Joseph, better known as Jos, Ellis was welcomed into the world by his eleven siblings, his loving mother Julia Ellis, and his father, Reverend Harmon, in North Haven, Connecticut on October 6th, 1844. Shortly after his birth, his father left with Joseph’s older brother, Wilson. Jos’ grandmother had passed away leaving the Reverend an inheritance to invest in a small homestead out west. Wilson had always encouraged the Reverend to leave the east coast to fulfill the dire need for Baptist ministers around Wisconsin, but when the rest of the Ellis family moved to Lake Mills, Wisconsin, to join Wilson and his dad in 1852, William, the eldest Ellis boy, decided to remain out east; he never rejoined the rest of the family in their westward expansion. The rest of the Ellis family resided in a cozy, quaint log cabin until a larger home was built on the new family farm.
Joseph was a well-educated child who grew into a well-educated man. In February of 1865, Jos, at twenty years old, enlisted in the Union Army and became part of the 47th Volunteer Infantry of Wisconsin. He served on railroad guard duty during the final year of the Civil War. His regiment served for one year after they were trained at Camp Randall. Railroads played an important role for the North and South during the Civil War, especially in the Union, as they were used to transport weapons, food, other supplies, and troops to different sites across the nation. Protecting the valuable infrastructure and machinery was of the upmost importance to those in the Union. The Confederacy had struggled with their railroads, and by the time Jos was in the war effort the Confederacy had limited use of the railroads and had come to recognize their importance to the Union. Their protection was key to rebuilding and resettling after the war.
After their time guarding the railroads, the 47th Infantry headed to Nashville after the Battle of Nashville was over. In December of 1864, the battle had marked the end of the Confederation’s western frontier. The conditions were not great for Jos or his fellow men during their time guarding the railroads. Consequently, thirty-nine members passed away due to illness, and Jos contracted an infectious intestinal disease but was able to survive. The 47th Infantry was “mustered out,” or honorably discharged, on September 4, 1865, in Nashville. Despite the challenges of his time in the Army, Jos made it back home to Wisconsin in the middle of September.
Although the year has been disputed by family and friends, Joseph married his sweetheart Ermina Julia Morrison on the 23 of November; the wedding most likely took place shortly after Jos returned home in 1865. This lifted Jos’s spirits immensely. Unlike Joseph, Ermina was the eldest in her family. However, like Joseph she was well educated, and they were very sound in their future when Joseph secured his Civil War veterans land claim in Iowa. Under covered wagon, pulled by oxen, Joseph and his wife headed for Northern Iowa in the Marion Township. Ermina and Joseph led a lovely pioneer life where they shared their education with others including their own children. Erminia struggled to nurse her children, likely because of her small build, and at the time milk was not pasteurized, and only four of her eight babies survived. Milton, Edith, Ermina, and Mercy all grew up to be well versed and all loved children.
For thirteen years Joseph and his family lived in Remsen, Iowa. Then, in 1884, Joseph sold the family homestead to head further west into Pender, Nebraska. They still moved by covered wagon, but this time pulled by horses. After nine years on the farm in Nebraska, Jos headed south for Oklahoma attempting to set his carpentry days behind him and run a store; for a short while he was a successful postmaster. However, during the era of “sooners,” the bountiful lending of credit lines broke him, so he headed back for Nebraska.
When Ermina’s heart gave out and she passed away in 1905 at the age of 55, Joseph had her buried in a local cemetery in Randolph, Nebraska. With his Civil War pension of $50 a month, Joseph moved to the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Jos saw many changes come to the Black Hills over the twenty years he resided at the sanitarium. In Spearfish, South Dakota, the D.C. Booth House was built at the Hatchery, exemplifying the expansion the area was undergoing. Jos remained at the sanitarium as railroads, Model T’s, and other technological advancements crept into western South Dakota. Jos passed away while receiving care for his intestinal disease in July of 1924. He was buried on July 25th; according to the records his cause of death was noted as “cerebral hemorrhage”.
Jos braved the Civil War, the western frontier, and lived a simple, educated, and enjoyable life during his time on this earth. His story stands as a reminder of where this country has been and the importance of remembering, learning, and respecting history. Jos lived during the time of Harriet Tubman, the Civil War, Charles Dickens, Ireland’s Potato Famine, the Mexican-American war, Edgar Allen Poe, and the roaring twenties. He is one of many veterans whose life story shows a bigger picture of national and world history. His life’s progression took him from Connecticut to the western frontiers of Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. His story shows the westward progression of families, and economic, political, and technological advancements. Jos’s story lives on to serve as an example of one man’s life being a part of the much larger collection of history.
Jos Ellis is one of the many veterans interred at the historic Hot Springs National Cemetery. Jos was remembered by his granddaughter, Katherine, as “a hale and hearty old timer”.Stories like Jos’ cannot be told without the help of local community members. Even though Robert Klein never knew his great-great grandfather, Jos, when he heard about the Veterans Legacy Program he reached out to share Jos’s story to create an amazing detailed account of a Civil War veteran. Many of the stories of our nation’s heroes get lost with time, but fortunately, Jos and his story can be remembered for generations to come thanks to the help of people like Robert Klein and his family.