Civil War Saturday: My ancestor died on the battlefield. So where’s he buried?

Woodlawn Cemetery Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

You’ve been researching your Civil War ancestor. You’ve found his company and regiment. You know his enlistment dates and the battles he fought in. You know he died on the battlefield and you’re thinking his family didn’t have the funds to bring his body home. So where is he buried?

That’s the dilemma I found while researching a collateral Civil War ancestor of mine, George S. Vanmeter. George is my first cousin, four times removed. You may remember his brother James, who was a special research project of mine awhile back.

Briefly George‘s first enlistment in the Civil War was as a member of Co. F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC). He was injured in May 1862 and discharged. He headed back home to Putnam County, Ohio. George was home just over a year. His wife had given birth to a baby girl. The infant was barely five months old when he reenlisted September 1863. This time with Co. G 9th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC).

In early April 1864, Co. G of the 9th OVC, was foraging in the area about 6 miles west of Florence, Alabama. By orders of General Sherman the men were living off the land. The company settled in for the night on the John (Jack) Peters plantation. The cavalry men of Co. G were sleeping in and around the main house and barn. George S. Vanmeter was on picket duty.

A small contingent of soldiers from the 27th and 35th Alabama were camped just across the Tennessee river from the Peters plantation. These were men who lived in the area and were well aware of the Yankees and how they had scoured the countryside for food, horses and provisions. About 100 Confederate soldiers crossed the river at Seven Mile Island in the wee hours of April 12th and totally surprised Company G. There was a brief but intense skirmish that left one Confederate and two Union soldiers dead. The rest of Co. G was captured by the men of the 27th and 35th Alabama and sent to Andersonville.

My cousin George S. Vanmeter didn’t go to Andersonville. He was one of the two Union soldiers who died in the fight. This was a small battlefield, a small skirmish. There weren’t Union soldiers left to take care of the aftermath. What happened to George’s body?

I’ve read George’s pension file. His widow and daughter applied for a pension on behalf of his military service. I’ve researched the Official Records regarding this incident, I’ve scoured regimental histories for the 9th OVC, but the one question I haven’t been able to answer is:

Where is George S. Vanmeter buried?

That’s the brick wall I’ve been working on lately. Do you have a Civil War ancestor that died in the war and you don’t know where he is buried? The next couple Civil War Saturdays I’ll outline my research. What steps I take, the records and online sources I’ve used. Maybe some of my resources will be of help to you in your research. Stop back here next week and we’ll see if I can find where George S. Vanmeter buried.

Today’s Civil War Quick Tip: Read the Regimental History

Photo courtsey of stock.xchng.com

Photo courtsey of stock.xchng.com

I’ll bet one of the first bits of information you found about your Civil War ancestor is the regiment he served with. Take the time to read the history of your ancestor’s regiment. Make a special point of focusing on the regiment’s actions during his enlistment time. You can find a regimental history in the library, or check the numerous online regimental histories available.

By reading about the regiment’s actions you’ll learn a lot about your ancestors life during his military service. Not only will you become more familiar with your ancestor’s Civil War experience, battles fought, etc., you’ll have a much better sense of what resources you’ll want to pursue as you continue your research.

One place to look for a regimental history is at the Civil War Archive. Their list of histories are linked to Google books where you’ll be able to download the history in a .pdf format to your computer. This will make it easy to read and refer back to.

The National Parks Service has a regimental search page too at http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-regiments.htm

____________________

image

If you’re interested in focusing your research on your Civil War ancestor check out Ancestors In A Nation Divided – available in Kindle and also in paperback. Great help as you seek your veteran’s place in our country’s history.

Also I’d love for you to sign up for my monthly tipsCivil War Research Tips – Finding More on Your Civil War Ancestor here. I’ll share pointers and info to help in researching your Civil War ancestor. Please take a moment to sign up and thanks so much!

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.