This letter was written in 1849 from Independence, Jackson county, Missouri, by Benjamin Franklin Wallace (1817-1877). Benjamin was the son of Thomas Wallace (1777-1858) and Mary J. Percy (1785-1874) who came from Virginia to Missouri in 1833 by way of interim residency in Kentucky. Benjamin married Virginia Johnston Willock (1824-1908) at Independence on 1 August 1847 and their first child, mentioned in this letter, was Mary Albina Wallace (1848-1854) who was born on 2 May 1848. Their second child, David Willock Wallace was born on 15 June 1860. [I should mention here that when David W. Wallace grew up, he married Madge Gates in 1883 and their first child was Elizabeth Virginia (“Bess”) Wallace—the future wife of Harry S. Truman—Bess Truman!]
In the 1850 Slave Schedules, Benjamin was enumerated among the slaveholders. He owned three slaves—a female aged 22 and two young children, ages 5 and 2. In the 1860 US Census, Benjamin was identified as a “Bank Clerk” in Independence. In 1869, Benjamin served as the Mayor of Independence. By 1870, he was employed as a dry goods merchant.
Benjamin wrote the letter to William Hervey Lamme Wallace (1821-1862) of Ottawa, LaSalle county, Illinois. William’s obituary on Find-A-Grave informs us that prior to the Civil War, he served as the District Attorney for LaSalle County. When he entered the service, in 1861, he was commissioned the Colonel of the 11th Illinois Infantry. For his gallantry at the February 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson, he was promoted to Brigadier General and placed in command of the Army of Tennessee’s 2nd Division. Though he was a new division commander, yet he managed to withstand six hours of assaults by the Confederates, directly next to the famous Hornet’s Nest, or Sunken Road. When his division was finally surrounded, he ordered a withdrawal and many escaped, but he was wounded in the head by a shell fragment and only later found barely alive on the battlefield by his troops. He died three days later in his wife’s arms in a hospital near Savannah, Tennessee. [See “The Death of General W. H. L. Wallace at the Battle of Shiloh,” Iron Brigader.]
William’s younger brother, Martin Reuben Merritt Wallace (1829-1902) was also a Brigadier General during the Civil War, having begun as Colonel of the 4th Illinois Cavalry.
City of Independence, Missouri
August 9th 1849
W. H. L. Wallace
Altho I may have written last, still I do not intend you shall forget me. I trouble you with another letter by way of reminding you that your unknown cousin has not forgotten you.
I have nothing of any great interest to write about, but feel quite grateful that I am alive and still able to correspond with my old friends & relatives whilst death has been abroad & taken many—very many—of my acquaintances. Still myself & mine still live altho death has spread quite a gloom over our beautiful city. Myself & family have remained well. None of your relatives here have been sick with the scourge (the cholera). Altho our next door neighbors have been taken of [it] in a few hours, we have been preserved. Our beautiful city has suffered to a greater degree than even the ill-fated St. Louis according to the amount of population. At present, we have but little I have heard of but one case in the last four days which occurred today and proved fatal in about eight hours (t’was that of a child).
We have had one continual excitement the present year. First the California emigrants & secondly the cholera. These were quite different. The first was pleasant & the last terrifying. A vast number of gold seekers have passed through our place during the last spring & present summer & among the number who have passed recently was some of our old friends from Illinois—Thomas Bassney & others. Bassney told me he knew you well & said you was to have been one of their party 1 but from some cause or other, you had not come on. I told him I suspected Old Zack [Zachery Taylor] had given you an office for I see he appointed W. H. Wallace to be “Register of Lands from Illinois” and suspected it was you (if you have gone to Iway [Iowa], you may never get this). I have but one fault to find to Old Zack’s Administration—I.E., he don’t turn out Locofoco’s fast enough [from such appointed offices] & fill the same with decent Whigs.
I went down our river the first of June to St. Louis in company with Mr. Fisher from Ottoway [Ottawa]. He told me you was as one of his own sons, you having studied law with a son of his [see George Smith Fisher (1823-1895)]. He seemed to be very much of a gentleman. If you are indeed an officer of Uncle Sam & your time not too much taken up in your official duties, I should like to hear from you. Cousin Sarah too has not written to [us] for several months. My little family are well & in conclusion, permit me to say that my little daughter 15 months old is a charmer. I never knew domestic happiness until she became of sufficient age to notice & become a favorite [to] me and all who knows her. Her mother is indeed proud of her.
Shouldn’t be surprised if I went to California this winter. My father-in-law has gone & if he reports favorable, I expect to go. Yours respectfully, — Benjamin F. Wallace
Postmaster Ottoway: Should Wallace have left your place, please forward so soon as this comes to hand.
1 This “California Party” was probably the “Dayton Party” formed at Dayton (near Ottawa) under the command of Captain Jesse Greene. Their rendezvous was to be at St. Joseph on the Missouri in April 1849. One of the party, a store clerk in Ottawa named Alonzo Delano (1806-1874) and his record of the journey can be found at “Life on the plains and among the diggings.” See also “Dayton and the Greens.”