Civil War Soldier and Wife Reunite After 28 Years

Life on the American frontier presented unique challenges, and it was not uncommon for loved ones to lose track of one another as they moved from place to place. In 1889, an unbelievable story made headlines when a Civil War soldier who thought his wife was dead learned that she was alive – and they reunited after 28 years.

Abilene Weekly Reflector 2.7.1889

Frank H. Hall was born in 1837 in the Netherlands. He immigrated to America and settled in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where he got a job in a flour mill. There he met a young woman named Annie Rivers. Frank and Annie fell in love and married in 1860. Shortly after came the Civil War, and Frank was among the first to volunteer for his newly adopted country. He enlisted in the Illinois 42nd Infantry Regiment in 1861.

Annie accompanied Frank to the train station and wept as he boarded the rail car that would take him to his Illinois regiment. At first, Frank and Annie wrote letters regularly. In one letter, Annie informed Frank that she had given birth to their son. The Illinois 42nd fought in several battles including the Siege of Corinth, and the battles of Stones River, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. Annie’s letters became less frequent, and one day, Frank received a letter from a friend in Wisconsin informing him that Annie died.

Darke County Democratic Advocate 1.24.1889

Frank continued to serve, and in 1863, received a discharge in Atlanta for disablement. After recuperating, he reenlisted, serving in the Thirteenth Ohio. For an unknown reason, he served under an alias, Benjamin F. Berkley (possibly because Berkley paid him a bounty to serve in his place). When the war ended, Frank continued to serve in the Sixth Cavalry in Texas. When he finally left military service in 1869, he moved from Kansas to the Washington Territory, to Michigan, and then later Iowa. Along the way, Frank met and married a second wife named Julia Nelson in 1869. Frank and Julia later divorced.

In 1889, Frank decided to return to Waukesha and visit old friends. He hardly recognized the town, but after searching, he found Annie’s brother, Joe. He asked his shocked brother-in-law to take him to Annie’s grave. It was then that Frank learned that Annie was alive and living in the poor house. Joe and Frank immediately went to find Annie. Along the way, Frank learned that the letter he received about Annie’s death was a mistake. It was Annie’s brother who died – not Annie.

Public Ledger 1.19.1889

When Annie saw Frank for the first time in nearly three decades, she didn’t recognize him. Frank called out to her saying, “Don’t you know Frank, your husband?” Annie rushed into his arms. Frank told Annie that better times were coming, and the next day he collected her things and they moved to Iowa.

Annie didn’t live long after their reunion. She died sometime before Frank remarried for the third time in 1894. Frank spent the last years of his life in the Milwaukee Soldier’s Home. He died in 1916 at age 79.

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75 thoughts on “Civil War Soldier and Wife Reunite After 28 Years

  1. Amazing story, but um, he didn’t wanna go home and see his son? Kind of a glaring omission. What happened to the poor boy essentially abandoned by his father?

    • Good point, Patrick. However I did find out their only child in FindAGrave. George W. Hall was born on 5 Jan 1862. The birthdate tells me the conception might happen during Frank’s one furlough. George passed away in Waukesha in 1943 and buried at Prairie Home Cemetery. I suppose the essence of story is about the couple reuniting.

    • Could be that he thought his child was also deceased. Birth would have been about the time the letter was sent, and we do not know the details of the letter.

    • This story was about the husband and wife reunion. Life is complicated. If he searched for his son either before or after the reunion with his wife, those details did not make it into the article but it definitely doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

  2. Had the same reaction as Patrick. If I had a son, my first concern on hearing my wife died would have been, where is my son, who has him? And as soon as I possibly could, I would have been home to at least see him. As this story reads, he essentially just forgot about him.

  3. I understand the concern for the son, but times were quite different then. Most men were generally not even expected, or equipped, to raise children; if the mother died and no family was available to take them, they were often surrendered to orphanages.

    • Is this Valerie Krause? You look so much like Sabra! And that picture looks like it’s from Jason and Myndie’s reception!

      • How do u know Valerie Krause. (maiden name) her married name would b Wilsey. Lives in Washington state…has 5 brothers

  4. Chronocentrism is about viewing historic events without considering that times and both social and personal values and morals were very different from the times we are living in. those values can change in just a few decades.

    • Speaking of social mores…why did Annie reside in. Debtor’s prison if she had a grown son?

      Agree, times were different, but this story screams dysfunction all around…

      • Annie resided in a poorhouse, not a debtor’s prison. A poorhouse was a government-run facility to support and provide housing for the dependent or needy.

      • Most of us, especially women, would consider those times to be a multitude of disfunction. When a man could dictate over his family, no mater how absurd or abusive, with no consequence. It was the time.

    • A story of hardship that echoes down through the generations, across the world to our present day Covid19 crisis. Here in Australia, there are many stories about the privations of indigenous cultures, migrants, returned soldiers from wars that shattered families. Not to mention health crises. I think people do what they can at the time with what they have.

      • Thankful that some people like you have sense not to condemn others in a different time and circumstance, while they put on the costume of either victimhood our self-righteousness. Thank you

          • Very interesting story. Hard times for everyone shattered by war.
            Totally off-topic but when I was in high school I was crowned the sweetheart queen but in the paper the next day they spelled that sweat heart queen and my family never forgot that.

      • And you are very right. Some of the comments were missing the whole point. You can only judge a person by the times they were living in. As you said…responsible do the best they can with what they have…and ask for very little in charity.

    • Circumstances may change preventing one from doing what’s proper but the correct thing to do is not changed by the times.

      • That an appropriate statement. Social norms change with the times and circumstances but the love and concern for family survives in healthy hearts.

    • You are so right!! We should compare the past with the current time—it was a different. Just enjoy the story and be happy for the couple. No one knows what might have or could have happened..

  5. What a neat story. You talk about the son, in those days children were born to help with farms and other labor, not that they weren’t loved, it was just different. Fathers were not equipped to take care of children. My grandmother died and left my grandpa with 4 children. My mom was given to a woman and she was 12 yrs old. She worked for her and later she adopted my mom. My mom saw her dad and still loved him, she understood. It was the depression and with no money you did what you had to do. Look in history books about the orphan trains, and how kids were just sent out west etc to help farmers who didn’t have children. It was a very hard time for children. This is one of the reasons we cannot stop teaching and learning about how our country was developed.

    • My father was born in 1915 in Minnesota, 9th child of poor Norwegian immigrants.
      His mother died a few weeks later and he was placed with another family.
      Eventually, my grandfather and the other children moved to Illinois to be be near other family.

      My father later met his birth family but continued to live with the family that took him in. He and his “real” siblings maintained close friendships for the rest of their lives.

      I’ve recently learned through Ancestry.com research and cousins that once back in Illinois, the
      other siblings were also placed with other families, often times not great circumstances.
      So they would leave as soon as they could support themselves and as the older siblings married, the
      younger ones would move in with them.

  6. Perhaps they were daft, or there was a language barrier? Why did her letters slow and then stop if she were alive? Did she not inquire about her husbands whereabouts? If she had thought him killed in the war, she should have sought his pension. Then she would’ve found out he had been discharged and at what location. I suppose it’s great they reunited, but sad their ignorance wasted them all those years.

    • If he was serving under the name of another man she may not have been able to locate him. Appears that he was injured/wounded so may not have been with the same unit.

    • The woman could not claim her husband’s pension until 1890, The 1890 act allowed widows to receive pensions if their husbands were disabled for any reason at the time of their death, not just due to injuries received in service. In 1901 a widow became eligible for a pension even if she had remarried, so long as she was again a widow. Also, his letters would have stopped coming because he thought she was dead. Women had so little recourse back then. We had no idea what she did, other than get poor enough to end up in an institution to survive. Don’t know why she wasn’t with her son, who lived until 1943.

  7. I love the story, but sad after they found each other time was so short for them to be together!
    My grandmother was born to a cotton farmer in Dec 1907 in Corsicana Texas, she was the baby of 3, with 2 older brothers. She lived to be 101yrs old & often remarked how unbelievable it was that her dad didn’t give her to the town orphanage when her mom died the following January of 1908. He needed the boys to work in the fields with him, so instead he immediately married another woman to care for his young baby daughter.
    In my genealogy research, I find it common (125yrs + ago) that babies who were sickly or mothers who had bad luck with infant mortality sometimes waited months to name their infants…as though the pain of losing a child was less or the attachment less if he\she had no name. Yes it was all a different time, but also so much more difficult than we have ever known. It is only fair to assume they did the best they could.

  8. A fascinating story and I agree that social norms were different then, and we should not judge our ancestors by today’s norms.
    However, the love story does have some holes, primarily that even if our soldier thought Annie was dead, it doesn’t explain why did her letters stopped? I suspect the baby was not conveniently conceived during his furlough but belonged to a new love of Annie’s.

    • There are many fascinating stories out there about what life was like for our ancestors. My parents were born in 1900 and 1901. They did not talk much about what happened previously in their lives as I was growing up. They lived through much different times and what was important to their existence then is way different than the world we live in now. I am now finding out answers to some of my questions about my family through research in Ancestry.com.

  9. Stories like this are priceless when researching ancestors. I’m finally working on my own genealogy which is so much easier with the internet resources available. I was told stories about relatives which I’m still trying to confirm.

    • Neal, where are you doing your genealogy? I’m trying to decide where to start.

  10. I did find the mention of a Frank Hall from the Netherlands in a 1870 Census.
    Hall Frank…age 33…M…Netherlands Head (implied)
    Hall Julia N…age 36…F…Norway…Wife (implied)
    (Frank and Julia were married in 1869 but later divorced in the article)

    • Hi Neal, maybe you can help me. My Mother’s family name is Hall and she always said they were from the Netherlands. I don’t have a Frank Hall in my tree I could only get back to Nathaniel D. Hall BIRTH 13 AUG 1803 • Georgia, DEATH APR 1879 • Tennga, Murray County, Georgia, I show him with 2 wives but I thank they are the same lady. Jane Melvin BIRTH ABT 1804 DEATH Unknown, and Anna A. (? Melvin), BIRTH 31 MAR 1813 • Tennessee DEATH OCT 1889 • Tennga, Murray County, Georgia, USA.
      I have marriage records for them, Nathaniel Hall Marriage Date 28 Jul 1829 Marriage PlaceWashington, Tennessee, USA Spouse Jane Melvin.
      Nathaniel Hale Marriage Date 27 Jul 1829 Marriage Place Washington, Tennessee, USA Spouse Jane Melvin.
      I know one is spelled Hall and the other is Hale.

      I hope there is a connection.
      Thanks
      Tamie

  11. I Had the same questions and came to the same conclusion as C. Clark. The story ends so very sad after starting so happy; our lives are up and down, and it is a constant fight.

  12. My wife traced our families as far back as the early 1800s. She came across woman on her side of the family from Alabama. Long story short, her husband left one day in 1904 and said he was going to the hardware store to buy a hammer.
    One day in 1912 he came back. She looked at him and said, ‘Did you get your hammer?’
    Where the hell had he been for eight years? It was a different world in 1912. More forgiving, I guess.
    Best my wife can tell, from piecing together info, they remained together until his death in 1923. Crazy.

  13. My husbands 1st grand ma’s died, giving birth to twins, she already,had a one year old baby; so the grandpa was in a fix for help real quick. He sent for her sister from the Netherlands as that’s, where, they were from. They soon married and had 9 more children. They settled in Perth North Dakota.

    • Same with my great-grandfather. His first wife died after having 2 children. She was from the Isle of Mann … he then sent for her sister, she came over and they married and had five more children, including my grandfather. I find in studying my genealogy, that when there were children left when the mother passed, the father married again fairly soon. Same thing happened when Abraham Lincoln’s mother passed away.

  14. I had an ancestor who lost his 1st wife and baby around 1780, remarried and lost his 2nd wife. He remarried a third time to a woman with a son by her first husband who had left one day and never came back. They had another 5 children when the 1st husband appears at the door (after having been gone 10-11 years) wanting his wife back. She had to get a divorce from her 1st husband to remarry her present husband and in the process of that, found out the 1st husband had been living in the next town with another “wife” raising another family!

  15. There is just so much that is wrong with this story; I doubt it’s credibility. Like many things media related there is a an ounce of truth to a gallon of BS…..

    • There are so many loose ends and unanswered questions that it is hard to believe the story. The author must not have done any research to verify the alleged events. It certainly is not a happy story. Even if he believed his wife had died, it makes no sense that he did not return to their home to see his son, other relatives, and her supposed grave.

  16. As a career journalist, I can assure that MANY such “news” stories of that era had holes in them, ostensibly due to bad reporting on the part of the writer. Most were not schooled properly and arose from failed careers in other areas, and some were more prone to fiction, ala Mark Twain’s storied career as a newspaperman. Take a look at the censuses of the era, too. Very poor “translations” of correct name spellings and other errors–often due to illiterate interviewees. Also, as an amateur genealogist, that’s the first issue I have had struggles with in accuracy overall. Not much stead was placed on accuracy ANYwhere in written records–and not a lot has changed since, especially in social media!

  17. It was not an easy life before the advent of antibiotics, modern surgery, and labor-saving devices. My maternal grandmother’s father died in 1893 when she was about 1 1/2 years old. He had asthma all of his life and died of “consumption” which we call tuberculosis today.
    His wife was left with my grandmother and her older sister who was 2 1/2 years old at that time. My great-grandmother had to become a laundress, to support her and her girls. Then, they had to sell their small house in order to have enough money to move, taking the train to live near the mother’s sister.
    There, the mother found a job as a live-in housekeeper for a man who had had nine children, but three of them died, (his oldest son and two toddler girls). That accumulated sorrow sent his wife right over the edge. She went mentally and physically ill and had to be put into a mental hospital, where she died. He couldn’t both work and take care of his remaining children and their home, so he hired my great-grandmother. She brought her two young daughters with her.
    Eventually, she married her employer and they had three more children of their own. When my grandmother was 17, her mother (my great-grandmother) died at the age of 43 from the stress of having her third child and because she already had a weak heart (about which they could do nothing, in those days).
    Then, 16 years later, the father (a Civil War veteran) died, at the age of 67. The remaining younger children went to live with the mother’s younger sister, who raised them to adulthood.
    All of this is documented in the genealogy I’ve done for my extended family and in a historical novel that my late mother wrote and illustrated in the 1970s about her mother growing up, from 1901 through the death of her mother in 1909. She interviewed her mother extensively for the novel and gleaned information from historical newspapers, letters, journals, and diaries.
    During this past year of the Covid-19 pandemic, while staying at home, I edited and transcribed the book, and have sent copies to my entire extended family.
    The details of that family’s everyday life from 1901 to 1909 were fascinating, but they emphasized to me how exhausting and dangerous it was to live in those times (with no miracle medications, no immuniza-tions for mumps, measles, polio, nor Covid-19; no indoor plumbing nor electricity in average homes, few labor-saving devices, no radios, and definitely no TVs, cell phones, nor computers!).
    I wish that today we could all be transported to the past for a few days to experience living in those conditions, then come back to the present so we could better understand the past AND so we could truly appreciate the lives we live today!

  18. It’s weird how so many care about the blog more then the actual purpose of the site. Weird how these things work.

    • I don’t even know what the site is. The link to this page was shared with me. I assume most people here are here because of this story, not because of the overall site.

  19. If he was serving under the name of another man she may not have been able to locate him. Appears that he was injured/wounded so may not have been with the same unit.

  20. Linda, Helen and all who shared personal stories, I too have been researching my ancestry and have determined that I am not here to judge the past by the standards and opportunities of today, but, instead to learn from the past and know our history.
    Someday, in the future, society will read the bare facts, out of context, about me…about us all. It is my hope that they will understand that our actions in this place and time in history can only be truly
    explained or justified by those who lived in it. Thank you for the reminders.

  21. Fathers giving up children probably happened throughout the ages. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was only three years old in 1915. My grandfather, a farm labourer in North Wales was left with three very young children. Probably, because he could not look after them, and work at the same time, and with no social benefits at that time, gave them up to relatives. My mother led a very unhappy childhood living with her Aunt & Uncle, even, apparently suffering sexual abuse at someone’s hands. My grandfather did not take his children back even after he remarried. It is impossible to understand people’s values and actions that happened many years ago. I cannot forgive those that caused unhappiness to my mother, or my grandfather for allowing her to be mistreated, but I was not there, and have no way of knowing the circumstances at that time. Thank goodness we are much more enlightened these days.

  22. Interesting. Could not find any record of him having served with an Illinois regiment. Could have been another state. But, his pension card only refers to his service with the 13th Ohio Cav (1864-1865) and then the US Cavalry after the war.

    • Hi Mark, I couldn’t find an Illinois enlistment record either (though in my research experience that just happens sometime). I just went with the article published during his lifetime that said he served in Illinois and names the regiment.

      • Hello Jenny, I noticed that you quoted the articles verbatim. Not much else that you can do. One of history’s little mysteries. Fascinating story nonetheless. Thank you.

  23. Mark, are you the one that contacted me about my grandfather Edward Hall and our Julia Nelson? I tried contacting you much earlier and never heard back. I have same email address so would like you to contact me. Jan

  24. So many possibilities for confused understandings:
    1.) Did he question whether he was the father?
    2.) Did her ceasing to correspond with him align with his re-enlisting in another man’s name?
    3.) Undoubtedly, he ceased sending $ home for her (thinking she was dead), which put her and the child in the poor house.t
    4.) Did his cessation of support $ indicate she thought he had given up on the relationship, or even that he had died?

    It was a different time, with letters taking weeks to months to transit between folks.

    So many misunderstandings, but when they found each other…they tried again.

  25. I wondered why the woman was in a poor home. Didn’t her son take care of her, how about her brother Joe?

  26. My grandmother died in 1933 leaving a 13 mo old, 3 yr old and 4 yr old. My grandfathered raised them by himself and never remarried. There were offers to adopt his children but he refused. My grandmothers last words to her husband “look after my babies” and he did.

  27. Has anyone considered that part of the story might be fake news? If she had a brother in the same town he surely would’ve cared for her rather than putting her in a poor folks home. However the fact that she was poor and was rescued by a successful husband adds to the drama. This entire story may be fake. It may have been written to boost circulation or to fill a column. These success at last and happiness it last stories were common themes in popular fiction

  28. Yes, it is possible the whole story is fake, like a lot of the fake ‘human interest’ stories that pop up on Facebook on a regular basis.

  29. Interesting. The handwritten log book from the Home for Disabled Soldiers says his personal effects were sent to his son George Hall in Wisconsin. At the time of his death, Frank Hall had $110.02 to his name. Also, the log book states that he was born in Germany, not the Netherlands. Probably just an error.

  30. Many of these interesting and touching accounts reflect an enduring truth through the ages – the strength and perseverance of women. The stories also affirm something my late uncle told me: “There are two sides to every coin.” My 2nd great grandmother married
    in 1848, (Herkimer Co. NY), and had two children by her husband. He soon abandoned the family. She then began courting her second husband to be, and told him that she was widowed. She married husband # 2 in 1854 and had two more children by him before he enlisted in 1862. He fought in some terrible civil war battles and was seriously wounded, suffering life long injuries (but survived) at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. After the war he returned home and not long after husband number one knocked on the door asking for one of his children. It did not go over well. In 1873 the second husband also abandoned the family for good. The wife continued to raise her children on her own, and, later lived the rest of her years alone and very poor.
    When her second husband died in 1902, she applied for a civil war soldier survivor’s pension, but was turned down multiple times because she could never prove that she was legally married to him. She had no documents or surviving witnesses to prove that she was legally married to her second husband. She died destitute at age 86 in the Herkimer County Poor House. Although she applied numerous times, she never was approved for a survivor’s pension. Let the truth be told, she was definitely married to her second husband (my 2nd great grandfather), as I was able to find the 1854 news article announcing their wedding in Salisbury, Herkimer County, NY. Lastly, in the many pages of documents contained in their civil war pension applications, he is quoted as stating under oath “She had a nasty disposition.” Yes, there two sides to every coin.

  31. This is truly an interesting story I knew a family who’s name was Rivers, we always got along, so this will really make curious, we always treated them like they were our cousins. Imagine that.

  32. My grandmother was the oldest of three children. Her father then died, and 3 mo later her mother gave birth to the 4th child. Unable to work and tend to the newborn, the infant was given to neighbors who had no children and promised to raise him as their own.

    Three years later the neighbors moved to another state. In the 1910 census, I find the neighbors with children 2 and 3, a d my great uncle, listed with my grandmother’s maiden name, listed as boarder.

    My grandmother was only 5 when he was born and never met him to her recollection, until she was in her late 70’s.

    It was just the way of the times in that era.

  33. I know of a post Civil War story of a southern father who came home after the war to find out his wife had died & daughter had been given for another family to take care of. Then they moved to another southern state. He tried to find her. Speed forward in years, he went to a persons home in another southern states and in conversation realized he had found his daughter. So amazing to find her and he got to reunite with her & her family she now had.

  34. Where was the son when the mother was “In The Poor House”; and why didn’t he take his mother in, instead of leaving her there? I wonder if that might have something to do with why the father didn’t look for him after finding his wife.

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