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The Carr Family and the Civil War: Howard's Story

Written by Jennifer Shumate

Originally published in the Eureka Times, 2010 Fall issue

Updated for blog publication in 2020 by Holly Stewart, Program Manager

This is the fourth in a five part series about the Carr family's military service during the American Civil War. Read about Job Carr's story here. Read about Rebecca Carr's story here. Read about Anthony Carr's story here. Learn about Tacoma's Civil War veterans here.

One of the main ways that we learn about the Carr family is through the journals of Anthony and Howard, sons of Job and Rebecca Carr. In particular, Howard's journals span the years 1861 to 1887, including his experience during the Civil War. He tended to write a short phrase or two each day, commenting on weather conditions, work, love, friends, travel, and the people he encountered along the way.

Journals of Howard Carr from the archives of the Job Carr Cabin Museum.

Howard Carr's Military Service

A young photograph of Howard Carr, source: Carr Family Collection

At just 15 years old, Howard Carr was too young to join the army when the Civil War broke out but that didn't stop him from trying. After several unsuccessful attempts to enlist in his hometown of Richmond, Indiana, he traveled to Boston where he signed up on May 4, 1864 with the 19th Massachusetts regiment. It happened to be under the command of the same man that his brother Anthony had served under (General Gibbon). Still too young to officially enlist at age 17, he took on the assumed name of John Jackson and claimed to be two years older.

Howard was quickly thrown into the front lines of the battle of Cold Harbor. His journal records the horrors of war:

"June 1 - ... So this is soldiering. Well it looks to me like a 'slaughter pen' for men.

June 3 - A charge for breakfast, one at 10 o'clock, one at 12 and one at 3. Terrible the men gone, nearly all killed. We will charge no more... the moans of the wounded are terrible to hear."

~Journal of Howard Carr, 1864

The casualties at Cold Harbor were staggering: 12,737 for the North and 4,595 for the South.

After Cold Harbor, Howard's regiment moved to Petersburg where Grant's armies were laying siege. Howard recorded seeing General Grant on June 21st.

"June 21 - Marched ten miles to left stopped under heavy fire. lost four of our men. day hot & Dusty. got half rations only. Saw General Grant for first time. he had his "cigar," but stood fire like a sojer - no fear - was giving orders to the 10th New Jersey Battery."

~ Journal of Howard Carr, 1864

Captured at Petersburg

The following day, the Confederates managed to get around the 19th Massachusetts Regiment, surrounding them and taking most of the soldiers as prisoners of war. Howard was taken first to Richmond, then sent to the infamous Andersonville prisoner of war camp. Originally designed to hold 10,000 men - by August of 1864 it held upwards of 32,000. Described as a "corpse factory" the death rate was over 100 men per day.

"August 7 - Awful hot day. Blue, sick, mad, tired, wet, hungry and lonesome. Nothing to see but misery and death. an Ohio Cavalry man walked over the dead line and stood still, till shot."

~ Journal of Howard Carr, 1864

In September, Howard was marched to the Florence prison camp in South Carolina but conditions were no better. After watching many of his fellow Union soldiers die from starvation, disease and exposure, Howard and his friend Reese Stevens ran away one rainy night. They escaped barefoot and hiding in the nearby swamps, with the rain helping to hide their tracks. Their newfound freedom, however, lasted only five days before the hounds found them and they were sent back to camp.

Recruiters came to the prison, promising the men food and freedom if they agreed to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy and take up arms to fight against the Union forces. Howard, a man who spoke his mind, and with a deep personal hatred of the rebels wrote:

"October 10 - No grub to day. Three hundred took the oath. they will have to starve me a while longer, before I'll swear to their bogus concern, dam em."

~Journal of Howard Carr, 1864

Howard was finally released in a prisoner swap and sent North in November of 1864. The relief and patriotism expressed in his journal upon his release are palpable.

"November 30 - A Million cheers for the dear old flag. We all cried with joy and oh! think.

Clothes hard tack coffee sugar salt soap. Washed clean. Hair cut with Shears, not with a knife. and real old style northern Sow Belly. This is too much.

And doctors, and real northern Potatoes and onions, and pepper genuine too. a new quart cup full of old Govt java and a new Blanket. Think of all this.

After starving and freezing naked. Damn the conflageracy (sic). I'm too full of joy & coffee. Reese and I hugged each other & cried like two babies. "Cause we're glad."

Poor Berry* got left."

~ Journal of Howard Carr, 1864

*Howard's friend and fellow soldier Berry died a few days earlier from starvation and exposure

Howard returned to his mother and sisters in Cincinnati to begin the long process of recovery. He officially mustered out of the army on June 30, 1865. He slowly regained strength enough to make the trip west toward his father's homestead in the fall of 1865.

Howard Carr, source: Carr Family Collection

When Howard enlisted he was a healthy, 150-pound teenage boy. Upon release, he only weighed 92 pounds, and had aged beyond his years. He never fully recovered from the experience of the prison camps and never forgave the South for his treatment. In later years, Howard regularly complained of a hunger that never really went away - a result of the starvation he suffered while in captivity. The scars of the war lingered in his lack of ability to settle on a job, signs of depression, and inability to stay in one place -- all signs of what we know in modern times to be PTSD.

Reunion in the West

The three Carr men met together again on Puget Sound where they regaled one another with stories of their adventures and exploits during the war. They had all fought hard and had been discharged honorably from their duties. Despite the hardships and the horrors of war which they had experienced, all three remained deeply loyal to the United States for the rest of their lives.

About the Author

Jennifer Shumante volunteered at Job Carr Cabin Museum beginning in 2010 after graduating from Brigham Young University Idaho with a degree in Social Studies Education. She hoped to apply her degree as a social studies teacher at the secondary level or work as a museum educator. Jennifer was an alumni of Spanaway Lake High School.

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