The largest part of the collection of letters that my grandmother, Anna Bell Barnhart, exchanged with her first Husband, James Calhoun, comes in March, partly because several of her letters to him survive. As noted in earlier blog entries, James was destroying most of the letters he received from his wife because he did not feel he had secure storage for them. As he wrote on March 1, “I wish I had been able to keep each one of the letter(s) you have written me but do not dare carry them about as some one will get them and read them. Consequently I feel compelled to destroy them after I have kept them a few days and read them carefully. I know you realize how I am situated. All the property I now have is over in camp and open for the inspection of all so you can see how easy for people to get into it.” The March letters from his wife that survived likely were ones he brought home on his brief furlough at the end of the month (and after his hospital discharge, when he had a bit more control over his possessions at camp).
My grandmother of course was able to save all the letters. I have 75 very precious chapters of our love story put away in a place of safety up in the little room where I have our things. I have 6 others which I haven’t put away yet as I always keep them for a few days and read and reread them.
James Health and Life at Camp Greene
James started the month still in the camp hospital. He spent another week there before he was finally discharged. But he continued to struggle with his cold throughout the month and into April.
He wrote on March 1 that “I feel good today but the doctor has not said for me to get out of bed yet. I think he is afraid I would go to work as I did the last time he let me get up and get sick again. He is going to keep me in bed until I am able to go out. This morning he asked me if I would be able to go out soon. I told him I felt well enough to go out now.…For dinner today I had a glass of milk, slice of toast, one soft egg and a dish of pudding. The light rations are good here as they are partly prepared here at the ward but the regular rations are for people stronger than I. I had regular rations a couple of days while here and they were enough to make a well person sick."
On March 3, he reported that “This is my first day up since I went to bed from working in the kitchen. The Dr. gave me strict orders this time to be careful about working. I feel funny when I stand on my feet. I feel as though I would be unable to work for a week yet.”
James was in the hospital several more days but not bedridden. He was allowed to do some work in the kitchen but when the doctor found it made him quit that and threatened him with bread and water if he didn’t stay out.
He was finally discharged on March 7. His long hospital stay weakened him. It took him some time to get his strength back. He reported on March 16 that “My muscles are so sore from drilling that I can hardly move when I first start to walk. I hope though to overcome that difficulty after a few more days.” He didn’t totally blame his hospital stay for this. His time in the orderly room in early February kept him from exercising and he later felt led to his illness that put him in the hospital.
Life and training at Camp Greene continued. On March 9, he reported “This morning we were taken to the gas house to learn to use a gas mask and to learn to distinguish different kinds of gas by their odor. A number of us had not had instruction in the use of the gas mask so were not allowed to enter the room filled with gas but waited until the others had passed through the gas filled room and then we all marked back reaching the company street at about 10:30 AM.”
He was getting outside more once he left the hospital. On March 14, he noted that “The sun is making an impression on my face the past two days and my nose is peeling freely now. A few days here will make us black like negroes. When we came here early in the winter the white native population still had on some of the southern tan from the previous summer sun.”
On March 21, James wrote in his self-deprecating way about his promotion to Corporal: “No, I would rather that you would not address me as corporal because, corporal are made here every few days and are often some reduced to privates again. I would rather that people did not know I had been made a corporal then if I am reduced they will not say I could not keep my job. It is really much harder in time of war to keep such a position as men coming from civil life know so little about the army rules and so much is expected of them in such a short period of instruction.” He went on to comment on his health situation: “If I felt real strong I could keep up with the pace O.K. but as I am not so very strong it is pretty hard sledding. My cough sticks to me and I get out of breath very easily. If I could be in N.Y. a while I could get it to go away I think but the change of climate makes it hang on worse as it does with many of the boys.”
News from Home
James always thirsted for news from back home and commented on it frequently. He was particularly feeling homesick for spring back in the Catskills. In early March he wrote “You will soon begin to get some real spring weather up there and then hurrah! for sugar making. I know I am going to be more homesick than ever when it comes time for spring up in New York and I am also going to feel more determined than ever not to let that homesick feeling get the better of me until the times comes when I can get home.”
A discussion that James and Anna had in their letters during March concerned their car, Jershua. They debated back and forth about whether or not to sell it. They had sold it to Will and Vera Storie, but Anna wrote in early March that "Will and Vera do not want to buy the car, he says he hasn’t got the money.” She went on to write that “I sometimes feel that I want it here to use and then I think it will be a great deal better not to have it as you say the tires will rot and then the “juice” isn’t as free as water. I do wish and trust you may get home and then you can do with the car as you want to.”
This whole discussion about the car shows how hard James and Anna were trying to accommodate each other. James wrote that “Certainly I think it would be nice to get the car and run it if you can for it only be careful and do not try any speeding. Why need you ask me the car belong to you just as much as to me?” The incident also shows the frustration of communicating long distance by letter. Letters sometimes took a week to arrive. The last mention of the car comes from Anna: “I am almost sorry I mentioned selling the car as I believe you really wanted to keep it but agreed to sell it because you thought I wanted too. This war is a nuisance, and no one knows how much suffering is caused by it but it must be for a purpose.” In the end, the car was sold after James went to France.
During March, Anna reports numerous contacts with James’ mother and siblings. James and Anna both feel the importance of connecting with each other’s families. Anna makes at least one visit to James’ mother and siblings in March. And from his letters, James has frequent contact with at least two of Anna’s siblings, Edith and Wilford. He did feel he went over the line a bit concerning Edith and wrote “I am going to stop teasing Edith because from what she said about Geo & his tatting I believe she resents it. I wouldn’t have her angered at me for the world. I used to tease you, as you know, but I had to discontinue that.” Anna wrote back that he shouldn’t worry about angering Edith.
James also expressed his happiness that Ralph was low on the draft due to being the primary breadwinner on the family farm (Ralph’s father died in 1916). James wrote “I bet Ralph feels pretty good about the way he came out in the draft. I am sure I feel glad. If I am one of the army boys yet that does not make me wish to see others in the service. I am especially anxious to see all farmer boys stay on the farms. They can do more to win the war working there than they could do in the army.”
Anna and James continue to exchange information about the family squabble with her Uncle John – John Miller, her mother’s brother. On March 2, he writes “I am sorry indeed that Uncle John’s people have no use for me. I cannot remember when I wronged them and if I have unwittingly done so I am sorry. I surely did not mean them any harm. I often offend unmeaningly but perhaps I can repay them some day.” Anna wrote back telling him not to worry about it and hoping that it would all come right in the end.
Wilford was Anna’s ‘baby brother,’ and was at home the whole time of her marriage. He was 17 in 1918. He is mentioned frequently in her letters and on March 11 she reported to James that “I must tell you some more trash - Wilford took me on his knee today at the dinner table and fed me nearly a slice of bread. He is quite cute by spells.”
James makes one reference related to the settlement of his late father’s estate (his father, Daniel Calhoun, died a week before he married Anna): I know from what mother has written that she fears trouble in getting the estate settled. Most of the troubles are really imaginary ones and will never occur. Harry will make her no trouble or none else. I am very sure I shall never give her any trouble no matter how she settles things. I want her to have every use and privilege of what is rightfully hers and furthermore I care not. Mother has never had to carry such responsibility before and I think she fears the task.
Other People in Bovina
March 20 from Anna - I don’t think I’ve written anything to you about Mrs. Copeland at Pittsburg. I think you know who she is, a sister of Marshall Thomson. She has been real poorly all winter and has been in the hospital part of the time. A 10 ½ pound son was born to them Sabbath day. A short time ago she was sure herself that she would never live but she is doing nicely now. Mrs. Copeland is Laura Amelia Thompson (her brother Marshall was married to Helen Blair). And Mrs. Copeland did survive her confinement and died in 1958. The child was Andrew Laird Copeland, who lived until 2001.
Anna speculated about Mrs. Frank Coulter in March. Mrs. Coulter was the former Agnes May Craig and was the mother of Grace Coulter Roberts. I must tell you that I think there is something doing up to Frank Coulters. I am not sure but the last I saw her I thought so and she doesn’t come to church any more.” She wrote later in the month I saw Mrs. Frank Coulter today and what I told you a week ago I feel sure is true, but a week later she wrote Mrs. Frank Coulter was at the meeting today and I do not feel very sure yet of what I have written before. If she was speculating that a baby was on the way, she was wrong. Mrs. Coulter would have been 33 and had had three children, her last a child who died shortly after birth in 1911, so it was possible.
Anna’s Home Life
On March 7, Anna reported that “Something very funny has happened tonight. We have had very distinct northern lights and they have spread all over head of us. And now at 11 o’clock they have all turned red. There is so much red in the sky that the snow looks red. There must be something queer connected with it but I don’t know what.”
Her letter on Sunday, March 17, reported that “This has been a beautiful day. The snow and ice has moved alright today. Lifgrens were down to church with a sleigh and they had very poor scrubbing coming back. We all went today. There were 130 something at S.S. J.C. Strangeway came and asked me to teach a class downstairs and I asked him what one it was and when I came to find out it was one which Lois O[rmiston] substitutes for and so he went and got her. You know how anxious we all are for those jobs. Mr. Galloway’s scripture reading was the 22nd chap of Revelation and the 17th verse and his text.”
She went on to write “I don’t know as I can tell you who all inquired for you today. J.W. Thomson, Viola Russell, Mrs. J.C. Strangeway, Margaret Gladstone, Mrs. Davidson, Jessie Stewart, Mrs. Lifgren, poor James Boggs, Aunt Bell, Jennie Miller. I don’t who all asked the boys and Carrie, Mac and Mrs. Frank Miller were talking to mother about you and Mable is clear out of patience at them not sending you home to recruit up at least.” In 1921, Viola Russell would become her sister-in-law when she married her brother Wilford.
On March 20, she wrote that “I have mixed some oatmeal bread tonight. I am using your receipt now for it. I made one batch before and we all liked it. I got the receipt from Cora she says you sent it home to her when you were in the West and that makes it all the better to me.”
I’m presenting the following of my grandmother’s letters in full because I think it gives a good idea of what her life on the family farm was like at this time period:
Bovina Center, NY, Mar 18, 1918
My dear James;
I will start my daily message to you now while we are writing for our company to come. This has been a real busy day. To begin with Mr. Lifgren called at 5 o’clock and wanted Ralph to take Mrs. Lifgren to Andes with his car, she is away to the city. Edith & I did all the milking except 3 cows. Wilford hitched up his team and drawed out one load of manure. Edith & I fed the cows the hay and by that time Ralph came home and we all had our breakfast.
Alfred & Viola have been and gone. We have had a nice time. Alfred isn’t as bashful as he used to be and he is fleshier. We, of course, had a good came of pewinkle and the three boys beat the girls by 106 to 91.
Viola brought our mail she brought me a letter from you written Mar. 14 also one from Mother written the same day. They are all real well. She sent me the pictures which I ordered two of. I am enclosing one to you. I wish you only had turned your face. You would have looked so much better.
I will proceed to tell more of our work of today.
After breakfast Edith went out to water cows and I at the weeks washing. After we finished the washing I washed out a piece of carpet. The boys finished tapping and Wilford went after 2 tanks of sap. We have 410 buckets out. Edith & I again tonight did most of the milking. I feel quite tired tonight after doing this days work and preparation for company and all. I need not complain about work when I know of what you have to do. I wish I might to some of your work for you. I think the reason you did not get a letter from me the day you wrote was likely because of one not going out Sabbath. It must be very dissagreeable when the sand blows so much. I do not like to think of you as a negro but I expect you will get well tanned. Leila and Mike finished tapping today.
Mother said they had tapped some. She also said she had hoped you would get home. Yes I remember not to write anything of help to the Germans.
I seem to have more cold tonight but don’t worry please it is just a little in my head and have caught a little more by washing. I have felt well slept out today and if I can only get more sleep right along. I shall feel better of course I am loosing some now but I must write to you in spite of it all.
Edith side has been better today of which I am glad. I shall close wiht lots of love.
Your most loving wife Anna
Milk Testing Association
When James was drafted, he was the area’s milk tester. His job was to visit the local farms and test their cows and their milk for butterfat content. He had been hired through a local milk or cow testing association.
On March 4, James wrote in his self-deprecating way that he “received a postal from W.T. Russells and family showing they have not forgotten the milk tester with his evil ways and the trouble he used to cause. I guess milk testing among Bovina farmers is a thing of the past. Do you hear anything to the effect that another association will be started up again. It seemed strange that no one could be gotten to do the job. I was so poor at it I believe the farmers were all glad to have the association drop through don’t you? Well perhaps testing doesn’t amount to much but we are going to test our dairy if we ever get the opportunity to possess such and we are going to test them thoroughly and we won’t need outside help to do it either because we can do it if cow testing associations have gone out of existence. Can’t we because I shall need your help very much.”
Anna responded that You will know before you get this letter that a new tester has arrived at last. I am sorry to say that were not in it. No, the farmers were not glad to see the association fall through and I know how much they all thought of the tester even before. I dared hope to own him. You sure have many friends in Bovina and always will have I know.”
Anna made a couple of references in her March letters concerning their future places, specifically concerning having a family. “I had some advice given me today. Aunt Jane Miller always wanted children and couldn’t have any so she told me to have them if I could…. You talk of our family, it would be wicked of me to put my foot down and say “no” when you want one so much. Anna said the other day that she bet we would both be disappointed if we never did. The aunt Jane she mentions likely is her great Aunt Mary Jane Banker Miller, the wife of Gib Miller. They were married for over 50 years but did not have any children.
The Ward place is still waiting for you I guess or at least it stands there idle. I do not know about the pasture. (I well remember teasing you about the place). This may be a farm that was on Pink Street. From what I can work out, it is now the Hal Wilkie farm. On March 24 she makes another reference to this farm: “I know I laugh when I think of you on the Ward place with the old ‘Biddy’ hen and your wife. I should be willing even to go on that place if we could only be permitted to live together.”
Anna wrote in later March that “I am not worrying about the home you provide. I know what a happy one it will be. I am afraid on my part that I cannot be what a wife ought to be to such a man as you but I am so anxious to make a trial at it just the same. I do so much planning for that home and hope and pray we may soon realize it.”
As in previous months, James writes about some of the news about the war. He also has a couple of exchanges concerning a possible change of camp.
On March 5, James wrote that “I do not hear so very much about the war and practically nothing about the coming of peace. Things seem to move along pretty slow. I wish we could get at it and get the job finished. This everlasting waiting is getting unendurable. I have been engaged in the war business about three months and it seems like three years. When the war finally does come to an end those who are left will be so glad they will be uncontrollable. Some people try to make believe they like war but I know well enough [that] they are either crazy or else they are terrible liars.
He comments on the war toward the end of the month on March 26: “Battles are raging in Europe now and this may mean the last great drive of the war. The Germans are sacrificing thousands of men in an attempt to beat the allies before Uncle Sam can get enough men there to prevent a victory for the Allies but the Allies are holding them back good yet and Germany is losing thousands of men.”
James also wrote about the status of Camp Greene: “There was talk of this camp being abandoned a short time ago but authorities have decided to maintain the camp and complete draining it so that the place will be more healthy. It is not a fit place for a camp and it is a wonder that half the soldiers did not die during the rainy muddy spell we had here this winter. For most two weeks it rained every day almost without fail and these has been other times since I have been here that have been nearly as bad. Those who lived through such conditions as we had here this winter will go through most anything alive.”
On March 8, he writes “I did not wish to worry you by telling you the fact that this regiment is soon to go to Camp Merritt but since you have guessed the truth I may as well admit it. I think we will be in Camp Merritt some time possibly a month and I am going to try and get a furlough to come home from there and if I cannot I thought perhaps you and someone else could come down there for a day or two. I still have hopes that I shall be discarded as unfit for oversea service when we are finally ex- arrived at the port of embarkation but of course that is only a hope.”
Though it’s not stated obviously in their subsequent exchanges, it appears that James may have been reprimanded for writing about the move. A few days later, he wrote to Anna, telling her that “…under no consideration write to me regarding [the change of camp] because all information which might be useful to the Germans is strictly forbidden and anyone writing such if caught will be severely punished. I know one fellow who was given a sentence of 6 months in the guard house for telling in a telegram something concerning the movement of his regiment and especially the time and place of movement of troops. Please do not write a word that you know but just wait patiently…. Keep writing here but do not telegram. You may feel that I am sending undue[?] advice but dear Anna I would not have us get into trouble for the world besides we must play true to our country. All will come right in time.”
James did go to Camp Merritt briefly in early April.
As in past letters, there are occasional references to the possibly of James being discharged. On March 6, he writes I am glad to know Edith still thinks I will get a discharge but am afraid she is doomed to disappointment as I am billed to fight Germans. I will take a discharge if they give it me but do not expect it. I will discharge my gun at the Germans the first chance I get.
Anna writes on March 8 that “Will and Anna say that Mrs. Lee says the boys at Camp Greene will never have to go across as they are to be on home guard a sort of standing army. I would feel better if that were true. I cannot bear to think of you going across. Will felt sure you would get home when you were sick. And he said he could have swore you went by in the stage the other day.”
On March 15, Cora thinks you might not have to go across because she thinks the drafted boys do not have to go across if they don’t want to. I know you want to do what you can but I wish you might not have to go.
James and Anna also exchange information about some of the people they know who are in the war. On March 2, James noted “that Lauren Archibald was in officer’s training camp. He will be trying for a lieutenant’s commission which should be quite easy for him to get as he has a good education and plenty of ambition for work or study.” In the same letter, he commented on the fact that Helen Thomson and her family did not get to see her brother Millard Blair “before he had to leave. Notice to leave usually comes very suddenly, I think.” Anna noted that “It is pretty tough not to let [Millard] home before sending him across. He hasn’t been home since he enlisted.” She also noted that “Blairs haven’t heard from Millard yet and they feel sure that he is on his way across.”
On March 8, Anna reported that “George Miller rode from Will Stories up to the Center with me. Their son Clark is in France.” Clark would become Bovina’s first World War I fatality in May. She also wrote with more news about Millard Blair, writing that “Blair’s got word today that Millard is in France. Got across alright.” The long gaps in communication from overseas would become a problem for many. Anna reported on March 18 that “Davidson’s haven’t heard from Fletcher in 4 weeks, his mother is quite worried about it and I think she has need to be.”
End of March
The last letter Anna wrote to James that has survived was dated March 25, 1918:
Mar. 25, 1918
My dear James;-
I have fallen back into my old tracks again. It is now after 10 o’clock. I got interested in some crocheting I was doing , of course it is something for our home and it is no wonder I got so much taken up with it do you think? I have to put the trimming on it yet but I have it all made. I have seen a difference on myself since I have been going to bed earlier. I have felt quite good today.
We did not get our mail today so consequently I didn’t get a letter from you. I am disappointed though but we had sap together and I can send with Marshall in the morning for the mail. I sent the Reporter, Express and Recorder to you this morning.
This has been quite a cool day with just a few flakes of snow in the air. They gathered 5 tanks of sap today and boiled some more today but I will not try to tell how much.
We did our washing today and the clothes were all dry after dinner so we brought them in and I got them already to be ironed and then spent the rest of the afternoon patching. You know in these hard times we have to make everything last as long as possible.
There is a great fight going on now over across. I do pray that this may end the war. Would you like to have me send you a quarterly again? If you do I will get one and send or do they just make and extra burden to you?
I thought it had come warm enough weather so I wouldn’t need the soap stone anymore but my feet are cold now and I shall have to warm them on mother see what you are missing.
It does seem as though I ought to be able to write a much nicer letter than this but I fail to find any thing to write about but promise you something better tomorrow night.
Please accept my deepest love dear James. I am still hoping and praying that we may soon be together “forever and always.”
Your most loving wife.
James’s letter of March 27 shows that he is on the move again. He gave no indication in his previous letter that a move was happening.
Somewhere in U.S.
Mar 27, 1918
My dear Anna;
Am sending you just a few lines today to let you know I am very well and getting on good.
This is a beautiful day and just the right temperature for comfort.
I am ready to tour and will send you my new address as soon as possible so you better not write for a few days.
The boys are all feeling much happier since the weather has become warmer.
Threes are green here and grass is getting quite a start. Looks like June 1 up in New York.
We have just had our dinner and hope soon to be on the move. There is not very much that I can tell today but do not worry about me, you will hear from me in a few days O.K.
Your most loving husband,
The last letter James wrote in March is about as vague as the previous letter:
Mar 29, 1918
My dear Anna;
There is not much that I can write but will send you this meager note to let you know I am well and getting on good. I will not give my address now as I believe such is not permitted. I should love to hear from you but I think it best not to tell my whereabouts.
Everything is more homelike here and we feel better. The weather has been beautiful since I last send a letter to you.
Please do not think that I do not care because I have written so little because I should like to write a nice long letter.
With a great deal of love,