On Memorial Day, Americans frequently visit cemeteries and place flags and flowers on the grave of anyone who has served in America’s armed forced. But Memorial Day is officially the day for remembering those who died while in military service. We have many, many relatives in the Robbins family who have served in the military, and we also have those who died while in service. An early post on this blog told the story of Jefferson Robbins and his lonely grave in southern Indiana. This post will discuss his uncle Harrison Robbins who is buried in a more prominent location.
Harrison Robbins was born about 1820 in Henry County, Kentucky, and taken by his parents Micajah and Elizabeth Robbins north to Decatur County, Indiana, sometime in the early 1830s. Later as a young man he moved south to Breckinridge County, Kentucky, where other Robbins’ were moving from Indiana, and where in 1845 he was married to Eleanor Swink. (As an aside, in the future, various Swinks and Robbins would move to Colorado, settling in Otero County, where the small town of Swink exists to this day – but that’s a story for a future post). There seems to have been quite a bit of travel back and forth between Decatur County and Breckinridge County. We find many of our family living in one place one year, the other place a couple years later, then back to their original location several years after that. And in fact, by 1847, Harrison, Eleanor, and their first-born child Elizabeth, were in Decatur County.
Harrison was not young, about 41 years old, when he enlisted on 18 September 1861. He and Eleanor had six children by then: Elizabeth, Rachel, Ann, Henry C., Lafayette (“Lafe”), and Stephen Robbins. What made a man of his age, a husband, and a father, enlist in the Union Army? He must have been motivated by patriotism and devotion to the preservation of the Union. His enlistment came just two months after the first Battle of Bull Run, which the Union lost, and which demonstrated that the Union wasn’t going to be preserved without bloodshed. His political views might possibly be determined by the name of one of his sons, Henry Clay Robbins, as the noted political leader Henry Clay, by then deceased, was known as “the Great Compromiser,” who stood for the Union above all else.
Whatever the reason, after enlistment, Harrison was mustered into the 37th Indiana Infantry at Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The 37th was attached to the Army of the Ohio, and ordered to Kentucky in October of 1861. After that the regiment was involved in the invasion of Tennessee and the capture of Huntsville, Alabama. In June of 1862 Harrison was promoted to the rank of corporal and was then involved in the siege and capture of Nashville in the fall of 1862. In December, the Army of the Ohio, now under the command of William S. Rosecrans, moved southeast from Nashville and took position near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The Battle of Stones River opened on December 31, 1862. Both the Union and the Confederate commanders (Rosecrans and Bragg) planned attacks that day, but Bragg was quicker. The Union Army was hit hard and driven back, but not driven from the field. Over the next several days they fought off several Confederate attacks and in the end it was Bragg who led his Confederates back south. The battle was noted for having the highest percentage of casualties on both sides. Sadly, Harrison Robbins was one of those casualties.
The only thing we know specifically about his death is what his widow Eleanor reported in her pension application a few months later, that “….his death was caused by being shot through the bowels…” In 1864, the 111th United States Colored Troops disinterred bodies from the Stones River and other battlefields, and reburied them in the newly established Stones River National Cemetery. Today that is where Harrison Robbins rests. I’ve visited that cemetery twice over the years and Harrison’s grave is a very easy one to find, just a few steps from the central flag pole.
Harrison’s children ranged in age from 3 to 15 years and Eleanor wasted no time in applying for a widow’s pension. It’s too bad that it’s from a such a record that we have this information, but Eleanor did list all of her children and their birth dates and places, a listing we can’t find for a lot of families of the same time period. She never remarried but the family seems to have split somewhat. In 1870 only some can be found in the U.S. census. Rachel and brother Lafayette, for example, are found living in the household of a C. and Rachel Kirby.
Over the years, the children separated even further. Daughter Elizabeth (Robbins) Murray ended up in Benton County, Indiana, with her family; son Henry C. Robbins lived in Kansas and Missouri before moving to Sheridan, Wyoming; Lafayette Robbins joined some of his Robbins and Swink cousins in Colorado, where he died in 1924. He had been married to Maleta Hubbard in 1911 in Breckinridge County, Kentucky – he returned to Kentucky from the west to marry into a family who already had several Robbins connections. Harrison’s widow Eleanor lived with her daughter Elizabeth Murray and died in 1883. It is not known if she died in Decatur or Benton County.
Today Harrison Robbins’ grave is in a prominent national cemetery, as part of the Stones River National Battlefield. A long way from home, but not forgotten.
(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Micajah Robbins-Harrison Robbins)