Civil War Quick Tip: Take a look at the FamilySearch Memorial Day post

Memorial Day CrossesI hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S. and that you got the chance to honor our fallen soldiers either in a moment of silent tribute or by visiting a cemetery.

Memorial Day is a holiday that has its roots in the Civil War. It was originally known as “Decoration Day” and folks both north and south set aside a specific spring day to pay tribute to their fallen veterans by decorating their graves.

FamilySearch.org did a neat blog post on May 22nd. They asked family historians to share stories of their favorite Civil War ancestor. I was honored to be among the four and wrote a short piece about my own Civil War ancestor. You can find that post here.

Along with some really moving stories about Civil War soldiers, FamilySearch gives several suggestions for Civil War research in their vast databases. You’re sure to find a tip, a record set, or a new search idea that will help you find more on your Civil War ancestors.

So please take a look at the FamilySearch post, “Family Historians Share Stories of Their Favorite Civil War Ancestors” and maybe leave a comment about your favorite or most interesting Civil War ancestor either on their blog or right here in my comments. I’d love to read about your own favorite or interesting Civil War ancestor.

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.

Ten Things To-Do for your Civil War ancestor

Civil War, 4th OVC, Noel Clayton, Civil War Saturday, genealogy researchSince you stopped by today chances are you love doing genealogy research. You’re a family historian who wants to learn all you can about the people that came before you.

In fact, seeing that you’re here, you’re probably doing some pretty serious research on your Civil War ancestor too. You’re like me. You’ve got to know about his military life. What did he do during the war? Was he injured? Was he a hero? How did it affect his family?

So to add a little spice to your research here’s a Civil War To-Do list. Just a few things you might take the time to do to help you better understand your Civil War ancestor. And it can be a lot of fun too!

Civil War Ancestor To-Do List

1. Research the uniform your ancestor wore. You can start here http://www.historynet.com/civil-war-uniforms or here http://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/activities/dressup/notflash/civil_war_soldier.html Google images for an idea of what your soldier wore. See the layers of clothing these men lived in and marched in. Take a look at the number and weight of items a regimental soldier carried on a daily basis.

Hardtack

2. Eat a little like he ate. Make their old stand-by: Hardtack or Johnnie cakes. Recipes below.

3. Spend some time looking at Civil War photographs, especially the newly colorized versions. Get a feel that these were real men who were lonely, hungry and scared, yet continued on with their duties. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of Civil War era photos. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cwp/

4. Find a book (check your library, Google) written specifically about a battle your ancestor fought in. Become really familiar with the movements of his regiment. Then:

5. Walk where he walked. Tour the battlefield(s) where your ancestor fought. Take a moment to imagine the sites and sounds he experienced there. The fear, the blood, the destruction. If you can’t do it physically do it virtually through Google maps.

6. Choose a Civil War era song and read the lyrics. Can you hear your ancestor humming it as he marched or set up camp? If he was a Confederate soldier it may have been Goober Peas, Bonnie Blue Flag or Dixie. If he was a Union man maybe it was Battle Hymn of the Republic, When Johnny Comes Marching Home or We Are Coming Father Abraham.

 

Civil War, 4th OVC, Jacob Seib, genealogy research

Civil War Reenactors – Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

 

7. Watch a Civil War movie. Even though movies aren’t exactly historically accurate and produced mainly for entertainment, there are scenes, costumes, firearms and battles portrayed that will help you identify with your Civil War ancestor. Try Glory, Gettysburg, Gone With the Wind or maybe North and South, Red Badge of Courage and most recently Lincoln.

8. Read a newspaper or two from the locale your ancestor was from that was published during the Civil War. Even though it was a week later, I was really surprised at how much coverage the battle at Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh) got in my own hometown newspaper. I should have known since a lot of men from the area fought there. It’s also neat to see the ads and events of the times. A great place to start your newspaper search is here. http://www.theancestorhunt.com/newspapers.html

9. Calculate the number of ancestors, direct and collateral, that fought in the Civil War. Did your family fight for both sides? You’ll be surprised at how the war affected your family with many members leaving home and joining the fight. Doing a little research on these extended family soldiers may produce some interesting and sought Pvt. George W Loweryafter family information.

10. Take a photo of yourself by your ancestor’s headstone or if that’s not possible take a photo of yourself at the nearest Civil War monument paying special attention to the inscription and who the memorial honors.

Now if you’ve done all or most of the items on this Civil War ancestor list there’s one last thing to-do. Write a short narrative about your Civil War ancestors military experience. You’ve “walked” in his steps, “tasted” his food, and “experienced” the sights and sounds of war. Whether you post it on your blog or slip it in his file, by documenting his story with your new awareness, you honor his service and that’s what the list is all about.

Let me know how you did working through the list or any suggestions you might have. Either way have fun with the Civil War Ancestor To-Do list!

 

 

 

Hardtack for the Union soldiers

2 cups of flour

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat (bacon grease or lard was used in 1860s)

6 pinches of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix the ingredients together into a stiff dough, knead several times, and spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/4 inch on a non-greased cookie sheet.

Using a pizza cutter or a knife, cut dough into 3-inch cracker squares. With a fork or skewer, punch four rows of holes, with about four holes per row, in each cracker.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, turn crackers over on the sheet and return to the oven and bake another 30 minutes or until every bit of moisture is gone.

 

Johnnie Cakes for the Confederate soldier

2 cups of cornmeal

2/3 cup of milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (bacon grease was used in 1860s)

1 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

Butter

Molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix ingredients into a stiff batter and form 8 biscuit-sized dodgers*. Bake on a lightly greased sheet for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Or you can spoon the batter into hot cooking oil in a frying pan over a low flame. Remove the corn dodgers and let cool on a paper towel, spread with a little butter or molasses. (If you were lucky enough to have butter or molasses.)

 

* Corn dodger – a cake of corn bread that is fried, baked, or boiled as a dumpling

My Civil War Research began with George Washington

Pvt G W Lowery Co. A 81st Penn Inf

Pvt G W Lowery Co. A 81st Penn Inf

George Washington Lowery that is! He’s my g-g-grandfather who fought in the Civil War. He was 38 years old, with six children when he joined the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in July 1864. After brief military training he joined the 81st in Petersburg, VA, during that long nine month siege. In the following spring of 1865 the war again heated up. During the last few days of March and the first week of April, my g-g-grandfather George Washington Lowery along with much of the Second Corps, pursued General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Norther Virginia, west across the state.

My ancestor saw more fighting in one week than the previous months combined. They battled the Confederates at Five Forks and Sutherland Station. They clashed at High Bridge and then onto Farmville where a battle at the Cumberland Church on April 7, 1865 left G. W. Lowery wounded in the chest. Just two days before Appomattox.

Thankfully I can say my story doesn’t end there on a battlefield in central Virginia. My Civil War soldier was sent to Carver Hospital in Washington and two months later recovered enough to be discharged. He was mustered out of the army two weeks after that. The war for him was finally over.

George Washington Lowery went home to Franklin County, Pennsylvania and resumed his life. Good thing, because my great-grandfather Charles was born to George W. and his wife Barbara in 1871, six years after the end of the Civil War.

Ancestors In A Nation Divided

I’ll bet George would be surprised to learn my search to know more about his Civil War service turned into regular blog posts and even a book!

If you’re interested in learning more of your Civil War ancestor’s story check out Ancestors In A Nation Divided – Kindle. Also in paperback. Great research help as you seek your veteran’s place in our country’s history.

George S. Van Meter #52 Ancestors

#52 Ancestors in 52 WeeksWith Memorial Day only one week away I thought I’d dedicate my #52 Ancestors post to the Civil War veterans in my family. Memorial Day originally called Decoration Day was set aside to honor and remember Civil War soldiers. Today we remember all veterans who have served our country through the decades. Since I’ve already written about my direct ancestor George W. Lowery here my next couple #52 Ancestors posts will remember my first cousins 4x removed who both fought and died in the Civil War, James and George Van Meter.

George S. Vanmeter born in 1841 was the third of seven children to parents John and Rachel Stevenson Vanmeter. John and Rachel had deep roots in Putnam County, Ohio. Both were born there, they married there and started their family there nestled in a prosperous farming community. (John’s brother James is my 3x great grandfather.)

George’s closest friend and playmate growing up may well have been his brother James. Only 22 months younger, I’ll bet James and George were close. Their reliance on each other may have been strengthened when the family left their home, grandparents, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins to live in Lucas County, Ohio. Quite a distance from their relatives and friends, the family farmed in their new location. Their close family ties came to a screeching halt when John the family patriarch died in 1851.

Cannon at Battle of Five Forks Virginia

Cannon at Battle of Five Forks Virginia
Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

George was only 10 years old when his father died. Along with his siblings he brought his father’s body back to Putnam County to be buried. Laid to rest among family members John Vanmeter’s death rocked this family to its very core.

Mother Rachel could not support her seven children ranging in age from 13 years to baby John just over one year old. The children were sent to live with aunts and uncles in the area. Their family was broken apart.

George and James lived in different households for a few years. Living with extended family I think they were able to see each other at church and other gatherings. Yet those years separated didn’t diminish their brotherly love. Continue reading