A Quiet Patriot: Part 3 of Thomas Favell’s Civil War lettersThe American Civil War began 150 years ago. Our forest hike on Nov. 11 on veteran Thomas Favell’s post-war homestead here in Solon Springs reminds us of his new soldier’s life in autumn of 1861. Of the 1,743 men who joined the Wisconsin 8th Infantry Volunteers during those four brutal years of war, Thomas was one of 427 remaining to “muster out” at war’s end in 1865.
By: By Thomas Wayne King, Superior Telegram
The American Civil War began 150 years ago. Our forest hike on Nov. 11 on veteran Thomas Favell’s post-war homestead here in Solon Springs reminds us of his new soldier’s life in autumn of 1861. Of the 1,743 men who joined the Wisconsin 8th Infantry Volunteers during those four brutal years of war, Thomas was one of 427 remaining to “muster out” at war’s end in 1865.
By mid-November of their first summer and fall at war, men and officers of his Company C, the “Eau Claire Eagles,” were engaged at the western war front in southern Missouri. Favell’s letters home to rural Royalton tell his story as one of many enlisted farmers, lumbermen and businessmen from Wisconsin who became soldiers, many for the duration of the war. See the references below, and the other parts of the series archived at www.superiortelegram.com for more background.
Favell’s letters to his younger brothers Amos and James Favell, written in November 1861 from Pilot Knob, Mo., tell of his company’s initial skirmishes and battles, and the continuing confusion regarding their gray, not blue, regimental uniforms, a seemingly random, yet dangerous matter. The greater persistent issue was illness among the troops. Disease presented significant dangers to this large group of men now living, marching, camping and surviving together.
In Favell’s Nov. 1 letter, he writes: “There are a great many of our regiment sick in the hospital. The most of them are sick with the measles. The Royalton boys are all well.”
Favell’s Wisconsin 8th Regiment was frequently affected by diseases during the course of the war. Measles were a common outbreak, among other sickness, with so many previously rural-dwelling, relatively isolated men now living in close proximity. Deaths from diseases in another unit, the Wisconsin Company A, were reported to outnumber deaths from combat by a ratio of 5:1. Thomas wrote home frequently from this dangerous world in which he had enlisted, yet he remained generally well and uninjured throughout all his years of frontline service. He contracted malaria later in the war, eventually becoming blind during his final years spent here in northwestern Wisconsin.
When Favell left for the Civil War, as was likely true with most soldiers, his family and community members missed him dearly. They longed for his safe return. Folks at home were thinking of Tom, and he of them. He wrote letters every few days at first, then much less often as the war and constant marching wore on him. His dedication to writing was impressive, with his cost to send each letter equivalent to about what we spend now to send a specially-delivered package: Three cents per letter for him, on his monthly salary of about $9.
One of the girls back in Favell’s home community of rural Royalton wrote to “their boys” often. Angela Haste was the daughter of pioneer settlers, and treasured written and spoken words, as well as singing. She was 10 years old in 1861. Along with her friends from school and church, she saw it as her duty to write to the men from their area, helping to keep up their spirits. Young Angela and her family were deeply interested in their own sons and brothers who were engaged in this historic, heroic effort. Aaron Haste, Angela’s brother, was killed at age 22 in the Civil War. We have some of her family stories from before his death, and Angela knew that letters to and from her soldier boys were essential to all.
Angela Haste and Thomas Favell were married in 1867. He was 29; she was 16. Tom had returned from his war years to his family farm and timber business in the Royalton area. As a Civil War veteran, and a true war hero of sorts, he was able to support a wife and family. Thomas and Angela were the parents of Ernest and Mabelle, the two of their four children who lived into adulthood; apparently a fairly typical child-survival rate for pioneer families of the time.
In her ninth decade, around 1932, Angela wrote of her girlhood memories when “their boys” from home in rural Royalton and Waupaca were at war. A portion of her writings are transcribed below, exactly as she set them down in pencil by hand:
We girls used to get together evenings and sing war songs. These are some of them — “Brave Boys Are They,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, The Boys Are Marching,” “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” “We Are Tenting To Night On The Old Camp ground,” “Just Before the Battle Mother,” “Marching Through Georgia,” “Mother Is the Battle over,” “Brave Boys Are they,” “A Thousand Years,” “Jimmie Has Gone To Live In A Tent,” “We Shall Meet, But We Shall Miss Him,” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
We also wrote letters to our brothers and other girl’s brothers, hoping it would amuse and cheer them. I am sure now that it amused them. I think the southern girls had as hard if not harder time than we northern girls did. They too used to write their brothers and beaus. One of our soldiers said he found, in a dead southern soldier’s pocket, a letter from his sweetheart, and in it this verse: It’s hard for you’ens to live in a tent, It’s hard for you’ens to fight the Yanks; It’s hard for you’ens and we’ens to part, But you’ens know you’ens have we’ens heart.
Thomas and Angela found each other sometime after he returned to Royalton from the war in 1865. We are still learning of those details. Her underlined comment above, “I am sure now ...” perhaps meant she had a certain favorite local soldier (Thomas Favell?) to whom she wrote during the war. Thomas and Angela would later homestead with their growing family several times in Wisconsin, eventually settling in Solon Springs and Superior. We like to think how secure great grandpa Tom must have felt here at home in this deep, tall pine forest, with his dog Jack, checking on their two cows in their small log barn.
But that’s jumping ahead. Back to the war and camp at the end of the fall of 1861. Favell’s next letter was written on New Year’s Eve 1862. It was inspired, thoughtful and touching. In it, he tells of men in his regiment, his new zither, and a nighttime sing-along in their decorated tent.
They were doing their best to survive that first winter near the front, trying to enjoy the holiday season in their flapping, smoke-filled canvas tents, enduring constant cold and relentless rain — and striving to keep at bay their growing uneasiness about the intensified war to come in the spring.
Note: Thomas Favell, 1838-1918, became a Superior and Solon Springs resident and businessman in his years after the Civil War. He and his wife, Angela Haste Favell, with their children, Ernest and Mabelle, opened a small general store on the corner of Central Park in Superior. They also built and operated several small rental cottages and a boarding house in Solon Springs, where they kept a two-cow farm on ten acres, living at their log farmhouse they named Shore Acres. Thomas and Angela Favell’s great-grandson, Thomas W. King, is the author of this series, and lives in Solon Springs with his wife Debra. Their home is on the south five acres of the original Favell farm homestead
Primary references: Civil War Years by T. R. Favell & J. E. Favell, 1976, archived at Wisconsin Historical Society Library, Madison, Wis.. Also, Angela Haste Favell’s memoir and biography are archived at www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=954