I have never had to experience the horror of a knock at the door, by a telegraph or phone call or military personnel, bring the most awful new a parent could possibly receive…their child has been killed in action. I can only imagine how the family felt after hearing that news…the feeling of having your heart literally ripped out of your chest…knowing that nothing in your life will ever be the same. The parents will now have to bury their child, and no parent should ever have to do that…for any reason. I have to think that sleep will be very hard to come by after that, because every time they close their eyes they will see their child in the middle of a battle and that moment when their child will lose that battle. I don’t think I would want to close my eyes.
I don’t think there have been a lot of my family members that were killed in action, but I can’t say that for sure. The two I know of were Christopher Columbus Spencer and William Henry Davis. I don’t know much about Christopher’s parents, Christopher and Anna Rice Spencer, because they lived in the 1800’s, but I know they both died within 5 years of their son’s death in the Battle of Opequon, also called the Third Battle of Winchester. It was a battle in the Civil War fought in Winchester, Virginia. This was a fierce and bloody battle, with 5,020 Union casualties and 3,610 Confederate casualties. I suppose that one might thing the battle was won by the Confederate side, but as there were 39,240 Union soldiers and 15,200 Confederate soldiers, the losses were really heavier on the Confederate side. Christopher was a member of the 114 Regiment New York State Volunteers. The Civil War was such a hard war…but then they all are. Still, when you are fighting your own countrymen, and brother is fighting against brother, it is even harder to bear. Christopher was not the only son of Christopher and Anna, of course. Theirs was a large family with 10 children, one of whom was my Great Great Grandfather, Allen Spencer. While there were 5 daughters and 5 sons, at least 3 of them had already passed away, and now this horrific loss would also strike this family. I have to wonder if these losses became too much for these parents to bear, and Anna would pass away in 1868 and Christopher in 1869. By the time this couple passed away, at least 2 more of their children would be gone. The loss of your children for any reason is horrible, but to lose them to war…so far away, must have been awful.
William Henry Davis was killed in action on the West Bank of the Meuse in France. There were several battles going on at that time, so I’m not sure which battle Henry, as he was called, was killed in. Nevertheless, his parents had to live with the reality that their son was killed in a battle far from home. I think that sending your child over seas to fight in a war would be one of the hardest things a parent could do. Knowing that you are sending your child into battle, and you are so far away in the event of something happening. From a mother’s perspective, that would be a horribly helpless feeling. Casualty notifications during an active battle in World War I, would most likely have been very slow in coming. The death could come weeks before the notification. Just knowing that your child has been dead for that long and you are just finding out, would be enough to tear your heart out. That was quite likely the way things were for William and Theresa Spencer Davis. The news likely came by way of a letter. My guess is that even though Henry’s commanding officer tried to be kind, his words felt like a knife in their chest. It was likely very hard to breathe. Life would never be the same for them either, because their son had been killed in action. In the end, William and Theresa would also bury several other children before their own deaths. I can only imagine how awful that must have been.