As a result, Thomas never had much schooling. He must've started working as soon as he could lift a hand to help his older brothers Elias and Joseph. No doubt this helped turn him into the man he became. By all accounts Thomas was never the sort to settle for any one thing over any length of time. Throughout his life he was a jack of all trades and seemed to have many irons in the fire. I wonder sometimes if the experiences he had growing up was one of the two major experiences in his life -- his Civil War service being the other -- that taught him not to place all his eggs in one basket, so to speak.
In 1860 he was working as a farm hand. In December of 1861, at the age of 17, Thomas enlisted in the Union Army. According to one account (W. H. Perrin's History Of Crawford and Clark Counties, IL, 1883, pg. 228) he was too young to enlist as a common soldier so he signed up as a drummer boy in Company F of the 62nd IL and was placed on the staff of musicians until the official band was organized. He mustered in on April 1862 in Jonesboro, Illinois. I don't have his entire service file (as of yet -- another to-do for me!) but all the other sources I have only list him as a private with no mention of any musical service. A picture of him taken during the war is to the right.
On 19 December 1862 Thomas was was one of a detachment of soldiers from the 62nd camped in the garrison at Holly Springs, Mississippi. He'd been there since the first week of December; his regiment had been attached to the 1st Brigade of the district of Jackson, Tennessee's 16th Army Corps. Holly Springs was a cushy post back then -- it housed Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and her son and was one of the Union's major route of munitions and supplies for their armies. That bitterly cold night the residents of the town threw a huge Christmas Ball and invited the soldiers. Thomas had just turned 18 and was away from home and the whiskey was flowing -- did he get himself drunk like so many other soldiers did? Maybe he did. Maybe they stayed up late drinking and dancing and went to bed secure in the knowledge that they could sleep late the next morning. He was probably doing just that when a band of Confederates commanded by Major General Earl 'Buck' Van Dorn moved in and captured the town.
I can imagine the fright of being knocked awake by the sound of gunfire. Swords clattering, yelling, and screaming horses and men. Struggling to pull on your boots and find your weapons in a place where you assumed you'd be safe. Maybe half bleary with the drink that hadn't worn off from the night before. The capture of the soldiers at Holly Springs went almost without a fight, it's said, and it's also said that over 1500 Union men signed paroles that day. Thomas was one of them. (To be paroled meant a prisoner of war promised to refrain from trying to escape or to take up arms against his captors.) I imagine he was frightened of what might happen to him if he didn't. Thomas was sent back to Benton Barracks in Missouri and arrived there on 10 January 1863, where he was exchanged. He continued to serve, re-enlisting as a veteran on 28 December 1863. On 30 Mar 1864 he was transferred to the new Consolidated 62nd and was finally mustered out for good at Little Rock on 6 March 1866.
After the war he returned to Crawford County and married Sarah Ann Huls on 26 Sep 1866. Sarah was the daughter of Joseph Hansen Huls and Amanda Martha O'Kennedy. Thomas was the first of the children of James Browning and Jane Nevitt to marry into the family of Joseph and Amanda Huls -- Thomas's sisters Mary Jane (who married Amos K. Huls a few months later) and Margaret Ann (who married Charles Francis Huls in 1869) would soon follow suit.
Thomas and Sarah (seen below about 1870 or so?) settled five miles northwest of Robinson and thus began his interesting life as a jack of all trades. Thomas tried his hand at farming but the life didn't suit him so in March of 1868 Sarah's older brother Andrew Huls took Thomas on as a co-proprietor of his clothing, boot and shoe business. Perhaps he did so because Sarah was pregnant with the couple's first child, Effy May. Thomas and Andrew called the venture Huls & Browning's Clothing, Boots and Shoes. The venture began drying up soon; perhaps one of the causes was that Thomas found his heart went out of the effort when Effy died at 12 days old in May. By August the partners were attempting to sell their remaining stock. Their partnership lasted until October, when Thomas offered his peddling wagon up for sale. Thomas and Sarah went off to Terre Haute in Vigo County, Indiana, and lived there for four years while he worked at the Terre Haute Iron And Nail Works. Their son Clifford was probably born there in 1871.
By 1874 the family was back in Crawford County, where Thomas was moving up in the world -- he was elected a Justice of the Peace that year. By 1883 he'd begun to sell insurance, representing Home, Phoenix, German-American of New York, Royal, and German of Freeport and Peoria. By 1888 he was an attorney and he and Sarah had four more children, Leola, Iona, Ralph and Alta Mearl. By 1889 he'd added hotelier to his repertoire by purchasing the stock of a local hotel called the Cottage Hotel and taking charge of it.
By 1897 Thomas and Sarah and the children were back in Indiana, settling in Indianapolis. Perhaps they left Crawford County after the sad occasion of their daughter Iona's passing from pulmonary disease in 1896. He was a real estate agent at that time. Another daughter, Leola, died in 1900. Ten years later, in 1910, Thomas was in his 60's and nearing retirement. He had chosen to work as a railroad conductor.
One would think at this stage of the game Thomas and Sarah would have settled into a stationary life. Not so. Sometime between 1910-1912 Thomas and Sarah decided to move to San Diego, California. Their son Ralph was already there by 1910 so I suppose they went to join him. Their daughter Alta Mearl went along. Sarah died in 1912 and Alta Mearl lived with her father until his death in January of 1917.
Sarah and Thomas are buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego, as is their daughter Alta Mearl (who married Hugh Richard Kelzer and died in 1962.) I've been told they don't have stones but plaques. I sure would like to get a photo of all of them, if there are some to take.
Thomas Newton's life must have been full to the brim with new experiences. Living through the war, being a prisoner, and then coming back to make much of himself even though he'd had a rough beginning. One little fact about his life makes me curious, though; in 1868 he joined the Sons of Temperance. Perhaps he swore off the life of liquor because of what happened at Holly Springs? I like to think he did.