women’s rights in the United Stated.

 

Major Belle Reynolds – a nurse during the Civil War, she was the highest ranking female officer in the Union Army. Jacob had dinner with her and her husband, who was an officer in the 17th Illinois Infantry, during the siege of Vicksburg.