What Do You Do When Your Civil War Ancestor Isn’t Quite the Hero You Thought He Was?

This was previously published in the Going In-Depth October issue. You can find the entire issue here.

Gettysburg National Battlefield

Gettysburg National Battlefield Photo credit: Cindy Freed

Has this happened to you? After a little bit of research have you found an ancestor that didn’t quite live up to your expectations? It happened to me. You may have heard my story before but let me give you a little background. Like any self respecting family historian or genealogist I spend a good deal of time in cemeteries. I’m really fortunate enough to live in the same area my ancestors lived. I’m the seventh generation in one line of my family tree to live in this area so that translates into many ancestors buried close enough for me to visit. My sister and I joke about one small cemetery, Rockport Methodist in Allen County Ohio, where we believe we’re related to at least half the people buried there.

James R Van Meter Co. A 4th OVC

James R Van Meter Co. F 4th OVC Photo redit: Cindy Freed

It was on one of my excursions to Rockport a couple years back that I came across a Civil War soldier with the same surname as my 2x great grandmother. He was barely 21 years old when he died during the war. I hated to think that he probably didn’t leave a wife or children and that without descendants his memory was lost soon after his death. I knew he was a collateral ancestor but that didn’t matter. I was going to research James R Vanmeter and tell his story. He didn’t serve his country at its most crucial time to be lost to history. Right? So I took up the task of remembering James R. Vanmeter.

As I began my research I was sure James had succumbed to wounds while in battle. He died during the war on February 18, 1864. I was swept away by my own thoughts of his youthful courage and patriotism. I diligently searched the Soldiers and Sailors database, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. I soon found he served with Co. F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC). I found a couple amazing books outlining the history of the 4th OVC. The first was The Invincibles – The Story of the Fourth Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry 1861 – 1865 by Nancy Pape-Findley. The other I found online in Google Books. It was while reading the The Story of the 4th Regiment Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry by Lucien Wulsin I had my first inkling James wasn’t who I’d built him up to be in my mind.

I found the 4th OVC was on furlough when James died. He had reenlisted in January 1864 and was able to go home with a return date of March 7, 1864 to Camp Dennison. Okay so he didn’t die on a battle field riddled with bullets. He died at home. Still his death had to be valiant, right? Due to some kind of injury due to enemy fire.

Civil War, Genealogy Research

James R Van Meter letter to mother. Image in author’s collection

I took a shot and researched James in the Civil War veteran’s pensions. I didn’t expect a thing since he was not married yet found a card on him. Rachel Milliken had filed for a pension on James’ service. His mom’s first name was Rachel but last name was Vanmeter not Milliken or so I thought.

This tidbit that some person had filed for a pension on James’ military service led me to request his pension file from the National Archives. I waited anxiously. What was I thinking? I still wasn’t exactly sure how James and I were related. Shouldn’t I be spending money on my own direct ancestors instead of chasing someone else’s?

When all 64 pages of James Vanmeter’s pension file came I couldn’t wait to get into it and what I read made it worth every cent I spent. It contained blockbuster information. Drunkenness, divorce, illness, death. Lots and lots of letters from James’ mom to the pension board as she pled her case for a pension, even two letters she had received written by James while with the 4th! I was ecstatic! Continue reading

He Couldn’t Stay Away – A Civil War Soldier’s Story

Honoring 4th OVC members George S and James R Van Meter

Honoring 4th OVC members George S and James R Van Meter

Do you remember a post I did a little while back called Checking a Goal Off My To-Do List? I was researching a Civil War soldier who’s surname was one of my family lines. Not only did I fill in the blanks on the soldier I was researching (James Vanmeter) I found he had a brother who also served in the Civil War. George Vanmeter’s story is even more compelling than James!

George S. Vanmeter born in 1841 was the third of seven children of 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.

Certainly George’s closest friend and playmate growing up was his brother James. Only 22 months younger, James and George were close. Their reliance on each other was 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. The close ties to each other that would develop in Lucas County came to a screeching halt when John the family patriarch died in 1851.

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. Continue reading

Civil War soldier Absolum Tudor – his story

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

Prologue

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. Continue reading

A Civil War soldier’s story – Sidney Tudor

As researchers we read about Civil War battles and the high death rate sometimes without realizing there were actual people involved. Those huge numbers of men become real when we tell the stories of those who lived then. 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 3x great uncle’s story.


TUDOR FAMILY and the CIVIL WAR

by Loreen Ridge-Husum

Prologue

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.

SIDNEY TUDOR (Oct. 11, 1835-Dec. 8, 1903)

Sidney was 25-years-old and still single when he enlisted in the 1st Kentucky Cavalry on August 24, 1861 in Madison County, KY. By October 28, 1861 he was mustered in for duty with the 1st Kentucky Cavalry, Company G, at Camp Dick Robinson, a military training camp in nearby Garrard County. Camp Dick Robinson no longer exists, but a farmhouse used for it’s headquarters still stands. It is located near the present day junction of Hwys 34 and 27 between Danville and Nicholasville, KY.

SidneyTudor Photo Credit: Find A Grave

SidneyTudor Photo Credit: Find A Grave

Sidney must have brought with him a very nice horse, since his muster records show it was valued at $115. This is significant because a horse could make all the difference in one’s survival. (NOTE: Younger brother Absolum’s horse was valued at $75 and was said to have been “the best horse” in the company according to a survivor.)

By the end of October 1863, Sidney’s muster card shows that he had not been paid in the past eight months for the use of his private horse and equipment. We don’t know if he was paid or when, but his muster record for November and December of 1863 shows that Sidney was active with his Company through December 7, 1862, when for reasons unknown, he went AWOL. By January of 1863 he was back with his company and was probably active through March. He appears as “present” on one muster roll, but another dated March 31-April 30 1863 shows that he was absent due to sickness. There is nothing to indicate the nature of his illness.

The 1st Kentucky Cavalry was near Maryville, TN, with the 11th Kentucky Cavalry on 14 November 1863. Records do not specifically mention Sidney’s company, and no muster card is found to prove that Sidney was active in the months of November-December 1863, but he was present in the months immediately before and after that period. Assuming he was on active duty, this would place Sidney in the same area with his youngest brother Absolum on the day Absolum was captured. It is possible that the Tudor family learned of Absolum’s capture through Sidney Tudor. Continue reading

A Civil War soldier’s story – Robert Frier Tudor

As researchers we read about Civil War battles and the high death rate sometimes without realizing there were actual people involved. Those huge numbers of men become real when we tell the stories of those who lived then. 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 3x great uncle’s story.


TUDOR FAMILY and the CIVIL WAR

by Loreen Ridge-Husum

Prologue

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.

ROBERT FRIER TUDOR (1816-1865)

Robert, eldest child of John Hooker Tudor and Phoebe Frier Tudor, was already an adult by the time his two youngest brothers, Sidney and Absolum, were born, but he would be the follower—not the leader—into the Union Cavalry. For reasons still unknown, he enlisted late in the Union Army, mustering into the 8th Indiana Cavalry, Company M, on January 6, 1864. He was 47 years old and married with 7 children, some of them already grown.

Robert’s military unit took part in numerous engagements throughout the Southeast, including the siege of Atlanta from July 22-August 25 1864, the siege of Savannah in December the same year, and the Campaign of the Carolinas in early 1865. Records on individuals and their activities within this regiment have been difficult to find, but we know that Robert was killed on the 16th of March 1865, just one short month before the end of the Civil War. Continue reading