Civil War Saturday – It’s been 150 years

Sometimes the present takes precedence over the past and that’s what happened with this blog post. I intended to write and publish it last Saturday July 19th but my daughter had an out of town, three-day volleyball tournament. We made some fun family memories and a little family history of our own last weekend and this post easily waited one more week. Here’s what I had planned for last Saturday . . .

You know how we love to mark monumental events in our family’s lives like turning 21 or celebrating 50th birthdays and wedding anniversaries? It’s ingrained in our culture to recognize such events. I’m adding one more to my own list of family birthdays and anniversaries. In fact I’m going to honor it for the next year! It’s the 150th anniversary of my great-great grandfather’s involvement in the Civil War.

On July 19, 1864 – 150 years ago my great-great grandfather George W. Lowery was drafted and mustered in to serve with the 81st Pennsylvania Infantry. He reported to Chambersburg, which is Franklin County’s seat and incidently had been burned a year earlier by Confederate forces.

George was a 37 year old man with six children. A laborer, standing 5’9” tall with dark hair and gray eyes, his description fit most men of the era. His enlistment was for three years.

By September 5, 1864 George was at Camp Biddle in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Camp Biddle was a piece of land northeast of the army post at Carlisle where Civil War draftees and substitutes received their military training. Camp Biddle had recently opened in April 1864 just a few months before George ended up there.

As I remember the Civil War events in George’s life I know questions will pop up. Like Camp Biddle. I’d overlooked that in the past. Now I’m interested in where and what it was. How long was George there and so on.

You can come along with me on this journey. Where was your Civil War ancestor 150 years ago? Sometimes being very specific helps us narrow our research and produce better results. Less distractions. Researching one single topic like Camp Biddle is not as overwhelming as researching the life and times of my Civil War ancestor! Break his service down into manageable pieces and I bet you’ll accomplish more than you imagined.

So whether you research along with me or check in to see what George was doing 150 years ago I hope this helps you take another look at researching your Civil War ancestor.

(1) George W. Lowery, Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldier Who Served in Organizations From the State of Pennsylvania compiled 1899-1927, documenting the period 1861-1866, publication no. M554 (Washington: National Archives), fiche 0073.

Civil War Quick Tip for your New Jersey Ancestor

FBGenCircleLogo1Here’s a great resource for researching your New Jersey Civil War veteran.

This site, New Jersey State Archives, is a one stop shop with lots of help for researching your ancestor. Everything from Civil War Service Records to Civil War Vouchers. If your Civil War ancestor served in a New Jersey regiment you’ll want to check this out.

Also I’d love for you to sign up for my monthly tipsCivil War Research Tips 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!

Civil War Saturday – video style

I’ve written several times about my Civil War ancestor James R. Van Meter. There are posts about him here and here.

James battled disease off and on throughout the three years he served and died 150 years ago February 18, 1864. I waded through snow, wind and cold last week to place a wreath on James headstone to commemorate this significant anniversary.

If you’d take a moment to watch this short video and remember James I would really appreciate it! Thanks!

If It Weren’t For Bad Luck . . . Three Times a Prisoner

The events Theodore Lindsey, a private with Co. H 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, experienced during the Civil War are worthy of a movie script. Filled with drama and danger Ted participated in some harrowing episodes during the war but before we get to those let’s set the stage.

Born in Franklin County November 1, 1844, Ted was the middle of five children born to Wilson and Rebecca Lindsey. He had a brother and a sister older than him and two sisters younger. The family lived in Franklin County for a few years then moved to Cambridge, Ohio for a few more but by 1855 they traveled across the state and settled into a new life in Dayton.

Once in Dayton Ted put the farmer’s life behind him and worked for the Dayton Journal learning a new trade as a printer. This new vocation was short-lived. The Confederate firing on Ft. Sumter and the secession of the southern states from the Union hurtled the United States into a war against itself.

Civil War research, genealogy, Regular army

Photo credit: the swedish from sxc.com

Along with many of his friends Ted answered President Lincoln’s call for troops and enlisted with the 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry on September 11, 1861 serving with Co. H. The chance to serve his country and his president was uppermost in his mind. His new occupation would have to wait. He was needed to protect and preserve the Union. Quite a mature decision to make since Ted was only 17 years old.

With the strength of youth behind him Ted went off to war. If the viciousness of battle wasn’t enough for a soldier there was always the fear of being taken prisoner as Ted soon experienced. In September of 1862 he was taken prisoner near Huntsville, Alabama and sent to a Confederate prison in Macon Georgia known as Camp Oglethorpe. There Ted remained for six to eight weeks before being moved to Libby prison in Richmond. He spent three to four weeks at Libby. Early enough in the war to be part of a prisoner exchange, Ted was finally released and able to rejoin the 4th in Nashville.

He participated in the grueling and deadly three day struggle at Stone’s River from December 31, 1862 until January 3, 1863. He witnessed the carnage and death of his comrades that totaled more than 1,600 Union soldiers. Bloody and battered the Army of the Cumberland did prevail.

Ted was also involved in the horrendous fighting at Chickamauga in mid September 1863. With a Confederate victory the Union troops were beaten in a hellish battle and the highest number of casualties in the Western theater were recorded there at Chickamauga. Continue reading

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