AuthorTopic: How My Family Was Affected ByThe US Civil War: War and Collapse in American History - Chapter 1  (Read 253 times)


  • Guest

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Eddie

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666

Friend us on Facebook

Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 14, 2017


Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner

Like a lot of southern poor people, I grew up without knowing too much about my family history. We are a long generation family anyway, and when I was born I only had one grandparent left alive. He passed away when I was 12, and although I knew him fairly well, he never regaled me with any stories. He was, as my mother would have said, an old coot. A widower who raised five kids as a single dad on a subsistence farm. Never held a job other than farming. And oh, yeah. He was a cripple who limped badly and walked with a cane, the result of a venomous snake bite he got as a boy.

 What I knew, I got from my Mom and Dad, who were kids who grew up during the Great Depression. Then their lives were forever altered by World War II which was the defining event of their entire lifetime. They were good country people who came up the hard way, and then lived in a relatively affluent post-war era that made the rest of their lives seem pretty easy. They lived their lives a day at a time, and never dwelled on the past. All I ever got was a few bits and pieces.

I never even cared that much about my family history until I was much older, and by then there was nobody left to ask. About twenty-five years ago I went to the State Library here in Austin, and found that my Dad's family first paid taxes on land around where I grew up in 1856. I wondered then if I had any Confederates in my attic, so to speak, but a quick search showed no evidence of any Civil War pensions paid to anyone with my last name, which is not a common one. I guessed that maybe my family lived so deep in the backwoods on the frontier that the war passed them by.

I know better now. Eventually I learned that the Civil War touched not only both sides of my family, but the families of everyone in the entire country who was alive at that time. No one was unaffected, and most had their lives deeply changed by that bloody conflict. But that's skipping ahead. At that point, I put my inquires aside and conducted no further research. I had hit a dead end. End of story. Fast forward to two years ago. For Christmas, one of my grown daughters gave me a DNA test. You know, "23andme". It took me a few months, but eventually I did the swab and sent it off….and after several more months I got the report. I had always figured I was a mutt. I knew from my prior research I was a fifth generation Texan whose ancestors were pioneer farmers. I was surprised to find that genetically I'm about as Anglo as you can get. As Anglo as most people who are born in the UK. 75% British DNA, 10% French/German, and the rest mostly unspecified Northern European. More Neanderthal variants than 94% of the people who have catalogued their DNA on the 23andme site. 1% Finn. Maybe a Viking in the woodpile? No Native American at all. No southern European. No African. No Asian. Hard for me to believe, really. I knew I was a white guy, but I never figured I was THAT white. So much for the Great Melting Pot. Live and learn.

 When you do the 23and me thing, you can put your DNA report online publicly and maybe make touch with some relatives you didn't know you had. I was eventually contacted by a distant cousin I'd never met, who was connected to me through one of my mother's great aunts. Super nice guy who was trying to find family photos and piece together his own family history. We talked a bit, and I found out he'd just retired…from practicing dentistry in Houston, for about 40 years. Go figure.

But I digress. This story really begins with a free family tree app that some 23andme affiliate offers on the site. A freebie. I didn't know much, but I knew my grandparents and some of my great grandparents names. I filled in boxes. I soon discovered that in very recent years that the internet has burgeoned with a variety of formerly difficult-to-find records, particularly cemetery records. Thanks to a lot of dedicated local folks who put their community cemetery records onto national databases. Voila! One name led to another. I began to figure things out.

One thing my Mom had told me as a kid was that her family came from South Carolina, and that they had a plantation before the Civil War Right! I thought she was tripping. It wasn't that I didn't believe she was sincere, but Mom was one of those sweet southern women who are not quite as connected to reality as the rest of us. Sort of like Zelda Fitzgerald, but from a far less affluent family.

But in my search, I found that my Mom's grandfather, who is buried in East Texas, was indeed from South Carolina. One day I decided to look to see if there were any records of South Carolina plantations once owned by her family of origin. Her maiden name was not a common one either. It took me only minutes. Not only was there once such a place, it still existed, in Kershaw, SC. I found it on a site that catalogues antebellum historical properties and landmarks. It was still owned by some distant cousins. I managed to find an e-mall address for them and shot them a short note. They got back to me. Coincidentally, I had already planned a visit to SC to visit some other friends. Would it be possible for me to visit? Yes?


 A few months later I found myself standing on the front porch of a house built by one of my long dead cousins in the 1870's. For a few seconds I felt extremely nervous and wondered if I should have even come. But the door was opened and my wife and I were invited in and treated to all the southern hospitality that folks in that part of the world are known for.

It was the second house built on the property, the original log plantation house having been disassembled and used to repair barns in the mid 20th century. My cousin, who is in his early eighties, helped tear it down when he was a boy. I met his wife, his son (the last heir) and another cousin who used to run the local historical society up there. They served us a fine southern lunch, which could have been Sunday dinner. I will never forget their kindness and generosity. The house was full of historical photos of my distant relatives, two of which had served in the state legislature. As my cousins laughingly pointed out, I look a great deal like them.

My youngest cousin, the son, will inherit what is left of the original farm. There's about a thousand acres left….of the original twenty thousand. I had read that there was a family cemetery, and I wondered if it might be the final resting place of my great-great grandfather? As it turned out, the answer to that was no. But his older brother, the patriarch, is buried there, along with several other family members whose markers have not endured. We walked down a path in the woods through a big grove of tall oak trees to the family plot. Nearby is a slave cemetery, which has also been fenced and preserved, although no markers remain there either. We also visited the cemetery at a very old local church where many other relatives are interred. The headstones there remain, but acid rain has mostly obliterated the names. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. All forgotten in 150 years time.

Offline RE

  • Administrator
  • Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
  • *****
  • Posts: 30826
    • View Profile
The headstones there remain, but acid rain has mostly obliterated the names. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. All forgotten in 150 years time.

Since I am in the process of Tombstone construction, I can give a few hints on how to avoid this problem, at least on such a short timeline.  All stones exposed in the open will eventually weather down, but 150 years is very short.

First and most important is the quality and hardness of the granite you choose, it is calibrated by the Mohs scale.  Granite in general has a rating of 7, but it varies from quarry to quarry.  Look for stones in the upper 7s if you find them in the color you want.  For my Tombstone, I use a selection of stones from different quarries, the black stones are the hardest and will last the longest, but the blue and gold stones should do OK for at least 200 years.  I suspect the stone of your ancestor was of poor quality from a local quarry.

Next on the list is the engraving.  The deeper the engraving, the longer it will be legible.  If you want to go deep though, you need a really thick stone.  If the stone is too thin, cracks can develop where the engraving is done.  It's important that the interior of the engraving gets polished to some degree, this allows the water not to collect and run out better.

Finally is a trick I discovered by researching the oldest legible Tombstones.  Here in the FSoA, the oldest ones are from the 1600s.  The Tombstone at right belongs to the Rev. Epheraim Huit, who died in 1644.  What do you notice abut this Tobstone that makes it different from most?  It has a HAT!  The top slab has an overhang over the main stone where the inscriptions are.  This protects them from a lot of the rain that comes down over the centuries.  So on my Tombstone, I have a DOUBLE hat arrangement!  :icon_sunny:  I have always been fond of hats, so this is appropriate.  ;D

Finally, if you really want to preserve material for the long term, it can't be exposed to the elements.  Building a large tomb like Grant's Tomb solves this problem, but it's very expensive of course.  The next and cheaper way to do it is to bury it, but there you have to protect it from the groundwater soaking it all the time.   In the old days, you could do this by boxing it and filling the box with Beeswax to keep the water out.  Today, you can use VERY long lasting Plastics, Aluminum and various polymer concoctions from Dupont used for such things as sealing your deck behind you McMansion.  I use all these methods.  :icon_sunny:

I figure my above ground stone is good for 500 years, and the buried stuff good for 1000.


Online Eddie

  • Administrator
  • Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 13217
    • View Profile
I would prefer to be composted in the garden, but that isn't permitted these days.

Failing that, I'd be okay with cremation and having my ashes dumped off one particular rural creek crossing I remember from my childhood, deep in the woods and far from town. It was always a place where people dumped unwanted crap. The first time I was ever there, there was a stripped out car body rusting in the water.

No markers for me. Just not something I find important or necessary. It is the life you live that has meaning. Where the meat suit is left to rot, or whatever, is completely superfluous.

If it is as I suspect, then being born again in any number of different time/space continuums is possible or maybe inevitable. Hopefully we can take some useful lesson from this life, and use that to make the next one a little better. Or get to the point where we no longer need to manifest these human lives we've become attached to.

That's my only real hope for a life after life. If I'm wrong and we just.....cease altogether, it won't matter anyway, will it? Leaving a DNA sample inside an impervious container in hope that advanced space aliens will revitalize me someday and and maybe put me in an intergalactic zoo somewhere is not that interesting to me.

What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.


  • Guest

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Eddie

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666

Friend us on Facebook

Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 23, 2018


Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner

This is really the story of two young guys, and how they joined the army and went to war together. One of them died young in battle, probably on his very first day of combat. The other made it through the war and lived to great old age. Both these men had families, and I am a descendant of both of those families. The one who died in battle was my great-great grandfather. He was in his early thirties, and left a widow and four very young children behind. The other was his wife's brother.

Original Plantation House

This story is not in any history book. I have pieced it together from a few odd remnants of the past. Obituaries, tombstones, a couple of military reports, some history books and some Civil War websites. I never knew these guys and nobody who did know them is left to tell us anything about what happened to them. What I'm telling you is completely true to the best of my knowledge, but a lot of it can only be inferred, and not known with absolute certainty.

I'm not going to write a book about the US Civil War. I'm not a real history scholar, and even if I were, the events of that conflict have been more than adequately documented by hundreds of good writers. For the few people who might have missed it, I'll mention the Ken Burns documentary "The Civil War", the best piece of film about the war, and one of the best shows ever aired on TV. I could listen to those interviews he did with the late Shelby Foote, who WAS a great scholar, for hours. My wife fell in love with Dr. Foote, thanks to Mr. Burns. Foote wrote a lot of books, and some of them are on audio if you can find them.  His soft Georgia drawl was epic, and he even looked a little like he might have been a reincarnated Confederate general. I'm sorry he's gone.

I do think a little bit of context is helpful in understanding the story of these two guys, and what happened to their country and how we were plunged into war, and the way things worked out for regular people. Bear with me, I'll get back to the real story, I promise.

Wars are never started by regular people, but by powerful elites who usually think they have something big to lose if they don't go into battle. The simplified version of history that says the US Civil War was started over slavery is only partially correct. It's more correct in my view to say that the war was fomented primarily by a few angry, arrogant, rich southern men who wanted to see their slave-based economy  continue to be sanctioned and allowed to spread into the West, where more and more new states were being added to the Union. Ironically, it was the American and the French Revolutions, with their flowery promises of liberty and equality for all men, that changed conventional thinking world-wide and swung public opinion against human bondage. The point of view of these angry southern men was perhaps best articulated by Edmund Ruffin of Virginia. Historians would call these rapid secessionists the Fire Eaters. They wanted a war and they got what they wanted, and dragged the entire South into a war that would affect generations to come.

In the first half of the 19th Century, the intellectual capitol of the world wasn't any American city. It was Paris. In those days, young men from affluent US families flocked there to study medicine and art. There were no rock stars, but the best American writers, like the highly successful James Fenimore Cooper, moved to Paris to live. One of Cooper's best friends, a very good artist named Samuel Morse, spent years in the Louvre, often on self-constructed elaborate scaffolds, carefully copying the works of the European masters, which was deemed the best way to learn art. Although Morse was a far better painter than most of his contemporaries, real success eluded him, and he eventually turned his attention more to one of his hobbies, which was the perfection of a device to transmit written messages over great distances using electricity and wires. In 1840 he patented the telegraph, which would make him very rich, and in the process, unleash a round of disruptive technology that would make the world a much smaller place.

Now….I took American History in college like everybody else, and I had a good professor. We read a few of those Catton books that were so good. But that was over forty years ago, and I remember very little of it now, frankly. When I realized my ancestor actually died in the war, and that the date of his death was recorded, I went to whatever online archives I could find, to find out what I could about his military service.  When I was visiting my son in Chicago, I stopped in at one of my favorite bookstores, Myopic Books, and picked up a good used paperback about Lee's first Maryland campaign, and I began to re-educate myself.

One important thing to remember is that when wars begin, soldiers with experience from the last war are always in great demand. I learned that in the US Civil War, many if not most of the military officers called into service on both sides, had seen service in the land grab we call the Mexican-American War, which was fought in 1846-1848. That war was staged primarily from the brand new State of Texas, under general Zachary Taylor, and so many Civil War soldiers had been to Texas. One of our young soldiers, the older of the two, served in that conflict, and that's where the Texas connection begins in our story. The generals in the war were mostly graduates of America's fairly new elite military college, West Point. In the 1850's there was a technological revolution going on. Across the West, everywhere, railroads were being built, and telegraphs. Most of the generals who served in the Civil War had been participating in that boom, working as civil engineers.

At the beginning of the war, southern volunteers rushed to sign up for a military campaign many thought would last less than three months. In contrast, by the end of the war the Confederacy was conscripting boys and old men and those who were formerly deemed unfit. This is why nobody in Texas got off light, even though not that much actual shooting occurred on Texas soil. It was hard to escape conscription, although you could buy your way out of it. There were also forms of alternative service, which I had never heard of, but it comes up much later, at the end of this story. That impacted my Dad's great grandfather, and I'll talk about what happened to him too, in a short footnote at the end of the main story. I still don't know much about what really happened to him.

So, my direct ancestor went to the war with his brother-in-law, who had been in the Mexican war, and who was mustered into the Confederate Army as a Captain. He eventually rose to the rank of Major. The older man was responsible for writing reports during the war, and a couple of them do endure as a part of the real record of the war.

One of the most interesting campaigns of the war was Lee's first raid into West Virginia and Maryland. He knew he was vastly outnumbered by the Army of the Potomac led by a stodgy old military academician, General McClellan, who was thought before the war to be a fine administrator and an expert trainer of soldiers.

As it transpired McClellan always stayed far from the front lines in a position of relative safety while his subordinates fought battles under heavy fire Lincoln soon sacked him and replaced him with Grant. Afterward, McClellan became extremely active in politics, and he came very close to defeating Lincoln in the election of 1864. The election was only saved because Sherman delivered the city of Atlanta by defeating the legendary Hood's Texas Brigade in July of 1864. This was a major turning point in the war. Had Hood been able to hold Atlanta, the war might have ended in a negotiated peace under President McClellan. That day, July 22nd, the current course of today's American Empire was set, and

the course has never really shifted.

But Lee went to war against McClellan. He knew he was greatly outnumbered, and he wanted to pick the spot where he could best defeat McClellan. It appears he decided that it be in the difficult terrain of some mountainous country in northern Maryland.

I found out that my two guys mustered into the army together in the late winter of 1861, in Columbia South Carolina. They were among the very first volunteers. The older of the two, the army veteran, is said to have formed up a company from his local area. Their regiment numbered about eleven hundred men. They would go on to fight in major battles in virtually every theater of the war. They were with Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox . That is, the 11 officers and 77 enlisted men who were left. The rest perished.

So….my great great grandfather went to war under his commanding officer, his brother-in-law. The date of his death is exactly three days before the battle of Antietam. The battle that day was a skirmish action, an attempt to wear down the Union troops marching west from Washington DC as they tried to get through three narrow Appalachian passes. It is known as the Battle of South Mountain. Lee had just successfully carried out his bold attack on the Union Armory at Harper's Ferry West Virginia. He had split his troops, sending some of them ahead toward Antietam ahead of his main contingent. Lee had all  his men on a forced march north for a week, and many of them were ill-equipped. Some were barefoot. The only thing they had to eat was green corn they picked out of the fields. Most of them had diarrhea.


There is a great debate to be made about this strategy of Lee's. History says that the Union Army found a "lost dispatch" in a hastily abandoned Confederate encampment, detailing the Confederate plan, which allowed McClellan to anticipate Lee, leading to his subsequent defeat at Antietam. It might be more likely, and some modern scholars now think, that Lee deliberately leaked his plan to encourage McClellan to approach the Antietam battlefield through the mountain gaps, which would give him a good place to winnow down the Union Army's twenty-five thousand man advantage. No one really knows for sure. Lee never said.

On September 14th, 1862, three pitched battles took place between the Army of the Potomac, led by McClellan, and Lee's forces, under the command of General James Longstreet. On that day Longstreet and most of his command had traveled further north to reconnoiter and when the Union army was sighted, he had to hurry back toward the encampment to provide reinforcements.

McClellan knew Lee had split his forces to go after Harper's Ferry, and  he desperately needed to breach the Confederate defending positions in the three  strategic mountain passes near Boonesboro. If he could rapidly push through with his 75,000 man strong army, he could beat Lee to northern Maryland and take on the two much smaller Confederate forces one at a time. If it had worked according to plan, Lee's army might have been destroyed then, in late 1862.

My ancestor died in the action at Turner's Gap, I believe. This was the center of the three mountain passes, and it was attacked frontally by a strong force commanded by two of the Union's best generals, Ambrose Burnside of sideburns fame, and "Fighting Joe" Hooker.  Turners Gap was defended by Confederate General D.H. Hill, who was Stonewall Jackson's brother-in-law. At the start of the battle, the Confederates only had one division of five brigades in place…about five thousand men, which Hill had to spread over two miles. The southerners fought bravely, and the South Carolina regiment was brought up to re-inforce Hill. It would have been a rout but for the terrain, but darkness fell before the Union force could completely break through the Confederate line.

One of our two soldiers, the young Captain, made a report to his commanding officer that day. No mention was made of his fallen brother-in-law. Maybe he thought his friend was among the missing and might still turn up. More likely, it just wouldn't have been appropriate, since the other man was only a private. Here is his dispatch:

[On September 14] the regiment marched from Hagerstown, Md. (Lieutenant Colonel Thomas C. Watkins in command), to South Mountain; reached there about 4 p. m. Found General D. H. Hill's division on the right of the road, engaging the enemy. This regiment was ordered to the left of the road, and marched around the mountain, then filed by left across the mountain, then by right flank forward, when we came in contact with the enemy and immediately opened on them, the enemy occupying a very favorable position against us. After engaging them for about half an hour, we were ordered to fall back, which we did some 30 yards, through in some confusion, Lieutenant Colonel T. C. Watkins calling to the men to rally to their colors and fall into line. While thus exposing himself, and, having succeeded in forming the regiment in line of battle, he fell, struck by a musket-ball in the head. Thus fell a brave and skillful officer at the head of his command, encouraging and rallying his men with the last breath of life. This misfortune caused the regiment to fall into confusion. I then assumed the command, rallying the regiment three times, but the pressure from the enemy was such that it was impossible to hold our positions, and finally fell back to the main road leading to Boonsborough, and there formed under the cover of a fence, where we remained until ordered to fall back on Sharpsburg, it now being night.

History says 325 men were killed outright that day, and a lot more were never accounted for. About 1100 men killed or MIA in all, and my ancestor was one of them. According to reports, a local farmer was paid a dollar apiece to bury some of the dead troops, and that as many as 60 were dumped into an old well. No marker exists to mark the grave of my forefather, as far as I know

Had McClellan hit the gaps again the next day it might have been a quick and decisive defeat for Lee. Instead McClellan inexplicably paused, allowing  Lee to get his troops in place on a nearby village called Antietam. On the 17th, under heavy artillery bombardment from both sides, the single bloodiest battle in all of human history took place, resulting in over 23 thousand dead or missing. I have never been to the Antietam battleground, but I'm told it is the least changed of all the old battleground sites, and looks today not that much different than it did in the fall of 1862. I hope to visit up there someday.


The ghost of Bill Kettchel still sits glumly on the bluff

Not but a few paces from where he  was fell

He has risen majestic at night from the well.

Still screaming out loud, Hey give em hell boys, give em hell

Dropped in head a foremost by the heel of his boot

Give em hell goes the echo, by god give em all  hell

The fields glistened  brightly with crimson and gore

The fighting was grisly like none seen before.

All stacked up  like cord-wood a good  ten foot high, they smote grey and  smote blue

by  the hip and by the thigh.

Give em hell boys by god, came the echoing cry.

Now musket ball splatter, now cannon grape rain.

March through the death gauntlet and line up again.

As the dying lie crying Under shade tree spread wide.

I'm a Yankee doodle dandy. Yankee doodle do or die.

A real live nephew of my uncle Sam born on the fourth of July.

Look away ,look away look away.

Dumped in head a  foremost  by foot and by heel. My self, Andy, Caleb 

Rest daily in the well. By day we lie peacefull, at night we rebell.

Especially those nights when the moon is aglow

We rise to the mouth and we holler and shout.

Give em hell boys  by god, just send them all straight to hell.

Geno Cattouse

Online Surly1

  • Administrator
  • Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 11955
    • View Profile
    • Doomstead Diner
How My Family Was Affected By The US Civil War: War and Collapse in American History - Chapter 2

Just FYI, I love this stuff.

Last fall Contrary and I went to Gettysburg. I took a few pictures, nothing serious, but plan to go back. In re your comments about Antietam, there is nothing like actually being on a battlefield for the sheer gravity of the past to catch up with you. And the m0re you know about how the battle unfolded, the disposition and movement of the troops, just enhances the experience. I haven't gone to Antietam yet, but plan to this summer.

I am re-reading Foote's middle volume, about 1863/Vicksburg/Gettysburg, and picked up some other Gettysburg books as well. I'll have read them all before I return.

Your direct family tie to the Civil War really gives your writing an immediacy and heart that those of us for whom it's a piece of history and an abstraction at some remove, will never feel. Hats off.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Online Eddie

  • Administrator
  • Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 13217
    • View Profile
How My Family Was Affected By The US Civil War: War and Collapse in American History - Chapter 2

Just FYI, I love this stuff.

Last fall Contrary and I went to Gettysburg. I took a few pictures, nothing serious, but plan to go back. In re your comments about Antietam, there is nothing like actually being on a battlefield for the sheer gravity of the past to catch up with you. And the m0re you know about how the battle unfolded, the disposition and movement of the troops, just enhances the experience. I haven't gone to Antietam yet, but plan to this summer.

I am re-reading Foote's middle volume, about 1863/Vicksburg/Gettysburg, and picked up some other Gettysburg books as well. I'll have read them all before I return.

Your direct family tie to the Civil War really gives your writing an immediacy and heart that those of us for whom it's a piece of history and an abstraction at some remove, will never feel. Hats off.

Why, thank you sir. I appreciate that.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.


  • Guest

youtube-Logo-4gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Eddie

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666

Friend us on Facebook

Published on The Doomstead Diner on FebruRY 1, 2017


Discuss this article at the History Table inside the Diner


III. There will be no general train of supplies, but each corps will have its ammunition-train and provision-train, distributed habitually as follows: Behind each regiment should follow one wagon and one ambulance; behind each brigade should follow a due proportion of ammunition – wagons, provision-wagons, and ambulances. In case of danger, each corps commander should change this order of march, by having his advance and rear brigades unencumbered by wheels. The separate columns will start habitually at 7 a.m., and make about fifteen miles per day, unless otherwise fixed in orders.

IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is intrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or bridges. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms.

— William T. Sherman, Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864[1]

If there is one Civil War campaign that really became etched into our American collective long term memories, it is what is commonly referred to as "Sherman's March to the Sea". 

Based on ideas formulated by Grant, and enthusiastically and successfully carried out by William Tecumseh Sherman, it was based on the concept that the only way to bring the war to a close was to destroy the economy and the morale of the Confederate states by targeting industry, government buildings, and especially infrastructure like railroads and bridges. And civilian targets.

At the start of the war the armies on both sides traveled with long supply lines stretched out behind them that brought up food and supplies over hundreds of miles. As the war dragged on for years, and the engagements took place over a war zone that encompassed thousands of miles, Grant and Sherman eventually tweaked and perfected a new style of warfare. A campaign would be initiated with only enough supplies to last the army for three weeks. After that, food and necessities were to be obtained by foraging on civilian farms and confiscating anything they could use from homes, stores, warehouses and factories in their path. Moreover, Sherman believed that the civilian population needed to be completely demoralized  and punished to the point that they would no longer support their military.

As I said, the fall of Atlanta was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. It allowed Lincoln, whose popularity was at a low ebb, to win the 1864 election. It also was the precursor and staging ground for Sherman's Savannah campaign, now remembered as the march to the sea.

The burning of Atlanta was carried out by a very capable engineer in Sherman's command named Orlando Metcalfe Poe. After the war he built a number of what would become historic lighthouses on the coast, and locks on the Great Lakes.  People of my generation will remember the burning of Atlanta from the dramatic fictional version made famous by the epic movie Gone With The Wind.

After Atlanta, Sherman regrouped…and then in one month, from mid-November  to just before Christmas of 1864, he cut a swathe across Georgia to Savannah, destroying everything in his path and leaving many of the already hurting southern civilians literally starving and homeless. This brutal and successful campaign is what finally broke the back of the Confederacy.

What most people don't know is what happened next, which is key to our little story.

After Sherman took Savannah, Grant wanted him to put his army on ships and sail to Virginia, where he had Lee under a long and grinding siege in Petersburg. Sherman argued that it would be better to travel to Virginia overland through South Carolina, carrying out the same kind of scorched earth attacks that he carried out in the Savannah campaign. He particularly wanted to punish SC, which had been the first state to secede from the Union.

Grant relented, and so Sherman marched his army all the way through the state, which was already only left with scattered and greatly reduced defensive forces. He deliberately avoided engaging those and used a proven of trick of his designed to confuse the other side, which was to march different parts of his army in different directions simultaneously to confuse the enemy forces and disguise his true targets.

Along the way he torched a lot of towns. Barnwell, Orangeberg, McPhersonville, Camden, and others. Written descriptions describe witness accounts of "a dozen cities burning at the same time." Civilian homes were not spared. Everything of value was taken or destroyed.

Modern scholars debate whether Sherman's South Carolina campaign, which culminated in the burning of Columbia, the state capitol (where our two young soldiers joined the Confederacy exactly four years before) should be considered a war crime. Without a doubt it was one of the most brutal and punishing parts of the war on a civilian population, and it left most people destitute, hungry, and without any organized government at all. One of Sherman's favorite things to do was to stable his horses in the biggest and finest local churches.

Lancaster and Kershaw counties, which is where my ancestors lived, were directly in Sherman's path as he marched toward his next big target, which was Charlotte, just across the border in North Carolina.

Most history books note Lee's surrender at Appomattox as the real end of the war. In reality, the last big battle, the one that finally spelled the finish for the Confederacy was the Battle of Bentonville, in North Carolina, in late March, 1865, a few weeks before  Lee surrendered.

Sherman was a very good general on the battlefield. Once again, he used his advantage in troop strength and his excellent understanding of tactics to successfully confuse and misdirect his opponents. As a result of the battle, the last large contingent of the Confederate army under General Joseph Johnston was forced to surrender on April 26th, 1865.

Of our two young soldiers who went to war together, It's hard to say which one suffered most. I don't know if it was my great great grandfather, who fell so early as the war was beginning, or whether it was my great great uncle, who had to endure three more years,  marching thousands of miles, fighting in dozens of battles, and then had to return to a home that had been completely devastated by four long years of hardship and Sherman's scorched earth warfare.

I have no real knowledge of what happened to my family in the immediate aftermath of the war. I can imagine that they probably nearly starved to death in 1865, as most of their crops were no doubt destroyed. My great grandfather, the son of the soldier who died at South Mountain, would had been due to celebrate his sixth birthday in February 1865 as Sherman passed through his area.

Being the son of a younger son, he had no inheritance to the family land. His mother, the young widow, never remarried. Perhaps not surprising since more than 90% of the local men in her age group died in the war. The son, my great grandfather, eventually married a woman from his mother's extended family, so I actually have more of the Major's family blood in my veins than that of the dead soldier's.

All I really know is that a few years later, toward the end of Reconstruction, in the 1870's, the whole family apparently boarded a train and took the newly rebuilt railroad to East Texas. The mother, the son, their families. They are all buried not too far from where I grew up.

The dead soldier's son, my great grandfather, lived until 1939, the year my mother graduated from high school. I think they were close. Her own father, my grandfather, died in 1930 in a hunting accident, and her mother never remarried ether. My mother knew her grandfather well, at least.

The only thing I ever remember my Mom telling me about him was that no matter how much they asked him, he would never talk about his past or his early life in South Carolina.

They had a family joke, she said. They always kidded each other that they suspected  he had killed a man up there, and had "gone to Texas", as they used to say in the movies. Knowing what I know now, I suspect the story was a little different. I suspect his childhood was pretty difficult.

Well, thanks for reading. That's the story….of how the US Civil War impacted one branch of my family and eventually resulted in their migration to Texas.

The Major came to Texas on the train too. I don't know for sure, but I suspect he came first, and then sent for the rest.  He lived until 1906, and was much loved, apparently. He is also buried in East Texas, about fifty miles away from the war widow and her descendants, who are my mother's family.  I have one photo of him and a copy of his obituary.

Lancaster News 17 March 1906

Maj. Miel Hilton Dead

The Gallant Old Veteran of Two Wars Passes Away at his Home in Texas, the

State of his Adoption.

His old war comrades and many friends in Lancaster county will be pained to

learn of the death of Major Miel Hilton, which occurred at his home in Texas,

in the Tennessee Colony, on the 22nd day of last month. He moved from Flat

Creek township, this county, to Texas about twenty years ago. It will be

recalled that he was back here on a visit a few years ago.

As is well known, Maj. Hilton was a vetran of two wars – the Mexican and the

Civil, in both of which he was distinguished for gallantry and fidelity to

duty. He accompanied Capt. Amos McManus and other Lancaster veterans to

Mexico in 1846, serving in the famous Palmetto regiment.

At the outbreak of the Civil war Maj. Hilton organized a company and carried

it to the front, his command becoming a part of the 22nd S.C. Regiment. He

was afterwards promoted from the rank of Captain to that of Major. He made a

brave and daring officer and was idolized by his men.

Maj. Hilton was a son of the late Zadock Hilton of Lancaster county and was 81

years old. He was the last of several sons, all of whom were prominent and

useful citizens. He has one sister living, Mrs. Mary Clyburn, of Rockingham,

N.C. His wife who was a Miss Sowell, died in Texas some years ago. He leaves

the following children: Mrs. Wm. B. Cook and Mrs. Lemuel Blackwell of this

county; W.A.J. Hilton and Kirby Hilton of Texas; and another son and daughter

in Texas whose names we have been unable to learn.


Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
1 Replies
Last post June 17, 2015, 09:10:59 AM
by Surly1
0 Replies
Last post June 25, 2015, 02:53:55 PM
by knarf
3 Replies
Last post July 28, 2017, 04:17:40 AM
by Surly1