Today we take our cell phones and e-mail for granted, but there was a time not too long ago when none of that was conceivable to most people. During my own youth, a telephone was something that hung on a wall or sat on a stand in the living room, connected to a cord. If you wanted to talk to someone, you actually had to dial their number to do so. And if somebody called your number, you who had no idea who it was until you answered. If you wanted to write to someone, you actually wrote a letter on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, stuck a stamp on it, and dropped it in the mailbox. A few days or more later, the recipient would get it, and if they wanted to reply to you, they had to repeat the process. How did we ever survive?
But even those modern conveniences would have seemed impossible just a few generations before us. It was not uncommon for those setting out for the western frontier to find a new life and better opportunities to only receive a letter once or twice a year from the folks back home, and sometimes families and friends would never be heard from again.
Consider the case of Frank Henry Hall, who was born in the Netherlands in 1837 and immigrated to America, settling in Wisconsin. The hard-working young man soon found a job and met a young woman named Annie Rivers. They got married in 1860 and settled down, expecting a normal life in their community of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Little did the couple know that their lives would be far from normal, or of the tragedies that would await them.
When the Civil War began, Frank thought it his duty to fight for his adopted country, and enlisted in the Illinois 42nd Illinois Infantry Regiment less than a year after their marriage. Like many young lovers, they wrote to each other on a regular basis, sharing dreams of the life they would have together once the war was behind them. A few months after Frank left, Annie wrote to tell him that she had given birth to their son. I’m sure he was delighted at the news, even if he couldn’t be there to welcome the baby into the world.
Frank’s outfit saw combat in several crucial and bloody battles of the war, including the Siege of Corinth, and at Stones River, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. Over time, as they moved from one engagement to another, mail was interrupted, and Frank was no longer receiving letters from Annie. Then one day a letter from a friend back home brought the tragic news that Annie had died.
Unable to get leave to return home, Frank did the only thing a soldier can do, he continued to fight. When the war ended, with nothing to go home to, Frank re-enlisted and served with the 13th Ohio Calvary in Texas for several more years. Eventually, he left the army and moved about for a while, settling in Washington Territory, then returning east to Michigan and later to homestead in Iowa. At one point, he married a woman named Julia Nelson, but the union did not last long, and they divorced.
Many years passed, and in 1889, Frank returned to Waukesha to see if he could connect with old friends. The town had changed so much that he had a hard time finding his way around, but eventually, he made contact with Joe Rivers, the brother of his first wife. It was only after he asked Joe to take him to Annie’s grave to pay his respects that Frank learned the shocking news that she was still alive, but very ill and living in the county’s poor house. The letter he had received so long ago during the war had been incorrect. It was not Annie who had died, but another one of her brothers.
Rushing to the poor house where indigent people were kept, Frank saw Annie for the first time in 28 years. She didn’t recognize him at first, but when he spoke to her she smiled for the first time in many years and threw her arms around him. Frank took her away from that depressing place that day.
In spite of the years apart, the reunited couple felt the same love they had for each other as young people. Unfortunately, they would not have much time together. Annie died within just a few short years, leaving Frank broken-hearted and alone once more.
He would eventually remarry a third time, in 1894, but then his health failed and he and spent the rest of his life in the Milwaukee Soldiers Home. Frank Hall died in 1916, at age 79, and is buried in the Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee. I hope that in whatever afterlife there is, he and Annie found each other once more and are together for eternity.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of The Ghost Who Wanted Revenge, Book 4 in my friend Bobbi Holmes’ excellent Haunting Danielle series about an Oregon seaside bed and breakfast with a resident ghost of a previous owner who has been dead for almost ninety years. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – You never run out of things that can go wrong.