Serena’s Lament

Great-great-grandparents Serena and Ira Sayles were married in April of 1845, in Alfred, New York, but spent much of their lives from 1862 until 1894 separated by the demands of a post-war nation. Throughout their marriage Ira was an amateur geologist, and his last decade was spent traveling up and down the east coast for the United States Geological Survey, based out of Washington, D.C., while Serena remained on the Virginia farm with son Clifton. Ira returned to Serena–to die.  The following passage prompted my poem:

Mr. J. E. Beales states that he was present with Ira Sayles on June 15th, 1894. Saw him die. J.E. Beales and Henry R. Dodson both state that they viewed the remains after death. They both assisted to shroud or prepare his remains for burial, and they both were present at his burial. They assisted to place his remains into the coffin and both assisted to bury same, on the afternoon of same day of his death which was June 15th 1894.

General Affidavit,                                                                             Civil War Widow’s Pension application of Serena Sayles               26 November 1894

Serena’s Lament

I said it.
At least I’ll know where you are after this good bye.

Seems all I did was watch you leave;
What chased you?
What caught you?
Did you feel my gaze lingering on your back,
Hope for your return dangling like a loose thread from your coat?

Off you went. Traipsing over rocks,
Winding up mountains,
Climbing down caves.
Chips and chunks of earth filling your sack,
Specimens retrieved, categorized, classified, analyzed, theorized
Among names that never
Included mine.
The shroud gathers round your empty frame,
Takes you, a specimen,
To the red red iron-fed soil
Of this land.
Now you will be categorized, classified and analyzed
By its souls.

And my eyes will linger on your back no more.

The Chase (City): Part Four

This is the fourth post from a series originally published a year ago on blogspot, dkaysdays.

The next step to receiving a pension required Ira Sayles to submit to an exam by government approved doctors, a Surgeon’s Board. The report of October 5, 1892 indicates that Ira was seen by two of its three members in Washington,DC:

Dr. Hood, President, was absent,

JW. Little, Secretary

CA Davis, Treasurer

From the chart’s history come details that help us in 2009 visualize this elderly man, our ancestor. He was 5’8″, 175 pounds, with a heart rate of 84 and respirations of 20 per minute. His age, curiously, was listed as 65 years. Someone later reviewing the chart had written in 75?

Claimant is somewhat emaciated, pale with flabby muscles. Claims to have suffered from an attack of apoplexy one year ago.which has left him weak with loss of power in right hand. We find no lesion of special sense, no motor or sensory lesion, yet he is tremulous and he says unable to button all his clothing. He is evidently debilitated. to some extent.

Is the subject of right indinch? inguinal hernia, soc of which having passes through external ring is found lying beneath the integuments and is about size of a hen’s egg. It is bodily returnable and easily retrained? by truss. Rate Ten Eighteenths

The heart is irritable and weak and we find a distinct mitral systolic ? but no hypertrophy. No aortic disease. Rate Six Eighteenths.

No other disability

No evidence of vicious habits.

This former Union soldier was, in their opinion, entitled to a 10/18 rating for the disability caused by the Inguinal Hernia, 6/18 for that caused by Disease of the Heart and nothing for anything else.

By the end of 1892 it appears that Ira finally resided in Chase City, Virginia.  I see a man, once independent and adventuresome, a hiker and scientist, an urban dweller, now confined to a chair on a farm in very rural Virginia, tended by people he had rarely visited. He was lucky, some would say, to have had a son take him in.

In his letter of March 1893 to Attorney James Tanner, Clifton urges action on the pension, for he is a ” poor man with a wife and several children to provide for; otherwise I would advise my father to take no further steps in the matter. He is however, most certainly entitled to a pension (under the act of June 1890) and he just as certainly needs it. . .”

I would wager that, far from feeling welcomed, Ira felt beholding and a burden to this relative-stranger. Old age confers that fear on all of us, it seems, no matter what era we find ourselves living the human life.

The Chase (City): Part Three

Part three in a post originally published a year ago on blogspot, dkaysdays.

I imagine R.R. Gurley, face marked with concern, sitting by Ira’s bed as he recuperated from heat prostration in August 1892. What are you going to do? How will you take care of yourself? Have you thought about applying for a soldier’s pension?

To receive a pension per the Act of June 27, 1890 the Soldier’s Application states the soldier must have:
1. An honorable discharge (but the certificate need not be filed unless called for ).

2. A minimum service of ninety days.

3. A permanent physical disability not due to vicious habits. (It need not have originated in the service.)

4.The rates under the act are graded from $6 to $12, proportioned to the degree of inability to earn support, and are not affected by the rank held.

5. A pensioner under prior laws may apply under this one, or a pensioner under this one may apply under other laws, but he cannot draw more than one pension for the same period.

Before permitting his elderly friend to board the train to Chase City, I imagine a concerned Mr. Gurley obtaining the help of S.G. MacMaster and M. Holmes. Accompanied by these colleagues Ira Sayles appeared before a notary public on August 2, 1892, to declare that he is

“the identical Ira Sayles who was enrolled on the 19th day of August 1862, in Co. H of the 130th NY Infantry in the war of the rebellion, and served at least ninety days, and was honorably discharged at Suffolk, Va, on the —-day of March, 1863. That he has never been employed in the military or naval service otherwise than as stated above.That he is now unable to earn a support by manual labor by reason of paralysis and general debility result of old age. That said disabilities are not due to his vicious habits, and are, to the best of his knowledge and belief, permanent. That he has never applied for pension. ”

He agreed to appoint James Tanner of Washington, DC his true and lawful attorney, to prosecute his claim, paying him a fee of $10 in the “event of the allowance of the claim by the commissioner of Pensions.” Ira gave his post-office as Chase City, Virginia, and signed his name. S.G. MacMaster and M. Holmes, both of Washington, D.C. swore to his identity and that they had no interest in the prosecution of the claim.

There. Application made. But this is the government, and this application but the first step in proving that Ira Sayles was a soldier honorably discharged, and too debilitated to support himself, through no fault of vicious habits.
next….What the doctors have to say…..

The Chase (City): Part Two

Part II, from a year-old post originally shared on my blogspot, dkaysdays.

This then is the story of how Ira T. Sayles finally came to reside permanently in Chase City, Virginia.

WASHINGTON, DC Feb. 27, 1892

Mr. C.D.Sayles,
Chase City, Va.

Dear Sir:

Am just in receipt of your telegram. Your Father is getting along very nicely and will probably be out in a few days. Had a telephone message from the hospital this morning to that effect.

Respectfully yours,
ChasD Walcott

He rallied from this attack but others are liable to follow.

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 15,1892

Mr. C.D. Sayles
Chase City,

My dear Sir,

Your letter received this morning. Just where your father is now I cannot say. I have learned that during the hot weather of last week he was prostrated by the heat, while on his way to the railroad station, and was taken to the Emergency Hospital. He soon recuperated, however, and left there last Saturday. He may be with you at this time: I hope so, at any rate, and that you are relieved of all anxiety.

Very respectfully,
HC Rizer
Chief Clerk

Carlins, Va.,
Saturday Eve.

Mr. C.D. Sayles
Chase City, Va.

Dear sir:
I write to inform you that Prof. Ira Sayles is here at my place where he will remain for several days.Last Thursday he was prostrated by the heat at the Pennsylvania R.R. Depot in Washington and while unconscious he was removed to the Emergency Hospital. Upon seeing the notice in the paper I went to see him and found him about to attempt a new start. But I saw that he was not in good condition for traveling and I prevailed upon him to stay with us and rest for a few days.
I will write you when he is ready to leave and the train etc.
He is somewhat confused still but is rapidly improving.

Very truly yr,
R.R. Gurley

Somehow, some way, Ira Sayles made his way to Clifton.

On old Department of the Interior stationary, Clifton Sayles wrote to Mr. James Tanner, the government attorney who collected and reviewed evidence given in support of Civil War Invalid Pension applications.

Chase City, Va

Mar 13th 1893

Mr. James Tanner,

Dear Sir, I take the liberty of enclosing several letters recd, by me from parties in Washington in regard to my father’s health last year . You will observe they all bear witness to the fact of his having been an inmate of two of the hospitals of that city. He was connected with the U.S. Geological Survey for several years; but was forced from ill health to resign last year. He is now residing here with me (We were formerly from Allegany Co. N. Y. )and is utterly powerless to procure any further testimony whatever in regard to his case., nearer than Washington. He is an old man 77 years of age in feeble health; and has neither money or strength to travel that distance. He is entirely without means and is utterly unable to do anything whatever towards his support. I think I may be excused for stating that I myself am a poor man with a wife and several children to provide for; otherwise I would advise my father to take no further steps in the matter. He is however, most certainly entitled to a pension (under the act of June 1890) and he just as certainly needs it. The Board of Surgeons who examined him must have seen; and so reported; that he was a physical wreck. He had a stroke of paralysis in Nov. 1891 while at Ithaca N.Y. engaged in business in connection with the Geol. Survey. In conclusion I can only refer you to the parties whose names are signed to the letters enclosed. They are all Government Officials, Mr. R.R. Gurley is (or was) connected with the U.S. Fish Commission. I am of course aware that it will put you to further time and trouble and I am willing to pay you as far as I am able. You will understand from above statement that my father is entirely without means; and that I am his only earthly dependence.

I remain,

Very respectfully Yours,

C.D. Sayles

The Chase (City): Part One

This piece was originally posted a year ago on blogspot, dkaysdays, and is worth importing to this new storytelling site of mine.

Ira T. Sayles was a restless soul, or an incredibly persistent idealist or a bit of both.

Or maybe I am combining records of several Ira Sayles into one multifaceted individual. A google search engine creation, so to speak.

With a subscription to Ancestry, I can delve into any digitalized federal or state record I want! I can travel backward, go forward, and go sideways inside these files. Refine search. Spell it Ira and Isa and Sayles and Sayler and Sales. Look for Sherlin and Sherman, Merley and Merlin, Florette and Serena, Clifton and C D Sayles. Guesstimate birth dates, add known deaths, add known residence locations. Refine that search. Before I can move with certainty through the story arc I am building, I have to confirm Ira’s identity. For me, all the other data was made reliable once I read through the Civil War Pension Application records, retrieved from the National Archives in early May.


WASHINGTON, DC,Feb. 24, 1892

Mr. C.D. Sayles,
Chase City,
Mecklenburgh Co.,

Dear Sir:

This is to inform you that your father, Prof. Ira Sayles, who is connected with my division of the Survey, is now lying dangerously ill at Providence Hospital, this city. The details as to his illness I have communicated to his wife, addressing the letter to your care. Will you confer with her as soon as you can, so that in the event of his death the wishes of his family may be complied with as to the disposition of the body. If you will advise me of the decision made in this matter I will see that the Hospital authorities are promptly informed thereof and will personally do whatever may lay in my power to aid in carrying it out.

Very respectfully yours,
Chas D Walcott,

Care U. S. National Museum,
Washington, DC

With this letter, I begin to reliably connect the Ira dots of teacher, geologist, Clifton’s dad, and Chase City resident.

The Chase continues.