Unarmed for Battle

Daniel Davis’s hitch with the Union Army lasted almost exactly as long as that of Christopher Lovewell, but had a more positive outcome than Christopher’s, which ended on the outskirts of Vicksburg where a “Minnie ball hit him in battle.”  Like Thomas Lovewell’s brother Christopher, Thomas’s brother-in-law Daniel Davis also served for 9 months, joining Company “I” of the 11th Illinois Infantry on September 1, 1861, receiving a medical discharge because of varicose veins and rheumatism on May 23, 1862.  He left his outfit in Tennessee a few months after participating in the Union victory at Fort Donelson, where an obscure brigadier general named Ulysses Grant launched his climb to the top.

Daniel Twice

Daniel Davis, pictured on the left as a young husband, and on the right as a Civil War Veteran 

Approximately 185 soldiers enrolled in “I” Company between September 1861 and May 1865.  Only 7 of them died fighting, while another 4 later expired from wounds received in battle.  The casualty count for the unit seems remarkably light until we consider the 34 who died from other causes, probably the result of drinking contaminated water, eating tainted meat and moldy hardtack, and trading communicable diseases in overcrowded and unsanitary camps.  In the end, fully a quarter of Daniel Davis’s fellow soldiers died on the job.  Another 12% went home with debilitating wounds, were given a leave of absence with the hope of making a full recovery, or were transferred to the Invalid Corps to serve out their term with the Army in some capacity.  If I’m reading the regimental history correctly, slightly more than a third of “I” Company’s soldiers emerged from the war unscathed, but only if we assume that the 6 men who deserted found their way safely home.

I have always been slightly skeptical of the statement made by Daniel’s sister, Orel Jane Lovewell, that her brother was a man of the cloth who refused on principle to carry a gun.  It seems to defy reason, since Daniel Davis was not only a soldier with the 11th Regiment during the Civil War, but joined the Clyde Militia during the Plains Indian War, and, according to a descendant, occasionally served his community as a lawman in western Kansas.

However, the 1880 census confirms that Daniel did indeed make his living as a minister in Big Bend Township near the mouth of White Rock Creek, while Army records show that Private Davis served the 11th as a “wagoner,” a man in charge of one of the big mule-drawn supply wagons which, according to General Sherman’s memoirs, could haul enough provisions to feed an entire regiment for a day.  As for his service with the local militia, he may have thought the rough crew of pioneers guarding the frontier really needed a chaplain.  Although I’ve never seen evidence of Daniel's career as a peace officer, judging from his formidable appearance in the Civil War reunion portrait, I have no doubt that he could have taken a drunken troublemaker in tow without unholstering a handgun.

At the family reunion in June cousin Rhoda asked me when I thought Daniel and his family pulled up stakes at Big Bend and headed for Langdon, which is where the Civil War reunion photo was supposedly taken.  When I showed her the reunion photograph, she remarked that the setting looked like an awfully big front porch for a private residence.  I remember being told that it was Daniel Davis’s porch, but it does look more like something we’d expect to find attached to a hotel or a sizable boarding house.  And is it really Langdon, or was the picture taken in Wichita or some other G.A.R. reunion venue?  It occurred to me that I may have been connecting certain dots, simply because they were such great big dots, and it was so easy to draw lines between them.

Our information about the reunion photograph apparently originated with Daniel's daughter Julana, familiarly known as “Lena.”  One of Daniel’s great-great-grandsons, who provided the copy of the photo displayed on this website, assumed that it was taken at Langdon in the 1880’s.  I zeroed in on 1885 as a likely date because there’s evidence that Thomas Lovewell, who’s standing about three feet to the left of Davis in the group portrait, received a G.A.R. certificate from Wichita that July, and Daniel’s new home at Langdon was only 60 miles northwest of Wichita.  However, in the aftermath of the Civil War there were G.A.R. encampments and smaller reunions going on all over America nearly every year.  There was even one in Wichita seven months after the date on Thomas’s certificate, in February 1886, when those woolen coats which everyone in the photograph is wearing would have been much more welcome.  To throw a final wrench into the works, it now seems that Daniel Davis hadn’t moved to Langdon by 1885.

In the 1884 plat book for Republic County, Daniel Davis was still listed as the owner of slightly less than a quarter-section in Big Bend Township where the family had lived, minus impromptu vacations during Indian scares, since 1866.  Daniel and Duranda and four of their children were still there when the Kansas census-taker dropped by in 1885.  In January of 1884 Daniel transferred his G.A.R. membership from the General Lew “Ben-Hur” Wallace Post 137 at Scandia to Billy Hughes Post 310 at Republic.  Apparently, it wasn't until 1889 that Davis transferred his membership once more, and even then it was not to his final residence at Langdon in Reno County, but 100 miles to the northwest of Langdon at the now-defunct town of Flavius in Rush County.

There are valid reasons for accepting the site of the Civil War reunion as Daniel Davis’s porch.  His daughter Lena was born in 1863 and would have recognized the house where she grew up.  On the same genealogy site where I first spotted the reunion photograph, there is another view of an elderly couple who are identified as Daniel and Duranda Davis, sitting on what seems to be the very same porch.  However, the man bears little resemblance to known photographs of Daniel, two of which appear at the top of this page.  Daniel’s ill health late in life might account for some of the difference in appearance, but not the fact that the old man’s hair parts on the right, the genuine Daniel’s, on the left.  The woman does not look much like Duranda, either, and she is clearly older than she should be.  Daniel died at 66, when his wife Duranda was only 61.

Even if the porch belonged to Daniel Davis, the aged pair photographed there one sunny afternoon in the late 1800’s can hardly be Daniel and Duranda.  If I had to speculate (and anyone who’s read more a few pages of this blog must know I can’t help myself), I’d venture that they might be Daniel’s mother Julana and her second husband, William Scott.  Since Daniel waited until the last decade of his life before moving to southwest Kansas, then that same porch, the one where the Boys in Blue gathered to relive their glory days, the one Daniel’s daughter Lena remembered as the family residence, had to be the house at Big Bend near the mouth of White Rock Creek.

There.  More dots connected with the light stroke of a pencil, almost ready to be inked.  I’m crossing my fingers this time. 

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com