Tuesday, June 1, 2010

24 hours late

This is a little late, but I wanted to put up something about Memorial Day. I dedicated How to See the Elephant to two sets of family ancestors, one from Ohio, the other from Georgia. I'm not so good at remembering dates and units and similar numbers, but I can give you the gist of their stories.

The Hedges were from Coshocton County, Ohio. They had abolitionist sympathies and it is reputed that their farm was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The oldest, Anderson Hedge, served in 3 different Ohio regiments at various times. He was wounded in the hand at the battle of Iuka, Mississippi (look it up!) in 1862, returned home, and went back to war about a year later. His brother Aaron went with him, as did their younger brother Porter, who was just shy of 16 at the time. Aaron's history is shadowy. Family story is that he was prisoner, and was later exchanged, and this experience damaged his health. In 1864 all three brothers were together at the battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia; fortunately for them (it was one of the bloodiest battles of the war) they were assigned guard the railroad tracks in the rear sector. Porter and Anderson returned home when the war ended, but Aaron served until November 1865 in the Army of Occupation in Texas. Then he returned to his sister's house in Ohio and quite simply laid down and died. There is no way of knowing what actually killed him, but family opinion blamed the war for undermining his health.

The Wilsons were from Early County, Georgia. They were a large family which farmed their own land, and although they owned no slaves at the time of the war, past generations had. Four brothers -- Joe Lane, William, James B. and Marion -- joined the 55th Georgia (a.k.a. "the Early County Wildcats") John M. the youngest, joined the 29th Georgia Cavalry. The 55th Georgia was sent to guard Cumberland Gap in Tennessee. Joe Lane died there in January, 1863. He had been ill, and in being transported to a different location he was dropped in the creek, which caused him to develop pneumonia. In September 1863 Cumberland Gap surrendered, and William and James B. were sent to Camp Douglas, a Union prison camp just outside Chicago. Camp Douglas, on the shores of Lake Michigan, was famed for its unsanitary and inhumane conditions. (A recent History Channel documentary labeled it 80 Acres of Hell.) When the war ended the two made their way back to Early County, and, in a strange parallel to the Hedges, William died shortly after arriving home, probably from the effects of his imprisonment. James B., who was 22 at the war's end, became my great-grandfather. I am unclear about the time period of what follows, but I do know that Marion deserted the 55th Georgia at some point. Family story is that he returned home and his mother hid him in the barn and fed him before sending him on. He didn't come back when the war ended. Possibly he died elsewhere, but I imagine that he may have felt unwelcome, given the price his family paid in the war.
A couple years back my mother discovered that the US government will provide a free headstone for any Civil War veteran -- yes, even for Rebels. She found Joe Lane's grave in the Cumberland Gap battlefield, filled out the proper paperwork, and got one put up for him.
Being a child of the 70s -- one of my earliest memories is the famous "War is not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things" wall poster -- I have very mixed feelings about war in general, and I'm not always comfortable with the glorification of it. But I have no problem honoring the soldiers on both sides.


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Those are some amazing stories your family has, Laura. I was fascinated reading it.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Those stories are wonderful. So good that they've been passed down and preserved.

Laura Canon said...

Thanks. I have to acknowledge my father, whose hobby is genealogy, for recovering a lot of this info.