When the American Civil War broke out, Jacob Evans joined the northern army, hoping to help save the Union. He was a teenager when he marched off with his regiment. They were rugged men battling fleas and lice in huts made of logs and dirt. Worse, when officers weren’t savvy enough to order the latrines to be dug downstream, sewage leached into the men’s drinking water.
Many of the soldiers came from isolated farms and had little immunity against diseases we now immunize for. One sick soldier could wipe out a camp in short order. Ninety-five men died of disease in Jacob’s regiment, the 117th Infantry. Jacob came down with a runny nose, cough, and a bit of a fever. After 3 or 4 cold, rainy days, the fever got worse. A blotchy red rash broke out on his face and then all over his body–measles. When pneumonia set in as well, medics put him in an ambulance wagon to take him to the hospital, but the wagon couldn’t handle all the sick men. Since Jacob was unconscious and seemed unlikely to survive, the medics gave his space to someone else.
Jacob woke up alone on the ground with no shelter, food, or water. The army had moved on. He was still very sick and should have died, but he’d grown up on a farm in the Indiana wilderness where toughing it out came with the territory. When he had the strength to look around, he spotted a broken down white horse. Staggering to catch it, he found that he could lead the nag to a rock, but even with the rock to stand on, Jacob wasn’t strong enough to get a leg over. He sagged across the horse’s back and hoped it would follow the army.
The army left little behind when they passed. Anything they didn’t take, they burned in case the enemy came that way. Jacob was lucky to find a church still standing. Food was too much to ask, but he had water and shelter where he could rest and gain some strength. He found a pen there and took it with him, so he could write to his family.
When he was up to it, he set off after the army again. On Christmas day he made it to Camp Nelson, Kentucky. After a month of bedrest, he still had trouble breathing. Fighting was out of the question, but he joined various work crews guarding railroads and building bridges for Union troops to cross. Not until the war was won did the army send Jacob back to his family with a beautiful new rifle.
He recovered fully enough to marry Clara Barnes and father seven children. The Evans’ eventually loaded their belongings into a covered wagon and joined a party of pioneers bound for Colorado’s Grand Valley. The family was among the first to settle the Parachute area.
This post comes from a historical society program given by my mother Alberta Gardner Payton, Jacob Evans’ great great granddaughter.