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.
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.
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.
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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