The Civil War was hard, certainly, on the soldiers called away from home, whether or not they believed in the cause for which they fought. It was also extremely trying for their loved ones left at home. One couple separated by the Civil War was Garrett DeWeese Gouge (1824-1892) and his wife Rosanna Wilson (1837-1933), and their story is representative of the difficulties experienced by such families.
Rosanna was the daughter of Thomas and Judith Robinson Wilson. She married Garrett D. Gouge just before the Civil War broke out; he was the son of William and Martha Thomas Gouge. Rosanna became the stepmother of Garrett’s children by his first wife, Creany Wilson. Creany had given birth to David Anderson Gouge (born 1854) and Cynthia Louise Gouge (born 1856) before she died in her twenties sometime prior to 1860. Rosanna, first cousin to Creany, had two sons with Garrett: John Richmond Gouge (1862-1898) and William Garrett Gouge (1864-1933).
We have a wonderful window into what the war years were like for Rosanna and Garrett with a collection of letters exchanged by them during the time Garrett was away in the war. The letters were compiled in 2000 by Sarah Gouge McKee and John Silver Harris. “The Civil War Letters of the Gouge Family of Mitchell County, NC” not only have correspondence between Garrett and Rosanna but also from or to their family, friends, and neighbors. Luckily for us they were saved from the burn pile by Sarah McKee’s mother, Lola Dellinger Gouge, granddaughter-in-law of Garrett and Rosanna.
Garrett enlisted in Confederate forces in December 1862, at 37 a good bit older than most soldiers, and was called into service in early 1863. His letters to Rosanna show his intense concern for how Rosanna was managing in his absence and whether she, his children, and their family and neighbors were “getting along as well as common.” Garrett was not literate, but others in the camp would write down his words for him.
There are fewer letters in the collection from Rosanna to Garrett than from him to her – understandable, as soldiers on the march cannot always preserve correspondence. She wasn’t sure her letters reached her husband: “Garrett, I don’t know whether you get any letters from me or not. You don’t say. I write every week.” Another time Rosanna told Garrett, “I want you to try to learn to write so you can write your own letters,” and another time she wished he could read her letters privately as there were things she wanted to say to him alone.
Rosanna wrote her husband that, “It is very lonesome for anybody to stay by herself… Garrett, you don’t know how bad I want to see you. Any way you want me to do, I want you to write it.” She asked him to have a photograph made of himself “if you can get it taken,” and she would send him locks of hair from herself and the children as he had requested.
Little Cynthia Gouge died before her father went off to war, but most all the letters mention the boys. “You must be good children and mind your mother and not forget your pap,” he told them. He directed Rosanna to, “Tell little Anderson to be a good boy and mind his books … and I will fetch him a hat or something else,” and “Let me know whether Richmond can talk or not.” Another child, William Garrett Gouge, was conceived while Garrett was home on furlough and born in November 1864.
It was obvious from the letters, private or not, that the couple missed one another intensely. Garrett told Rosanna, “I was dreaming last night of seeing you and I hope it will not be too long till my dream comes to pass,” while Rosanna wrote, “Garrett, I think if ever I wanted to see anybody in this world, it is you. I hope this war will soon come to an end so the poor men can get to come home. But you must do the best you can and I will do the same.”
One letter from Garrett ended with these words: “I will close. I remain your husband till death. Farewell.” In a couple letters, Garrett and Rosanna spoke about her visiting him on campaign, but it seems she did not, as a later letter says his unit had moved too far from rail lines for her to travel to him. Garrett came home on furlough due to illness in late 1863 but returned to duty in 1864. It is not known exactly when he was able to go home to stay.
After Garrett’s death in 1892, Rosanna married again, to David R. Silver (1832-1911) on 30 June 1895. David, half-brother to the ill-fated Charlie Silver, had been widowed twice. Rosanna’s photograph as an old lady may be seen in Muriel Earley Sheppard’s Cabins in the Laurels; look for the caption “Granny Silver.”
Rosanna’s death at 95 years old marked the passing of an amazing woman, one who remained strong during strenuous times, holding her family together and raising her children when things were falling apart around her. She is buried in the Gouge Cemetery at Bandana, with her first husband Garrett.