Beyond the battlefield: how one little girl lost not only her father, but her entire family during the Civil War

Life can be really unfair.

I’ve been doing research for a book that I’m writing based on the letters of the first husband of my great x4 Aunt Hester. John Williamson wrote these letters home to Hester while he was serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He didn’t make it home.

John wrote about his impressions about everything around him, including some of the men that he served with. I’ve been researching these men, and it’s been heartbreaking to learn how many of them didn’t make it home either.

One of them was Eli Conner, whose story is particularly tragic. Eli was from Mauch Chunk, a coal town in northeastern Pennsylvania. In 1860, his wife Mary, 3-year-old son Willie and 1-year-old daughter Louisa lived with Mary’s parents, Asa and Louisa Foster in Eckley, a few miles from Mauch Chunk.

In March 1861, Eli’s mother-in-law Louisa Foster died.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in April, Eli joined the Union Army. He became a Colonel in the 81st Pennsylvania Regiment which became part of the Army of the Potomac in Virginia.

In September, Eli’s 32-year-old wife Mary died.

In December, Eli’s 4-year-old son Willie died.

Eli himself was killed at the Battle of Malvern Hill in Virginia on July 1, 1862. He was 30 years old.

So what happened to Eli Conner’s little girl, I wondered? By the time she was 3 years old, Louisa Conner had lost her mother, her father, only sibling, and the grandmother she lived with.

After a lot of research and dead ends, Louisa was finally located on the New York State 1865 census as 6-year-old Rachael L. Conner. She was living in Elmira, New York with her aunt Elizabeth (Foster) Frisbie and her family.

Then tragedy struck again. In 1878, Louisa’s 45-year-old Aunt Elizabeth died.

Louisa got married in 1883 and lived with her husband in Elmira until her death at the age of 65. They had no children.

Louisa’s obituary says that “…she will be remembered for her warm-hearted, responsive nature; her neighborly kindness and her fidelities to her home and her friends…”

When I read that I’m hopeful that despite all of the losses she experienced, Louisa somehow managed to find happiness. Or at least contentment.

It would only be fair.

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