‘Last full measure of devotion’

By John Busbee


In its wake, the American Civil War left countless heart-tugging ripples, from epic tales of vicious battles leaving tens of thousands of dead and wounded, to intimate stories of a loved one’s final words received in a post-mortem letter to home.


One story that may well bind both ends of this spectrum, and has remained relatively hidden for 150 years and is unlike any other, is that of Iowa’s Littleton brothers.


The discovery of this historic tale began in 2010 when Rosalee (Swanson) Thomas of Raleigh, N.C., offered Tom Woodruff of Louisa County, Iowa, her grandmother’s 57-page news clippings scrap book. Her grandmother, Olive Mary (Kemp) Carey, had diligently documented news from the late 1800s into the 1900s in her Southeast Iowa home in Louisa County. Thomas wanted Woodruff, her deceased husband’s boyhood friend and a longtime member of the Louisa County Historical Society (LCHS), to have this collection in case it would be of interest to their local historians.


Upon receipt of this book, Woodruff began to carefully curate the historical news thoughtfully assembled by Carey. On page 23, he found something that would change his life forever, rippling through the lives of everyone associated with the LCHS, and beyond.


Buried in a “Local History” column from the May 2, 1907, edition of the Columbus Gazette was a section talking about those who served in the American Civil War from Jefferson Township in Louisa County: “The Lyttleton (sic) family were less fortunate. Of the six brothers, only one lived to return and he shortly died of disease contracted in the service.”


Six brothers from a family of 10, all perished because of the Civil War. The hunt for more information was on.


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