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Civil War-era diary reveals tragedy
Dixie diva
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Upon discovering the leaf-strewn grave of Charles Almerin Tinker, my husband’s great-great-grandfather, in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, my husband and I — one of us more than the other — began to study the names and dates engraved on the towering monument.
Three of his children — all born after the Civil War ended — were named in honor of men who Charlie apparently held in great esteem — Lincoln, Stanton (the secretary of war and Charlie’s immediate boss) and Grant. That answered a question I had been pondering for some time. My father-in-law carries the family name of Grant.
“Aha!” I exclaimed to my husband, Tink. “Your father’s name does come from Gen. Grant! I thought it might.” I stopped and smiled. “I still love him, though,” I said matter-of-factly. “It does not sway my adoration of him.”
In an ironic twist of history, I quickly noted that my father-in-law is the link that unites the Civil War general with one of television’s most iconic characters — Lou Grant. My father-in-law was named after Gen. Grant while Mr. Grant was named after my father-in-law. It should be a “Jeopardy” question. The things you can learn in a graveyard.
I studied the names of the seven people buried in that plot. Charlie outlived two wives and four children with only Tink’s great-grandfather, Arthur Lincoln, living longer than Charlie. Two sons and one daughter didn’t live to the age of 3. I cannot think of anything much sadder than outliving all those you love, not just for the pain it engraves on your heart, but also for the suffocating loneliness it must impart.
“What a sad life,” I said. “Look! One of his children, Stanton, died on Charlie’s birthday, Jan. 8. How terrible.”
When we returned home, we brought out the diaries and began to read, beginning with Jan. 5, 1875. It read, “Little Stanton taken with diarrhea and vomiting. Called Dr. Clark. Says he has cholera infantum. Grant ailing also, but not serious.”
Charlie, usually one to chronicle his days precisely, continued his record nightly, but his words were brief. Heavy-hearted, he feared his baby was dying. We know, without question, that Charlie Tinker was a man of prayer, so he prayed. But he also was pragmatic, and I suspect that his faith, though diligently practiced, could not outweigh a doctor’s knowledge.
On Jan. 6, Charlie wrote, “Stanton continued about the same — up and down all day and very fretful, but eats a little and tries to play.”
I wonder if there was hope on that day for a child who could eat a bit and play. If so, he never revealed it and quietly held the hope.
My mama would say from time to time, “I’m so sick that I’d have to get better to die.” It’s true that death often follows a rally.
The child grew sicker, according to the diary entries.
Charlie wrote, “Stanton worse. Remained in bed all day. Called in doctor again this evening and watched with him through the night. Very restless till 11 a.m. Quieted down.”
There was no celebration Jan. 8.
“My 37th birthday but spent in sadness — a weary watch over our little darling, whose disease changed for the worst around 11 a.m. and he continued to fail, passing away quietly at 8:30 p.m.,” the entry read.
My heart sniffled. I’m surprised that Charlie wrote the next day, but he was a man who wanted his history recorded.
“Very cold. Spent the day preparing for the funeral set for 2 p.m. tomorrow at the house. Many friends called to express sympathy,” the Jan. 9 entry read.
Jan. 10: “Clear and very cold. A day of sadness. We laid the remains of little Stanton away in the vault at the cemetery to await our final selection of a resting place. Funeral largely attended. The Rev. Johnson officiated.”
He was no stranger to death. Ten years earlier, Charlie had watched an execution that would haunt him until his final days.
To be continued …

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series on Charlie Tinker, Ronda Rich’s husband’s great-great-grandfather. Rich is the author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” Go to to sign up for her newsletter.

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