At the present time, John W Barker is the farthest back we have been able to trace our Barker lineage. JWB, as I'll call him in this post, lived in the early 1800s and virtually no information or belongings from him or his family have been handed down to anyone alive today. This cabin is from Pope County Illinois in the mid 1800s, which is when he lived there, but this cabin has no connection to him.
1822-1861 JWB Birth and Marriage
We know that JWB was born about 1822 in Perry County, Indiana. We know nothing about the first three decades of his life, but at age 36 he married Elizabeth Thacker on Christmas Day 1858 in Pope County, Illinois. His life moved very quickly after that as John and Elizabeth had three children: Maria (or Mariah) born in 1860, Angelana in 1861, and John Washington Barker (I'll call him JWB2) in 1863.
5' 10", dark hair, blue eyes, light complexion.
Interestingly, that description also exactly describes me at age 40.
Aug 1862 JWB EnlistsJWB was not at home while Elizabeth was pregnant with JWB2, and he was never able to return home after he left 2 months after JWB2's inception. JWB enlisted in the Civil War the month after JWB2 was conceived and by the time Elizabeth was round with child he was being transported far away from his family aboard Union steamboats. He had joined the newly formed 131st Illinois Infantry on August 12, 1862 along with 814 other men, including one Joseph A Fardell, the son of FS and Elizabeth Shanks from the Massac County city of Metropolis, Illinois. This photo is of a typical baby's bottle from the 1800s.
Pope County residents were nervous in 1862. Grant's Union Army had come through in 1861 and by the spring of 1862, the bloodiest battle in US history to that date occurred 200 miles to the south in Shiloh, Tennessee. New fighting units were being formed throughout Illinois and Pope County was no exception. The Illinois 131st infantry was formed in August 1862 and took in men from Hamilton, Gallatin, Hardin, Pope, and Massac counties.
Unbeknownst to Pope County's residents, a major reason for the new units was the prepare for the new 1862 Union thrust: to split the Confederacy in two by taking control of the Mississippi River. The 131st became a part of this effort.
The 131st first gathered at Fort Massac, Illinois in September 1862. They had no tents or firearms when the measles broke out. About 100 of the 815 men were discharged due to death or disability.
Nov 1862 - JWB Leaves on Steamboat Iowa
On November 13, 1862 the 131st was mustered into US service and boarded the steamboat Iowa bound for Cairo, Illinois. There they were issued inferior Harpers Ferry flint-lock guns of various calibers, which they received in protest. This photo shows Civil War steamers on the Mississippi River, including the Tigress (second from right) that was Grant's headquarters.
They again boarded the steamboat Iowa and proceeded along the Mississippi to Memphis, TN where they arrived on December 7, 1862. We know some about this journey through surviving letters that Joseph A Fardell wrote home to his parents. On December 11, 1862 Fardell wrote: "Dear Father and Mother it is With plesher that I take my pen in hand to Write to you to let you know that I am Well at present" ... "Will try to give you a faint idear of my trip down to Memphis We left Metropolis on Wednsday a bout 2 ococ and landed in Cairo a bout sun down that night Whare We layed untell Thursday morning from thare We Went to Island 10 and layed that night from Island No 10 We Went to Fort Pillow Whare We layed until Friday saterday morning We landed at Memphis a bout the saim time in the day that We left Metropolis We had a fine time Coming down to this place but it Was sum sum What Cold the sand bares Was all White With snow I thought that Was a Way down North in dixey in stead of Way down South in dixey We did not get in to Camp untell Sunday evening and I have been very bisey every cence or I would have rote Sooner and am very bisy yet I expect to eather go on a scout or on picket to morrow"
"We have a larg army at this place Which Would be hard to Whip from all accounts thare is a bout 80 thousand fighting men at this place We drawed our arms and Equipage on Monday last the boys looks more like soulders than tha do like formers" "We are encamped a bout too miles end a half or three miles south east of Memphis on a very pretty place the that srounds us looks most butiful every thing looks romantic and butiful for superior to the old hills of Massac or Pope I think I Will Mary sum of those rich cicech Girls after War is over sumwhare a bout the suburbs of Memphis for this Country is far better that to live in it is a pitty that Men in as good surcumstances as the most of Men is here Will be an enemy to ther Country"..."I have a bin [word unclear] down in dixey plenty as the best looking girls you ever saw"..."Write more tell lora that I had plenty Milk and butter to last me"
On December 14, 1862 Fardell wrote to his parents: "I will give you a small idear of the Wether here this Morning the Wether here is Coald and rainey the starm raiged very high here last night I am in the Fort this morning With the 120th Reg I come down from our Reg on yesterday evening with Lutenent Mitchel he Was out and taken diner With me yesterday thare is a gradel [great deal] of sickness in Camp but as to my self I am well and have been every cence I left metropolis the rain and wind still falles With furce the wind is Coald and rain"
Dec 1862 - Heading Down The Mississippi RiverOn December 20th, 1862 the 131st embarked again on the steamer Iowa and headed south on the Mississippi to Milliken's Bend, just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. They stayed there until December 27, 1862 when they were sent to land near Hayne's Bluff, up the Yazoo River and north of Vicksburg.
They returned to Milliken's Bend on January 1st or 2nd, 1863. Fardell writes that the size of their group had grown to about 74 boats.
On Jan 3, 1863 Fardell wrote to his parents: "on board the steamer Iowa Janery the 3th 1863 Dear Mother and father it is With plesher that I take my pen in hand to address you a fu lines to let you know that I am yet in the land of the land of liveing and feel tolorable Well onley I am just recovering againe from a hard spell of sickness We left Memphis Dec the 20th We have been down here every cence and I have been unwell every cence untell now I will give you a small idear of What has passed cence We Come down in the first place I Will try to give you a idear of the sise of our army the No of the steamboats is a bout 74 of Which is all Well loded with soulders Comissrys forage and soforth"
"We have had a tolarable larg fight at this place as to the loss I cant find out What it is the fight Commenced on the 28 of Dec Which lasted for too days up the yazoo river the Mouth of the yazoo river is 10 or 12 miles a bove vicksburg ther Was severl Charges made but we was repulced every time With hevvy loses but unnone by me What the loses ware as our reg Was not in the fight at all We Was Detaled to guard the fleet as We Was not drilled as Well as the most of the other Regt We are now laying in Milkens bend [Milliken's Bend] at Millkinsville [Millikensville] abat 15 miles above the moth of yazoo Whare We landed last night We left the yazoo yesterday here Wateing for reinforcement I think but I doant know what the Motive is for stoping at this place unless that is it I cant give you afull account of all that has passed Cence I saw you or Cence I rote to you last I think that I am a loyal man God forbid that I should be any thing elce but the Caus Will never prosper or Gods earth it is a speckleing War to make the officears and kill the privets the War is not Cared [Carried] on to make friends of the South but it is to imbiter every southern man aganest our nobel Country I have saw sights and wonders Cence I left home tha are burning every thing Whare tha go almost every privet dwelling I have saw meny thousand dollars Worth burned Cence I left memphis Which has made enmys of friends Would it not have been better to have thretand them if tha did not Come back to the union that We Would do such but all is to Contrery the enemy instid of perswanion [persuading?] I Will drop the subject and leave it"
Jan 1863: To The Arkansas Post, AROn January 4 1863, the steamer Iowa began it's trek north first along the Mississippi to the mouth of the White River then up the Arkansas River 30 miles to just outside the Arkansas Post.
the 131st disembarked at noon on January 10th and marched 4 miles until 11 PM through swamp covered with underbrush and fallen timber during a snow and rainstorm.
Unbeknownst to our JWB, Joseph Fardell and the rest of the 131st they were about to become part of an important Civil War battle. The Confederates had been disrupting Union shipping on the Mississippi River from Fort Hindman located at Arkansas Post. Union Major General John McClernand began landing troops there the evening of January 8, 1863. Major General William T. Sherman forced the Confederates to retreat into Fort Hindman.
Read Admiral David Porter moved his fleet toward Fort Hindman on January 10 1863 and bombarded it until dusk. Union artillery fired on the fort from artillery positions across the river on January 11th, and the infantry moved into position to attack. Union ironclads continued shelling the fort and Porter's fleet cut off any means of retreat. The Confederate command surrendered during the afternoon of January 11, 1863 after 6,547 casualties had occurred (1047 US, 5500 CS)
Jan 1863: To Youngs Point To Build Grant's CanalAfter four days of filling ditches, burying the dead, and demolishing fortifications the 131st was again on the move aboard the steamer Iowa on January 15 1863. They arrived at Youngs Point on January 23 1863.
The curve of the river in front of Vicksburg made it impossible for Union ships to pass the town without being exposed to rebel fire. Abraham Lincoln proposed building a canal at Youngs Point that would allow the ships to bypass Vicksburg. He was very disappointed when the concept did not work as planned. The canal came to be called Grant's Canal and the project started on June 27, 1862.
The men left the steamer on January 25th and set up camp at a point surrounded by the levee while the rain continued to pour. They waded through waist deep water to get to their posts and used pick and axe to dig the canal. Pneumonia, smallpox, and measles were rampant. The regimental surgeon was too sick to report to duty, and the healthy troops were tasked with burying those that died. They buried between 1 and 5 members of the 131st each day.
March 1863: To Memphis, TN For RecuperationOn March 2 1863 General McClernand ordered the 131st to board the steamship Westwind and return to Memphis to recruit its health. (On March 7th, the dam holding the Mississippi out of Grant's Canal broke and work permanently ceased on the canal) The troops arrived at Ft Pickering on March 6 1863. This is apparently where JWB and Joseph Fardell part company because Fardell did not go to Memphis with the other troops - he was sent to Jefferson Barracks at the US General Hospital in St Louis, Missouri.
On April 28, 1863 Fardell again wrote his parents: "my helth is yet bad tho not half as bad as it Was When I last rote to you I think that I will gane my helth in a short time I could have got my discharge at one time if I had have had sum one to have taken me home but I Was destitute of a friend at What time thare four it Was not attended to I am now ganeing my helth so I dont know Wether I Will get it or not if I get Well I can get a chance to stay in Jefferson Barracks as long as I Want to do duty in the gareson I could have got the chance to have been from the Ward Dr Ordly if I had have Wanted it I can get my helth I can do Well here Which I think thare is no dout from the Wa I feel at this time I feel al most as Well as ever if it was not for the Desies that I have in my brest and that is getting better I think that I can get a transfur to our on own state if I want it but I am a frade that I Will not better my self in doing it thare four I think that I Will remain Whare I am tho I doant knwo What I Would do if they offer me a transfur I might take it better for Worse and run the Chance at doing better if I take a transfur I will get to Mound City I am at a los to leve here for I am With a good set of men I like them all and as for as I know I am Well beliked by all of them so I doant think that I could better my self I have got me a new Discriptive Roll so that I can draw my money the next pay day I doant remember Wether I stated the reson to you in my that I did not draw my moeny before the reson was that my Discriptive Roll Was not maid out rite thare four I had to send and get a new one I have needed moeny long it Will be good When I get it We Will be mustered for pay a gane in a fu days if I live to draw my moeny on the next pay day I will draw $100 and 4 Dollars and 35 cts if I ever get it I Will live as I Want to as long as it last Shure I WIll now proseed to give you I short discription of the Surounding Country here the County high and barney it has every appearance of being a helthy Country every thing looks butiful and romantic to the eye Jefferson Barracks is 12 miles below St Louis I have nothing more of importance to Write at presant if I Was With you I could tell you a gradeal [great deal] more than I can rite So no more at presant I Still remane your Sun untell Deth. J.A.F Write Sone give my best love to all inquiring friends if any I have So good by for this time if We never meet a gane on earth I hope we will all meet in Heaven Mother kiss little brother Jimme for me"
May 1863: To Vicksburg, Mississippi
By May 10th 1863 the original 815 men of the 131st were down to about 400 due to death or disablement. The remaining 400 boarded the steamboat Golden Era on that day and headed down the Mississippi River bound for Vicksburg, accompanied by the steamboats Crescent City and Warren along with a gunboat.
They came under fire while passing Island No 82 from a group of about 100 men positioned behind logs on the shore. The gunboat returned fire and the men on shore dispersed, but not before one man and a mule were killed onboard, and two men injured.
They returned to Milliken's Bend on May 17 and relieved the 30th Ohio that was on duty there guarding army supplies from thieves.
They used the steamboat Fanny Bullett to return to Shermans Landing on May 24, 1863 and camped within full view of Vicksburg. Some of the men did duty on the picket line (ie they guarded the larger force) and some of the men manned mortar boats. The seige on Vicksburg had started on May 23 1863.
June 1863: Assisting The Colored Regiment at Milliken's BendOn June 7th the 131st and 120th were ordered back to Milliken's Bend to support a colored regiment equipped with inferior weaponry that was being attacked by 1200 rebels. They arrived at Milliken's Bend one hour after the order, but the rebels retreated at the sight of the gunboats. The Union had lost 652 and the rebels 185 in the battle. They stayed for two days awaiting a reattack that never came, then they returned to picket duty at Sherman's Landing. This is a photo of the USS Cincinnati that was sunk on the Mississippi in front of Vicksburg on May 27 1863. It was later refloated and refurbished for continued use by the Union.
July 1863: The End of the Battle for Vicksburg - and of JWBBy the end of June 1863, Confederate General Pemberton realized his situation was desperate. Over 10,000 of his soldiers were incapacitated due to illness, wounds and malnutrition. His supplies were at critically low levels and he had just learned that Grant was preparing another massive assault for early July.
Pemberton and his commanders concluded that surrender was inevitable. On the morning of July 3, 1863 he gave orders to display a white flag of truce and sent someone to deliver a message to General Grant proposing to meet to discuss surrender terms. At 3 PM, Grant and Pemberton met under an oak tree midway between opposing lines. They did not reach agreement, but notes exchanged later n the day brought about the final terms.
Also on this day, General Robert E. Lee was defeated in Gettysburg. These two events marked the turning point in the Civil War.
This home was known as the White House or the Shirley House. On May 18 1863 as Confederate forces retreated, they were ordered to burn the house but were shot before they could apply torch. Mrs Adeline Shirley, her 15 year old son Quincy and several servants were in the house and huddled for three days before they made their presence known by waving a white flag.
Jefferson Davis, a Democratic US Senator from Mississippi, resigned in order to become the President of the Confederacy. His home, called Brierfield, was captured in Vicksburg.
The next day, on July 5th 1863, John W Barker died near Vicksburg.
The cause of death was "Chronic Dysentery", but it cannot be denied that the capture of Vicksburg lead to his demise on that day. Working in unimagineable conditions for almost a year had taken its toll on John W.
On various documents, the location of death is listed as "Mouth of the Yazoo River" and "Paw Paw Island in the Mississippi River", but those locations are very close together.
We know that he died in a hospital at the mouth of the Yazoo River. At that time, there were many floating hospitals along the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, such as this one, the Red Rover, that was in the vicinity at that time.
There are several surviving letters about life along that section of the Yazoo River in June 1863. There was a barge that supplied the needy with bedding, dried and canned fruit, lemons and chickens supplied by the Christian Commission.
Chauncey Cooke wrote about his travels down the Yazoo in this letter to his father on July 1, 1863:
"...we boarded the Dexter, a Mississippi boat that reached nearly across the Yazoo River, and were soon pushing down toward the father of wters. The idea of riding on the Mississippi again and heading toward home made us happy. And we figured on having a good drink soon as our boat touched the muddy waters of the big river that we somehow loved just because it flowed by our homes."
"We had just been paid off for two months and the boys had a good fill of oysters and store crackers. I only got six dollars though. I had drawn some extra clothing and my little thirteen dollars was cut to three dollars a month. I was so long ago I got the clothes, I began to think the clothes were forgotten. Uncle Sam's Paymasters have a good memory. Just as I am writing this the Silver Moon, a Yazoo steamer, is passing up the Yazoo toward Haine's Bluff. She has a Calliope and it is playing Nellie Gray. She is loaded with hard tack and bales of hay clear to the water line and her half naked deck hands lying around the hay bales look like so many alligators."
"She gave us the right of way and we pushed on down this river whose water though clear and tempting we dared not drink. The boys kept cracking away at the alligators that lay on logs and drift wood on the sand banks. The scaly things would flounder into the water and sink out of sight. Some of them looked to be seven or eight feet long, more of them were three or four feet."
The city of Vicksburg did not celebrate the 4th of July for the next 80 years.
There is no grave marker for John W Barker in the Vicksburg National Cemetery, but it possible he is buried in one of the 13,000 unknown graves.
Men atop Hayne's bluff, looking towards the city of Vicksburg, in recent times. Though it can't be seen in this photo, the only surviving section of Grant's Canal has a historical marker and can be found at the south corner of Old Highway 80 and Levee Road, just south of Delta, LA.
Note about Chauncey Cooke letter: A "Calliope" was a musical instrument that produced sound by sending steam through large whistles. Here is the song it was playing, "My Darling Nellie Gray":