Woman is a living link to the Civil War

Kansas City StarDecember 3, 2012 

In “Lincoln,” director Steven Spielberg lasers in on 1865: The end of the Civil War. The end of slavery via the 13th Amendment. And, devastatingly, the end of President Abraham Lincoln. A powerful, momentous year in American history.

And so long ago. Or was it? Juanita Tudor Lowrey has something to say about that: “My father fought in the Civil War.”

It’s a line that makes people’s faces squinch. Your father? A contemporary of Lincoln?

Millions of moviegoers are flocking to see Daniel Day-Lewis disappear into his role as the 16th president, the film’s setting a world away from the re-election a few weeks ago of our 44th president, an African-American.

But the chasm seems not so wide to Lowrey. On a recent afternoon she spread out paperwork, photographs and two small diaries with black covers on her kitchen table. Lowrey pointed out a diary entry dated March 23, 1865:

“This morning Genl. Sherman and his the 14th Corps came in. ... We fell in and saluted him respectfully. It is very windy. We drawed rations. The(y) fired 15 guns to salute Sherman.”

The words are those of Lowrey’s father, Hugh Tudor, an infantry private in the Union army from early 1864 through the summer of 1865. Tudor moved with his unit through Kentucky, Tennessee, to the East Coast. He probably would have participated in Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea except that an apparent case of the measles kept him back.

Born in Iowa in 1847, the son of Welsh immigrants lived in Missouri most of his life. That he has a daughter proudly talking about him in the year 2012 is a remarkable mathematical stretch, but not a stretch of the truth.

After the war, Lowrey’s father settled in Dawn, Mo., a farming community south of Chillicothe, with his wife Elizabeth Watkins. They had been married 50 years when she died in 1917. They had no children.

Three years later, at age 73, Tudor married 36-year-old Mary Morgan, who hadn’t been married before but who had known “Mr. Tudor” her whole life.

Besides romance, Lowrey says, probably there were practical concerns. He likely needed a housekeeper and she security. And it seemed he still fancied having children.

Indeed, to the new union came two daughters, HuDean Grace in 1924 and Juanita Mary in 1926.

There the four are in a photo on their farm property — “That’s the chicken house in the background, not our house,” Lowrey says — Tudor looking grandfatherly with a white beard and head of white hair.

Two years later in 1928, the family traveled to Denver for the national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans.

Tudor and his young family caught the attention of the Denver Morning Post. The paper displayed their picture on the front page, the elderly father, seated with his two little girls perched on the arms of the chair, their mother standing next to them.

The article paraphrased Tudor that “rearing a family gets more interesting as one grows older.” It noted Mary’s comment that she had been a friend of the first Mrs. Tudor. And it quoted her on the topic of her husband’s age:

“No, he isn’t able to do much work now,” she explains. “But he has enough laid by that he doesn’t have to work, and we get along fine. He spends lots of time playing with the children and is quite fond of them.”

Hugh Tudor died later that year. Lowrey, just 2 years old at the time, has no memory of him. But she is the keeper of his diaries from his early years, as well as tintype photographs and newspaper clippings. Lowrey’s sister HuDean died in April.

One of Lowrey’s three children, Margie Yansura, who lives in Florida, says it was easy to become a Civil War buff with such a legacy.

“It’s a fantastic glimpse into history,” she says of the journals, “ as expressed by a very young, 16- and 17-year-old caught up in this huge national conflict.”

Like many young men at the time, Tudor was eager to join the war effort and enlisted early at 16. He wrote “18” on a piece of paper and put it in his shoe, so he could truthfully say he was “over 18.”

His diary entries describe the weather, the lay of the land — he probably hadn’t traveled much beyond his home in Iowa — and crops, which is what he knew coming from a farm.

He could read and write but wasn’t the best speller. The Army provided a quick introduction to the ways of the world. One entry mentions a “horehouse.”

Geography? At one point he talks about the Pacific Ocean when he probably was looking at some eastern bay.

Two days before the entry about Sherman, he writes: “We started of(f) again on march at 6 o’clock a.m. and crossed 2 creeks and through some good countery ... We got into Goldsburow (Goldsboro, N.C.) at 4 o’clock.”

Tudor didn’t experience major fighting. He wrote letters for other soldiers, probably to make extra money, and did a lot of trading of knives, trinkets and food. He sent gifts and cards home to his sisters.

“I’m sure he was taught as a farm boy to be thrifty and to make the most of a situation,” Yansura says.

In Dawn following the war, Tudor was a farmer and businessman — insurance, home loans, lightning rod sales. He founded the cemetery there for the predominantly Welsh community.

Lowrey was interviewed in the early 2000s for the BBC documentary series, “Star Spangled Dragon,” about the Welsh in America. She told of her father’s experience in the Civil War, how he was among the troops reviewed by Sherman at the end of the war.

“That was the only time I teared up,” Lowrey says. “I felt very proud that he was there.”

As for Lowrey, who folks have called Skeet since she was in the first grade, she graduated from Chillicothe Business College and at 21 used money her mother had put aside from Tudor’s Army pension for a down payment on a house. It was on West 46th Street, next to Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza. She worked in Kansas City at a World War II battery factory and other businesses, including Skelly Oil and Emery, Bird, Thayer.

A few years after Lowrey married Tom DeFord, the couple moved to Michigan and raised their children. They retired to Arkansas, and DeFord died in 1992.

Like father, like daughter. In 1996, at age 70, she married Russell Lowrey, someone she had gone through school with in Dawn. They recently moved from Gladstone to a retirement community in Kearney.

So how many others are there like Lowrey, now 86, actual sons and daughters of Civil War veterans? Not many.

Several organizations try to keep track of the surviving “real” sons and daughters of Civil War veterans — children, not just descendants — including the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The situations in these families were similar, says David Demmy of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, vets in their 70s and 80s having late-in-life children. People who hear about children of Civil War vets are invariably skeptical until you put pencil to paper for them, he says.

“You can see the gears running in their heads,” he says. “They’re trying to calculate, can that be possible?”

Tallying these groups’ current lists, the total is about 60. And even figuring that all the real sons and daughters haven’t been identified, the number of Civil War children is likely less than 100, says Ben Sewell of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Sarah Anderson of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War knows of 10 surviving Union vet daughters. “There’s no one closer to the Civil War. The way I look at it, they’re a national treasure.”

Lowrey doesn’t know about “national treasure” but she appreciates her unusual heritage: “It’s special.”

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