As historians we read about Civil War battles and casualties at times without realizing the humanity involved. Those vast numbers become real people when we tell their stories. I’d like to share the “human side” of the Civil War by telling soldiers’ stories. Today’s blog post is by guest Loreen Ridge-Husum telling her ancestor’s story.
TUDOR FAMILY and the CIVIL WAR
by Loreen Ridge-Husum
My 5th Great-Grandfather, John Tudor, was a native Virginian who moved to North Carolina and survived three tours of duty with the NC Militia during the Revolutionary War. He was then lured to Madison County, KY, by the promise of fertile and affordable farm land. This is significant to the Civil War stories about three of John Tudor’s grandsons, born and raised in Kentucky, who joined the Union Cavalry and fought against the states of their American origins, with significant events in both North Carolina and Virginia. I am descended from a sister of the three brothers in these stories.
ABSOLUM TUDOR (1837-1864)
Absolum was the youngest child of John Hooker Tudor and Phoebe Frier. His name has been spelled so many different ways, but he spelled his own name “Absolum” so that is what I use. Based on census and military records to determine his age, he was probably born between July and November 1837. Absolum was about 24 or 25 years old when he enlisted in Company A of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in the summer of 1862. He mustered into service as a Sixth Corporal on September 22, 1862 in Louisville, KY.
Joining the Kentucky Cavalry meant leaving behind an 18-year-old wife and two small children. His daughter Alice was two, and his son Elvada was not quite four months old. The last known record of his residence was an 1860 census showing Absolum and his wife living with his widowed mother, Phoebe, and helping her run the family farm. All of his siblings had moved away from the family home.
Absolum’s first cousin, Christopher Jentry Tudor, and his brother-in-law, John Milton Cotton, were in the same Regiment and Company with Absolum. Documents show that his fellow cavalrymen, most of them neighbors and family, referred to him as “Abe” Tudor. Letters from his wife reveal that she called him “Aps.”
The Tudors were farmers, and as such, Absolum was able to provide own horse and “equipment” which probably means he brought his own firearm(s), for which he was supposed to receive extra pay. The Union Cavalry estimated the value of his horse at $75, which may not sound like much in today’s currency, but a fellow soldier would later say that Absolum had “the best horse” in Company A.
Absolum wrote letters to his wife, family and friends, and some of those survived long enough to be transcribed or photocopied and therefore preserved so that others can know the contents 150+ years later. We know from these letters that on 21 December 1862 Absolum was in Gallatin, TN, where he had hurt his back in a downhill charge the day before,
(Using his own spelling)
Galiton Tenissee, December 21, 1862
Dear wife I seat mi self to write you a few lines to let you now that I am well with the exception of mi back. We went on a scout yesterday and when wee made a charge on [?] it was down hill and mi mare was cutting up sow bad that she hurt mi back tolerably bad though I am as well other ways as comon.”
He also reveals a concern for his aging mother’s ability to run the farm without extra assistance: “afue lines to mother I think you had better hire that man again if you can get him. …for I dont now how you will get along without somebody.”
In his earliest letters from the war, Absolum shows he still has a sense of humor. He teases his wife about that he has been hugging mountain women, and he jokes with a sister-in-law that he’ll be coming home to collect on a debt: “I now you will laugh when you read this tilitha I am coming home to get mi pay for that vinegar? You promist mee that you would pay me in any thing i wanted.”
By the end of April 1863, Absolum had been promoted to 5th Corporal, and yet in May he was clearly disillusioned with the lack of information from the Federal Army and lack of correspondence from home. In a letter dated May 20, 1863, Absolum does not say where he is, but he reveals that he (and perhaps all of Company A) is not with the rest of his regiment in Lebanon, KY, which happened to be a mail station.
“…the boys is all well as comon that is with us. there is apart of our boys at lebenon. We have been trying too get back too them but it looks like we cant get off….since wee have been out here and apart off the regiment bee hind wee cant get nowe letters hardly for they stop back there [in Lebanon].”
Although Absolum was aware of tediously slow mail delivery, he implored his wife, family and friends to write more often, not only to himself, but to all of their loved ones in Company A. The letters they received contained news of Confederate raids, crop failures and typhoid fever that wiped out entire communities. The only thing worse was no news at all from home.
In preserved letters from Absolum’s wife, it is clear that paper on which to write letters was in short supply, and when it was available the people at home often didn’t know where to send mail to their loved ones at war.
Absolum mentions the issue of slavery in this letter of May 1863, saying that “…am satisfied of one thing in regard too the war is settled slavery has to go down but it is much better too have a government and now slavery than too have slavery and now government. it is bound to go down at the close of this war.” This statement may show that possibly he considered the war to be an issue of slavery.
Another point Absolum made in this letter is that he and his eldest sibling, Robert Frier Tudor, are having a disagreement, although the nature of their dispute is never mentioned:
“My most dear and affectionate mother I promist mi brother robert that I would not fall out with him and I dont think I oftine tell lies. mother I think wee will agree after while when he sees as much as I have. I must answer his letters when he writes too me. I will not get mad with him.”
All we know about Robert in this time frame is that he has a family and lives in Indiana. He has not yet joined the Union Cavalry; but he would enlist eight months later.
The next dated record for Absolum is a Muster Roll card for September and October 1863 which shows that he had been promoted several times and was a 2nd Corporal by the end of October. This muster card also shows that Absolum was owed more than six months of back pay for the use of his private horse.
October and November 1863 were busy months. After losing many men in the Battle of Philadelphia, TN, in October, Absolum’s depleted regiment was ordered to protect against a Confederate advance on Knoxville. The 11th Cavalry was assigned to guard Maryville, south of Knoxville, while the 1st Kentucky Cavalry (his brother Sidney’s unit), was positioned a few miles north in Rockford guarding a strategic passage to Knoxville on the Little Tennessee River. Early on the rainy morning of November 14th, Confederate General Joseph Wheeler’s troops surprised the encampment of 11th Cavalry in Maryville and captured 151 Union men. Absolum Tudor was among the captured.
A little more than three weeks later, on December 7, 1863, Absolum arrived in Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy, where he was confined at the red brick Pemberton-Crews factory that had been converted into a wartime prison. While used as Confederate prison, the building was referred to as “Pemberton Castle.” A wartime map of Richmond shows this building, which no longer exists, was located at the South end of 21st Street at the corner of Carey Street, about a block from the James River.
On 16 December 1863 Absolum wrote the following letter to his wife.
“ Richmond Va. Pemberton Castle—prisen crews
Dear wife through the kindness of the managers of this prisen I am permited to write you a few lines as I am a prisner and so confused I hardly know what to write to you. I can write nothing of interest only I am well at present and I gratly hope this may find you in the same condition as my paper and ink is limited I will have to close with few lines, so I hope you will pardon my short leter and write the more your self. I close by saing to you write soon as you get this give me all the nuse, My love and complaments to all my friends. Pardon my short leter if you please write soon. direct you leter to Pemberton Castle Crews Prisen. no more but stil remain your affectionate husband until death. Absolum Tudor. Will you please send Melissa Tatoms leter to her.”
Although Absolum wrote the above letter shortly after his confinement in Richmond, Jane Cotton Tudor did not receive it until months later, when it arrived with a postmark date of March 24 from Lebanon, KY.
On January 6, 1864, Absolum’s brother Robert, with whom he’d had a disagreement, mustered into the 8th Indiana Cavalry. Is it possible that Robert was spurred to action by the capture of his youngest brother?
Meanwhile, Richmond war prisons were quickly overfilled. On 30 December 1863 the Richmond Sentinel reported:
“It will not be long ere many of the Yankee prisoners, now in confinement on Belle Isle, will have an opportunity of breathing the salubrious air farther South, the Government having made selection of a spot in Georgia, near Andersonville, Sumtar county, for their reception and safe-keeping, their present place of confinement being rather over-crowded. The location is on the Southwestern railroad, between Oglethorpe and Americus, where no difficulty will be encountered in supplying their wants.”
Andersonville prison began housing prisoners of war in February 1864 before it was fully completed, and Absolum was among the first to arrive. Prisoners of the Confederacy were transported by rail car from Richmond. Absolum’s POW record logs his arrival in Americus, GA (no date) and his subsequent confinement on 14 February 1864 in Andersonville Prison, which was then known as Camp Sumter. At this point, Absolum’s wife, Jane, still had not received his last known letter from Richmond and would not have known of his transfer to a Georgia POW camp.
Pemberton Castle in Richmond had been harsh enough; the prison guards notoriously refused to allow mail from the prisoners to go out, and in that respect, Absolum was fortunate to have gotten one letter through. While the Richmond prison provided protection from the elements. Andersonville was an open-air environment with a polluted stream of running West to East through the middle of the stockade. The upper end of this stream was the source of drinking water for inmates. A little further down is where prisoners were expected to bath, and the lower (East) end was where they took care of bodily functions.
Food was in short supply and Andersonville prison also became so overfilled it eventually held more than three times the number of prisoners it was designed to contain. Scurvy and dysentery swiftly became a plague that affected prisoners and guards alike. Absolum probably never received any more letters from his family, as they likely did not know his true whereabouts. His family did not receive his letter from Pemberton Castle until Absolum had been in Andersonville for over a month.
Among Absolum’s fellow inmates transferred to Andersonville was Joseph Tatum, husband of Melissa, who is mentioned in Absolum’s last letter home. Joseph would perish in Andersonville on 17 June 1863. Sergeant Joseph Tatum of Company A, 11th Kentucky Cavalry was buried in grave # 2116.On 30 May 1864 Absolum was admitted to the prison hospital, located in a field outside the Southeastern corner outside of the stockade. It is not known if he ever left the hospital and returned to the stockade, but it is almost a certainty that Absolum did not get to the hospital under his own power. Prisoners were not admitted to the hospital until they were so ill they had to be carried in by other prisoners.
Absolum Tudor did not survive long enough to see the completion of the prison expansion in early July 1864, nor did he have a chance to witness what inmates referred to as the “miracle” of a fresh water spring opening up within the stockade in mid-August. On 23 June 1864, three and a half weeks later after being admitted to the prison hospital, 2nd Corporal Absolum Tudor died. The cause of his death, as noted on his POW record, was diarrhea.
Today there is a headstone in Section K of the Andersonville National Cemetery engraved with Absolum’s name, rank and home state. His grave marker number is 2371. The number does not necessarily correspond with the order in which men died at Andersonville, but the order in which they were buried. One of the ugly truths about Andersonville is that bodies of the dead were deposited in the “dead house” outside the South Gate of the compound, and were often not buried for several for days. For example, headstone 2316 belongs to one James Clark of the 1st Maine Cavalry, who died three days after Absolum, but based on the grave number we know that James Clark was buried sooner.
At the end of the war one of Absolum’s fellow soldiers returned to Madison County, married Absolum’s widow, Jane, and raised his children. This soldier, James Henry Whitaker, is the man who said Absolum “had the best horse in the Company.”
Gerald R. Tudor of Madison County, KY
“The Wild Riders of the First Kentucky Cavalry” by Sergeant E. Tarrant (copyright 1894)
“Horse Soldiers of the Bluegrass: A History of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry” by Jerry A. Johnson (copyright 2004) which mentions “Corporal Abe Tudor” in Chapter 6, describing the Battle of Maryville.
Fold3 website (Muster Cards, POW record)
John Ransom’s “Andersonville Diary.”
“Andersonville” by John McElroy
Civil War Richmond website: www.mdgorman.com
About the author: Loreen Ridge-Husum was born and raised in the former Canal Zone, Isthmus of Panama. She graduated from Winthrop University with a BA degree in Mass Communications and now lives in Anderson, SC, with her husband and two children. Her love of genealogy was sparked by her adventurous grandparents and great-grandparents who lived well into their 90’s. Loreen’s seasonal job as a marketing coordinator allows her to spend summers indulging her passion for genealogical research and bringing to life the stories of her ancestors.