Such Anxious Hours

Margaret Patchin and Sarah Jane Powers

Margaret and Sarah were among the many Wisconsin women who assumed responsibility for managing the family farm while their husbands were away at war. Their efforts, and those of many other women, were essential to not only for the sustenance of their families but also for ensuring that Wisconsin soldiers and other Union troops were well supplied with wheat and other essential foods.

Margaret Patchin of Wyocena was 45 when the war began and had recently given birth to her eighth child. She was a reserved, unassuming woman who had little confidence in her own abilities as a farmer, as a temporarily single parent, and as a writer. She also struggled with understanding why her husband, Augustus, was unable to come home on leave when officers from his unit were able to do so. Painfully shy, she drew upon hidden reserves to ‘pluck up the courage’ to go into the town of Portage on an errand for her husband. Over the course of the war her confidence grew and she initiated new methods of beekeeping on the farm. However, as I learned from a Dodge County man who knew Margaret and Augustus Patchin when he was a child, she remained shy and reserved throughout her lifetime.

A very limited number of Sarah Jane Power’s letters survived the war but they are among the most poignant missives in this book. Sarah’s surviving letters were written to her husband Norman as he lay wounded in a hospital in Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. Her letters to Norman are fraught with worry for his recovery while also attempting to connect him with life at home. She shares farming decisions with him and describes the use of machines to help in the harvesting of their crops. Her letters reflect the changes in farming engendered by the war and the rise of major agricultural implement companies in Wisconsin. Sarah’s letters reveal a caring and loving wife whose happiness was shattered by the changes that the war brought to her family.