Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Military Monday - James McFarland in the Civil War

Photo courtesy of www.soldierstudies.org
While going through my recent Fold3 discoveries, I took some time to go through the Civil War service records of my wife's earliest known McFarland ancestor, James McFarland. I found he had a very interesting story, and wanted to share what I learned about him.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of alternate spellings for James' name in the records. It's a wonder to me that they ever managed to lump all these names under one person's file. Between 28 pages of records, James' name is written variously as:

James C. McFarland
James C. McFirlin
James J. McFarland
James McFarlin
James C. McFarling
James P. McFailing

Makes me wonder if it was James' accent, the record keeper's hearing, or both that created all those spellings. I don't see any that were created by James himself, and there's no indication of whether he was literate or not, so I can't say exactly what caused all the spelling changes. I'm also left to wonder what his middle name really was, and why his middle initial is recorded so inconsistently.

James enlisted in the Union army in Green County, Tennessee, on 15 March 1863 as part of Company G, 8th Regiment Tennessee Infantry. Three months later he was present with his company at Camp Nelson, Kentucky on 30 June 1863. He fell ill and was marked "absent - sick with leave" for the September-October muster roll. So far, pretty hum-drum right? Then it gets interesting.

The next muster roll, for Nov-Dec 1863 records that James deserted his unit on Christmas Day, 1863, at a place called Blains Crossroads. The Jan-Feb muster roll gave the same information about his desertion. The records don't say where he went or why, just that he was gone. I wonder if he left to be with his family, or because of something he saw/experienced in a battle. Whatever caused him to leave his unit, he left after serving about nine months in the army.

Then James did something I didn't expect - he came back to his unit on 11 April 1864. Upon his return, he was arrested and tried by a court martial. He was apparently let back into the unit with no other consequence than losing three months' pay. Whatever caused him to leave, it must not have been a lack of belief in the cause or a need for the pay, as he stayed through the end of the war this time.

On 6 August 1864, when he was wounded in the right shoulder, and was thus marked absent in the Jul-Aug 1864 muster roll. But in the 31 October 1864 roll, he was back on active duty. Either the wound wasn't serious and he recovered quickly, or he wanted to (or was forced to) go back to the line early. Hopefully he recovered, I'd hate to think about having to go through everything active soldiers endured while still recovering from a bullet wound.

After serving through the end of 1864, he contracted pneumonia and was admitted to a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia on 2 January 1865. The Jan-Feb 1865 muster roll states he was "absent sick in hospt. Alex. Va. since Jan 2/65". A hospital record shows he was transferred to "Sickles Barracks" on 24 Feb 1865. His muster roll from Mar-Apr 1865 says he was "absent sick in hosp. since March 4 64", but that has to be an error as he was still AWOL in March 1864. If they meant 1865, it seems James spent the rest of the Civil War in that hospital, as the next record chronologically is his muster out on 30 June 1865.

So to briefly recap:
15 Mar 1863 - enlisted
30 Jun 1863 - present at Camp Nelson, Kentucky
Sep-Oct 1863 - sick
25 Dec 1863 - deserts unit
11 Apr 1864 - returns to unit, arrested, tried by court martial, returns to active duty
30 Jun 1864 - present at camp near Marietta, Virginia
6 Aug 1864 - wounded in battle
31 Oct 1864 - present with unit
Nov-Dec 1864 - present with unit
2 Jan 1865 - contracts pneumonia, hospitalized in Alexandria, Virginia
24 Feb 1865 - transferred to Sickles Barracks
Mar-Apr 1865 - hospitalized with pneumonia
30 Jun 1865 - mustered out

So yeah, very interesting service record. Eventually I hope to fill in some of the gaps and round out the story with more details about his unit, where they traveled, what battles they fought in, etc. This is one ancestor that has a story with lots of twists and turns for such a short time period. Makes me wonder what else there is to learn about him that I don't suspect yet.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Military Monday - a Fold3 Goldmine!

photo courtesy of danhilbert.wordpress.com

Being on a budget is never easy for a genealogist. There are so many good sites, with so much to offer, but that require a paid subscription. Thus, when one of them offers a free trial subscription, I'm more than happy to sign up and test drive their site, especially if it's been a few years since I last visited. Such was the case with Fold3.com a couple weeks ago, and boy am I ever glad for free trials! Never have I ever found so much information in such a short period of time.

I signed up originally to see if I could find some information on the Navy service of my grandpa, Jim Crawford. He served right after WWII on the USS Princeton (CV-37). Veterans Day was coming up, and I thought it'd be fun to see what I could find on him. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything that was definitively about his service. I tried looking up info on my dad's service in the Navy during the Vietnam War (he was on the USS Gridley (DLG-21)), but again, no luck. So I went looking for my wife's 3rd-great-grandfather, Samuel Henry Thacker, who served in the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s. Didn't find much that I didn't already have, except an index card from Company A, 2nd Tennessee Infantry, listing him as a private. So far, pretty underwhelming results.

Then I searched for my another 3rd-great-grandfather of my wife's, James McFarland, who served in the Civil War (interesting how the same generation of one line can be so much older/younger than another line, isn't it?) and struck pay dirt! They had a file of 31 pages of records on him, and it was fascinating stuff. Summing up his service here wouldn't do it justice, so I'll make a separate blog post about him later. But it was a lot more involved than a boring old "enlisted, served, mustered out" experience.

I was sorely tempted to stop here, and analyze what I'd found. I mean, what more could I hope to find than this? But I knew my free trial would expire in less than a week, and I wanted to try to find as much as I could while the trial lasted. So I wrote down quickly what I'd found so far and who it was about, and moved on to my next target - my 4th-great-grandfather, Paul Groff.

Paul has been a brick wall of mine for many years, almost since I got started in researching my family history. I'd traced back to him pretty quickly, as the records of his children and grandchildren were pretty easy to find. But once I got to him,, they all dried up. I couldn't find anything preceding his first marriage to Charlotte Blake in 1848, even after joining the Wapello County, Iowa genealogical society for a year and having them scour their records. But Fold3 had some real treasures waiting for me.

I'd sent away a couple months ago for his pension file from NARA, after his military service in the Mexican-American War, and got back a couple documents that gave his military service unit, but not much more than that. So when I jumped on Fold3, I knew which Paul Groff to look for, and what unit he was from. And it turns out, there were some really interesting documents from him!

Spread out over a couple of different files, I eventually ended up with 19 pages of documents on Paul. Two pages were his enlistments, one in 1842, and the other in 1847. These were really great finds because they not only confirm his birth in New York (and are thus now the earliest documents I have with info on his birth), they both give his birth county - Monroe. I need to follow up on this lead! This wasn't the best part though. The other two files contained collections of letters written to and from different government officials. One group of letters requested Paul's discharge from the military in 1844, saying that his mother was aged, widowed, and needed him to come home and support her. The two gems in this collection - it gives his mother's name, Hannah, and even includes a letter written by Hannah Groff herself!! I've FINALLY broken a big hole in the brick wall!!! The other collection of letters was about Paul's second period of military service, requesting that his dishonorable discharge be changed to honorable, including a letter written by Paul himself! I'm going through that stack of letters first, trying to see if I can find why he was dishonorably discharged. But in what little I've read about his unit so far is absolutely fascinating. He was in the First Dragoons, a cavalry unit, and served in the Mexican War. His unit seems to have gone all the way down to southern Mexico! Definitely need to look further into this.

But the real shocker was what I found about Norton Johnson, first husband of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Maria Janette Beardsley. I'd read/heard elsewhere that Norton had enlisted in the Civil War, and had gotten sick and died in 1864, and wanted to corroborate or refute that story (I was kind of hoping to refute it, as dying from a sickness just seemed...well, a sad way to go in a war). So I went looking to see if there was a file for him. What I found blew me away - there was a pension file for his widow, my ancestor Maria, totaling 94 pages!! It took a while to download it all, and I saw a lot in there while I was downloading - statements from judges, obituaries for Maria, death records for Norton, and other things I didn't really take the time to look at very carefully. I am very excited to go through these records and see what there is to learn about Maria, Norton, and any other family members mentioned in them. I'm still in shock that there were almost 100 pages on just this one family!

So yeah, I'm a firm believer in Fold3.com now. I only had a few days to search the site, and I'm sure my results aren't typical. But I am more than happy with what I've found, and very much looking forward to learning all about these different branches of my family and their military history.