A Successful Homesteader

Jeffry D. Wert’s piece, “Go West, Young Man,” in the March/April 2006 “Turning Points” department, was about the importance of the Homestead Act of 1862. People could, for the first time in their lives, buy land for some hard work and a few dollars.

In my opinion, the other important aspect of the Homestead Act was that, with title to the land, the owner could raise capital by getting a mortgage at the bank. He could buy more land, build a barn, add livestock and buy a reaper. There was no way a squatter or tenant could make such investments. Surely that must have added to the growth, prosperity and stability of the Federal territories. I’m sure it helped expand the banking system as well.

My great-great-grandfather left Pittsburgh, alone, in 1855, when he was 17. He arrived in the Nebraska Territory and got a job with a surveying crew. Soon he found some nice land near Nebraska City in Wyoming Precinct (later Otoe County), almost due south of Omaha and due east of Lincoln, very near the west bank of the Missouri River. Still working alone, he squatted and started his little farm. He brought his widowed mother and 10-year-old brother from Pittsburgh to support them.

In 1860, the census showed that this 22-year-old farmer had farm implements worth $100. His livestock, worth $200, consisted of two horses, three milch cows and one hog. In 1859 he had raised 10 bushels of wheat, 300 bushels of corn, 200 bushels of potatoes, 20 bushels of buckwheat and had put up four tons of hay. The family had also sold 50 pounds of butter. He didn’t own any land.

The 1870 census, after the Homestead Act, said he owned 80 acres of land valued at $3,000, of which 60 acres were under cultivation. His farm implements were worth $100. His livestock, valued at $400, consisted of four horses, two milch cows, two other cattle and four hogs. In 1869 he had raised 400 bushels of wheat, 700 bushels of corn, 200 bushels of oats, 300 bushels of potatoes and had put up six tons of hay.

How else could a poor shoemaker’s son have done so well without the capital based on his legal title to the land? His story, repeated thousands of times all across the federal territories, was based on the success of the Homestead Act.

Patricia T. Wheeler

Oakton, Va.

Lessons of Peace

I enjoyed reading the article “Images of Peace” in the January 2006 issue by Harold Holzer, Gabor S. Boritt and Mark E. Neely Jr. I have always been fascinated with the “orchard peace conference” legend at Appomattox. An original 1865 picture of the apocryphal peace being made under the apple tree hangs in my office. I purchased this at an antiques sale years ago and it was deemed worthless except for the simple original period frame and glass. Needless to say the price was cheap. The print is by John Smith of 756 S. 45th Street, Philadelphia, and is dated 1865. It is titled The Surrender of General Lee and His Entire Army to Grant April 9, 1865: This Memorial Event Terminated the Great Rebellion. You can see the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac in the background.

It is easy to see how, psychologically, these parlor prints helped to promote Lee’s image as an icon. My print places Lee in defeat on an equal footing with Grant and is similar to the Joseph Hoover print that is described in the article with both generals in resplendent uniforms, both wearing their swords, and Lee reaching out for the “terms” in Grant’s hand.

I am an assistant principal at Shelton High School in Connecticut. Many of our students are fascinated with the picture, and I use it as a morality tale when students have disagreements. The message being, if Grant and Lee can make an honorable peace, so can you!

Carolyn Ivanoff

Shelton, Conn.

THE EDITOR RESPONDS: Thank you for sharing this. We are pleased to hear that young people are interested in the picture, and that you have found such a meaningful way of making it relevent to them. We’re sure the generals would be proud to know that their legacy lives on.

Last Captured Flag

I would like to thank William Marvel for the article he wrote concerning the last land battle fought in the American Civil War at Palmetto Ranch on the southern tip of Texas in May 1865 (“Last Hurrah at Palmetto Ranch,” January 2006). I am the proud owner of a remnant of the 34th Indiana Veteran Volunteer Regiment’s battle flag, captured at Palmetto Ranch. I now have the flag on display at my medical office in Casa Grande, Ariz., for all to see. This happens to be the last United States regimental flag that was captured until 1942 during World War II.

Please keep up the good work on highlighting the times and events surrounding the most important era of American history.

Don W. Hill, M.D.

Casa Grande, Ariz.

“Gentleman” Custer

I have recently published a genealogy book, My Virginia Connections (2005). In the chapter on the Green family of Halifax County, Virginia, there is an incident about General Custer and a member of my family. (Mrs. Howerton and I are both descendants of Captain Berryman Green, quartermaster for General Washington at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.)

Following is that incident, a favorite related to this day by Green descendants. It dates from the end of the War Between the States. Union troops under the command of Custer, that old Indian fighter-to-be, invaded the farmyard of “Seaton.” A courier arrived with word of General Lee’s surrender as Custer was setting up his headquarters there at the farm.

According to historian R.S. Barbour Jr. from an article published in 1934 in an unknown newspaper: “Mrs. Howerton met the Union soldiers in the yard and asked if they would occupy the house. General Custer is quoted as answering that it was ‘too insignificant.’ He put up his tents in the yard instead, using the office [in the back part of the house] for a kitchen and had the cattle he was driving with his troops corralled in the yard. When that stage of the invasion was reached, Mrs. Howerton requested General Custer to confine the cattle to prevent them from destroying the crops, it being spring. She explained to the general that the crops must be saved ‘else how would we feed ourselves and the Negroes?’ To Mrs. Howerton’s disgust, General Custer made reply: ‘Graze, madam, graze.’”

Needless to say, the family was highly offended that a genteel Southern lady would be spoken to so rudely.

Harriet Blackwell Hook

Georgetown, Del.


Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.