My most recent discovery of my great great grandfather's Civil War experience has refueled my interest in not only his life but also his lineage. An ancestor already known to me from family notes rather than discovered through genealogical research, I had given little time to his history. With a quick discount of importance, I placed his name on my family tree and moved on, searching for others I considered more noteworthy. Perhaps finding an ancestor who was an officer in the Revolutionary War, heralded in history books for his strategic military mind. Or if I look further back, I might discover an heir to a monarchy, providing validation to my lifelong assumption of royal lineage!

But after years of searching, my attention to an early interest of undiscovered fame has evolved into an acceptance of 'just average' ancestors. And yet as I delve further into their daily 'average' lives, I find these individuals to have remarkable strength and endurable grit. And I am taken back by a man who took great risk in pledging his allegiance to the Union army, and the country he loved.

I honestly had never given much time to learning about the Civil War. Of course as all, I sat through my college U.S. History class; reading assignments in order to pass one more required credit. But reading my ancestor's words of his experience of the war has provided a deeper understanding of what these soldiers and their families went through. And I am left to compare their lives with ours.

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War at the top of national news and the subject of newly released movies, I feel my Civil War ancestor, Wesley Lewis, deserves a second chapter to this small weekly blog. With a quick review of his story from last week's post, Wesley escaped from a Confederate state in order to join the Union army. Returning home to tend to his sick wife, rebels invaded their home and forced Wesley to witness his wife's death.
Picture
But the second chapter to this heart-wrenching saga leads us to Wesley's children. Without documents found giving explanation of their care and whereabouts after their mother's death, their disposition was left to my imagination: Until my recent discovery of Wesley Lewis' probate records from the courthouse of Washington County, Arkansas.

Leaving little time to grieve, Wesley had to quickly find refuge for his young children. Unable to parent them due to his duty in the war, he took them 700 miles from home, placing them in a Catholic boarding school for their education and protection. But when Wesley returned to the school after the war to retrieve his children, he was told they were no longer there. Most likely placed for adoption, he spent years searching for his children but they were never found. And this unheralded 'average' Civil War soldier lost his entire family as a result of the war.

Wesley Lewis eventually took a second wife, my great great grandmother, and built a new family after the war, but his tragic loss of his first family cannot be denied. And I am humbled by his life. This 'average' man did not hold great military honors nor was he descended from royalty but the story of his life reveals a man of great honor and I am proud to call him my ancestor.

As a tribute to my great great grandfather, I have developed a new page to this website, providing links to search for Civil War ancestors and view other sites dedicated to the Civil War. It is my hope that these efforts will do justice to my 'above average' ancestor.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 
 
Picture
Wesley Lewis had always considered himself to be a good, loyal man: Loyal to his wife, his children and to his country. And when the 'War Between the States' moved closer to his home, Wesley's loyalty never wavered. Surrounded by neighbors in Texas who were Confederate sympathizers, Wesley felt pride in his deep desire to support the Union. So with only a small gun hidden inside his coat and a knapsack filled with a few clothes, Wesley and his closest friend escaped in the middle of the night to the Union Line.

Deeply missing his wife and children, Wesley Lewis struggled with his decision to leave them 300 miles away. But as the war approached his home, he knew he must claim allegiance to one side and for Wesley, that side would be the Union. Seeing the fate of fellow Union sympathizers in Texas, many hung from trees within his families' sight, Wesley escaped back to his hometown in Arkansas were the Union 1st Calvary had mustered in several hundred men. It was a strange time. Families separated, brothers fighting brothers, homesteads burned and Wesley was left making the most difficult decision of his life.

Receiving notice that his wife was sick with fever, Wesley requested an emergency leave from duty in order to tend to her. The leave was granted and he returned to Texas to find his beloved Malinda, struggling to take care of herself, their children and the farm on her own. And as he prepared to nurse his wife back to health, Confederate soldiers stormed their home. Yielding guns, they destroyed their crop, killed their horses and livestock and stole the children's clothes. But the destruction of Wesley's property was only minor compared to the bandit's goal: The assault and ultimate death of his wife, Malinda.

The Confederates knew they were invading the home of a Union soldier and they had entered the house not to kill Wesley but to torture him. To kill his wife in front of him, knowing that witnessing her death would be more torment than his own demise. And so as Wesley struggled to free himself from his captors in order to save his wife, he was forced to watch Malinda as she was beaten and dragged from her bed, lying helplessly on the floor until her death.

The story of Wesley Lewis, my great great grandfather, is only one of thousands during the Civil War. A war of three million soldiers and more than 620,000 deaths, it was a time of epic battles and personal tragedy. Entire cities were destroyed, farms burnt to the ground and there was not a family left untouched. And in one day, during the Battle of Antietam, 12,401 Union men were killed, wounded or missing; double the casualties of D-Day.

The month of April begins the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Whether your ancestors were Union or Confederate soldiers, their lives, their experiences, are worth exploring. If you do not subscribe to Ancestry.com, now is the time to utilize all of the Civil War records found on the site. Until Thursday, April 14th, 25 million records from the National Archives including the entire U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records and the 1860 and 1870 U.S Federal Census are free. Other sites I recommend for research are: The National Park Service,  Military Records On-Line and many of the individual state archives.

But is is not enough to make note of your ancestor's records. Read and listen to their own words whether through the files of the Southern Claims Commission or their pension records through the National Archives. And gain a better perspective on the history of the Civil War through PBS.

Now is the time to gain a better understanding of your Civil War ancestor's life, struggles and sacrifices. Because their history is your history, their story is your story.

Keep searching for answers,


Cheryl
(Source: PBS-The Crossroads Of Our Being)