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

Civil War Quick Tip – Union Draft Registration Records

FBGenCircleLogo1Did you know the first military draft enacted in this country was during the Civil War? As the months turned into years it was clear the war would not be ending anytime soon. Add to that the drop off in Union enlistments presented President Lincoln with a big problem.

By mid-1863 the president instituted the very first draft. All men from 20 to 45 years old were eligible to be drafted. There were two classes of men:

Class I included men 20 to 35 years old and all unmarried men 36 to 45 years old.
Class II were married men 36 to 45 years old.

Men who fit the above categories had to go to their local Provost Marshal’s office to sign up.

Today known as the Civil War Draft Registration Records they can be researched at Ancestry. A thorough explanation of the records can be found at FamilySearch.

Consider these records as an “off year” census to use in documenting where your northern male ancestors were living during the Civil War. Not only will you get their place of residence, also their age, marital status, occupation and if he had already served there may be a notation about that.

Good Luck as you continue researching your Civil War ancestor.

 

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

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 – 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.