Putting Things in Perspective

Last week I wrote about what I learned about Campbell Dudley’s death from the military pension application filed by his mother, Lettitia Dudley.  My primary objective in ordering the pension file was to learn more about Lettitia.  Most of what I knew about Lettitia and her husband Thomas I learned from the Dudley album I received from my great-uncle Clarence Dudley’s step-grandson a year and a half ago.  I have gleaned other information from the usual genealogical sources, mostly census records. 
Iva Lettitia Tankersley was born January 18, 1811 in Virginia.  There is a Virginia marriage record that indicates that a Thomas Dudley married a “Malitia Tankesley” in Pittsylvania County, Virginia on November 17, 1830.  However, the Dudley album states that Thomas and Lettitia were married in 1829 and moved from Virginia to Ohio.  The Dudleys’ first child, Matilda, was born on October 11, 1830 and died June 24, 1831.  They then had ten more children, Absalom, Robert, Campbell, William, John, Jane, twins Jesse and Berryman, Mary Etta, and Lewis.

The Dudleys first lived about two miles north of Lynchburg, Ohio.  In 1849, they moved to the “Old Dudley Homestead” in Clark Township, Clinton County Ohio.  The Dudley album states that this land was a gift to Thomas and Lettitia for naming their twins after Jesse and Berryman Hundley.  I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but I think the Hundleys and Dudleys might have travelled from Virginia to Ohio together.
Although I suspect that Lettitia never had an easy life, the 1860s must have been nearly unbearable for her.  Berryman died on November 29, 1860 and Thomas on March 11, 1861.  A month after her husband’s death the Civil War began.  By this time, Lettitia’s eldest son Absalom had left home and Robert married and was living in his own home.  Lettitia was a widow with seven children at home.  Her sons could help her earn a living, but their services were also in demand by their country.  Campbell Dudley enlisted in the 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 3, 1861.  William and John also served in the Union army.  Campbell died by suicide while on his way home on a furlough on July 29, 1864. 

An affidavit from Isaac Foster stated that Campbell worked for his father Christian Foster, a Lynchburg, Ohio farmer, prior to the war.  His wages were paid to Lettitia in the form of corn for “breadstuff.”  Dudley neighbor Amos Fisher’s affidavit also stated that Campbell Dudley worked for him before the war.  Fisher indicated that he paid Campbell’s salary to Lettitia in meat, flour, corn, and wheat.  At the time Campbell enlisted, Amos Fisher owed him a half month’s pay, which Campbell asked him to give to his mother.   In Lettitia’s affidavit, she stated that she had included five letters from Campbell which indicated that he was sending her money while he was in the army.
Letters and affidavits in the pension file describe Lettitia’s poverty.  She owned ten acres of what was described as “swamp land” with one log house and no outbuildings.  The land couldn’t be farmed because it was too wet.  She owned a cow for a while, but had to sell it.  In an 1877 letter to the Pension Office, she stated that she was "supported by the cold charities of the neighborhood in which I live.”  Even a Pension Office document described her as an “unquestionable [sic] deserving claimant.”

Lettitia first applied for a pension on January 2, 1865.  The Pension Office obtained an affidavit from P. A. Willis, the 48th OVI’s regimental surgeon.  Dr. Willis stated that Campbell committed suicide due to “temporary insanity” due to alcohol deprivation.  The Pension Office denied Lettitia’s application on September 23, 1865, stating that Campbell’s death wasn’t due to his military service.
In response to the denial, Lettitia’s son Absalom and Clinton County farmer William West submitted an affidavit testifying to Lettitia’s poverty.  They testified that as an old woman with rheumatism she was unable to support herself.  The Pension Office obtained an affidavit from regimental commander J. R. Parker, who confirmed that Campbell jumped from the steamboat.  He said that he didn’t know why Campbell jumped, but that he “overheard” that he was intoxicated.  The pension rejection was reaffirmed on July 24, 1870.

On January 4, 1877, Lettitia wrote to the Pension office that her attorney, R. E. Doan of Wilmington, Ohio, wouldn’t give her information on her application.  On August 15, 1878, Lettitia hired attorney Isma Troth of Lynchburg, Ohio to represent her.  In September, her application was rejected yet again.
At this point, it appears that someone went to work, either Mr. Troth or nationally prominent pension attorney George Lemon, who had also been engaged to handle Lettitia’s claim.  Two of Campbell’s comrades submitted very similar-sounding affidavits stating that Campbell was not intoxicated at the time of his death, that he was sick with “camp diarrhea,” and that his insanity was caused by the medications he was taking.  The application was denied again on October 6, 1880.

Less than two weeks later, George Lemon sent a letter to the Pension Office asking that they make a decision based on the documentation on record and blamed the delay in submitting evidence on the claimant, Lettitia.  Apparently, he hadn’t received notification of the denial.  It sounds like he was ready to rid himself of a case that was unlikely to result in payment of his contingency fee. 
29-year-old Lewis Dudley, Lettitia’s youngest son, now became involved in her case.  At the time of the 1880 census, Lewis was residing in the household of widow Mary J. Young, who was a storekeeper at Farmer’s Station in Clark Township, Clinton County, Ohio.  His occupation was listed as “clerk.”  Lewis later became a pension attorney himself.

Lewis sent a letter to the Commissioner of Pensions on December 19, 1881 asking for a favor with his mother’s claim.  Lewis pointed out that in his capacity as assistant postmaster he had often been asked by the Pension Office to attest to the standing of others in the community.  He wrote that George Lemon was doing nothing for his mother’s case and that it had been difficult for his mother to obtain testimony from Campbell’s comrades because most of them had been imprisoned at the time of his death. 
Over the next 16 months, four more of Campbell’s comrades submitted affidavits with noticeable similarities.  The Pension Office followed up with letters to these four men.  In some instances the affidavits and the veterans’ responses to the Pension Office letters contradicted each other.  Neither the similarities between the four affidavits, nor the contradictions between the soldiers’ affidavits and letters escaped the notice of the Pension Office and Lettitia’s application was denied again on July 17, 1884. 

The final notation regarding Lettitia’s pension application was that that the rejection was affirmed on February 13, 1890.  Lettitia never received a military pension for Campbell’s death and died five years later on January 26, 1895.  The Dudley album indicates that she is buried at Troutwine Cemetery in Lynchburg, Ohio.  If this is correct, her grave is not marked.

I often find myself thinking of my ancestors when I am unhappy over some perceived hardship or setback in my life.  I can’t say that the comparison of my life to Lettitia’s stops me from complaining, but I know it should.   It at least helps me to put the events of my life in perspective.


  1. Thanks so much Melissa for writing this about my Great Great Grandmother. I can not tell you how much I enjoy reading your research. You have been such a great help to me in unraveling my family's history.

    Your cousin, Kay


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