LOUISA COUNTY, Iowa — When the six Littleton brothers of tiny Toolesboro set off for war, their sisters had no idea they would never welcome their brothers home.
The young Louisa County men all sacrificed their lives fighting for the North in the Civil War.
Their story, which was lost to history until a few years ago, is remarkable in many ways, said Tom Woodruff, a member of the Louisa County Historical Society.
“As far as we know, it’s the largest loss of life in one immediate family in any U.S. war,” he said. “It’s pretty significant.”
Woodruff stumbled on the tale in a scrapbook of Louisa County newspaper clippings dated 1846 to 1906. Brothers Thomas, William, George, John, Kendall and Noah all enlisted and died from wounds, disease or other calamities during the war.
Woodruff and other members of the Historical Society have been working to research and honor the brothers’ stories, starting with a booklet they published in 2012.
Now, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors has donated a plot of vacant land in Toolesboro, on the Great River Road adjacent to the Toolesboro Indian Mounds, as a site for a permanent memorial to the Littleton family’s sacrifice.
“It’s very close to where these boys were raised,” Woodruff said. “It’s a great spot, an appropriate spot.”
Plans for a documentary, a book and a play about the brothers are also in the works.
Woodruff said their story also is remarkable for what the family overcame before the war.
In the 1860 census, they are listed as mulatto, a term used at the time to indicate mixed race. Records show mother Martha was white and father James was mulatto. They settled in Iowa with the help of abolitionists, Woodruff said. The Littleton brothers joined all-white units when they enlisted.
“Iowa knows how to accept a family into their midst regardless of race, regardless of background, and those people in turn contribute to the freedoms we have in the United States,” Woodruff said. “They were ordinary boys who sacrificed their lives for us. Iowa raised those boys and they gave back a lot.”
Though both Martha and James died before their sons left for war, they left behind four sisters. Initial research indicated three sisters, but a fourth has been uncovered since then, and historical society members also have tracked down those sister’s descendants. The brothers left no descendants.
The sisters’ descendants will join Historical Society members and Iowa’s first lady Christine Branstad in Wapello on Thursday to honor the memory of the brothers.
The event, which will feature presentations about the Littleton story, Civil War-era food and drink and a chance to view a model of the planned memorial, kicks off a major fundraising effort.
Working with corporate and private donors, the Historical Society hopes to raise $250,000 to fund the many projects planned to honor the brothers. Along with the monument, documentary, book and play, the money will fund promotional highway signs for the memorial and publicity with state and regional tourism agencies. The group hopes to have a dedication for the memorial in 2016.
Artist Wil Thomson of Armadillo Arts in Iowa City has designed a 13-foot-tall black granite monument for the project.
Engraved with an image of six soldiers climbing a hill and the phrase, “The Last Measure of Full Devotion,” a line from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it will tell the story of the brothers and their sacrifice.
The memorial site also will include native Iowa plants and six oak trees, one for each brother.
Woodruff said memorializing their sacrifice was simply the right thing to do.
“We knew from day one that we were going to do something for them,” he said. “We really didn’t have any choice once we found this story and verified it.”
If you go
•What: Six Littleton Brothers Memorial Fundraiser
•When: 6 p.m. social hour, 7 p.m. program on Thursday
•Where: Louisa County Heritage Center, 609 Highway 61, Wapello
•Cost: Free, donations accepted
•Donate: Send donations to the Littleton Fund, P.O. Box 302, Wapello, IA 52653