|Joseph Gold Heaslet, 1844 - 1929|
A recent illness that kept me home for a couple of days (and therefore provided more time for genealogy) allowed me to locate a lot of information regarding a branch of my husband's family tree, the Heaslets. I didn't find what I had originally begun looking for, but as is so often the case with me, I took a detour when I kept finding records for other branches of the tree. Sometimes it's hard to stay on track. One of the wonderful discoveries I made was a letter written by Joseph Gold Heaslet in June of 1925. Mr. Heaslet was then about 79 years old, and the letter was sent to Mrs. H. D. Lefors of Willow, California (his granddaughter). In this letter, I found names, dates and locations of mutual ancestors, as well as a wonderful account of the Civil War as it pertained to the Mr. Heaslet and his family. Below is a portion of this letter:
When the civil war broke out in the spring of 1861 a good many men in their thirties and boys in their teens were anxious to be enlisted in some company for to protect the Confederate States. A man by the name of Daniel McKisick that had served in the Mexican war and knew something of the tactics, he made up a company of Cavarly and two of my brothers, William and Francis, joined the company, and I wanted to join so bad I didn't know what to do with myself. But father wasn't willing, and I stayed at home that year and helped to make the crops. The Government laid off a cap ground on Beatys Prairie for the soldiers and called it Camp Walker. It was in about a mile of Maysvill, Benton Co, Ark. There was companies made up all over the State and brought up to Camp Walker to drill them so they would be efficient in the menuvers and fire-arms. The troops stayed here and drilled till the last of July when they broke camp and marched up in Missouri near Springfield. There also was some Texas Troops that was rushed up there just in time for the Wilson Creek battle. The Southern army hadn't been in Mo., but a few days when Gen. Lyons who commanded the Federal troops marched against them at Wilson Creek on the morning of Aug. 10, 1861 and a hot battle raged for several hours terminating in favor of the Southern Troops. Gen. Lyons being among the killed. There was a considerable number of the boys on both sides killed and wounded. My brother William had his right thumb shot off and cut in eleven places in his left side caused bya bomb bursting close to him. After this battle the State troops were disbanded and nothing more of note was done in our country during the remainder of the year. I joined Capt. Jo Hardens company about the 4th of July 1862 near the town of Bloomfield and that was built up after the war ended. In the latter part of the year, Capt. Harden was promoted to the office of Major and W. H. Hendren being our 1st Lt. was promoted to be the Capt. of our Co. "B" as it was the second Co. of volunteers made up in the Regiment. I served in this Co. till the end of the war. We had a very large Co. We had over one hundred men when first made up. I will give some of their names that lived in my neighborhood. F. M. Heaslet, my brother, Steve Fair, Frank Fair, Geo. Fair, Jo Fair, Yell Hastings, John Phillips, Bill Phillips, Jim Harmon, Ben Harmon, Murph Harmon, Jim Covey, Welk Covey, M. H. Setser, Jake Setser and Jim Wilson. The country we occupied during the summer and fall of 1862 ws the Indian country and south Missouri. There was but little done of note during the summer, tho we done some hard riding and scouting around. About the first of Sept. our Brigade move to New Tonia in Mo. Our army hadn't been there but a few days till the Federal forces were brought against us and we had quite a battle the result was in favor of the Confederates. We captured considerable spoil and taken a good many prisoners. The Federal forces fell back for reinforcements and in a few days they marched against us again. There was about twenty of us soldiers on picket guard that night before they drove us out. There was three of the guard taken from my Co. Steve Fair, Yell Hastings and myself. We heard the Federals coming an hour or more before daylight. It was about daylight when they came in sight of us nearly a half mile off. We formed a line and ordered them to halt, and they wouldn't halt worth a cent, and we fired at them. They didn't return the fire, and we loaped off into town, and when we got to town and army was on the run and we concluded to run too. Steve Fair, Yell Hastings and myself stayed together and we run thru the retreating army and didn't find our Co. We got to Pineville and went to the hotel and got our dinner and came home that night a distance of about 65 miles we came that day. In a few days the Federal Army came on down into Benton Co. and camped on the Gholson farm in north Spavinaw. (Note: Heaslet's future wife was the daughter of Hiram Gholston, owner of the farm.) There was at this time the most of our company was in this country and while they were scouting around a scout of Federals ran into a bunch of our boys and my brother Francis was killed on the 31st Oct. 1862. My brother was killed about ten miles west of Bentonville on the ridge between the two Spavinaws. The Federals burried my brother in a field on north Spavinaw. We found his grave a few days afterward and taken him up and brought him home and burried him in the family cemetery on the Heaslet Homestead. This was my first real grief that fell accross my path. My long cherished playmate brother was dead. We had been together nearly all our lives and never was apart but very little till the civil war. It is so sad.
The letter later recounts Heaslet's capture and escape from the Union army:
In Dec. 1862 Capt Harden sent word over the country for his company to meet at a certain place on a day and go south for winter quarters and I had failed to get the word till the day that was to start and they sent Frank Eller one of my company in haste to let me know to come. When Eller told me I fixed as quick as I could and we started on a lively gait and before we got to the place they met, the Company had moved out on the march and was a mile or two ahead, so we quickened our pace a little and directly we fell in with two more of the boys that was trying to catch the company, Wm. Sooter and Jack Haywood. Now at this time we had come to a very short crook in the road and brush on both sides till you couldn't see any distance ahead, and as we were rounding the crook we came in full view of a Federal Scout about 25 or 30 ft. from us. I was in front and the first thing I knew one of them had his gun pointed at me, and ordered me to lay that gun down which I did. They taken us to Ft. Scott, Kans. and kept us there a little over a month when they moved us to Ft. Lincoln about 15 miles from Ft. Scott where we was put under a guard of a company of black negroes and two white men as officers. We tried to keep them negroes in a good humor with us for one of them shot a prisoner for no cause at all so he died in a day or so. We were kept at Ft. Lincoln till the 24th of April 1863 when a good many of us prisoners were taken out and moved down to the army at that time stationed a few miles southeast of Ft. Scott. We hadn't been with the army but a few days till they started on a march east thru Mo. We were allowed considerable privileges on this march. More than we had at any time while we were prisoners. Now at this time we had marched about half way thru Mo. and was in Texas the largest co in the State and the army had camped out and stretched their tents and cooked their dinner and it being about 3 p.m. on May 10. 1863 that three of us, namely Frank Eller, Burkette M. Lightfoot and myself would make a break for our liberties. The spring where they got water was two hundred yards or more from camp and was in a brushy place and while the soldiers were resting a good many of them laying down and all was quiet in camp, Lightfoot, Eller and I picked up some canteens and started to the spring for water and when we got to the spring and got water and as there was no one in sight, we made a break thru the woods in a S.W. direction. We hadn't went but a little ways when we heard men talking just a little in front of us in the path we were traveling. We dodged out in the brush till they passed. They had on citizens clothes. As it was, they didn't see us when they passed. We traveled all that evening and all that night. It was a very rough country. We were in pine hills and ridges some of them so steep we had to hold to brushes as we went down. I have often thought of this memorable trip and especially the night we traveled that we didn't plunge off of some bluff and it would have been the last of us. I have thanked the Lord many a time we were permitted to pass on. I was not quite 19 yrs. old at this time and was the youngest of the three. I was made the leader and guide for the reasons I knew how to travel by the stars and the other two hadn't studied the planets. We had a nice time as far as the weather was concerned. It was clear and warm. No rain or high waters to bother us on our way. When the 2nd night came we had been traveling about 28 hrs. and we concluded to a camp. So we got in a deep hollow pretty thickly set with brush and made up a little fire and layed down side by side on mother earth for our bed and the canopies of heaven for our covering for that was the kind of a bed we used for 5 nights. Now this being the second morning of our trip and as the day began to dawn we got up considerable refreshed as we had all slept well. We didn't take time to eat breakfast for there was not a mouthful of any thing to eat in the crowd and all we had ate up to this time was wild onions and young tendrils of grape vines. Now about this time Frank Eller began to complain of being sick and about gave out. So we had to stop and wait on him to rest and then we would go on till he would want to stop and rest again and so on and as we were going along we ran across a bunch of quail and killed one of them and I took it and we dressed and cooked it and give it to Eller and it seemed to revive him considerable and then we would go on till he would want to stop and rest again and it went on this way for 2 or 3 days and we was making slow progress on our journey and Eller had almost gave up and begged Lightfoot and me to go on and leave him, and said he had rather died there in the woods than to be back with the army, but we could not think about leaving him, and stayed with him and all got thru together. While we were in this condition we came to White River a considerable stream some 30 or 40 yds wide and from 2 to 3 ft deep and as clear as a crystal and we concluded to cross it and I picked Eller upon my shoulders and clamped my arms around his legs and I started to wade across and Lightfoot following. I had got about half way across when I saw two women come riding over the river bank on the side we were going out on in plain view, their backs being turned toward us. I had stopped about the middle of the River while they were passing by they never saw us as they passed. We got out and went on our way rejoicing as we were not detected. As we were going along one day we came to a good sized creek and a farm on it and there was fresh plowed ground int eh field and it was bout the noon hour so we concluded to conseel ourselves at the ford of the creek and see who it was doing the work in the field and it was not long till we saw a wagon coming with a yoke of steer hitched to it and some women in it. We waited till they were about half way crossing the stream when we stepped out in full view and begin talking to them, but they wouldn't talk a word to us, and turned their team around in the river and when they got out they loosed their team and started to run to the house. We concluded to go to the house and get some dinner. When we got to the house we found out we had stampeeded some men from the house and the women wouldn't tell us which side they were on and we left there in a hurry, we didn't know whether they were friends or foes. When we left the house a little ways we took to the hills and crags as fast as we could go for two miles or more when we stopped and rested and watched and listened to see if any one were after us. After we had rested awhile and considered our escape a very close call we started on our journey to the south land. As nothing more of note transpired while we were in Mo. our next stop will be at Capt. Goforths, in Marion Co., Ark. This was the sixth day we had traveled without anything to eat and hunger had about worn out on us and when the folks set a splendid meal for us and we sit down to eat our stomach had failed to keep up the relish of former days and we couldn't eat but very little, we had to quit. Capt. Goforth and family treated us very kindly and we stayed there two or three days and rested after our fast of six days. Now as the time had come for us to resume our journey, Eller and Lightfoot concluded to go down to Batesville, Ark. and take a boat down White River to the Ark. river and then up the river to Ft. Smith, then to the army in the Indian country. Now I concluded to go home a hundred miles or more due west thru the Mts. At that time not considered very safe and had got to Huntsville, Ark. about halfway when I concluded I would stop and see a cousin of mine, a Mrs. Vard Ivie that I had never saw and never saw her afterwards. She was old enough for my mother. Had children older than I was. She seemed like a very nice woman living in a big fine brick house burned by the Federals afterwards. I stayed with them a week and had a very nice time with them. I left Huntsville on the morning of May 30, 1863. And now I had 50 miles to travel which I wanted to accomplish by the next evening and so I did and when I got pretty close to the house and my heart jumping up and down with joy, I saw Martha my youngest sister a little girl of 11 yrs. And I had got up in 20 or 30 yds. of her I said, "Martha you can put on the pots for I am coming," and she turned and saw who I was and then started in a run to the house as fast as she could hollowing, Its Joe, Its Joe, Its Joe, and before I got to the house and most of the folks had got out in the porch where we had a happy hand shaking mingled with tears of great joy. "A home sick boy had got home who was mourned as dead."
It's a remarkable story and one that makes facts and dates and names more personal, to read about a young man who went to such great lengths to get back to his family. Mr. Heaslet lived until 1929, marrying Anis Gholston in 1866 and becoming the father to ten children (one of whom died at birth) and working as a farmer. His wife preceded him in death and he lived for a short time with a son in California. He is buried at the Bethel Cemetery in Benton, Arkansas.