Dawes Day at The Castle

Needless to say, the Civil War was as trying for families on the home front as it was for soldiers serving on the front lines of the infamous battle between the states.

A presentation Sunday at The Castle museum in Marietta, “From the Battlefields to the Homefront: Letters of the Dawes Family During the Civil War,” provided a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of one local family during those war years.

“Rufus Dawes was a Lieutenant Colonel in the famous Iron Brigade during the Civil War, and he also participated in famous charges at the battles of Gettysburg, Antietam, and the ‘Bloody Angle’ in Spotsylvania, Va. He really went through the meat grinder,” said Scott Britton, director of The Castle museum.

“But the best part of this program is it takes you back and forth between what life was like on the battlefield as well as what was going on here at home,” he said.

Britton and Dawes descendant Barb Moberg read from memoirs and letters written by Dawes and his Aunt Julia Cutler in the war years during Sunday’s presentation to a crowd of 30 gathered at the museum.

“I’ve always known that my great-grandfather, Charles Gates Dawes, was the firstborn son of Rufus and Mary Gates Dawes,” Moberg said. “Charles served as vice president under Calvin Coolidge and he was also ambassador to England. But I didn’t know a lot about Rufus Dawes himself until I met (Britton).”

She noted that Rufus was also the grandson of William Dawes who was accompanied by Paul Revere on his famed midnight ride through the Boston countryside.

Julia Cutler, the aunt of Rufus Dawes, is also Moberg’s ancestor, which made her readings of Cutler’s letters even more poignant.

“She was a very matronly woman who lived in a stone house in Constitution (near Belpre) at the time, and wrote a journal about the Civil War every day from the first shot fired at Fort Sumter,” Moberg said. “She expressed the fears of her local community but also feared for the lives of Rufus and his brother, Ephraim Dawes, who were both serving in the war.”

Britton said Cutler’s original letters are now archived as part of the Marietta College Collection. He noted that news traveled a lot differently during the 1860s, which was the source of much anxiety on the home front.

“News about the big battles came out almost immediately, but letters home could take a week-and-a-half to two weeks to arrive,” Britton said. “So most of the time (Cutler) didn’t know whether her nephews were dead or alive.”

She would have had good reason to worry as Rufus Dawes, living in Wisconsin with his father when the war broke out, joined the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers which became part of the infamous Iron Brigade, along with other Wisconsin units and regiments from Indiana and Michigan.

“For the most part the Iron Brigade fought against Stonewall Jackson’s troops during the main battles at Gettysburg and Antietam,” Britton said. “By the end of the war they had just about eliminated one another.”

After the war, Dawes returned to Marietta and built a home along Fourth Street just north of The Castle, where he raised his four sons who all became prominent citizens.

Rufus Dawes also became a U.S. Congressman, author and businessman.

Born July 4, 1838, in Malta, Morgan County, Dawes died in Marietta Aug. 1, 1899 and is buried in Marietta’s Oak Grove Cemetery.