Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Civil War orphan's plea to President Taft: Help my sister

According to the date stamp, President Taft's White House received the letter from the daughter
 of Civil War veteran Isaac Bellis on June 16, 1910. (Note from National Archives via
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Trapped like "rats in a cage," the outlook was bleak for Union army at Harpers Ferry, Va., in mid-September 1862. Confederates commanded Loudoun Heights, Maryland Heights and were prepared to sweep the Yankees off Bolivar Heights, closing the vice on the 12,500-man garrison at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

"A general feeling of depression observable in all the men," an Ohio private wrote in his diary. "... All seem to think that we will have to surrender or be cut to pieces."

On Sept. 15, the day the Union army surrendered, a Confederate artillery shell crashed among soldiers on Bolivar Heights, killing luckless 126th New York Private Isaac Bellis. The 45-year-old soldier, a father of seven, had enlisted in Milo, N.Y., only a little more than a month earlier. A cooper, he stood 5-5 and had gray eyes, black hair and a dark complexion.

In May 1863, Bellis' wife, Anna, sought a widow's pension, which soon was approved. She initially received $8 a month, later increased to $12. Although the money undoubtedly was appreciated, it was impossible, of course, to replace her husband, whom she had married in 1836. Even well into the next century, the ripple effects of Isaac Bellis' death were still felt by the family, which lived in Easton, Pa., about 70 miles north of Philadelphia.

When Isaac's widow became unable to take care of herself and a handicapped son -- a "cripple from a babe," he was called -- her daughters Sarah and Anna Bellis stepped in. Another son, 23rd New York veteran John Henry Bellis, couldn't offer much assistance because he suffered from effects of a war wound to his thigh that opened "time after time."

              ABOVE AND BELOW: Bolivar Heights, where Private Isaac Bellis was killed.
                                           Click at upper right for full-screen experience.

When her mother died in September 1890, Sarah initially believed Widow Bellis' pension "died with her." Hoping to transfer her mother's pension to her unmarried sister, she sent a letter to the highest government authority in the land.

"Dear Sir," she wrote in a three-page letter to President William Howard Taft on June 15, 1910. "You will kindly pardon my addressing you, but I feel when looking at your various pictures that your heart must be as broad as your smile. I am writing to you on behalf of my sister. We are both soldiers' orphans."

Mistakenly writing that her father and John Henry fought "side by side" at Antietam, Sarah explained her sister became the "bread winner" along with their mother after Isaac's death.  Later, "Sister and I always made a home and living for mother and our lame brother," wrote Sarah, who added it was "almost impossible" for her illiterate 67-year-old sibling to "earn anything."

"She is so worthy of it," Sarah Danver wrote in the request for government assistance, "having remained single when she could have made a home for herself and giving the best of her life in Father's place." She hoped the president would give her request for a pension for her sister "earnest consideration."

Five days after Sarah wrote to the president, a government bureaucrat typed a one-page reply.

"Your letter of the 15th instant, addressed to the President, was forwarded to this Bureau as it related to the question of title to pension of your sister, and was received on the 18th," the Bureau of Pensions worker matter-of-factly noted.

Added the bureaucrat: "There is no law under which your mother's pension can be transferred to your sister, or under which she can be pensioned in her own right."

Sarah's sister, Anna, died in April 1928. The final resting place of their father is unknown.

National Archives via
Easton, Pa.

To William Howard Taft
President of the United States
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir:

You will kindly pardon my addressing you, but I feel when looking at your various pictures that your heart must be as broad as your smile. I am writing this in behalf of my sister. We are both soldiers orphans and I am a widow. My father Isaac Bellis and my oldest brother John Henry Bellis fought side by side in the ...

National Archives via
... battle of Antietam. Father was killed and brother seriously wounded in the thigh. Mother was left with six small children at home. I was the baby in arms and sister was the oldest none able to earn their living but always willing to do their best. The oldest brother at home being a cripple from a babe. The sister in behalf of whom I am writing being the bread winner with Mother. My oldest brother that was wounded in the army was honorably discharged but the wound opened time after time and it was a long time before he was able to work being a machinist. For eight long years, he suffered in this way and then it ended in hasty consumption. His friends tried to persuade him to apply for a pension but he refused with the reply that when he was well he could work and he always thought he would be real well again.

Mother then received a pension of $8.00 dolls, which was afterward increased to $12.00 dolls ...
National Archives via
... Sister and I always made a home and living for mother and our lame brother. Mother died in 1890. Her pension died with her, but we were all strong and well then and able to work and all these years have done so, caring just enough to keep ourselves together. Sister is now 67 years and it is almost impossible for her to earn anything, and I have written this to ask the great favor of having Mother's pension transferred to her for the short time she is here. She is so worthy of it having remained single when she could have made a home for herself and giving the best of her life in Father's place. She can not write nor read writing. Would you kindly give this your very earnest consideration and if you feel that the prayer can be granted address ...

Mrs. S.E. Danver, 903 Ferry St., Easton, Pa.

Sisters name is
Anna M. Bellis

Very Sincerely

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-- Find A Grave.
-- Isaac Bellis widow's pension file, National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C., via
-- Lewis Bryam Hull Diary. Lewis B. Hull. Co. F. 60th OVI. 27 pages. Typed copy of the diary, Oct. 31, 1861-Oct. 12, 1862, of Lewis Bryam Hull, Co. F, 60th O.V.I., edited by Myra E. Hull. Location of original unknown. Call# VFM 831. Ohio Historical Society. Columbus, Ohio.
-- New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, National Archives via

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:14 PM

    I wonder how much $12.00 in 1890 would be worth today?