Beniah Case was born on October 15, 1834, to Obadiah James Case and Louisa Royalty Case. He grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa, not far from the Mississippi River. Beniah died in 1862, at age 28, far from home in Arkansas.
Beniah was my 3rd great uncle. I’ve happened upon his story in bits and pieces over the years as I’ve researched his father Obadiah, my 3rd great grandfather. At first, as one of many children in that family, Beniah was mostly a distraction, but lately his information has been breaking through to capture my attention, and now seemed like a good time to piece his story together.
I sometimes stray from the main trunk of the family tree, branching out to “collateral ancestors,” because it gives me a more down-to-earth sense of history generally and more context for my own ancestors specifically. I did not initially seek out Beniah’s brief and simple story; it just found me, so I’ve decided to tell it. My late father told me that his family spoke about an uncle’s experience in the Civil War, and I began to wonder if Beniah’s story was the source of some of the memories that were passed down.
Beniah’s first name is a form of the Biblical Benaiah. He had close to a dozen siblings, among them Joseph, who was his older brother and my great-great grandfather. I have no photos of Beniah, but I do have photos of his father and two of his siblings, pictured here. From left: Beniah’s father Obadiah, his older brother Joseph, who was in his 30s with at least two children at the time of Beniah’s death, and his younger sister Harriet, who would have been only about 11 at that time.
Beniah was the fourth child and third son of Obadiah and Louisa. Depending on the source, he was born in Indiana, Kentucky, or Iowa, with Indiana being most likely. By 1850, just a few years after Iowa attained statehood, the family was living on a hundred-acre farm in Elk River township, Clinton County, in eastern Iowa, according to the U.S. Census. Beniah was 15 years old, had seven siblings by the time, and was identified as a farmer on the census form, the only one of his siblings to be so identified.
By 1860, Beniah was 25 and living with his wife Mary Jones Case, age 18, in Elk River. He is also listed in the 1860 agricultural schedule for Elk River, along with his father Obadiah. Beniah and Mary were married in 1858, with no children listed in the 1860 Census. Strikingly, a son may have been born in 1863, shortly after Beniah’s death, but I’m as yet unable to confirm it.
After the 1860 Census, the next we see of Beniah is in August 1862, the year he enlisted in Company A, Iowa 26th Infantry Regiment, on the roster of Iowa soldiers in the “War of Rebellion.” He was just above the average age of 25.8 for a Civil War soldier. Beniah soon ended up in Helena, Arkansas, and died in December of that year, being “mustered out” as a private on December 13. He is listed in the Iowa Remembrance Project as “killed in action,” while other sources indicate he “died of disease” or of “intermittent fever.”
Elk River, Iowa, to Helena, Arkansas
Because I’m the farthest thing possible from a Civil War expert and don’t know the details of Beniah’s war experience, I informally researched secondary sources to find out what Union forces, especially those from Iowa, could have been up to in Arkansas. Most Iowa soldiers fought in the western Confederate states of Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, according to a PBS article. In the early years, most apparently thought the war would end quickly and those “first departing men” from Iowa were said to be “inadequately armed, clothed and trained.” In 1862, the year Beniah died, apparently Union forces marched from southern Missouri to Helena, but the town would not be fully occupied by the Union until the Battle of Helena in July of 1863, several months after Beniah’s death.
An excerpt on IowaGenWeb reiterates that the 26th regiment of the Iowa volunteer infantry had a short time for instruction and drill before the regiment was “ordered to take the field.” They arrived in Helena, by way of Missouri, in October 1862. In November, some were sent on expeditions intended to divert the attention of Confederate fighters. We learn that the regiment “suffered much from sickness, the inevitable result of the bad weather conditions which prevailed and … the hardships and exposure inseparable from the life of the soldier on active duty in the field.” The piece points out that conditions for the troops encamped near Helena were “uncommonly bad.” It may well have taken enough of a toll on Beniah Case to end his life.
I’ve little doubt that Beniah was missed by Mary, by Obadiah and Louisa, and by his many siblings. At the time of his death, he had about a dozen brothers and sisters. Beniah’s father Obadiah would survive him by about five years, dying at 67. His mother Louisa survived him by about 15 years, also dying at 67. Both parents are buried in a small, rural pioneer cemetery in Clinton County, Iowa.
A pension application, with “Bennaiah Case” of the 26th Iowa regiment as the principal, appears to have been made in March 1863 for both a widow and a minor, but I do not yet have access to the full file (stay tuned) and am studying how to interpret the index card. It is likely but not confirmed (by me) that shortly after Beniah’s death his widow Mary gave birth to his son, then remarried in 1878. I have many clues and paths to pursue from there, none of it certain, as it is sadly a challenge to find Mary in public records for several years after Beniah’s death. One can only speculate, at this point, about Mary’s years as a young widow, probably with a young child.
I know nothing about what Beniah witnessed or participated in that took his life during his brief time in the Civil War in Arkansas, nor how much of the battle he saw before falling ill. I only know he was a farmer who left Iowa in 1862, perhaps for the first time in his adult life, as a member of the Union Army and never returned.
The twenty-sixth Iowa regiment: By one account, Iowa had 76,534 men in the Union Army, more, in relation to its size, than any other state. Of those, 13,169 died, more from diseases than in combat. After Beniah’s death, the 26th Iowa regiment remained in battle until the end of the Civil War in 1865, participating in the Battle of Helena and other battles farther east. Of the 965 men in that regiment, by one account, 47 were killed, 165 wounded, 27 captured, 33 died from wounds, and 208 died from disease. A monument to the 26th and other Iowa regiments was built in Tennessee to commemorate the 1863 Battle of Lookout Mountain. From an historical excerpt on Iowa Genweb: “At Helena, Arkansas Post, Vicksburg, around Chattanooga, between Resaca, Atlanta and Lovejoy, and along the line of its march through the Carolinas and Virginia, the dead of the Twenty-sixth Iowa lie buried. … The advantage and benefit accruing to posterity in the preservation of the history … will be appreciated by all the loyal sons and daughters of the State of Iowa, and especially by those who, in the generations to come, can trace their ancestry to the brave men who fought to preserve and transmit to their posterity the best form of government that the wisdom of man has been able to devise.”
IOWA STATE MONUMENT – LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN. In the Chattanooga National Military Park. Photo by Brent Moore (flickr)
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Inscription: “Iowa remembers her patriot sons who went forth at the call of duty to honor their country in the dreadful carnage of war.”