Joseph Rufus Rivers was born Oct 16, 1829 to Jacob Rivers and Sophie Dessaint dit St Pierre in Shipton, Quebec, Canada. According to family members the father died in 1844 in Canada and the family later came to NY. Joseph had two brothers Frederick and Broderick and a sister Julia who married a Greenwood. His mother lived with Julia and her family in her later years. Joseph and his brothers went their separate ways and he never heard from them again. Several French Canadian settlers migrated to the Denison township area in the 1850-60 era. Joseph appears in Lawrence county on the 1860 census as a 21 year old painter living with a carpenter Jos B Hiskey and his family. Also in the home was Austin Struble a 22 year old carpenter from Ohio.
Joseph and Austin joined Co I, 8th Illinois Infantry April 20, 1861 for 3 months with Daniel Grass at Lawrenceville. Joseph was a 23 year old private who mustered in April 25, 1861 at Springfield, IL. He was listed as working extra duty as an assistant in the hospital in June and mustered out July 25, 1861 at Springfield.
The next day, Joseph Rivers joined, with Captain Mieure, the Co G 1st Missouri Rifles as 2nd corporal for 3 years at Lawrenceville and mustered in August 6, 1861 at St Louis Arsenal, St Louis, Missouri. Lawrence county was home for 79 of the enlistees in this company, 65 of them were farmers; Joseph was the only painter listed among 6 carpenters and 1 plasterer. The company descriptive book says he was 5’8” tall with auburn hair and gray eyes, a resident of Lawrenceville.
On May 20, 1862, Joseph Rivers was reduced from Sergt and then to Private and was listed sick at Camp Gaylord since June 29 on the muster roll. The casualty sheet reported him as being severely wounded in the neck during the Battle of Corinth held May 3rd and 4th, 1862. Joseph was one of 6 casualties from his company; at the end of that battle, the Union army had lost 355 men killed, 1841 men wounded and 324 missing in action.
Rivers was taken Oct 25th to the US A General Hospital at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri where he stayed through December. While there, he was recruited for the Mississippi Marine Brigade by the Ellet family who had governmental permission to recruit convalescents from hospitals. The posters promised: No trenches to dig, no rebel houses to guard, no picket duty, no danger of camps in the mud, a chance to sleep under cover, no short rations, no hard marches, no camping, no heavy knapsacks; they were to have comfortable quarters and good facilities at all times. Those who joined could get a $2. premium, advance pay and all their back pay.
This must have sounded promising to someone who was recuperating from battle. Joseph was discharged by special order Jan 1, 1863 and joined the Mississippi Marines. This brigade had been formed to patrol the Mississippi and any navigable river flowing into it; they had about 350 men including boat crews which used nine small light armored boats fitted as rams.
The poster and the recruiters had failed to tell the men that the horses were stalled on the deck beneath the soldier’s quarters. These “Horse Marines” as they were called never did reach maximum strength but they took to the field March 1863. Instead of a soft river cruise, they were plagued by flies during the day, mosquitoes at night and multiple skirmishes with roving bands of guerrillas for which they received no credit. They were part of Brig Gen Joseph Mower’s expedition to Richmond, La in June 1863. By August 1864, the government decided the brigade should be disbanded.
Joseph Rivers returned from the war to Montgomery, Crawford County, Ill and joined Co 3 of the 1st US Army Corp as a private for 1 year with Captain Scott at Olney. He was a 24 year veteran when he mustered in Feb 18, 1865 at Olney. He mustered out as private of Co H 2 U S Veteran Volunteer Infantry a little over 1 year later at Elmira, New York.
According to family, Joseph was working as a painter in New Orleans, LA when someone from Winona, Mississippi asked him to come and paint houses there. There he met and married a young widow, Lidia Ann Carroll who had a 4 year old son. They married in 1874 and started a family. Together they raised 9 more children. In 1880, they lived in Montgomery, Mississippi . Joseph was listed as a resident of Choctow County on the 1890 veteran schedule. He died Oct 8, 1894 and was buried at Milligan Springs Cemetery, Stewart, Webster county, Miss. The inscription on his gravestone read “J R Rivers born Oct 16, 1829, died Oct 8, 1894”. There is no evidence he had filed for a pension. His widow filed for her pension July 11, 1895 and the certificate number indicates she received it. She died Dec 27, 1940 and was buried near her husband in Milligan Springs Cemetery.