People were refreshed and ready to tackle the oldest part of the box.
Now keep in mind that Sophie had turned over all six pages of Barton's writings to Sheriff Leo.
He photocopied the pages ahead of time and gave copies to everyone there, so they had an idea of who Barton was.
Sophie’s dad told Parker that he could open Barton’s box. It was a box inside the larger box.
“Finally, guy stuff.” said Parker.
He fiddled with the hasp until it finally loosened up and gave-way.
Then Parker had to pull hard on the lid to get the box to come open.
“Is that how sticky the doors are in the courthouse attic?” asked Mr. Grey, winking at the men who knew what he was taking about. The men laughed and Parker blushed.
When the lid touched the table, Parker stepped back.
As before, there was hand-written letter to explain the purpose and the contents of the box.
Sophie’s dad read Barton's letter in his man-voice:
“From Barton Clements, born 1843. Since you found this box, I guess you found my shanty up in the courthouse attic and the papers under the dresser top. You did good. If you found the box first, go look up in the courthouse attic for my shanty, for more of my story. If that is gone, this page and my bones is all there is left of me.
Being unhitched and havin no close kinfolk, I wanted to give something to someone that would help me be remembered.
I don’t even know if my grave is marked, or where I’m buried, not that anyone would have a reason to look for me.”
“So, I’ll talk about the things in my box. Besides this letter, is a piece of sheet music, 'Marching Through Georgia'.
It is about my last few months in the Union Army."
The biggest mystery about me is that after The War, I would disappear nearly every fall for a while and be back in time for Thanksgiving to start pickin corn. Those trips are tied to the wooden canteen in the box. Early in 1865, during the Campaign of the Carolinas, I don’t know how, but I got tangled up. I was in a firing lines when I got in the way of a team of horses that spooked.
One Rebel saw me tangled up in the harness and was going to shoot me, like a fish in a barrel. The man next to him stopped him. I am obliged to that man for savin my life.”
"That battle lasted for a couple of days. Later, we was sent out to gather up Union bodies. The wounded had been taken out already. I was doing what I was told, when I saw the man dead that saved my life. He was layin in a ravine with four or five of his kind, includin the man who was going to kill me when I was tangled with the horses. I felt bad for the good man, more than for some of my own. Specially those that cheat at cards."
“I went through the ownins of the man that helped me. I found a letter he wrote to his mother, his canteen and a little confederate money. Maybe enough to buy a plug of tobacco. I put the stuff in my knapsack and hung onto it.
The man that tried to kill me?
I went through his stuff too, though I wouldn't regularly do that. He had a nice powder flask that I traded for some socks, and enough Confederate money to trade for a set of dominoes. He owed me more than that for trying to kill me while I was tangled in a harness. “
“When we had some time, I read the letter from the man that helped me. The Rebel’s name was Luke.
After the war was over, I went home.
I sent the letter to his mother in Alabama. I couldn’t do that during the war. I could have been shot for treason.
I wrote her a letter too and put it in with Luke’s letter. I told her what he had done for me. I put $5 union money in the envelope for what Luke had in his pocket. What I give her was far more than what he had. She wrote me back and thanked me for the letter and for the money. She said if I ever had cause to be down her way, to look her up, because she would like to tell me about Luke."
"That got me to thinkin. It seemed the right thing to do. So I worked to save the money, and waited for cool fall weather, then went to Des Moines and hopped a train to Alabama to see her. She was hospitable and fed me well. She lost her husband Clayton and her son Luke in the war. She had another boy too young to fight, but he wanted to fight me.
He settled down after he told me what he thought of the Union.
I was there about three weeks, and slept in the barn, making sure to earn my keep, so no one would say I was a carpetbagger.
There was plenty of work to be done on that little farm.
I met her friends and relatives at a church get-together. They were sociable to me, since I showed Luke’s mother a kindness, and since Luke had showed me a kindness. A neighbor recalled that Luke himself once got mixed up with a bad horse. They reckoned that’s why he helped me. A couple of men said that would be the only reason to help a Bluebelly.
When it was time to leave, she filled my knapsack with travelin food. I tried to pay her, but she wouldn’t take it. I tried to give her the canteen, but she said she didn’t want it. She wanted to remember Luke as a farm boy, not as a soldier.”
“I said goodbye and her son walked me to town to board the train. We stopped at the general store and I bought the boy a new pair of shoes and left her a $10 credit at the store, with her boy seein the exchange. While he still didn’t like the North, he quit thinkin of me as the enemy. Luke’s mother and I wrote each other once a year before I went down to see her. Then in the spring of 1887, her son wrote me and said she died of a sickness. He didn’t know what kind, and I quit going to see her.”
“There are only four things in this box; the canteen, the music, this letter and a little pouch. In the pouch is a ring I bought in Washington with my mustering-out pay. When I left Iowa, I had a sweetheart. I planned to marry her and put to farming. Her daddy owned farm ground and said he would help us get started. When I got back, I saw I couldn’t work with horses no more.
Everyone else saw it too.
My beloved said she wouldn’t marry me since I couldn’t farm no more. Another part of me died and I went to town.”
"I give the ring to a man who expects to marry someday, and this ring can be part of their courtship. I don’t know who would want the canteen, since I didn’t kill a man to get it. The man who finds the box can decide that. For the little bit of treasure I have, there is not much to fuss over, is there? But at least maybe someone will remember me.”
With sincere regards,
Cpl. Barton Clements, 39th Iowa Volunteer Infantry
Eric J. Rose