A Love Story about
John Janeway and Gertrude Grubb
Note: Gertrude Grubb Janeway passed away January 19th 2003 at the
age of 93.
From the Thousand Oaks Star, Monday, June 22, 1998
CIVIL WAR MEMORIES ENDURE THROUGH LOVE
Gertrude Janeway: She lives now as she did 70 years ago; memories
by Fred Brown, Scripps Howard News Service
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Gertrude Grubb Janeway has a red ribbon in her hair
and a smile on her face. In the thin mid-morning light of her log
cabin, she looks out from her bed onto a world that must seem
strange, even bizarre at times, compared to life as she has known
it. Her perspective is from a long, long way back, almost as if she
were a stranger from a strange land emerging into the present.
Gertrude, 89, is something of a phenomenon. She is Tennessee's only
widow of a Civil War veteran listed on Department of Veteran Affairs
records and one of only 15 remaining nationwide. She married John
Janeway when he was 81 years old and she was but an 18-year-old farm
girl from Grainger County.
Theirs is the love story of an era now so far away it seems like a
dream, but Gertrude has not forgotten a single detail. She loves to
tell the story because in a way it keeps her husband alive.
When she talks about it, her face lights up. Her memories are so
vivid, the listener is transported back over 100 years to a time
when even Gertrude had not been born. This is John Janeway's story
as he told it to her.
Return to the year 1864. It is late May, a fresh, slightly cool
morning. An 18-year-old boy is astride the family horse. A sack of
corn is thrown across the horse's neck. The two are on their way to
the grist mill on Buffalo Creek, the one near the falls that drops
about 20 feet.
As the old horse plods the familiar trail to the grist mill, a
wild-riding regiment of men in blue suddenly rounds a corner and
pulls their mounts to a stop. Clouds of dust powder the soldiers'
backs and shoulders.
The soldiers are part of the 14th Illinois Cavalry, a distinguished
unit that has fought its way from the siege of Knoxville, chased
Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan to Greeneville and run down
Thomas' Legion of Cherokees. It is now on its way to join Gen.
Tecumseh Sherman, who is readying his army for a campaign that will
make Georgia howl.
A BOY BECOMES A MAN
"You look like a stout young man," one of the soldiers says. John
Janeway is a stout young man -- tall, angular, rawboned even. The
soldiers tell him stories of firing muskets, of fighting Rebels in
distant places, of adventures he'll have but one time to see and a
lifetime to tell about.
On that fine spring morning, he turns his back on the grist mill and
turns his face toward war. John Janeway joins the 14th Illinois
Cavalry and rides off with them, pointing the family horse toward
When the soldiers ask him his name, he improvises. "John January."
He does not give them his family name in fear that his parents will
find out and make him come home. He is eager for adventure, eager to
leave behind the familiar landmarks of Grainger County's New Corinth
After enlisting June 1 at Maryville, he is sent with the Union
cavalry to just outside Atlanta, where Sherman is sharpening his
Barely two months later, John January is captured in a fierce fight
during which his unit, under the command of Union Gen. George
Stoneman, is "cut to pieces" in a running battle near Macon, Ga.
Stoneman has managed to get himself and his 6,500 infantry and
cavalry surrounded by Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's
After losing 2,000 men, Stoneman is captured along with 700 of his
soldiers. Pvt. John January becomes a prisoner of war at a place he
wrote down as "Chattahoochee."
LITTLE TO SAY
Years later, after he married Gertrude Grubb, he would speak
sparingly of his exploits, the adventure the horse soldiers had
"I just hope I never killed anyone," he said.
"A soldier's life is a hard life," he told Gertrude. "I had to beg
at houses for food. You slept when you could, ate when you could.
I've seen some hard things."
His only words about his capture were that he was almost shot in the
head the night he and other members of the 14th Illinois were
surrounded by swarming Confederates.
The 14th had had no rest or sleep for four days, being hounded by
Wheeler's men. Finally, at midnight on Aug. 2, Capron halted his men
on the road back toward Atlanta.
About 2 a.m., the men of the 14th were curled up on the ground near
their horses, having been ordered not even to dismount. Tired and
tormented, they slept. Almost as soon as they fell asleep, they were
surrounded. Some were shot where they slept. One Confederate put a
bullet through John January's hat brim, barely missing his head.
In December, John January was paroled. He returned to his unit but,
four months later, the war was over.
It would be nice to say that he returned to Grainger County, got on
the family horse and took the corn to the grist mill on Buffalo
Springs. But the reality of the story is that not much is known
about John January's post-war history.
Gertrude's recollections are mainly from shards of conversations she
had with her husband. John Janeway was already 63 years old when she
was born July 3, 1909.
WHAT LITTLE SHE KNOWS
She knows that he was in California after the war. John Janeway had
a family and lived to be an old man. By the time he was 77 years
old, he simply showed up in Grainger County.
"He knew my mother, Halley. He came by to see us one day when I was
16 years old, "Gertrude said. She shut her eyes. It was like
watching someone sweep away the dust from a set of books.
"He asked Hal-- that's what we called Mama---if he could marry me.
She said he would have to spark for three years before she would
sign the papers."
Gertrude was born with a badly deformed right hand. Her right leg
was shorter than the left and she was 7 years old before she learned
to walk. But, she was a pretty green-eyed girl.
Growing up was not easy for Gertrude. She was the oldest of four
children. Her father, Tom Grubb, died in 1922 at age 69 when
Gertrude was only 13 years old. Her old green eyes tear up as she
recalls her father.
"He taught me how to walk," she said softly. "He would give me one
end of a piece of string. He would walk to the other side of the
room and tell me to bring him my end of the string."
Before she could walk, Tom Grubb carried his daughter piggyback
wherever they went.
After Tom Grubb died, Halley had four children to care for. Gertrude
was the oldest at 13. Her three brothers were 8, 6 and 1.
"Mama took to the wash tub," she said. Her voice wraps around the
Hal Grubb, a slender, work-worn woman with large hands, washed
clothes six days a week. She was paid 50 cents a day for an entire
day's work that involved boiling the clothes in a big black pot and
then scrubbing them on a scrub board.
HARD RAW DAYS
Gertrude still has her mother's black pot. It's a reminder of those
hard, raw days. "We ate wheat bread and cornbread three meals a
day," she said of those times.
Gertrude had to mother her three brothers, Arthur, Rubin and Barney,
the baby. She attended school when she could, but then that stopped.
"I got through the fifth reader," she said, but the fifth reader was
far enough. Gertrude is a big reader today. She loves reading the
newspaper and watching television.
The day John Janeway walked into her life, it was like someone
opening the door into another world. Here was the tall, lean and
handsome Janeway. Hal's mother had known the Janeways, and now one
was knocking on her door wanting to court her daughter.
"Mama said we'd have to court for three years until I was of age. We
courted for two years. We'd sit out back of the house in cane chairs
and talk for hours." The day the talking stopped was June 9, 1927.
That was the day John Janeway married Gertrude Grubb in the middle
of a dirt road at 9 am.
"He and all of his people came up in a Model T Ford owned by his
friend Horace Maples. I'd never been in a car before," she said.
They drove to a farm owned by county squire Joe Collins, who was in
the fields cradling hay. "It was a warm Thursday morning," Gertrude
said. Her green eyes gleamed with emotion.
One year later, her Civil War veteran, a man of the world, took his
new bride to Knoxville to People's Studio. The photograph they had
made there and mounted in a round, wooden frame hangs on a wall
beside her bed where she can look at it daily.
She was only 19 years old. Her husband was 81. In the photograph he
sits in a chair, stiff and straight, hands on his knees. He is
wearing a hat. Gertrude also sits in a chair, stiff and straight,
hands on her knees. She is wearing a hat.
was the first photograph she had ever had taken and she did not know
how one should act or what one should do in such matters. "I did
what he did," she said. "I guess I should have taken my hat off,"
she said, almost embarrassed. "John was long-legged. My feet wasn't
touching the floor," she said.
A HOME OF HER OWN
After a few years of boarding with friends, Gertrude told John she
wanted a home of their own. They had been walking by a log cabin by
the side of the road. After the death of the old couple who had
lived there, John and Gertrude bought it and began paying it off.
Gertrude does not know how old the log cabin is. She remembers
seeing it when she was a child. The boards on a later addition are
more than a foot wide, and the rusting tin roof is the same one John
put on when the wooden shingles began leaking.
It is the only house Gertrude has lived in since she was 23 .
There is only one electric light in the front of the cabin. There
are two electric outlets and two more fixtures in the back of the
Electricity is another element of her life that she says she can do
without and did until a few years ago, when some of her family
wanted her to have electricity for heat.
She has talked on a telephone only once in her life and that was
when she was a child. She has never owned a driver's license or
driven an automobile. Neither did John Janeway.
Gertrude and John lived together as husband and wife for only 10
years. During that decade she cooked on the black and white Mascot's
Solitaire wood stove that still crouches in a corner in the back
Gertrude loved to cook cornbread, and she remembers her first batch.
"It crumbled." John said not to worry. You had to break it up before
you could eat it anyway.
"John was good to me," she said, turning to look at the photograph.
"I called him honey, and he called me Gertie."
"I told him I wouldn't stay with him if he drank. He never did drink
or curse. John was a good man. He helped my mama and took care of
DEATH LEAVES 'THE LEAST 'UNS'
Beginning in 1937, death began to come in bunches for Gertrude.
First, John Janeway died. Two years later her mother died in the
same bed in which Janeway had died at the age of 91. Then, four
months later, her youngest brother, Barney, died.
"He just grieved himself to death over Mama. He kept saying that
Mama was in a hole. Mama was in a hole." Moments before her mother
died, Hal made Gertrude promise she would take care of "the least
'uns." "She died a-shoutin' when I told her I would."
Another brother, Rubin, lived with his sister until he died at the
age of 73. He is buried in the New Corinth Baptist Church cemetery
down the hill about 200 yards from John's grave.
"I asked Rube where he wanted to be buried. He told me he wanted to
be buried beside me. John is buried there," she said, tears filling
the corners of her eyes.
"There is space for one more beside my man. But Rube asked me to be
buried beside him, and that's where I'm going. Right beside Rube."
The cemetery in the New Corinth Community is on Smith Hollow Road in
Grainger County. A slender, sun-bleached Civil War tombstone stands
out on the top of the hill. It says, "John January. CO E. 14 Ill.
Cav." Gertrude had it put there after struggling with the government
for a few years to get the headstone.
She receives a $70 monthly Civil War pension check. It still comes
to her mailbox in the name of John January.
It has been a long day, and Gertrude is tiring. She loves to talk
with the people whom her nephew Duel Grubb of Athens brings to visit
her and with the home nurses who attend her twice a day.
The single question left for Gertrude is this: Why did a pretty
young girl marry such an old man in the last years of his life?
Gertrude is quick to answer that one. She doesn't blink. She doesn't
even have to think about it. Her eyes flash and her face beams. "I
loved him, I adored him," she said.
Copyright c 1998, The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co. All Rights
Source: Ernie Grubb May 2000-Jacob.GED