Remembering His Ultimate Sacrifice

As we celebrate this Memorial Day weekend I thought I’d dedicate my posts to the Civil War veterans in my family. Memorial Day originally called Decoration Day was set aside to honor and remember Civil War soldiers. So in this post I want to remember my first cousin 4x removed who both fought and died in the Civil War George S. 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.

When politics became tumultuous in the early 1860’s and war became a reality the Vanmeter brother’s were quick to answer the president’s call for troops. Together both young men, George 20 years old and James now 18 joined Co. F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry in the village of Rockport. They enlisted on September 6, and mustered in November 12, 1861.

The boys enlisted to serve their president, their country and maybe even to make their late father proud. Although in the same company their time spent together soon ended as James was sick often with lung disease and spent much time in and out of the hospital. George went on serving gallantly with the 4th.

Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

The next events of George’s life can only be stated as facts without a lot of details. He married Samantha Allison January 27, 1862 in Allen County, Ohio. Perhaps he had permission to leave his company long enough to go home to wed. Next George is listed in the hospital on May 14, 1862 in Murfreesboro, TN and then discharged with a surgeon’s certificate of disability on June 16, 1862. His service to the 4th OVC complete. Going back home to join his bride, George and Samantha become the proud parents of a daughter Louisa on April 24, 1863.

George’s story doesn’t end here following a long, happy life and a house full of children. Whether he missed the camaraderie of his cavalry mates, had an overwhelming urge to preserve the union or he was pursued by a persistent enlistment officer, George did reenlist. This time in Co. G 9th OVC. He was mustered in as a private on October 9, 1863 just 16 months after receiving his discharge from the 4th.

Spending a couple of months at Camp Dennison the newly formed unit joined the regiment and was assigned patrol duty along the Tennessee River at Athens and Florence Alabama. On April 12, 1864 Co. G was spending the night on a farmer’s property near the river. George Vanmeter and a couple other men were on picket duty. The 27th and 35th Alabama completely surprised the men of the 9th OVC killing the three soldiers on picket duty and capturing the larger part of Co. G along with their horses, mules and supplies.

In that instant Samantha Vanmeter became a widow and Louisa a few days from her first birthday was fatherless. George Vanmeter was another casualty in the War Between the States.

In a strange twist of fate George’s brother James died seven weeks earlier at home on furlough. He succumbed to the continued illness and lung disease that wracked his body during his military service.

It’s not known where George Vanmeter is buried. His death is listed as “near Florence Alabama”. Perhaps he’s in an unmarked grave in a local cemetery or his final resting place is close to where he fell. In any event George gave “his last full measure” to his country.

So as celebrate Memorial Day tomorrow I want to remember my 1st cousin 4x removed George S. Van Meter. A casualty of the Civil War. A hero in his own right.

Remembering Memorial Day Heroes

Pvt James R Van Meter

Pvt James R Van Meter

This weekend as we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday I’d like to dedicate today’s post to my first cousin 4 times removed James R Van Meter. He was a Civil War veteran that enlisted with his brother George. As recruiters came to these brother’s tiny hometown looking for men to join the 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC), 18 year old James Vanmeter and his 21 year old brother George eagerly enlisted. Mustering in Sept. 6, 1861, both in Company F, the boys joined their regiment two months later on November 12 at Camp Dennison.

With the rest of their fellow cavalrymen the Vanmeters spent their initial days drilling, learning commands, caring for their horses and building stables. A soldier’s life was much different than a farmer’s and the regimented tasks and training were learning experiences for the young men. 

Orders soon came for the 4th to move to the battlefield and on December 6, 1861 the 4th OVC headed to the front. First it was to Louisville then on to Bowling Green (KY) to face the Confederate line there. The Vanmeter brothers had to be anxious! Finally they would realize their goal of fighting for their country.

George moved with the rest of the cavalry but James stayed behind. As with many men who served James was struck down by illness. He spent January through August of 1862 in and out of field hospitals with a diagnosis of lung fever, Febris Typhoides or typhoid fever. James does seem to accompany the regiment in May and June of 1862 while they were in Huntsville, Alabama but is reported sick at Breon Creek.

Throughout the war James writes home to his mother and sends her part if not most of his pay when drawn. His Uncle Jim visits him in the military hospital on a couple of occasions. James’ close ties with his family throughout the war is apparent.

James continues his fight with lung infections during most of the war. He’s present with his company from Sept. 1862 to April 1863 so he’s involved in the great battle at Stones River. Yet he’s sick May and June of 1863, present July and August and sick yet again September and October missing the deadly battle at Chickamauga. Back with the troops in November and through the new year James sees wicked fire at Winchester and Chattanooga to name a few. Even with the illness and harrowing battles James reenlists with the 4th OVC on January 4, 1864. 

His reenlistment papers state he is 21 years and ¾ months old, a 5′ 10” blue eyed, fair complexioned farmer who is very willing to serve his country for another three years.

James along with the rest of the reenlisted veterans received a one month furlough February 5 to March 5, 1864 then he was to report back to Camp Dennison. On furlough and traveling with Lt. Thomas McClure to his home in Rockport Ohio, James contracts pneumonia. 

He arrives in his hometown of Rockport, Ohio weak and very ill. The strain of war and sickness the past two and a half years are evident in the young man. Even with home visits from the family doctor James’ lungs cannot overcome one more infection. James Vanmeter passes from this life to the next February 18, 1864. 

The short epitaph on his tombstone says it all.

Soldier rest thy warfare is ore

James Vanmeter died in service to his country. He may not have succumbed to a battle injury but still gave his life to preserve the union for a future he would never know. To my first cousin four times removed – I remember and honor your memory James R. Van Meter – Civil War soldier and hero.

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 Saturday – Immigrant Responds with Courage

Casper Biecker, Co. K 4th OVC (Photo provided by family to 4th OVVC Descendants Assoc.)

Casper Biecker, Co. K 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry  (Photo provided by family to 4th OVVC Descendants Assoc.)

Germans were the largest ethnic group to immigrate to the United States throughout the 19th century. They were also the largest group of foreign-born men to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Due in part to lack of religious freedom, war and an ongoing bad economy, Germans suffering from a shortage of jobs, crop failures, etc. came to the United States for a chance at a better life.

Several northern states opened their doors to German settlers in the first several decades of the 1800s. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan in particular encouraged migration to their areas. Pennsylvania was already home to many early German settlers who landed in Philadelphia and Ohio became a popular area for Germans to settle in too.

It was during these turbulent times in Germany that Casper Biecker was born on February 9, 1837 in Hessen. He was part of a farming family very familiar with struggling during bad economic times. As an adult, with few outside jobs available and farming producing a meager living, Casper had a decision to make. Should he go to America like many fellow Germans before him or stay? Even as the political fervor in the U.S. increased and war loomed imminent, Biecker decided to take a chance and move to the United States.

On January 29, 1861 at 23 years old, Casper landed at the port of New Orleans. He traveled up the Mississippi River to join a long-time German friend who had already left their home country and settled in Ohio. Casper eventually put down roots in nearby Covington Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. There he began his new life, farming.

Whether Casper was motivated by the fear of a mounting Confederate threat in northern Kentucky or was decidedly against slavery as a way of life, he volunteered with the 4th Ohio Cavalry during the war. Enlisting in Cincinnati on September 3, 1862 Casper served with Co. K for nearly three years as a private, mustering out June 24, 1865 with the rest of the regiment at war’s end.

During his enlistment Biecker proved to be a valuable asset to his unit. From September 1863 through March 1864 his muster roll cards document numerous times he was sent to Nashville for horses. An experienced handler of horses was a must for a cavalry regiment and Casper obviously filled the bill. Fortunately he escaped any type of war-time injuries and was only reported sick once during his military tenure.

After the war Biecker headed home to Northern Kentucky and married the sister of his old friend. The one that had originally prompted him to move to this country to begin with.

Theresa Hoeb and Casper were married in 1866. Certainly life became more like Biecker had anticipated when first moving to the United States years earlier. The Bieckers welcomed eight children into their home while Casper continued to farm. In the years that followed the Civil War both Casper and Theresa were able to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

By 1890 Casper, Theresa and their family had left the farm and were living in town in Covington, Ky. Biecker was working as a day laborer now with five sons living at home.

Health became a problem as Casper and Theresa got older. Theresa developed Parkinson’s disease and two of their son’s remained at home to care for her. Casper whose own health was declining moved to the U.S. National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Dayton Ohio. There Casper was treated for chronic rheumatism, cardiac hypertrophy and arterial sclerosis.

Biecker was in and out of the Old Soldier’s Home a couple of times but failing health finally claimed him on February 16, 1920. He passed away from bronchial pneumonia at the age of 83 while staying at the soldiers home. Casper now rests next to his wife Theresa at St. Stephen cemetery in Hamilton Ohio.

Biecker was a man of integrity. Living in the U.S. less than two years he responded to the need of his new country. Imagine leaving a hard, struggling life behind in Germany, only to move into the greatest conflict ever fought on U.S. soil. Language and customs had to be barriers, yet he put aside any fears or concerns and fought to preserve his new homeland. This demanded courage and dedication and for that Casper Biecker you are remembered.

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