1828 William B. Gowen b. abt 1828 of Spartanburgh, AL, and TX

From GRF Newsletter Dec 1991:

Lt. Wm. B. Gowen Wrote Journal
In Johnson Island POW Camp

While languishing in a prison camp on Johnson’s Island, Lt.
William Bradford Gowen, CSA who had been captured near
Vicksburg, recorded his thoughts and fears in his diary. Much
of the journal was addressed to his wife at home. The opening
entry expresses the pathos the prisoner felt:

“Mournful cries of the wounded and dying which would
sometimes rise above the din of battle still ring in my ears and
ever and anon the livid countenances and ghastly wounds of
the dead whom I passed on the field rise before my mind.

Doubtless many of the poor fellows had wives & children at
home which a few short hours before had been as precious to
them as life itself, and perhaps the hearts of those wives and
children were even now, while the Husband and Father lay
cold in death, filled with hope that he might soon be permitted
to return to the bosom of his family and all the endearments of

But, alas, who can contemplate without tears of anguish the
wail of sorrow and disappointed hope that shall rise from the
broken hearts of those loved ones when in a few short days the
dreadful truth shall become known. My God; who can
describe the deso-lation of one hard fought battle.

I felt a profound sense of gratitude to the God of Mercy for my
life preserved and sincere and heartfelt thanks for the kind
pro-tecting hand that had brought me safely and unhurt
through the dangers of that day.

In speaking of my varied thoughts, let me assure you, dear
Jen-nie, that yourself and our precious little Darlings, Mattie
& Wil-lie, occupy by far the largest share. You are in blissful
igno-rance of my situation tonight, but I am tormented with
the thought that in a few days you will hear of the Battle of
Cham-pion Hill and hear that our Regiment was in the thickest
of it and perhaps will see my name among the Missing, and
then you will be tortured with the intolerable suspense of not
knowing whether I am killed or captured.”

The journal, maintained from May 16, 1863 until his release
and arrival home in 1865, chronicled his feelings at the time of
capture and imprisonment on Johnson’s Island in the
confluence of Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie, off Sandusky,
Ohio. The journal is now in the care of Lt. Gowen’s greatgranddaughter,
Mary Carrington Gowen, a Foundation
member of Austin, Texas. Her father, William Lister Gowen,
transcribed the diary and placed a typewritten copy in the
Texas State Library & Archives before his death in 1972.

Gowen Research Foundation Library recently obtained a copy
of the 160-page Journal from the state library.

William Bradford Gowen, son of Winn Bearden Gowen and
Elizabeth Hunt Gowen, was born July 31, 1828, according to
the family bible. He was a grandson of Maj. John “Buck”
Gowen, Revolutionary soldier of Spartanburg County, South
Carolina and his wife, Lettice Winn “Letty” Bearden Gowen.

He appeared in the 1850 census of Talledega County,
Alabama as “William B. Gowen, age 22, laborer, born in
Alabama.” He was married February 1, 1855 at Talledega,
Alabama to Laura Virginia “Jennie” Oden who was born April
19, 1837, according to the family bible.

On February 27, 1862 William Bradford Gowen enlisted in
the Thirtieth Alabama Infantry Regiment at Sylacauga,
Alabama. He was named a sergeant and later second
lieutenant. In the Battle of Champion Hill in Mississippi,
prior to Grant’s siege of Vicksburg in May 1863, Lt. Gowen
was captured.

By steamboat he was transported up the Mississippi to Cairo,
Illinois and thence overland by rail to Sandusky. During his
imprisonment he recorded in a journal the fears, the hopes and
the frustrations of the Confederate prisoners.

On the first day after his capture, he wrote,

“May 17, 1863: Our breakfast this morning was quite scanty,
some received none at all. The water we get from holes in a
branch partly dried up, it being muddy and unpalatable.”
“May 18: Saw Capt. Anderson of the 30th, and he appeared to
be doing well. I could not find a single man of my company.
It was a sad and sickening sight to look upon some with
amputated limbs and others with swollen faces and
countenances distorted with pain and one poor fellow who had
seemingly just expired; died doubtless without anyone
knowing when he drew his last breath, no kind friend to offer
a word of consolation or drop a tear of sympathy.”

“May 29: Our transport Boat lay over at Memphis all day.
The Bar Keeper on the Boat has been doing a thriving
business today exchanging money with our men, giving one
dollar of Federal for four dollars of Confederate money. I had
no money at all, having given my pocketbook with its
contents, $215 to Parson Underwood, the chaplain of our
Regiment for safe keeping the morning before the battle in
which I was captured.”

“June 1: Arrived at Cairo at the junction of the Mississippi
and the Ohio Rivers at 7 a.m. We were informed that we
would travel no farther by steamboat, but would travel by
railroad to our destination. I was not sorry of this, for our trip
up the river which had lasted nine days & nights was anything
but a pleasant one. Our only chance for sleeping was on our
blankets spread down on a filthy floor.”

“June 5: Traveled all night and arrived at Sandusky City at
11:00 a.m. We got off the cars and marched down to
Sandusky Bay amidst a crowd of men, women and children
who had fathered at the depot to see the Rebels. I suppose
they were looking for our horns and tails. We boarded a steam
ferryboat to convey us over to Johnson’s Island, three miles
out in the Bay.”

June 7:This is the holy Sabbath, God’s sacred day of rest, how
little it is regarded by many here. Some have been engaged at
card playing nearly all day. I have spent the day principally in
my room reading the Testatment which my friend G. M. D.
Patterson gave me when I first joined the army.”

July 4: This is the 87th Anniversary of American
Independence, a day once hailed with delight and still proudly
remembered by every Americn Citizen as the day on which
our Patriotic fore-fathers, then citizens of a feeble colonial
government pro-claimed their independence of a great and
powerful nation and maintained it through a war of seven
years. And many of these Patriotic Sires lived to see the
government in whose defense they had struggled to become
one of the great and powerful nations of the earth. But now,
alas! What is the condition of this once proud and prosperous
Nation? Convulsed with war and drenched in blood!”

“July 7: We have news today that Vicksburg has
surrendered and that Genl. Lee has been signally defeated in
the fight at Gettysburg, neither of which we are willing to
believe without confirmation. The Yankees are jubilant.”

“September 22: Glorious news in the papers this morning.

They report that Rosencrans is badly beaten and is falling back
from Chattanooga and acknowledges a loss of 3,000 killed,
wounded and missing. As soon as this news was read, the
Rebels on Johnson’s Island raised a yell that made the Island
tremble under our feet.”

“October 13: The best news I have heard for a long time came
in a letter which I rec’d from you [his wife] this morning and
which gave me joy enough for one day. After being deprived
of the pleasure of even hearing from you for nearly 5 months
to hear that you are well was truly glad tidings of great joy.”

“October 29: Our bible class met this morning and after going
through the lesson had an interesting discussion, the query being,
‘Did Jeptha slay and sacrifice his daughter, and if so, was
he justified in the act?’”

“November 29: Today the ground is covered with snow.
Our rations of wood are quite short, so much so that we do not
have enough to keep a fire going in the stove all the time and
must therefore suffer with cold.”

“December 26: Five prisoners, among them Genl. Archer,
got outside the prison wall a few nights ago. They made their
way to the shore of the Bay and got out some distance on the
ice when some of them fell through the ice. The noise reached
the ears of the pickets nearby who came up and gobbled the
poor fellows up again. Another Christmas has passed which
makes the second one since I left home.”

“January 8, 1864: The weather continues extremely cold. The
ground is covered with snow, and we have to stay in our
rooms all the time. The passing from the Island to Sandusky
is done altogether on the ice now. Some ladies came over
from the City on skates today. It is a very beautiful sight to
see them skating on the ice. Numerous attempts have been
made in the last few nights by prisoners to escape, some of
which I suppose were successful.”

“April 1: A considerable religious feeling has been
manifested in Prison for some time past and a goodly number
have pro-fessed religion and joined the church. I had the
pleasure on last Sabbath of witnessing the baptism in Lake
Erie of 12 Confed-erate officers.”

May 24: Nature is fast becoming clothed in the green verdue
of spring; but what is all this to me, I am still a prisoner shut
up within the walls of this detested old prison. All that I can
do is to look over the wall at the few green trees left standing
on the Island and wish that I was once more at home and free
to roam among the old hills over which I have so often
followed the merry yelp of my hounds in the exciting chase
after the wild deer.”

February 19, 1865: Our rations are so curtailed that we are
barely able to sustain life. I am hungry from one day’s end to
another. Many of the prisoners have resorted to catching &
eating rats. I have seen other prisoners picking up crumbs
from the ditches & slop barrels and eating them. The
exchange of prisoners for which we have so long & anxiously
looked is about to be consumated at last. Some have already
gone, and 100 more officers are to leave here tomorrow, and I
am one of that number!”

March 22: “We mounted and started for home some 10 miles
distant where we arrived a little after dark. Besides the family
there was a large crowd of relatives & friends assembled to
meet us. The meeting, after three years absence, I will not try
to describe, but will leave it to the imagination of any who
may read this.”

Lt. Gowen very soon after the war removed his family to Lindale,
Texas. In 1888 he moved again to Tyler, Texas. His
treasured journal was kept in a safe place in each household.
Once his youngest daughter slipped the book down and inscribed
a poem on its frontispiece:

“Oh, if my heart was made of glass
And through its windows you could see
You’d see your picture painted there
And know the one so dear to me.”

William Bradford Gowen was enumerated in the 1900 census
of Trinity County, Texas, Enumeration District 96, page 3,
precinct 2 as the head of a household:

“Gowan, William B. 71, born in AL in July 1828
Laura V. 63, born in GA in April 1837
William A. 38, born in AL in Sept. 1861”

On January 19, 1907 William Bradford Gowen filed Confederate
Pension Application No. 13071. In the application he
stated that he was 78, totally disabled and had been living at
Tyler for 19 years. The pension was granted by the State of
Texas shortly prior to his death August 8, 1908.

On February 3, 1909 Laura Virginia Oden Gowen, at age 70,
applied for a widow’s pension, stating in her application that
she had lived at Tyler for 30 years. This pension was also
granted. In the 1910 edition of the Tyler city directory Laura
Virginia “Jennie” Oden Gowen, “widow of W. B. Gowen,”
lived at 408 East Line Street.

Once on a visit to her daughter, Mrs. H. F. Scheen at
Bienville, Louisiana, she became ill and extended her visit to
one year. During this period she lost her Texas residency and
her pension. It was later reinstated upon her application. The
pension papers referred to another daughter, Mattie Gowen
Ross who also lived in Tyler on January 22, 1919. The
endorsement of her son, William Alexander Gowen, also of
Tyler, dated January 24, 1919, appeared in the reinstatement
application. Laura Virginia “Jennie” Oden Gowen died at
Tyler February 2, 1919 and was buried at Bienville Cemetery,
Bienville, Louisiana.

Children born to William Bradford Gowen and Laura Virginia
“Jennie” Oden Gowen include:

Mattie Gowen born about 1860 in AL
William Alexander Gowen born Sept. 1861 in AL
Minnie Estelle Gowen born about 1867 in TX”