James E. first enlisted in Company D, 19th Regiment, Ohio Infantry, at East Palestine on September 26, 1861. He later reenlisted at Flat Creek, Tennessee, on January 1, 1864 as a Private in Company E, same regiment, commanded by Captain Mepson.
He was captured at New Hope Church, Georgia, and imprisoned at Andersonville where he eventually died of starvation and chronic diarrhea.
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James, who died on July 29, 1864, was buried at Andersonville in what is now a national cemetery.
After the war, parents of those soldiers were allowed to apply for a pension, and William Meek did so on August 23, 1887. William Meek, however, died on September 26, 1887. However, his widow took up the request and applied again for the pension. Her plea was included in the pension records:
"New Waterford, O.
May 22, 1889
I rite you this morning as a poor Widdow my Husband having died some 2 years ago, after having applied for a pention for his son that served three years in the servises reinlisted and vary soon was taken prisoner and died from starvation in the Andersonville prison his last words ware of home and Mother as there is a Comrad that was with him in the prison. the soldier was James E. Meek, Co. D, 19 regiment O. V. I. I raised him from a boy small child the agent that had the claim in Hand rote me some time ago that the pention bureau would pay the nursing and funeral expences of my Husband and yesterday he rote me to let the case drop, steded thare was nothing in it for me. now I think thare is something rong a bout this matter if the pention bureau agreede to pay the nursing and funeral expences, why should they go back and if now you would only allow a little, a few hundred Dollars it would be very thankfully recieved and of a grete Blessing to a poor lone widdow,
please answer this and, Oh, do say you can do something for me
Direct to Mrs. Elisabeth Meek, New Waterford, O., Columbiana Co."
Mrs. Meek also filed an affadavit, witnessed by a Notary Public, as to the amount she expected to be reimbursed:
"In the matter of the death of William Meek, dependant father of James Meek. The undersigned respectfully testifies that she was at the expence of keeping the said William Meek During his last sickness, and expense of his burial.
Said sickness being Paralysis and lasting one year and eight months. That the expense was at least eighteen dollars per month. The burriel expens about fifty dollars more being a total of four hundred and ten dollars.
Elizabeth Meek ( her mark)
Sworn to before me this 21st day of May 1888.
S. H. Maneval, Notary Public"
Elizabeth Meek failed to mention that she was not the biological mother of James E. and first wife of William, Elizabeth Eaton Meek. She was William's second wife, Elizabeth Owen Meek. Since William was the only one who was entitled to the pension as the biological father and he died just a month after filing for the pension, the money due would not even have been enough to pay the attorney, according to the pension bureau.
In addition, James P. McGuire, wrote a letter to the pension board exposing the fraudulent claim of second wife, Elizabeth Owen Meek:
Youngstown, Ohio, August 11, 1890
Hon. ... Baum
Commissioner of Pensions
Washington D. C.
The claim of Elizabeth Meek of Waterford, O. now being presented by C. F. Callehan of Youngstown, I consider a fraudalent one.
1st she is not the mother of Jas. E. Meek.
2nd he was of age when he entered the army.
3rd he had not been allowed to live at home or be sent for by his Father, Wm. Meek, for several years prior to going into the army, but made his own living in other homes, not being allowed to live at home by the woman who now seeks to get his money while he lays in an unknown grave, starved to death at Andersonville.
4th Elizabeth Meek by will receivd all the property left by her husband Wm. Meek
5th she has 4 sons and 1 daughter who can take care of her when she has squandered what of right belonged to Wm. Meek's first children.
If you desire proof, let me know and I can get dozens of ...affidavits to the truth of my assertions. I hope she will not be granted any pension as she is certainly not worthy of it in law or justice.
James P. McGuire.
228 East Wick St
Youngstown, Mahoning Co. O."
What was the connection of James McGuire to Elizabeth Meek? I don't know, but he was not happy about her attempt to trick the government into paying her, now that William was dead. Did she think she could get away with it because she had the same name as the first wife?
Someone else wanted to make sure the Pension Board knew that she was not the mother of James E. Meek. L. A. Paxson, 69, a resident of East Palestine, Columbiana County, submitted an affidavit, which stated that he -
"was at the funeral of Elizabeth Meek, wife of William Meek. Her maiden name was Eaton. She died very suddenly, was found dead on the floor beside the wash tub where she had been washing. She was burried at East Palestine. Her grave is marked by a headstone (which show) the date of her death is cut showing that it was February 6, 1846. She was the first wife of William Meek and the mother of James E. Meek who died in a Rebel Prison." Oct 5, 1891
One final affidavit, given by James Hassen, gave an even more extensive picture of the life of William Meek and his relationship with his son, James:
"I was well acquainted with James E. Meek, the above named soldier prior to his entering the U. S. service and know that he never married and died without leaving a wife or child.
Before he entered the service, said soldier contributed largely to the support of his father. The soldier worked at days labor and gave him money to assist him, and after entering the service, frequently sent him money. That during the year 1864 said Wm. Meek had no income except that derived from his daily labor which did not exceed $150.00 during said year. He was very corpulent which made it difficult for him to walk or do any heavy labor.
During said year - 1864 - and each year thereafter and at date of his death, he owned not to exceed five acres of land valued at about $500 and that his income from same and all other sources did not exceed $200.00 per year which was not sufficient to afford him and his family a comfortable support. Said Wm. Meek died on Sep 26th, 1887.
I make this statement from personal knowledge."
The notary public who witnessed Elizabeth's Meek prior pleas to the Pension Board took pity on her and wrote to the Pension Board himself, making a plea in Elizabeth's favor.
Despite this last effort in 1892, the pension was denied, as it should have been.
This is not to diminish the life of Elizabeth Owen Meek, as she married William Meek, a widower with six children, one an infant, and did raise those children with four more of their own. When William's first wife, Elizabeth Eaton, died on February 6, 1846, she had had a child every year since her marriage. William married Elizabeth Owen then on July 26, 1846. So she did raise all the children from their childhood, James being the oldest. He was about 8 when they married.
On the earlier censuses, beginning in 1850, William named himself as a farmer, but from 1870 on, he listed himself as a tanner with land valued at $1000-$1500. It would have been a hard life, with a few acres and no consistent means of employment. It is easy to understand why James, who was single, contributed to his parents' welfare. In 1887, William was 87 years old and sick and his wife was but five years younger. Too old to work and living hand to mouth. So the pension money for them could have helped immensely.
However, thankfully, the government did look out for fraud in the system and this time, they found some.