My ancestor Samuel Barker Jr. lied to get into the army. He joined the 37th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry in the final months of the American Civil War, stating his age as 17. In fact, he was born on Christmas Day, 1848, so on March 25th, 1865 when he enlisted in Milwaukee he was just 16. It mattered little to the muster master, who credited him to the City's 4th Ward and packed him off to Washington as a replacement in the Regiment's F Company. The 37th lost 14% of its total enrollment in combat during just a year of service and had a critical need for replacements. It also had a high number of Native American recruits.
He gave his place of birth as Bedford Ohio, although he is htought to have been born in Talmadge, Summit County, Ohio. His occupation is listed as a printer, which foreshadows his subsequent career as a publisher and printer and founder of the family firm S. Barker Sons of Cleveland, which remained in Barker ownership until its sale in the late 1980s. His eyes were blue and his hair was light and he stood 5' 7", the same height as my own. He probably enrolled for the bounty, for the family was in deep crisis, but there may have been other reasons as well.
His parents Samuel and Sophronia Barker had both been married previously, and Samuel Jr's son later noted in a brief family history; "The home life of my grandparents on my father's side was far from happy as is evidenced in a few letters written back in the year 1865."
(April 20th, 1865) Dearly beloved Sammy - Oh how glad I am to get a line from you. William [ a half brother, his father's child by a previous marriage: ed.] did not deed the farm back to your father. I told your father if he would give me back that $126 that he agreed to give me security on the house and lot I did not care who had the deed but he said he would not give me a cent. I then told William if he did not deed that place back to your father that I should always think that he was helping your father to rob me, and he knew it, and you and Eva [ his younger sister: ed ] would always think so, and if you see him down there you tell him you will think he will be sorry if he don't. Tell him you can never look on him as a brother as long as he holds that place to rob your mother. If you don't see him write to him and tell him so. He will tell you if he should die he would leave it so you and Eva could have your share. Tell him you and Eva don't want it that it is your mothers and you want her to have it. I think he is just as bad as your father. Oh Sammy, what dreadful news they have murdered Pred. Lincoln. Oh what will come next? I must close, from your idolizing mother. Now Sammy do take care of your money and above all take care of your health don't suffer for anything you need, and don't buy things you can be comfortable without. Sell that new watch and do as well as you can when you draw your money, and if you need any at any time you shall have it and if you are sick let me know and I will come to you if you are 5000 miles off. You must look to God to preserve you and bring you home safe and don't forget to pray to him every day and every hour. I am doing well in the shop (dressmaking). It is solemn here since that awful news. Mother"
There is an awful lot packed into that letter, and even events of national import slip by with hardly a mention given the overwhelming issues at home. Clearly Sophronia Judkins Barker saw her son Samuel as an ally and doted on him to retain his love. He must have felt great obligation to her and his sister, but one wonders whether he felt up to challenging his half brother William as suggested, as in later years he visited William's family with his own and had a very pleasant time (but left no record of a visit to his father who was still living in the area.) The letter makes it sound as if William had also enlisted, and if so then Sophronia Barker must have had her unsatisfying conversation with William by letter rather than face-to-face. The two William Barkers in the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database without a middle initial do not at first glance seem right for William L. Barker during this period so here is something new to research.
The admonition to be frugal and yet take care of his needs must have been hard for Sammy Barker. He was to be paid a $200 enlistment bounty in bi-monthly installments of $33.33, but when he mustered out with the regiment on July 27th, 1865 he was docked $50.53 cents for clothing, had his pay stopped for $10 to pay a sulter named W.H. Williamson and owed the United States $15.35 beyond that. They had figured out his true age by this time and have him on the muster rolls at 16 rather than 17. He also became quite ill, and his medical record shows that from July 2 to July 9th he was sick with "acute dysentery" and from July 9-26th "convalescent from Typhoid fever" but returned to duty to muster out with the regiment the following day and no record of permanent disability found. This would prove a challenge for his widow after his death in 1903, for without a permanent disability and with his short term of service she was ineligible for a widow's claim on a veteran's pension until the rules changed in 1908.
Sophronia Barker wrote another letter on May 21st, 1865:
"My health is much better than when I wrote you last. If I was well I could make from $15 to $20 a week but as it is I do what I can. Your father is more steady and kind than he used to be but Sammy, I want you to come home, and then we will go somewhere and get a house. If it is a small one it is our own. I shan't care - we can be happy. What kind of place do you think it would be for us down there. Look around and inquire and see what we can do. We shall surely go away from Madison this fall if we live." Mother"
After Samuel Barker, Jr. came back from the war, he and his mother and sister moved to Cleveland, leaving his father in Wisconsin. According to his sister Eva, the sum total of the cash they had on hand when they arrived was 25 cents. Sophronia filed for divorce in 1863, and her husband counter filed in 1867. A history written by Barker descendants from his other marriages (there were four spouses in all) states that a cause of marial strife was Sophronia's growing interest in Spiritualism, having taken to holding seances in the home of which her husband strongly disapproved. There are certainly more than one side in any relationship.
Samuel Barker Jr. became an errand boy at the Cleveland Leader Publishing Co, also managing a paper route that started at 2:30 a.m. and finding $50 for tuition in Bryant Stratton Co.'s Business College that October. In 1869 when he worked, went to school and paid board for himself and his family, he still cleared $457.82. One hopes that his mother was able to find some peace as their prospects improved, but life had used her hard and I suspect she carried old resentments to her grave in 1885.
Samuel Barker Sr. remarried twice more after the divorce and lived near Black Earth, Wisconsin when he died in 1900. His will divided a $5000 estate among his surviving children and current spouse, leaving legacies of $700 a piece to all his children but those he had with Sophronia. To my great-great grandfather and his sister Eva, he left the sum of $1 each. The history written by the step-relatives notes that this appears harsh but speculates that Samuel Barker Sr. may have felt they had been already taken care of. This, I am sure, is wishful thinking. The date of his will is of particular interest. He wrote it up on August 6, 1892. Just three weeks before, Samuel Barker Jr. and his family had visited Black Earth. There is no mention in the extensive family record of this trip that they ever went to see the old patriarch. I think it was spite after all.