Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Brothers in arms: Monument to six Iowa siblings who served, died is set in place

Designer Will Thomson inspects granite stele (Courtesy of artist)

Tom Woodruff recalls the moment late last month when workers lowered into position a granite monument to six Iowa brothers who served and died during the Civil War.

“I have never seen such a reverent group of young men,” said Woodruff. “They would not have let a piece of dust get on that stone.”

The Littleton siblings – George, John, Kendall, Noah, Thomas and William – will forever be memorialized in Toolesboro, the small southeastern Iowa farm community where they grew up after their parents moved from Maryland and Ohio.

The monument, which includes the words, “The last full measure of devotion,” will be formally dedicated on the afternoon of June 14. Gov. Terry Branstad and two descendants are among those on the program.

Those involved assert the 11-foot-tall monument, made of Mesabi Black granite, may be the last Civil War monument ever erected. It will sit among cornfields and near the Toolesboro Indian mounds.

The story of the Littleton brothers had largely slipped into history until 2010, when the widow of one of Woodruff’s boyhood friends gave him a copy of a scrapbook. The scrapbook contained a clipping of a May 1907 article in the Columbus (Iowa) Gazette.

Detail from new monument (Courtesy of Will Thomson)

“The Lyttleton (sic) family were less fortunate. Of the six brothers, only one lived to return and he shortly died of disease contracted in the service.”

Woodruff, chairman of the Littleton Legacy Project, and fellow members of the Louisa County Historical Society launched research that eventually unearthed details about the Littletons.

They soon decided to build a monument to honor their sacrifice. Thus far, supporters have raised more than $200,000 of their $250,000 goal. That includes a $150,000 grant from the Iowa State Historical Society cultural affairs department.

Janie Blankenship, associate editor of VFW Magazine, told the Picket in 2014 that it is believed that with six deaths, the Littleton family had the most sons to die during an American war.

James and Martha Littleton moved to Louisa (Lew-I-zuh) County in about 1840, six years before Iowa became a state. The young Littleton brothers likely helped on a 200-acre farm.

The 1860 census that shows the family was listed as mulatto, which traditionally refers to a person with one white parent and one black parent. There's debate today on that point. Oral history within the Nicewanner family, as descendants of one of four Littleton sisters, states that James actually had Native American roots on one side. 

Only one of the Littleton brothers, John, had children, and that daughter died before having any of her own. James and Martha Littleton died before the war. So all the descendants come from four daughters.

(Courtesy of Will Thomson)

Here’s what is known about each of the brothers’ service records (thanks to the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum for much of the following information):

-- George Handy Littleton: George, 34, a cooper, volunteered from service from nearby New Boston, Ill., in March 1862. He is described as having brown eyes and dark hair and complexion. He was with Company B of the 65th Illinois Infantry. Captured by Confederates at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., he was later paroled and discharged for disability in Chicago, according to official records, for disease. “We do not have the exact date or know where we died,” said Woodruff. The Columbus Gazette indicated George died soon after returning home, possibly in December 1862. His grave has not been found.

-- John Littleton: Enlisted in August 1862 with Company F of the 19th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He suffered a severe thigh injury during fighting at Prairie Grove, Arkansas, on Dec. 7, 1862. He died in Fayetteville, Ark., of wounds on December 18. It’s possible John, at least 31, may be buried among 800 unmarked graves at Fayetteville National Cemetery.

-- Kendall Littleton: Also of the 19th Iowa, Kendall was killed in action on Dec. 7, 1862, at Prairie Grove, Ark. His remains were likely later moved to Fayetteville National Cemetery, marked as unknown. He was about 19 years old.

Grave of Noah Littleton (Springfield National Cemetery)

-- Noah Littleton: The youngest boy survived the fighting at Prairie Grove but drowned March 1, 1863, in the White River in southern Missouri. His remains were disinterred and he is buried at Springfield (Mo.) National Cemetery. He, too, served in the 19th Iowa, Company F.

-- Thomas Littleton: A member of the 5th Iowa, Company C, saw several battles and suffered a head wound at Iuka, Ms. He was taken prisoner in Chattanooga, Tenn., in November 1863. The private died of chronic diarrhea at Andersonville on June 16, 1864, and is buried at the national cemetery there.

-- William Littleton: A corporal with the 8th Iowa, William was wounded at Shiloh in 1862 and died in December 1863 of diarrhea at Jefferson Barracks, Mo. He is buried at the national cemetery there.

Permelia Vanlaningham (Family)
Jake Shoppa’s great-great-great-great-grandmother was Permelia Vanlaningham, a sister of the soldiers. Shoppa, 37, of Grandview, said he and other relatives his age grew up knowing “almost nothing” about the men.

Relatives joined the public awareness and fundraising effort for the monument. Shoppa touts small-town values in Louisa County, which has fewer than 12,000 residents.
He will deliver remarks on the plaza.

“I will talk about how much this has inspired me and how proud (I am) to be in a family that can trace back to the Civil War … the sacrifice and service by these men,” Shoppa said. “It has been a completely humbling experience.”

Historical society President Norma McCormac said people will be bused on June 14 from Wapello to the site, where they will take in the 26-ton monument, flags, six benches and six trees. The donated native red oaks will be next to white stones bearing each soldier’s name.

“It is going to be a beautiful monument, of course, and the setting is just wonderful,” said McCormac.

Designer Will Thomson was among those on hand when the monument was set into place in late April. He said he reworked the main drawing of the brothers charging into combat a few times. “You have to be satisfied with yourself.”

Thomson acknowledged the current debate, particularly in the South, about monuments with Civil War themes. He said he focused on honoring the sacrifice and the dedication of the Littletons, rather than glorifying war.

(Courtesy of Will Thomson)

Woodruff will be busy the next few weeks as the site work is completed. Once it is completed, the county will own and maintain the memorial. Two donors to the project will help assure funds are available for maintenance and research on other subjects. And officials hope the monument will draw visitors to Louisa County. Being next to the Hopewell Indian mounds is a bonus.

Dedication day and an accompanying reception will be the culmination of work performed by a number of volunteers.

“The day that I see the family all there together and when they give acceptance of the project … that is the day I will look at that family and understand what it is all about,” Woodruff said.

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