As brothers in arms and the sons of a black man, the six Littleton brothers of Toolesboro, Iowa, not only fought to abolish slavery but gave their lives for the North during the Civil War.
Thomas, William, George, John, Kendall and Noah all enlisted, all fought in bloody battles and all were buried (from 1862 to 1864) before they knew the war’s outcome.
"This is truly the most tragic and historic war story ever told," write Tom Woodruff of Davenport and Ed Bayne of Wapello on the cover of their booklet, "Littleton: Brothers in War," a project of the Louisa County Historical Society.
The brothers will be honored Memorial Day (May 28) with a program that begins at 8:30 a.m. on the Iowa River bridge on Highway 99 in Wapello.
"We’re gradually finding out more and more," Tom says. "We have a lot more to learn."
The story came to light as Tom perused a 56-page scrapbook of Louisa County newspaper clippings dated 1846 to 1906. It included short clippings about the "Lyttelton" family war casualties. Subsequent research — land records, at the Rock Island Arsenal and at cemeteries where the brothers are buried — revealed the correct spelling as Littleton and the fact all six died.
Unfortunately, Tom says, no photos of them have been found. But the story continues to fascinate, from its initial publication last July in "LOUISA’S hiSTORY" magazine to a follow-up article in October and additional materials.
"We really think this story needs to be told," Tom says.
In 1840, James and Martha Littleton brought their growing family from Maryland and then Ohio to explore the opportunities of the Iowa Territory. They eventually bought farmland near Toolesboro. Their nine children (six boys and three girls) survived after the parents died, Martha in 1853 and James in 1860, and were buried in Potters Timber Cemetery. Records and research indicate Martha was white and that James, a mulatto, came from free slave roots.
Just months after the Civil War began in April, 1861, Thomas, 25, enlisted on July 16 into Company C of the 5th Iowa Infantry and William, 24, followed into Company K of the 8th Iowa Infantry on Sept. 21. George, the oldest at 33, enlisted from New Boston, Ill., where he lived on March 26, 1862. The other three, John, 31, Kendall, 19, and Noah, 16, enlisted together into Company F of the 19th Iowa Infantry on Aug. 21, 1862.
Why they enlisted isn’t clear, although records indicate Louisa County abolitionists and supporters of the Underground Railroad had helped the family get settled. An 1856 census shows the boys were white, yet the 1860 census had them as mulattos. They all joined white units.
"We actually believe there was a time in our country when people looked at you for who you were and what you contributed to the country," Tom says.
Kendall was killed Dec. 7, 1862, less than four months after enlisting, at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Ark..
John died 11 days later, Dec. 18, of injuries from the same battle..
Noah survived that battle but drowned March 1, 1863, when a ferryboat sank crossing the White River at Forsyth. Mo.
George probably died in early 1863, having been discharged Oct. 31, 1862, because of disease. He’d been captured in the battle of Harpers Ferry Va.
William died Dec. 8, 1863, in a St. Louis hospital of chronic diarrhea. He’d fought at Shiloh, Jackson, Miss., and Vicksburg.
Thomas, the first to enlist, was the last to die on June 16, 1864, at the Confederate’s notoriously horrible Andersonville Prison in Georgia where he is buried (at left). He’d fought at Corinth and Champions Hill, Miss., and Vicksburg before his capture Nov. 25, 1863 during the battle of Missionary Ridge, Tenn,
"People would have known who these boys were," Tom says. "And they gave their lives."
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