Anyone who knows me is aware that genealogy and family history are my passion. I am more familiar with my long deceased relatives than the majority of my living relatives. After researching and studying their lives, they become very real to me, and it makes me aware of the way I was raised and how I think originated.
With all of the drama going on over Civil War monuments lately, I thought I would take a look back at the men who served in the Civil War, and the women who kept the family alive while they were gone. There are dozens of men in my various family lines that served, on both sides.
One family, on my father side of the family, had twelve children when the war broke out. Four of their sons were grown men, three with wives and young children, the other one was still single. In-between the boys, they had four daughters who were at, or reaching, marrying age.
I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the mother of those boys to watch them march off to war. Grown men or not, they were her boys. I can only imagine how painful it was for those four girls to watch their brothers and, probably sweethearts, march away. Without technology like we have today, without the ability to send letters, as many folks back then were uneducated and could barely write their names, the inability to know how their sons were doing must have been maddening.
Of those four boys, none returned home. One died at Gettysburg, two died at Shiloh, and one died in a prison camp from dysentery and starvation. They left three widows and six children between them. The sisters? Each of them died of old age, single and without children.
After the Civil War, so many men of marriageable age were dead or dying, that there simply were not enough men to marry. Not unless they married someone who was a widower with a bunch of children already, or someone younger than they were. With all the single women and widows after the war, men could be rather picky. A few came home to their sweethearts, married, had families, and life went on as they planned. But not for these four sisters. They spend their lives being the spinster aunts in the family, taking care of their parents and their nieces and nephews.
By today’s standards, it isn’t a problem for a woman to be single all her life. But, back then, when there were no jobs or careers for women outside of teaching and nursing, most women were a burden on their families, and became the built in nanny and cook for more than one family member.
The brothers were all Union soldiers. They didn’t die majestic, heroic deaths. They were simple foot soldiers who were doing their duty for their country. They didn’t have opinions on slavery one way or the other, their grandfather was a slave owner who emancipated his slaves, all three of them, when he died. They were just men, farmers, no better, no worse than any other soldier.
In Shiloh National Park, there is a statue to the men who died in that horrific battle. It recognizes the men who died there. It is a beautiful piece of art. Right near it is one for the men who died in the same battle, only they died for their country, the Southern Confederate Army is recognized with another beautiful piece of art, a statue of brothers in arms. Should one be torn down, should both?
By deleting the statues that recognize the men who served and died for the Confederate Army, we are negating the men who fought and died for the Union. It takes two sides to have a battle, without one side, it makes no sense to honor the other side. Those statues represent the men in my family who died there. One, the two Union brothers, the other, their cousins.
The Uncle of the boys who marched off to war was a Southern sympathizer. He had no slaves, but he, like his sister, had a large family. Off to war his sons went, one after the other. Of the three sons he sent to war, they left behind three widows and seven children. One of them born shortly after his father was killed at Shiloh. The eldest son died at Bull Run, the third, when Sherman marched through Georgia. He was on his way home, wounded and unable to fight with one arm. The Union Army took him prisoner, he died of blood poisoning.
Within that same family, were five daughters. Two of the five girls never married, and died of old age as spinsters, according to census records. The three women who married lived long lives too. One, however, with a permanently “crippled” husband, according to census records, and the two other women married much older men with children whose wives had died during or shortly after the Civil War.
Two families, out of a dozen or more, in my family lines whose sons fought and died, leaving an entire generation bereft and mourning for their lost dreams, lives, and loves. This is what the Civil War did to regular families who were called to do their duty. Farmers, merchants, millers, builders, just people.
Unlike the romantic version of the Civil War in movies like Gone With The Wind and such, it was a messy, horrific, loud, frightening, bloody, uncivil nightmare. Most of the men who died were not much beyond boyhood. But they stood, fought, and died. They deserve to be honored, no matter which side they fought on, because this was the American Civil War. And the true enemy was the politicians and the very few slave owners who were too greedy to see a better way.
As much as you may not like it, the Civil War was not fought just to free the slaves, it was fought over money, power, and unending politics that tore the nation apart. The issue of slavery was just the cheery on top of the mess.
I know many black people who have ancestors who were slaves. None of them feel angry or slighted with me that several of my many times great grandfathers owned slaves. I had nothing to do with that. Most of them are more interested in learning where their people came from in Africa, than who owned them as slaves. It is time to learn to deal with the past as the past instead of using it as an excuse to throw tantrums and act out like toddlers who are told they can’t have what they want.
My family lost men in every war, conflict, or action since they first set foot on the shores of America. More of my relatives fought tribal wars and took slaves from the losers of the conflicts between tribes. Today, I have two nephews in the military. My father, son, brother, brother in law, and many uncles, cousins, grandfathers, and even a few wives have fought for this country. It is an honor to come from a family of patriots. I want all of them honored, recognized, and accepted for the sacrifices they made for their side of the conflict – sacrifices made based on their knowledge and conscience, and patriotism.
God Bless them all.