Heroic woman ignored danger to care for Union soldiers, spent 12 years in Pomona – San Bernardino Sun

Famed Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman called Julia Castle Howe the “bravest woman he ever saw in warfare,” after so often putting herself in harm’s way during some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

Howe, who spent the last 12 years of her life in Pomona, never fired a weapon in anger but her selfless acts of courage earned great praise from Sherman and other generals as well as President Abraham Lincoln.

Howe was the wife of Brig. Gen John Homer Howe of Illinois, who was part of the Union’s campaign to clear Confederate forces from the Mississippi River Valley. Wives and sweethearts rarely were found anywhere near the battlefields, but Julia Howe chose not only to be there with her husband but also to roll up her sleeves and help doctors during six Civil War battles.

And for all her heroics, Julia Howe is little remembered by history — many women of well-known husbands often are shuttled to the background during their lives. Years after her husband’s death, she was sometimes identified in articles as merely “General Mrs. Howe.” Even her obituary distributed nationwide in 1898 by the Associated Press incorrectly gave her first name as Elizabeth. What we have managed to find about her came mostly from articles in local newspapers, and even those were thin on specifics.

They do give some details about her working in the hospitals during Shiloh, one of the war’s bloodiest battles, in Tennessee. “She worked twenty hours daily among the wounded soldiers for a week,” wrote the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 9, 1898, a few days after her death.

An article that same time by the Associated Press said, “she was so close to the battle of Shiloh that cannon balls dropped about her tent.” An article in the Sterling (Illinois) Standard said, “many times she took her place in the rifle pits, and cared for the wounded while dodging the bullets of the enemy.”

Howe was in the Union trenches during the long siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. She and her husband later rode with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant when he entered that surrendered city in triumph.

After the war she was active in advocating for the veterans of the war, seeking the best treatment for them. She and her husband returned to their home in Kewanee, Illinois, where he had been a judge before the war. In 1869, now-President Grant appointed him as chief justice of the Supreme Court in the newly organized Wyoming Territory where the couple lived for two years.

They had an unsettled experience in Wyoming territory. John Howe is remembered for appointing the first woman ever to serve on a jury in the U.S. As women had the right to vote in Wyoming, Howe named Eliza Boyd to an 1870 jury, a decision which generated much uproar in the state. After Howe resigned due to poor health in 1871, it was many years before Wyoming women were again called to serve on a jury.

In 1873, the Howes went to Texas after John was appointed to a commission investigating border problems along the Rio Grande. He died in his wife’s arms in April while they were in Laredo, Texas.

In 1883, Julia Howe was one of several women involved in the organizing of the Woman’s Relief Corps. That was an auxiliary for the recently created Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans.

She moved to Pomona in October 1886 to live with her daughter, also named Julia, and son Edward, and be near her sister Lida Sloan of Redlands.

While in Pomona, she was active in that city’s WRC and was a frequent participant in its statewide and national conventions as well as those of the Grand Army of the Republic. And many still remembered her selfless work during the war, especially those from Illinois who served with her husband.

“She attended all the Grand Army encampments in Illinois and that region and no one was more popular among the Union Veterans,” according to the 1898 wire service article. “She lived in Pomona for 12 years, and the soldiers in Southern California never had a more devoted friend and admirer.”

In 1897, she visited Kewanee, where her husband was buried, and was the guest of honor of the local “camp,” or chapter, of the Sons of Union Veterans, an offshoot of the GAR. That camp was named in honor of her late husband.

A year later, while on a visit with her daughter in Phoenix, she died suddenly on Dec. 2, 1898 at age 77. She was later buried with her husband in Kewanee.

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