The Civil War

Jesse Slavens Civil War photo. As might be expected of young men without familial obligations to parents or spouses, the four older Slavens boys enlisted into the Union army during the first year of the Civil War. For Jesse, that was Co. I of the 10th Iowa Infantry. Jesse's enlistment papers describe him as five foot seven, light complected, with blue eyes and light hair.

Harvey, Willis, and Milton enlisted in a company that was recruited from northern Hendricks County and the surrounding area, Co. A of the 51st Indiana Infantry. The unit was organized by Jacob Fleece; besides being acquainted with him as a member of a prominent family in Eel River Township, the Slavens boys had ties to the Fleece clan. There were a couple marriages between Fleeces and the boys' Davis cousins, and in the 1860 census Willis was enumerated as a farm hand for the C.N. Fleece family.
Jesse Slavens,
10th Iowa Infantry

From the boys' military papers we can get a verbal snapshot of their appearance in the fall of 1861. Lieutenant Harvey Slavens, the oldest of the boys at 30, was also the tallest, standing five foot eleven. He's described as having a dark complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. Corporal Willis was 26, five foot six, with a light complexion, gray eyes, and light hair. Private Milton was 21, five foot nine in height, and also had a light complexion, gray eyes, and light hair. Harvey and Milton were listed as a farmers, while Willis was a mechanic.

The war began to take a toll on the Indiana boys before they were mustered into service. They enlisted together on September 22, 1861, but before the regiment saw action Willis and Milton contracted the measles during the unit's move from Indianapolis to Louisville and Bardstown, Kentucky. Harvey may also have suffered from measles; the disease often ran rampant through the ranks, and he's listed as present but sick on his December muster card. Willis was sent home on a sick furlough from March through June; he was discharged for sickness in July. Milton, like his brother, was sent home sick in April and was discharged in June.

A worse fate awaited the eldest Slavens. Harvey died of typhus in Nashville on 27 March 1862. His body was returned to North Salem and he was buried in the Campbell cemetery near the town. Later, many of the Campbell burials were reinterred at the newer Fairview Cemetery on the east edge of North Salem. Harvey's broken stone can be found just off the easterly path about thirty yards inside the cemetery entrance, beside those of two other Civil War vets.

Although they received medical discharges early in the war, both Willis and Milton had further service. Willis was a part of the 103rd Indiana Infantry, one of several dozen special "minuteman" units raised in July 1863 to counter the threat of Morgan's raids into Indiana. The unit pursued Morgan into Ohio and skirmished with the raiders one afternoon. The unit was disbanded a week after it was organized. In January 1864 he enlisted in the newly organized 9th Indiana Cavalry, which saw action against Wheeler and Forrest in Tennessee. Willis was discharged in July 1865

Milton saw additional service in the 148th Infantry from February to September 1865. The unit spent its entire service on guard and garrison duty in central Tennessee.

While Milton's pension papers state that he suffered a stroke of palsy in his right side while standing in line drawing rations in Pulaski, Tennesee, on 24 March 1865, a newspaper death notice stated that "during the war he and several comrades drank water from a poisoned well in Kentucky. He was the only one who survived, but the effect of the poison draught got him at last."

Jesse Slavens banner. Jesse enlisted for service with a number of other men from Jasper County, Iowa, mustering in to Company I of the 10th Iowa Infantry on 7 Sept. 1861. Unlike his brothers, Jesse was able to serve with his unit for the duration of the war. The 10th Iowa saw early action in the western theater in Missouri, then in 1863 took part in heavy fighting in the campaigns to capture Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. A year later it saw action in Georgia, joining in Sherman's "March to the Sea" and through the Carolinas. After the war's end the unit participated in the grand review in Washington, D.C. Jesse rose to the rank of Sergeant, and was also honored by being the colorbearer from July to October 1864.

Jesse was wounded May 16, 1863, at the Battle of Champion Hill in the campaign to take Vicksburg. The severity of the wound is unknown-- in his service papers, Jesse is said to have been "wounded slightly in the leg at Champion Hill."
2'x3' cloth-backed banner
listing Jesse Slavens's war service
Jesse Slavens banner detail.
Banner detail

However, in Jesse's pension papers the wound is not mentioned at all, except perhaps in passing: in describing Jesse's level of disability from heart and lung trouble, one of his doctors states "said soldier's disability was at least equal to the loss of a leg above the knee." The phrase turns up three times in the file. Was the doctor using the loss of a leg as an abstract benchmark to describe Jesse's disability, or had the old soldier eventually lost a limb to his wound?

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