Children of Dennis Lindsey (1794-1836) and Jane Brooks: Charles Washington Lindsey (1822/5 – 1847)

As was noted in a previous posting, the 1830 federal census shows Dennis and wife Jane with two sons aged 5-9 years.[2] One of these was their son Samuel Asbury. The other was, it seems evident, Charles Washington. Charles’s name appears in his father’s estate records up to 1846, and then vanishes from those records. The 1850 and 1860 federal censuses do not show him living when those censuses were taken. A letter Charles’s brother sent to their sister Martha from the Mexican War on 24 October 1847 recounts details of “Brother Washington’s death.” Charles’s letter is addressed from National Bridge, Mexico, where his Army unit was at that time serving in the Mexican-American War. His letter indicates that Charles Washington Lindsey died prior to 13 September 1847 in Mexico, where he, too, was apparently serving as a soldier.

A number of published sources and online family trees state that Charles Washington Lindsey married Sarah Elizabeth Moseley, daughter of William F. Moseley and Elizabeth C. Davidson, in Lawrence County, Alabama, on 15 May 1872. These accounts of the Lindsey family have confused the Charles Washington who was a son of Dennis Lindsey and Jane Brooks with his first cousin who had the same name: this Charles Washington Lindsey (1848-1914) was the son of Dennis Lindsey’s brother David Dinsmore Lindsey and his wife Sarah Brooks.

Henry C. Lindsey, Mark Lindsey Heritage (Brownwood, Texas; 1982), pp. 117-8.

In his book on Mark Lindsey (1774-1848) and his descendants entitled Mark Lindsey Heritage, Henry C. Lindsey provides transcripts of two letters Dennis and Jane Lindsey’s son Samuel Asbury Lindsey wrote from National Bridge, Mexico, during the Mexican-American War.[3] As we’ll see in a subsequent posting, after the Huntsville Democrat issued a call to arms for young Alabama men on 3 June 1846,[4] Samuel had enlisted on 6 March 1847 at Huntsville as a private in company H of the 13th Infantry. He was mustered out for duty on 30 June and his unit was sent to Louisiana for rudimentary training and to obtain uniforms, and then ordered through Texas to Mexico. The company in which Samuel served was commanded by Captain Hugh Lawson Clay of Huntsville, son of Clement Comer Clay, who served as governor of Alabama and represented the state in the federal Congress both as a representative and senator.[5]

The two letters of Samuel A. Lindsey of which Henry Lindsey provides transcripts (but not copies of the original letters) were both written on 24 October 1847, one to Samuel’s cousin Elizabeth Brooks and the other to his sister Martha Ann Lindsey, both living in Lawrence County. Mark Lindsey Heritage does not state where Henry Lindsey found these letters or who owned them when his book was published in 1982.

In the letter he sent to his cousin Elizabeth Brooks, Samuel notes that he had gotten letters from her and from his sister Martha on the same day. The letter to Elizabeth discusses various matters including family news and the unsuitability of the rations on which he and other soldiers had been subsisting while in service — an indicator that lack of good nutrition may have been playing a role in the high rate of death the American soldiers in Mexico were experiencing. Samuel tells Elizabeth that he had eaten nothing but crackers and bacon for five month, and had not seen a mouthful of cornbread while in service. He says, “Oh, if I could be back home this hog-killing time, how I would eat fatty bread.” And then he tells her that he will have to be careful when he returns home not to visit relatives and eat too much “for manners” at their tables.

The cousin Elizabeth to whom Samuel was writing was the daughter of Thomas R. Brooks and Cassandra Hunter of Lawrence County. Elizabeth was close in age to Samuel — born in 1827. The month after Samuel wrote Elizabeth, she’d married George W. McNutt in Lawrence County, and soon after returning home from the war, Samuel would marry Elizabeth’s first cousin Mary Jane Hunter.

Samuel’s letter to his sister Martha at Oakville in Lawrence County opens by noting that he was answering a letter Martha had sent him dated 13 September. After asking her to give his love to various friends and relatives, Samuel tells Martha that his unit was camping at National Bridge in Mexico and on its way to Mexico City. He then lists the towns and cities through which the troops had marched: Mattamorris, Palalto, Carmergo, Weir, and Vergries, “besides other little places that are not worth naming.”  

(On 8 May 1846, a battle between Mexican and American troops had occurred at Palo Alto. The American forces occupied Matamoros on 18 May, and then Camargo on 14 July. From 9-29 March 1847, the Americans had laid siege to Veracruz. I cannot identify the Weir Samuel’s letter mentions.)

Samuel then goes on to provide information about the death of their brother Charles Washington in response to Martha’s request that he do so. He writes,

You stated that you wanted me to write more particulars about Brother Washington’s death. All I know is that I saw the Doctor that attended him, and saw his name on the list of the dead. I have seen a good many of the teamsters who drove under him, and they all say that he was as fine a man as ever lived. He was out of his head when he died. I could not ascertain very much about the way he died, for men don’t take any more notice of one dying than if it was a dog or a cow. The steward of the hospital said he gave two Mexicans $1.50 to put him away. 

Samuel concludes this passage of his letter by remarking on his homesickness: 

How glad I will be to see that day come that they will say “Soldiers, return home to your friends,” then you may look for Old Sam, for if I know myself, I am coming home. I think that it will not be long before you see me coming up that old red hill. Today is Sunday, and I think I would go home with some of the “gals.”

After Samuel goes on to discuss other matters, he then ends his letter to Martha with a description of the death of a Billy McCluskey whose mother was seeking information about how he had died. Samuel tells Martha that Billy had died of diarrhea followed by measles. The doctor had forbidden him to drink water, and Samuel had reinforced these instructions, warning Billy that if he did drink water, “the measles would strike in and kill him.” Billy had not followed the instructions, and had died. Samuel notes that Billy had always told him he loved Sam as well as he did himself, and his last words were, “Sam, I love you and hope that you may live to go home and see all our friends. Tell them that I am gone. Tell Mama that to try to meet me in Heaven.” The 1850 federal census shows a number of McCluskey families living in Lawrence County’s district 8, where Samuel’s mother Jane was living at this time; Billy no doubt belonged to one of those families.

Though I have located Mexican-American War service papers for Samuel A. Lindsey, I have been unable to find such papers for either Charles Washington Lindsey or William McCluskey. It’s clear from what Samuel’s letter says, however, that both were in service in Mexico when they died, and that Samuel was with Billy McCluskey when the young man died. Samuel’s account of his brother Charles Washington’s death suggests he was not with Charles when he died, but had details of his death second-hand, so it’s not clear whether Charles died at National Bridge or elsewhere in Mexico. Charles had obviously died prior to 13 September 1847, when Martha wrote Samuel to ask for more details about his death. The fact that she was writing to ask for “more particulars” indicates that Samuel had already told Martha prior to 13 September that their brother had died. 

Hugh Lawson Clay to Mr. Levert from National Bridge, Mexico, 26 November, 1847, from website of Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington

About a month after Samuel wrote his sister Martha from National Bridge, his company commander Hugh Lawson Clay sent another letter from National Bridge to a friend of the Clay family, Henry Strachey Levert of Mobile, Alabama. The Center for Greater Southwestern Studies of the library at University of Texas Arlington has placed a digital copy of this letter online at its website. This letter contains interesting information about the health challenges Clay’s troops were facing at National Bridge.

Clay writes: 

The health of the Regiment is by no means good — five of our officers are prostrated with Diarrhoea, and an average of one man out of every seven, is reported sick & unfit for duty. The great mortality prevailing, alarms those who become ill, and the disease increases with depression of spirits, until medicine ceases to have the desired effect and the patient sinks. Our Surgeon seems to have learned nothing from observation & experience; and the same prescriptions which operated as passports to the grave four or five months ago, are now made for those who have similar diseases to others who died under them. Col. Echols, who had never had a day’s illness until he came to Mexico, is now lying at the point of death — his disease diarrhoea — and but little hopes are entertained of his surviving two days more, while other officers are gradually sinking under the combined effects of the same disease and medicine. Dr. Malone, our best Surgeon, has returned home, and I wish to have some one appointed for our Regiment, who is known to be a scientific & skillful physician. 

Then Clay goes on to tell Levert,

I have already lost as many as sixteen men by death, have had two discharged, and now have twenty reported unfit for duty! If our Regiment could be moved on to a place where there was greater equilibrium of temperature, the health of the troops might be improved, but so long as we have chilling nights dews and intensely hot suns, as is the case here, the dead march will be “heard as often as reveille.” 

The mortality rate for American soldiers in the Mexican-American War was notably high. As Jonathan A. Jacobs notes, of the approximately 100,182 American soldiers who served in this war, nearly 10,790 died from disease and exposure to inclement weather.[6] This in contrast to the  1,548 soldiers who died in battle. Jacobs states that Generals George B. McClellan and Winfield Scott both noted the devastation of their forces during the war by by rampant illness. Jacobs cites historians Odie Faulk and Joseph Stout, who point to historian Thomas Irey, who concludes that nearly 10 percent of all “noncombat” deaths in the war were caused by disease and infection.[7]  

National Bridge is in the tropical coastal area of the Mexican state of Veracruz, a climate that would in itself have probably been taxing for young men raised in the upper parts of the southern United States, who would not have developed immunity to diseases that proliferate in such a climate. Because National Bridge is close to the Gulf Coast and a road runs directly from it west to Mexico City inland, the location was a prime defensive point for American troops.[8]

On Charles Washington Lindsey’s name: as we’ve seen, the oldest son of Thomas Madison Brooks and Sarah Whitlock, parents of Charles W. Lindsey’s mother Jane Brooks, was named Charles Madison Brooks. Charles M. Brooks’s mother Sarah Whitlock had a brother Charles Whitlock (about 1773-1796), who was killed as a young man when a tree fell on him in Wythe County, Virginia, in April 1796. I suspect that in naming their first son Charles, Thomas Brooks and Sarah Whitlock were remembering that brother, and from him and his nephew, the given name Charles passed to Dennis and Jane Brooks Lindsey’s son. As did many families in this period, the Lindseys also had a habit of giving the names of American presidents — e.g., Jefferson and Washington — to their sons as middle names. 

[1] Lawrence County, Alabama, Orphans Court Bk. E, p. 100. 

[2] 1830 federal census, Lawrence County, Alabama, p. 275.

[3] Henry C. Lindsey, Mark Lindsey Heritage (Brownwood, Texas; 1982), pp. 116-118. 

[4] “Call on Alabama for Volunteers” Huntsville Democrat (3 June 1846), p. 3, col. 5-6.

[5] On 31 March 1847, Huntsville Democrat, announces appointment of officers from Alabama made in Washington, D.C. on 6 March. H.L. Clay’s appointment as infantry captain is in this list (p. 3, col. 1). Clay was of the same generation as Charles W. and Samuel A. Lindsey: see his Find a Grave memorial page

[6] Jonathan A. Jacobs, “Mexican-American War,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciencesonline at website of Encyclopedia.com.

[7] Ibid., citing Odie B. Faulk and Joseph A. Stout Jr., The Mexican War: Changing Interpretations (Chicago: Sage, 1973), p. 110.

[8] Irving W. Levinson, Wars within War: Mexican Guerrillas, Domestic Elites, and the United States of America, 1846-1848 (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, Fort Worth, 2005), pp.42-44, 61.

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