The President Shot!

Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln  ca. August 1863 
Photographer: Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. No known restrictions on publication.

My Civil War ancestor, my great-great-grandfather, George Washington Lowery was shot in the chest April 7, 1865 at the Battle of Cumberland Church. It was an extensive injury. In fact one of the officers that commanded him originally thought he had died on the field. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and after a simple dressing was applied to his wound he was sent to the field hospital in City Point, Virginia.

My great-great-grandfather remained in the field hospital at City Point from April 8 until April 15, 1865. Those dates bring an awareness of other major historical events that week.

I assume the first few days at the hospital my g g grandfather was in a lot of pain. He had surgery to remove the bullet/shrapnel from his body. I’ll bet he slept a good deal of those first few days at City Point.

But by the evening of April 14th, seven days after his injury, six days in the hospital, he was probably awake and aware of what was going on around him. I try to imagine the buzz, the rush of energy, the absolute shock that flashed through the hospital late that Friday evening as word spread like fire that President Abraham Lincoln had been shot.

What do you suppose my ancestor thought laying in his hospital cot? The country’s leader, a strong, just man, who had brought the United States through the darkest hour of its history had been shot because of the war too. The president was wounded just as if in battle. Only the field he fought on was the nation’s capital.

I imagine when word came that the president had died the soldiers in the field hospital at City Point and across the union felt an enormous loss. I’ll bet they felt a loneliness, a hollowness deep within their soul. The leadership they had come to depend on had been snatched away from them. Their strong, compelling commander was gone.

My great great grandfather was moved from City Point, Virginia to Carver General Hospital in Washington, DC on April 15, 1865. The day my grandfather is finally able to travel to a regular hospital and recuperate from his wound is also the day the president takes his last breath. It had to be the only conversation swirling around my grandfather as he was transferred.

When we read about this horrible event in our nation’s history, we read of the shock and outrage of all people at the assassination of the president. Yet I believe the assassination of Abraham Lincoln held an even greater impact on the soldiers who had fought for him and with him the last four years.

These veteran soldiers had witnessed untold injury and death while on the field. Their attitude might have bordered on the point of callousness just to ensure their own survival. Yet I believe the loss of their leader, President Abraham Lincoln, had a great impact on them and it was an additional sorrow that each and every veteran carried deep within for the rest of their lives.

My Civil War Ancestor was Injured 150 years ago today at the Battle of Cumberland Church

Pvt G W Lowery Co. A 81st Penn Inf

Pvt George W Lowery Co. A 81st Pennsylvania Infantry

I want to pay special tribute to my 2x great grandfather George Washington Lowery who was shot during the Battle of Cumberland Church, outside of Farmville, VA. 150 years ago today.

Just a little info on my great great grandfather, George Washington Lowery. He was drafted July 19, 1864 at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Next he was assigned to Co. A, 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry for three years. Born in Franklin County, PA my grandpa was a 37-year-old laborer at enlistment time. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a fair complexion, grey eyes, and dark hair, he was an average guy, his description was not uncommon for the time.

After a brief two-month training stint to make my “every-day man” grandfather a soldier, Lowery and the rest of the recently drafted recruits were sent to join their regiment. The 81st Pennsylvania had been mired with the rest of the Second Corps at Petersburg, Virginia, which had been under siege for months. Even though they were in the midst of war, it’s been written that many Confederate officers who lived in the area were able to slip away and visit with family and attend Sunday church services. The fighting here didn’t come in intense bursts as so many other battlefields but it was long, hard months of exhaustive trench warfare.

But soon my great great grandfather learned the true magnitude of war. His regiment pulled out of Petersburg and was involved in what is known as Lee’s Retreat.

He was part of the pursuit of Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, west across the state, in the final week of the war. The experiences this regiment endured would hardened any soldier. This was the time George experienced the full impact of fighting.

The nine months dug in at Petersburg probably did not prepare him for sleeping only moments at a time, the constant skirmishes and out-right battles. His regiment continually moving, marching with the weight of supplies and a rifle. Smoke so heavy in the air an infantryman couldn’t see where his bullet hit if it hit anything at all.

The regiment found sporadic food consumption a luxury. Yet above all that – experiencing those you’d come to depend on, your fellow soldiers, your friends, ripped apart by flying shrapnel. The thud of a minie-ball as it plunges into a human body. The yelling, cursing, and then slow moans as the injured soon become casualties. It was during this time my great great grandfather came to know the full meaning of war.

There was the fighting at White Oak Road, where the Confederates prevailed. The battle at Sutherland Station was a union triumph due in great part to the fighting of the 81st. The battle at Sailor’s Creek was some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, yet recognition has been lost to the surrender at Appomattox, which was only three days later. There was the skirmish at High Bridge, reminiscent of a modern day movie.

Then just outside Farmville, on April 7, 1865, the Battle of Cumberland Church took place, where George Washington Lowery was wounded. As the 81st Pennsylvania, 2nd NYHA and part of the 5th NH encountered Confederate soldiers entrenched upon the ridge surrounding a church, intense fighting broke out. A minie-ball struck my great great grandfather in the chest, one and a fourth inches below the right nipple. The ball traveled through his body, ranging downward and lodged against the skin about a half inch right of his backbone, where it was taken out by an Army Surgeon the day after he was shot.

Transferred to Carver Hospital in Washington DC my grandfather recuperated there for two months. He was honorably discharged with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability June 5, 1865, and went home to his wife and children back in Franklin County, PA.

I want to dedicate this post to you George Washington Lowery, my great great grandpa. I want to honor you and just let you know I’m so proud of you and so glad I have the honor of being your descendant.

Civil War Quick Tip – Confederate Disability Applications Database

Yellow Hospital, Manassas, Va., July 1862 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Yellow Hospital, Manassas, Va., July 1862
Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Have you researched the Confederate Disability Applications Database? It’s on the Library of Virginia‘s website. This database contains the applications of Virginia Civil War veterans who sought help purchasing artificial limbs and other disability benefits after the war.

Available between 1867 and 1894 the Virginia General Assembly passed a measure which would help Civil War veterans in medical need. They set up a Board of Commissioners on Artificial Limbs and veterans applied for assistance whether it was for artificial limbs or other disability help. Applicants had to submit quite a bit of documentation to receive aid.

Information included: where they lived, what unit they served with, where they served and how they were injured. Veterans stated what help they were seeking and included their medical history after their injury. They submitted as much information as possible to receive the assistance requested. Very similar to a pension file, this information is available on the database.

You can find this and many more research tips in my book Ancestors In A Nation Divided – available in .pdf, Kindle and paperback. You’ll find the research help you need as you search for your veteran’s part in our country’s history.

Civil War Saturday – Immigrant Responds with Courage

Casper Biecker, Co. K 4th OVC (Photo provided by family to 4th OVVC Descendants Assoc.)

Casper Biecker, Co. K 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry  (Photo provided by family to 4th OVVC Descendants Assoc.)

Germans were the largest ethnic group to immigrate to the United States throughout the 19th century. They were also the largest group of foreign-born men to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Due in part to lack of religious freedom, war and an ongoing bad economy, Germans suffering from a shortage of jobs, crop failures, etc. came to the United States for a chance at a better life.

Several northern states opened their doors to German settlers in the first several decades of the 1800s. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan in particular encouraged migration to their areas. Pennsylvania was already home to many early German settlers who landed in Philadelphia and Ohio became a popular area for Germans to settle in too.

It was during these turbulent times in Germany that Casper Biecker was born on February 9, 1837 in Hessen. He was part of a farming family very familiar with struggling during bad economic times. As an adult, with few outside jobs available and farming producing a meager living, Casper had a decision to make. Should he go to America like many fellow Germans before him or stay? Even as the political fervor in the U.S. increased and war loomed imminent, Biecker decided to take a chance and move to the United States.

On January 29, 1861 at 23 years old, Casper landed at the port of New Orleans. He traveled up the Mississippi River to join a long-time German friend who had already left their home country and settled in Ohio. Casper eventually put down roots in nearby Covington Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. There he began his new life, farming.

Whether Casper was motivated by the fear of a mounting Confederate threat in northern Kentucky or was decidedly against slavery as a way of life, he volunteered with the 4th Ohio Cavalry during the war. Enlisting in Cincinnati on September 3, 1862 Casper served with Co. K for nearly three years as a private, mustering out June 24, 1865 with the rest of the regiment at war’s end.

During his enlistment Biecker proved to be a valuable asset to his unit. From September 1863 through March 1864 his muster roll cards document numerous times he was sent to Nashville for horses. An experienced handler of horses was a must for a cavalry regiment and Casper obviously filled the bill. Fortunately he escaped any type of war-time injuries and was only reported sick once during his military tenure.

After the war Biecker headed home to Northern Kentucky and married the sister of his old friend. The one that had originally prompted him to move to this country to begin with.

Theresa Hoeb and Casper were married in 1866. Certainly life became more like Biecker had anticipated when first moving to the United States years earlier. The Bieckers welcomed eight children into their home while Casper continued to farm. In the years that followed the Civil War both Casper and Theresa were able to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

By 1890 Casper, Theresa and their family had left the farm and were living in town in Covington, Ky. Biecker was working as a day laborer now with five sons living at home.

Health became a problem as Casper and Theresa got older. Theresa developed Parkinson’s disease and two of their son’s remained at home to care for her. Casper whose own health was declining moved to the U.S. National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Dayton Ohio. There Casper was treated for chronic rheumatism, cardiac hypertrophy and arterial sclerosis.

Biecker was in and out of the Old Soldier’s Home a couple of times but failing health finally claimed him on February 16, 1920. He passed away from bronchial pneumonia at the age of 83 while staying at the soldiers home. Casper now rests next to his wife Theresa at St. Stephen cemetery in Hamilton Ohio.

Biecker was a man of integrity. Living in the U.S. less than two years he responded to the need of his new country. Imagine leaving a hard, struggling life behind in Germany, only to move into the greatest conflict ever fought on U.S. soil. Language and customs had to be barriers, yet he put aside any fears or concerns and fought to preserve his new homeland. This demanded courage and dedication and for that Casper Biecker you are remembered.

What Really Happened to the Confederate Treasury?

Civil War, genealogy, research

Photo courtsey of Sammi Babe stock.xchng.com

Late spring of 1865 saw fast-moving, chaotic events for both the Union and the Confederacy. Even though Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to U.S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, the war was not entirely over. Troops for both sides were still in the field fighting.

Days after Lee’s surrender, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s theater, in Washington DC. plunging a jubilant north into a wary panic. Many were convinced of the Confederate government’s involvement in his shooting.

Meanwhile Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Cabinet had fled the South’s capital, Richmond Virginia, as it fell to Union troops, carrying with them the Confederate government’s treasury. Their original plan was to travel to North Carolina where they would store the treasury in the old U.S. Mint in Charlotte. They soon learned the area was policed by U.S. cavalry so their plan changed. The assembly headed into the heart of the south, some say hoping to continue the Confederate struggle, perhaps setting up a new southern capital and continuing the fight in the western theater. Others say the group planned an escape to Mexico, Cuba or even Britain.

By early May 1865 Jefferson Davis and his staff had made their way from Virginia, through both North and South Carolina to Irwinville, Georgia. Just a couple days earlier Davis had been reunited with his wife Varina and their three children. Their journey was cautious and covert since Davis was sought after by all Union soldiers in the area. Not only was he considered a traitor to the United States and an accomplice to Lincoln’s death, there was also a $75,000 bounty for his capture.

While in camp, early the morning of May 10th, the Confederate President, his family and staff were surrounded by the 4th Michigan cavalry. After their capture, without a Confederate shot fired, the group was transported to a local hotel and then Davis was eventually sent to Fort Monroe Virginia where he was a prisoner for two years.

The 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was part of the brigade involved in the capture of Jefferson Davis. For their assignment, the 4th OVC had the unusual privilege of searching for and finding the Confederate treasury that accompanied Davis. What they found buried near an apple orchard close to Davis’ capture certainly brought whoops of joy!

Boxes, wrapped in oilcloth, were buried in the ground and contained stacks of Confederate money. Easily recognizable by it’s blue color, the men of the 4th OVC were now in possession of a fortune!

The soldiers took the found loot back to camp. With thousands and thousands of dollars in hand they shared their gain throughout the company. The men, who’s monthly salary averaged about $12, went on a wild spending spree. Buying cigars for $100 a box, a ham for $140 and the luxury of a shave and haircut for $30. The men even went to the theater in the local town spending $50 a ticket. One soldier bought a horse offering the seller $1200 for it. When the seller didn’t have change for the $1500 in cash presented to him, the buyer told him to keep the change. Price was no object! That is until the locals refused to accept the Confederate paper money. It was worthless and local vendors began asking for gold, silver or U.S. money for their merchandise.

But paper money wasn’t the only thing contained in the Confederate treasury. Along with government records there were supposedly crate upon crate of gold and silver coins, bullion, jewelry donated by southern women toward the war and more than $450,000 in gold from the Richmond banks reserves. It’s thought that there was close to $1 million in the hands of the fleeing Confederate administration, taken to keep it from being confiscated by the invading Union military.

This vast amount of gold and silver and the bank reserves were not found when Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet were captured. The 4th OVC only found paper money. So what happened to the Confederate treasury? Is it buried in some secret location and has yet to be found? Was it hidden by Confederate leaders? Was it stolen by Union soldiers?

First there’s the legend that Confederate Secretary of War, John C. Breckenridge who was put in charge of the treasury before the group made their way into Georgia sent a substantial amount of gold ahead to Florida. Possibly the Ocala area. It’s also been said another sum of money was sent to Britain to be held in an account for the Confederacy.

Yet the answer could be as simple as there wasn’t that much money left in the Confederate treasury. Some feel the total amount of gold reported in the treasury was blown out of proportion. Then add to that the last two years of the war drained the Confederate treasury means it may have been broke by May 1865.

Davis and his Cabinet also dispersed some gold as payroll to Confederate troops along their route south. Perhaps the Confederacy was flat broke by the end of the war. But an interesting note is that the Richmond banks reserves were entirely separate from the Confederate treasury and reportedly around $450,000 which adds a twist to the story.

Civil War, research, history, genealogy 4th OVC

Photo credit: elkojote at stock.xchng.com

Once in Georgia, the Richmond banks gold was put in a Washington Georgia bank vault for safekeeping. After the capture of Jefferson Davis further south in Irwinville, that gold was soon confiscated by Union forces. The gold, once in possession of Union troops, was loaded on a wagon train to be sent north. On the very first night of the journey, as the wagon train set up camp near Danburg Georgia, they were attacked by locals. It’s said everyone from freed slaves, to paroled Confederate soldiers and bushwhackers took part in the melee where hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold was carried away. Men stashed gold in any available container, from socks to coffee sacks to saddle bags and hauled it home. In fact the legend goes since there was so much gold stolen and it was so heavy to cart off, that large quantities of gold coins were hidden across Wilkes County, Georgia where some of it sits undisturbed to this day.

The remaining gold was put in an Augusta, Georgia bank and sat there for years. The U.S. government claimed ownership as well as the Richmond banks where the gold came from originally. After extensive court proceedings the U.S. government was awarded the remaining gold because the Richmond banks aided the rebellion.

We know the 4th OVC found the Confederate treasury’s paper money but what about the gold? Could there be a cache of Confederate gold in Ocala, Florida? Or is there an account in Britain waiting for the Confederacy to claim it? How about the Richmond bank reserves? Is some of it buried across the countryside in Wilkes County, Georgia? Probably after 150 years we’ll never know but I think my summer vacation may be spent with a metal detector in sunny Wilkes County, Georgia this year.

One last note, you may be wondering what happened to the jewelry donated by the southern women toward the war effort. Supposedly President Davis and his Cabinet stopped at a farm in the vicinity of Washington Georgia. They entrusted the widow who lived there to care for a heavy wooden box they couldn’t continue to carry with them on their journey. The widow agreed and the men left. Curiosity got the best of the woman and she peeked inside to find it full of valuable jewelry. Panicked at being in possession of such costly items she buried the box on her farm. A few days later an officer appeared requesting the box and the widow hastily returned it to him. Whether he was actually an officer sent by Jefferson Davis to retrieve the jewelry, an unscrupulous soldier or just a plain thief will never be known. The donated Confederate jewelry was never seen or mentioned by anyone again.