Thursday, August 23, 2012

Civil War Vet headstones now harder to replace

Civil War News for September 2012 offers the reader a sad note on the future of Civil War veteran headstones and their replacement. At first blush it appears to ignore the replacement of Confederate headstones, and it will be sure to cause a stir in some circles. But upon reading the article it is clear that the new interpretation of long standing policy and preexisting law does not bode well for veteran graves of either Yank or Reb.

As it stands now, to get a replacement stone for a veteran, through the Department of Veterans Affairs, one needs to provide a signature from the veterans next of kin (NOK) or a descendant. There in lies the rub. As the article points out, many decedents are unaware of a need or just do not care, and will not go through the effort to obtain a replacement stone. The next of kin (or descendant) rule applies to Union and Confederate stones. OK, fair is fair, right? As far as this point is concerned, yes it is quite fair. But it gets confusing as it goes along.

It seems that if a grave is unmarked, it is eligible for a stone, but the NOK still applies. Fair deal for both vets, unless they happen to be unknowns. The article does not address this circumstance, but a logical conclusion would be … no stone.

Another thing that is troubling is that if a Confederate grave is marked, it is not eligible for a replacement. Period. No matter if you can or can not read it or if it is broken, there is no new VA stone in this veterans future unless the original was provided by the federal government.

Since most Confederate stones were provided using money provided by the Southern states or private donations, this leaves the bulk of the Confederate vets out. Badly damaged Union vets graves can be replaced, provided the NOK signature is on the paperwork.

Please visit the Civil War News site for a better discussion of the changes now in place.

In the midst of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, this just does not seem right. Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows about the 14 Confederate unknowns in a church cemetery in Southern Indiana. There are no known descendants of these men. There are several Union veterans also buried there and at least three have no marker. At a nearby cemetery, two stones lay flat on the ground, broken at the base. Descendants are long gone from the area so it is not likely these men will ever have a new stone. There are small cemeteries all across this land that are the final resting places of civil war vets and what once was normal upkeep has been rendered almost futile with the added stipulation. Everyone would agree that government spending needs to be curtailed and I sincerely hope that Confederate descendants do not feel slighted by this ruling but it does seem to be more burdensome to Confederate decedents or groups involved in restoring Confederate graves. It is sure to spark heated protest and debate. And it should be remembered that the rules apply to all veterans of all American wars.

There is an old saying: “A hundred years from now, who is gonna care?”.
150 years from then, we may be about to find out.
Grave of John Stanton. 100 yards north of here are the Confederate Unknowns

Grave of Thomas Baker

Although these stones are in reasonably good shape for their age, vandals have visited this cemetery in the past. Fortunately these men have very distant kin in the area, so a replacement to a damaged stone may be no problem. Others found in the cemetery have no known descendants in the area.  Application for Standard Government Gravestone or Marker can be seen here.

The Picket

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Southern Women Coming of Age In the Civil War

Dr. Victoria Ott presents an interesting study of young, upper class women in the southern Confederacy from 1861-1865. Her subjects are young girls between the ages of 12 and 18 at the beginning of the war and from slave holding families. She utilizes the diaries of these girls as source material to weave the story of how they perceived the North, Abraham Lincoln, and the war. She illustrates how these girls defied Yankee authority either blatantly or surreptitiously, in their manner of dress, social activities, and actions. The video runs about 55 minutes including a short Q&A, and is found on C-Span 3. As with many lectures, the time allowed is too short to get involved with much detail, but Dr. Ott presents a good overview of how the girls acted and reacted to the war and the changing world around them. Please excuse not having the video actually embedded here. I was not exactly sure how to post it without copyright infringement. but the link is below.

Dr. Ott is an Associate Professor of History at Birmingham Southern College at Birmingham, Alabama and the author of "Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age During the Civil War".

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What's in a Name? Spelling and Civil War Web Research

I thought it might be helpful to share  a word on spelling while doing Internet research pertaining to the American Civil War. My own work here at The Picket serves as an example. Being stung by ones own mistakes can be the best form of instruction I suppose. Thankfully no one caught the "mistake" and took me to task for it but it did remind me that not all names are spelled the same all of the time!

I recently posted a short item on the capture of Newburg, Indiana by A.R. Johnson in 1862 and it occurred to me that the spelling of the towns name was incorrect. Or was it? I checked my source material to see that I had not misspelled the name, and sure enough I had used the spelling utilized in the Official Records, The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army, and The History of Henderson County, Kentucky. So I edited the post title to reflect the modern spelling of Newburgh. I left the post body alone, using the original spelling. The History of Henderson... posed a pickle as it used both forms of the name. I have encountered this before and as an example Owensboro, Kentucky is frequently spelled as Owensborough in the old records and manuscripts.

It is a good idea to use alternate spellings when one does online research. Even if you do not know of any alternates, experiment! And do not be too proud to spell something phonetically if a site offers a text search. Old diaries and letter collections are full of misspellings and just because pigeon does not show anything, try pidgeon. Remember, too, that names are often shortened, as John to Jno. and Robert to Rob't. (Or A.R. for Adam Rankin. Remember those initials too!)

Robert, Rob't or R.E.?

Give it a try, you will be pleased with the results.
I hope I have not offended anyone by offering such a basic tip but really it is a way to remind myself that the search is not complete until all options have been explored!

The "go to" tools:

War of the Rebellion, Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (O.R.)  Ohio State University Cornell University

The Cornell University site is for the O.R. of the navies and they also have the O.R. for the armies.

The Picket

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Character and the American Civil War

Above all, the generation that fought the war had that quality which Emerson ascribed pre-eminently to the English—character. It is an elusive word, as almost all great words are elusive—truth, beauty, courage, loyalty, honor—but we know well enough what it means and know it when we see it. The men in blue and in gray who marched thirty miles through the blistering heat of the Bayou Teche, went without food for days on end, shivered through rain and snow in the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee, braved the terrors of hospital and prison, charged to almost certain death on the crest of Cemetery Ridge,closed the gap at the Bloody Angle,ran the batteries of Vicksburg and braved the torpedoes of Mobile Bay, threw away their lives on the hills outside Franklin for a cause they held dear—these men had character. They knew what they were fighting for, as well as men ever know this,and they fought with a tenacity and a courage rarely equaled in history.” Henry Steele Commager, from the introductory of The Blue and The Gray. 1950

You will note that Commager makes no distinction between the sides of the conflict, either implicit or directly. Neither side was found lacking in character. The soldiers in the American Civil War had it, had to have it, in order to stand up to the rigors of battle, the tedium of camp, and the loneliness of separation from hearth and home. To be sure not all were of the highest character as evinced by the straggler, deserter, (which of course does not apply to the footsore or homesick man that returned to the ranks) and bounty jumper, but for those that remained with their army, battle upon battle, or stood to their posts in areas where the only musketry heard was from hunting parties, character was the binding that held these men to their country, regiment and messmates.

Webster's New International Dictionary (1910) defines character thus:

The estimate, individual or general, put upon a person or thing, a favorable one being implied when no qualifying adjective is added: Reputation: Repute.

The soldiers reputation was at stake and for many that was all he had in the world. To lose that would be to lose everything.

Webster's also defines character as being:

Individuality, especially as distinguished by high moral excellence: good mental or moral constitution.”

It gave the strength to defend ones convictions and principles irregardless of hazard and hardship. It was backbone. It was the quality that would lead men like Robert E. Lee of Virginia to resign his place in the United States Army and fight for his home and the Confederacy while another Virginian, George H. Thomas, would remain in his and fight against it.
Major General George H. Thomas
General Robert E. Lee

It led farm boys, mechanics, lawyers, ministers, and myriad others to fight for the maintenance of union or the dissolution thereof in an effort to set up a new nation. Men of both sides joined the fight to defend against perceived threats to their prosperity or way of life. Some fought merely because their neighbors and kin did and owed loyalty to them. Many held no fanciful notion or concern for the lofty motives espoused by the political leaders of the day, but many did.

Pvt. William Jackson Eskew, 13th Virginia Infantry
Pvt. George Kimbrue, 93rd Indiana Infantry

Character would lead to many “moments of mercy” as this monument to Richard Kirkland, “The Angel of Marye's Heights” typifies. James Madison Stone of the 21st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry tells of an incident he had at Cold Harbor on the morning of June 3, 1864.

Moments of Mercy
I found a live Johnny; there were a number of dead men lying about among the caissons and
dead horses; but one I saw moved. I went up to him and greeted him and asked him if he was badly wounded. “Yes” he said,, “I suppose it is all up with me”... I inquired if I could do anything for him. “Yes”said he, “I wish you would turn me over on my side so I can see the sun rise.” The sun was about to appear over the eastern horizon.”

Stone then went to find water for the dying man but in the space of 15 minutes before he returned, the man died. [1] Compassion for the suffering is but one of the sub parts of character.

Character is indeed an elusive word. Loyalty, compassion, duty, morality, and the courage of ones convictions all form parts of the overall meaning of the word. It would be wise for those of us that study the American Civil War to remember the character of the men that fought it, no matter which side he fought for. We must study the common soldier to understand, or at least endeavor to understand, 19th century character and how it shaped the politics and society, or, perhaps, how these shaped the character of the men. The soldiers of 1861-1865 were the ordinary citizens of 1860 and they were the people that built this country into what it was then. They, in 1865, would begin building it into what it has become. It was and is based on character. Pray God it never ends due to a lack of it.

The Picket

1- Personal Recollections of the War, Stone, James M., 1918, p 173-174

Photo credits: Library of Congress Pictures Collection

William Jackson Eskew 13th Virginia Infantry-

George Kimbrue 93rd Indiana Infantry

Original from Flickr by Clair Houk, (unforth)