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The Love Story of John Janeway (14th Illinois Cavalry) and Gertrude Grubb


An American Civil War love story told by the widow a staggering 133 years after her husband had fought in the late conflict. This is about the love between a Union Civil War soldier, John Janeway, who would later marry a Southern lady just a mere fraction his age. Gertrude Grubb was kind enough to share her story with us, not in the 1890s but in the 1990s, making this a read that I just couldn't pass over. I hope that you enjoy also it.

From the Thousand Oaks Star, Monday, June 22, 1998

Gertrude Janeway: She lives now as she did 70 years ago; memories sustain her.

[Gertrude Janeway passed away at her home in Blaine, Tennessee, on January 17, 2003, and she was the "Last Surviving Union Widow".]

By Fred Brown
Scripps Howard News Service

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Gertrude Grubb Janeway has a red ribbon in her hair and a smile on her face. In the thin mid-morning light of her log cabin, she looks out from her bed onto a world that must seem strange, even bizarre at times, compared to life as she has known it. Her perspective is from a long, long way back, almost as if she were a stranger from a strange land emerging into the present.

Gertrude, 89, is something of a phenomenon. She is Tennessee's only widow of a Civil War veteran listed on Department of Veteran Affairs records and one of only 15 remaining nationwide. She married John Janeway when he was 81 years old and she was but an 18-year-old farm girl from Grainger County.

Theirs is the love story of an era now so far away it seems like a dream, but Gertrude has not forgotten a single detail. She loves to tell the story because in a way it keeps her husband alive.

When she talks about it, her face lights up. Her memories are so vivid, the listener is transported back over 100 years to a time when even Gertrude had not been born. This is John Janeway's story as he told it to her.

Return to the year 1864. It is late May, a fresh, slightly cool morning. An 18-year-old boy is astride the family horse. A sack of corn is thrown across the horse's neck. The two are on their way to the grist mill on Buffalo Creek, the one near the falls that drops about 20 feet.

As the old horse plods the familiar trail to the grist mill, a wild-riding regiment of men in blue suddenly rounds a corner and pulls their mounts to a stop. Clouds of dust powder the soldiers' backs and shoulders.

The soldiers are part of the 14th Illinois Cavalry, a distinguished unit that has fought its way from the siege of Knoxville, chased Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan to Greeneville and run down Thomas' Legion of Cherokees. It is now on its way to join Gen. Tecumseh Sherman, who is readying his army for a campaign that will make Georgia howl.


"You look like a stout young man," one of the soldiers says. John Janeway is a stout young man -- tall, angular, rawboned even. The soldiers tell him stories of firing muskets, of fighting Rebels in distant places, of adventures he'll have but one time to see and a lifetime to tell about.

On that fine spring morning, he turns his back on the grist mill and turns his face toward war. John Janeway joins the 14th Illinois Cavalry and rides off with them, pointing the family horse toward home.

When the soldiers ask him his name, he improvises. "John January." He does not give them his family name in fear that his parents will find out and make him come home. He is eager for adventure, eager to leave behind the familiar landmarks of Grainger County's New Corinth Community.

After enlisting June 1 at Maryville, he is sent with the Union cavalry to just outside Atlanta, where Sherman is sharpening his troops.

Barely two months later, John January is captured in a fierce fight during which his unit, under the command of Union Gen. George Stoneman, is "cut to pieces" in a running battle near Macon, Ga.

Stoneman has managed to get himself and his 6,500 infantry and cavalry surrounded by Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry.

After losing 2,000 men, Stoneman is captured along with 700 of his soldiers. Pvt. John January becomes a prisoner of war at a place he wrote down as "Chattahoochee."


Years later, after he married Gertrude Grubb, he would speak sparingly of his exploits, the adventure the horse soldiers had promised.

"I just hope I never killed anyone," he said.

"A soldier's life is a hard life," he told Gertrude. "I had to beg at houses for food. You slept when you could, ate when you could. I've seen some hard things."

His only words about his capture were that he was almost shot in the head the night he and other members of the 14th Illinois were surrounded by swarming Confederates.

The 14th had had no rest or sleep for four days, being hounded by Wheeler's men. Finally, at midnight on Aug. 2, Capron halted his men on the road back toward Atlanta.

About 2 a.m., the men of the 14th were curled up on the ground near their horses, having been ordered not even to dismount. Tired and tormented, they slept. Almost as soon as they fell asleep, they were surrounded. Some were shot where they slept. One Confederate put a bullet through John January's hat brim, barely missing his head.

In December, John January was paroled. He returned to his unit but, four months later, the war was over.

It would be nice to say that he returned to Grainger County, got on the family horse and took the corn to the grist mill on Buffalo Springs. But the reality of the story is that not much is known about John January's post-war history.

Gertrude's recollections are mainly from shards of conversations she had with her husband. John Janeway was already 63 years old when she was born July 3, 1909.


She knows that he was in California after the war. John Janeway had a family and lived to be an old man. By the time he was 77 years old, he simply showed up in Grainger County.

"He knew my mother, Halley. He came by to see us one day when I was 16 years old, "Gertrude said. She shut her eyes. It was like watching someone sweep away the dust from a set of books.

"He asked Hal-- that's what we called Mama---if he could marry me. She said he would have to spark for three years before she would sign the papers."

Gertrude was born with a badly deformed right hand. Her right leg was shorter than the left and she was 7 years old before she learned to walk. But, she was a pretty green-eyed girl.

Growing up was not easy for Gertrude. She was the oldest of four children. Her father, Tom Grubb, died in 1922 at age 69 when Gertrude was only 13 years old. Her old green eyes tear up as she recalls her father.

"He taught me how to walk," she said softly. "He would give me one end of a piece of string. He would walk to the other side of the room and tell me to bring him my end of the string."

Before she could walk, Tom Grubb carried his daughter piggyback wherever they went.

After Tom Grubb died, Halley had four children to care for. Gertrude was the oldest at 13. Her three brothers were 8, 6 and 1.

"Mama took to the wash tub," she said. Her voice wraps around the words.

Hal Grubb, a slender, work-worn woman with large hands, washed clothes six days a week. She was paid 50 cents a day for an entire day's work that involved boiling the clothes in a big black pot and then scrubbing them on a scrub board.


Gertrude still has her mother's black pot. It's a reminder of those hard, raw days. "We ate wheat bread and cornbread three meals a day," she said of those times.

Gertrude had to mother her three brothers, Arthur, Rubin and Barney, the baby. She attended school when she could, but then that stopped.

"I got through the fifth reader," she said, but the fifth reader was far enough. Gertrude is a big reader today. She loves reading the newspaper and watching television.

The day John Janeway walked into her life, it was like someone opening the door into another world.

Here was the tall, lean and handsome Janeway. Hal's mother had known the Janeways, and now one was knocking on her door wanting to court her daughter.

"Mama said we'd have to court for three years until I was of age. We courted for two years. We'd sit out back of the house in cane chairs and talk for hours." The day the talking stopped was June 9, 1927. That was the day John Janeway married Gertrude Grubb in the middle of a dirt road at 9 am.

"He and all of his people came up in a Model T Ford owned by his friend Horace Maples. I'd never been in a car before," she said.

They drove to a farm owned by county squire Joe Collins, who was in the fields cradling hay.

"It was a warm Thursday morning," Gertrude said. Her green eyes gleamed with emotion.

One year later, her Civil War veteran, a man of the world, took his new bride to Knoxville to People's Studio.

The photograph they had made there and mounted in a round, wooden frame hangs on a wall beside her bed where she can look at it daily.

She was only 19 years old. Her husband was 81. In the photograph he sits in a chair, stiff and straight, hands on his knees. He is wearing a hat. Gertrude also sits in a chair, stiff and straight, hands on her knees. She is wearing a hat.

That was the first photograph she had ever had taken and she did not know how one should act or what one should do in such matters.

"I did what he did," she said.

"I guess I should have taken my hat off," she said, almost embarrassed.

"John was long-legged. My feet wasn't touching the floor," she said.


After a few years of boarding with friends, Gertrude told John she wanted a home of their own. They had been walking by a log cabin by the side of the road. After the death of the old couple who had lived there, John and Gertrude bought it and began paying it off.

Gertrude does not know how old the log cabin is. She remembers seeing it when she was a child. The boards on a later addition are more than a foot wide, and the rusting tin roof is the same one John put on when the wooden shingles began leaking.

It is the only house Gertrude has lived in since she was 23.

There is only one electric light in the front of the cabin. There are two electric outlets and two more fixtures in the back of the cabin.

Electricity is another element of her life that she says she can do without and did until a few years ago, when some of her family wanted her to have electricity for heat.

She has talked on a telephone only once in her life and that was when she was a child. She has never owned a driver's license or driven an automobile. Neither did John Janeway.

Gertrude and John lived together as husband and wife for only 10 years. During that decade she cooked on the black and white Mascot's Solitaire wood stove that still crouches in a corner in the back kitchen.

Gertrude loved to cook cornbread, and she remembers her first batch.

"It crumbled." John said not to worry. You had to break it up before you could eat it anyway.

"John was good to me," she said, turning to look at the photograph.

"I called him honey, and he called me Gertie."

"I told him I wouldn't stay with him if he drank. He never did drink or curse. John was a good man. He helped my mama and took care of her."


Beginning in 1937, death began to come in bunches for Gertrude.

First, John Janeway died. Two years later her mother died in the same bed in which Janeway had died at the age of 91.

Then, four months later, her youngest brother, Barney, died.

"He just grieved himself to death over Mama. He kept saying that Mama was in a hole. Mama was in a hole."

Moments before her mother died, Hal made Gertrude promise she would take care of "the least 'uns."

"She died a-shoutin' when I told her I would."

Another brother, Rubin, lived with his sister until he died at the age of 73. He is buried in the New Corinth Baptist Church cemetery down the hill about 200 yards from John's grave.

"I asked Rube where he wanted to be buried. He told me he wanted to be buried beside me. John is buried there," she said, tears filling the corners of her eyes.

"There is space for one more beside my man. But Rube asked me to be buried beside him, and that's where I'm going. Right beside Rube."

The cemetery in the New Corinth Community is on Smith Hollow Road in Grainger County. A slender, sun-bleached Civil War tombstone stands out on the top of the hill. It says, "John January. CO E. 14 Ill. Cav."

Gertrude had it put there after struggling with the government for a few years to get the headstone.

She receives a $70 monthly Civil War pension check. It still comes to her mailbox in the name of John January.

It has been a long day, and Gertrude is tiring. She loves to talk with the people whom her nephew Duel Grubb of Athens brings to visit her and with the home nurses who attend her twice a day.

The single question left for Gertrude is this: Why did a pretty young girl marry such an old man in the last years of his life?

Gertrude is quick to answer that one. She doesn't blink. She doesn't even have to think about it. Her eyes flash and her face beams. "I loved him, I adored him," she said.

Recommended Reading: Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All: A Novel (736 pages). From Publishers Weekly: For more than half of its very considerable length, this remarkable first novel is a gem: entertaining, engrossing and memorable. Narrated by 95-year-old Lucy Marsden in a distinctive voice brimming with colorful images and sassy, ribald asides, it tells of her marriage at 15 to 50-year-old Civil War veteran "Captain" Marsden, who, permanently traumatized by events he witnessed when he and his best friend enlisted as teenagers, makes a lifetime career of reminiscing about the conflict and collecting weapons to memorialize it. Continued below.

Feisty, irreverent and with a caustic tongue--even in recounting the most tragic incidents, her outspoken opinions crackle with dark humor--Lucy distills the essence of the war, evokes the atmosphere of the small town of Falls, N.C.--interspersing social commentary about the South, its women and the institution of slavery--and draws the portrait of a singular marriage. Garganus has a magic way with words: on page after page, one is tempted to reread the brilliant images that pepper Lucy's monologue. Some scenes have a gripping intensity, especially the section on the burning of the Marsden plantation by Sherman's troops and the accidental immolation of beautiful Lady Marsden. The slide from engrossing to overwritten is almost imperceptible, but when, midway through the novel, Garganus tries to fill in every last detail by way of chapter-long digressions--the childhood of Lucy's mother and the courtship of Lucy's parents, the reminiscences of a wonderfully evoked ex-slave Castalia, etc.--he creates a series of dazzling character vignettes and set pieces that are fascinating in their own right but tend to overload an already long narrative. By the end, Garganus has somewhat overplayed his point that "history" always has a personal impact; in the meantime, he has given us a story that, whatever its defects, is an unforgettable reading experience.

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Related Reading:


Recommended Reading: The Widow of the South. Review: In an Author's Note at the end of his book The Widow of the South, Robert Hicks tells us that "when Oscar Wilde made his infamous tour of America in 1882, he told his hosts that his itinerary should include a visit to 'sunny Tennessee to meet the Widow McGavock, the high priestess of the temple of dead boys.'" Carrie McGavock, The Widow of the South, did indeed take it upon herself to grieve the loss of so many young men in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, which took place on November 30, 1864. Nine thousand men lost their lives that day. She and her husband John eventually re-buried on their own land 1,481 Confederate soldiers killed at Franklin, when the family that owned the land on which the original shallow graves had been dug decided to plow it under and put it into cultivation. Continued below.

Before the battle begins, Carrie's house is commandeered for a field hospital and all normal life is suspended. Carrie is anything but normal, however. She has buried three children, has two living children she pays little attention to, has turned the running of the house over to her slave, Mariah, and spends her time dressed in black walking around in the dark or lying down lamenting her loss. She is a morbid figure from the outset but becomes less so as the novel progresses. The death going on all around her shakes her out of her torpor, but death is definitely her comfort zone. One of the soldiers who is treated at the house is Zachariah Cashwell, who loses his leg when Carrie sends him to surgery rather than watch him die. They are inextricably bound in some kind of a spiritual dance from then on. Their reasons for being drawn to each other are inexplicable, apparently, because they remain unexplained, and when Cashwell tells Carrie he loves her, she beats him nearly to death because she loves him too. At least, that is the reason Hicks gives. He violates that first caveat given to all writers: "show us, don't tell us." There is doubtless something deeply flawed in Carrie and screamingly symbolic about her behavior; it is surely elusive. Too bad, because Carrie was a real person whom Hicks lauds for her compassion and ability to grieve without end. Then, he throws in this gratuitous "love story" and confuses the issue. Carrie's relationship with her husband and children remains unexamined. Hicks is better at describing death and "the stink of war" than he is at life. If you read War and Peace and loved all the war parts and were bored senseless by the peace parts, this is your cup of tea.


Recommended Reading: The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts (Hardcover). Description: After a lifetime of reading, Burke Davis put together a book of amazing and interesting pieces of information that don't usually show up in the historical accounts of the Civil War. ...Wonderfully entertaining look at some intriguing oddities, unusual incidents, and colorful personalities connected with the Civil War. It includes 25 names the war was known by, personal quirks of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Take a look at some interesting examples below.

Here are a few examples of his research:

The Civil War was known by more than twenty-five names. The most unusual include: The Brothers War; The War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance; The War for the Union; and The War of the Rebellion.

Abraham Lincoln had smallpox when he gave the Gettysburg Address and several members of his wife's family were soldiers in the Confederate Army. Also, President Lincoln admitted that one of his favorite tunes was "Dixie."

General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA, had twenty-nine horses shot from beneath him during the war. Belle Boyd started her career as a spy for the South when, at the age of seventeen, she killed a Federal soldier. After the war, about 3,000 former Confederate officers left the South and moved to foreign countries.


Recommended Reading: Civil War Curiosities: Strange Stories, Oddities, Events, and Coincidences. Description: Civil War Curiosities uncovers those unusual persons, attitudes, and events that take you beyond a textbook understanding of the Civil War. A collection of fascinating anecdotes and colorful stories, this book covers a wide variety of subjects, including newfangled weapons that changed the nature of war, the outrageous media inaccuracy in covering the conflict, the phenomenon of  ‘silent battles,’ and various disguises, atrocities, and mix-ups. Continued below.

Just one of the accounts which I loved… It tells of when Sam and Keith Blalock joined the Twenty-sixth North Carolina Regiment, they claimed to be old friends who were distantly related. It was months before anyone discovered "Sam's" real name was Melinda. When Keith signed up to fight the Yankees, his wife put on a man's attire and went with him to war. I found this book (research) to be the most interesting and fascinating read. 


Recommended Reading: More Civil War Curiosities: Fascinating Tales, Infamous Characters, and Strange Coincidences. Description: Garrison recounts numerous instances of friendly fire casualties, the unperfected art of spying, banishments and deportations, grisly tales of missing limbs, disguises, and much more. The unusual and the bizarre are the continual trademarks of this work. The stories are lively, interesting and even thought provoking. The work takes you outside the realm of modern textbooks to give you the inside scoop of the Civil War. A truly fascinating read! Continued below.

A Reader's Review: "I have three of Garrison's books: The Amazing Civil War, Civil War Curiosities, and More Civil War Curiosities. I would recommend each and every book to anyone! The facts that Garrison writes about are both interesting and captivating and being a high school American History teacher, I plan on using the facts that I have found no where else to captivate my students and give them a perspective on the war that they may have never found otherwise." 


Recommended Reading: Civil War Trivia and Fact Book: Unusual and Often Overlooked Facts About America's Civil War. Description: More than 1,600 interesting and little-known facts are assembled in this unique volume that will tantalize Civil War buffs. Fascinating trivia and facts abound in this rich collection about America's most brutal and intriguing war. Continued below.

Questions are presented in categories that make it easy to test your knowledge. Also included are interesting sidebar articles, lists of little-known facts, anecdotes, and over 50 unusual black-and-white photographs. With a thorough index, 2,000 Questions and Answers about the Civil War, it provides a valuable resource for students, researchers, and Civil War buffs.


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