The Last Civil War Widow

You think things are wild now? Politically? Culturally?

To that I offer up the Show Me State of Missouri, 1861.

See the bros above? Part of the 26th Missouri Infantry during the Civil War, which occurred, in case it slipped your mind, between 1861 and 1865. Seems the country was divided over a few issues (SLAVERY) and welp when Abe got elected, the south took their racist ball and went home.

The fellas above were Union troops. I had to look that up. Why? Well Missouri, home of jorts and perennial road construction, was a problem from the jump. It was admitted in 1821 as a slave state under the Missouri Compromise, the catch being that slavery was banned in all states and territories, derived from the Louisiana Purchase, north of the 30th parallel. The “compromise” pleased nobody and 40 years later we set about slaughtering each other. You remember all this from 5th grade right?

*Sidebar – can we just call jorts “The Missouri Compromise” from now on?

Incredibly, Missouri was a Union state, AND supported secession and the south at the same time. Somewhere around 100,000 troops fought for the Union, and 30-40,000 fought for the Confederacy. It was chaos. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.

So the bros above went off to war.

The ones that came home, as one does, got married, started families etc.

Which brings me to Ms. Helen Viola Jackson of Missouri. She passed away this past December at the age of 101. By all accounts a lovely woman who lived a wonderful life.

She was also the last widow of a Civil War solider. Here is her FB page.

Now let that sink in. She was married to a soldier who fought in the 1860s. How is that possible? Well she married one James Bolin in 1936, him at the time 93 and she 17. It was a marriage of convenience as she would come around to help the elderly man with chores, and he offered to marry her really only as a way for her to receive his Union pension. So they married. He died a few years later and she apparently didn’t file for the pension.

She also kept quiet about the arrangement, not wanting to embarrass Bolin or deal with the social chatter.

It’s incredible really when you stop to consider how short our history really is in the United States. In this one instance we are only two degrees of separation from the darkest period in our history. Roughly 620,000 soldiers were killed, thousands upon thousands more maimed.Two (2) percent of the population died.

It would be akin to 7 million dead today.

And Helen was married to one of the men who fought. She saw his face, held his hand, probably cooked his dinners. The Sons of Union Veterans even requested 30 days of remembrance.

Point is, we tend to think the social ills of the past are just that – well in the past. But the residue of our collective decision making still lingers. Would new states be admitted as slave states? Would southern senators accept the new president in Lincoln? Would Reconstruction work? Would we tolerate Jim Crow laws?

Westward expansion, the genocide of native tribes, WWI, The Great Depression, women’s suffrage, cars, airplanes, WWII, Civil Rights, the Space Race, The Apprentice for god’s sake – all happened in the space of the lives of two married people.

Our history, all of it, a series of pebbles tossed in a lake, one ripple upon ripple washing up against the shores of the present. Helen was living, breathing connection to a time, that well, was really, not so long ago.

Something to consider.


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