7.01.2011

LETTERS HOME: The Civil War Letters of John Barton

Bushwhackers and Broken Hearts by P.J. Sullivan
The Publication of Letters Held in Care by my 2nd Great-grandfather, T.A. Moore


Thanks to Mr. Sullivan for publishing the Civil War letters of John M. Barton.

Our families were brought together during the Civil War when Barton and Moore both served in Co. K of the 33rd MO regiment. Barton died in May 1863, and fellow soldier, Thomas Anderson Moore, became the custodian of Barton's family letters. Why, still remains a mystery.

It was John's hope that Tom would return the letters to his family, but T.A. Moore was shot in the forehead during the Confederate attack on Helena, Arkansas on 4 July 1863 and was subsequently left for dead on the battlefield. Found sometime later with "a whisper of a breath" in him by another passing soldier, Tom was taken to Gayoso Hospital in Memphis where he began to slowly recover.

When he had sufficiently healed to be sent home, he returned to his beloved wife Clarissa in St. Louis. As time permitted, he attempted to locate the Barton family, but not knowing where they resided, the Barton family letters remained safely stowed away in his locked cash box.

Years passed, and then decades. When Tom died in 1915 his daughter, Mabel (Moore) Jones, began once again to search for the Barton descendants. She wrote over a dozen different Bartons in Missouri, as well as one in New York, in an attempt to find the family of John Barton. Failing to locate them on her own, she turned to the Missouri Historical Society who placed an announcement in the newspaper which included excerpts of the letters - but this also proved fruitless.

As the 1950's approached, Mabel's hope of returning the letters to the Bartons was again rekindled. In 1951 she donated the the letters to the Missouri Historical Society for safekeeping with the understanding that they be reunited with any Barton descendants that might come forth to claim them.

When Mabel died in 1963 the letters were still in the care of the Missouri Historical Society.  While researching his ancestors, P.J. Sullivan became aware of the Barton letters from James Lott of St. Louis. After careful study and transcription of them and their contents, Sullivan decided to have them published.

As the great-great granddaughter of Thomas A. Moore, I had in my own possession many letters, notes, and clippings from Mabel and the Moore family including her correspondence with the Missouri Historical Society regarding the Barton letters. Not until February of 2010 when I received an email from P.J. Sullivan regarding his intentions to publish the letters, did I come to learn the letters had finally made their way home to the Bartons.

Nearly one hundred and fifty years later, the Barton and Moore families have been briefly allied in perusing the letters and lives of their ancestors.  It is a privilege and a delight to read the letters in Sullivan's book published by Infinity Publishing in April of 2010. With his added comments, opinions, speculations, and unanswered questions, we are all able to journey with him as he uncovers the daily life and emotional ins and outs of the Bartons during the Civil War.

This intimate look into the lives of ordinary people, gives us a greater idea of the tangible sacrifices and losses of a country at war, and sheds light on the distance and disparity of a soldier's life and his family at home.

In his final chapter, Sullivan ponders on these questions and more: Why would John, a married man with two small children, leave his farm to join the army for three years at thirteen dollars a month? Why would he sign an oath repudiating his wife and children? Why had John wanted a child put out of the way? And finally, was Barton's death an accident or suicide?

The death of John Barton leaves many things unexplained, but his words and those of his correspondents now forever endure thanks to P.J. Sullivan who has transcribed these often illegible and time-worn letters. In his advance book to me, he included a little note that reads in part: "I hope you like the book that your ancestor made possible." Indeed I do. Mostly, it gives me great pleasure to know that after decades of searching, the letters finally reached the Barton family. Today, they remain at the Missouri History Museum (formerly known as the Missouri Historical Society) at St. Louis where they are still archived in the Thomas Anderson Moore Collection.

"Bushwhackers and Broken Hearts" is available for purchase from Infinity Publishing or at Amazon.

My thanks again to John for sharing these letters which my 2nd great grandfather had once held onto with such tender care. Our ancestors would be humbly pleased - that much I know.

As always, comments and emails are welcome.




Note: Author P.J. Sullivan is a native of Missouri who studied history at the Saint Louis University and in more than a dozen countries including Spain, Europe and North Africa. A columnist in the 1980s, he did editorial cartooning and has now authored two other history-related books besides "Bushwhackers" including "Mostly Rapscallions: Salient Sillies about the Rich and Infamous in History."


Additional Links: 
Bushwhackers and Broken Hearts by P.J. Sullivan at Amazon.com
Barton's Ancestry compiled by PDP at Early St. Louis (GenCircles)

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