Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stepping into the past

We've been on vacation. After spending several days on the family farm in North Carolina, we headed north to Virginia today. Somewhere along the way, I realized we'd be traveling within a few miles of the battlefield where my great-grandfather (my Dad's Dad's Dad) fought in the US Civil War. So I decided to go check it out.

My great-grandfather was with the North Carolina 51st Infantry. On that fateful day in June 1864, he found himself on the winning side of the battle, but on the wrong side of a gun. A musket ball fired by (most likely a) Connecticut Infantryman hit him in the arm. I can only imagine what happened after that, based on the horrible reinactments I've seen in movies, where they fill a man up with liquor and then hold him down. My great-grandfather had his arm amputated in an attempt to save his life. It worked, and he lived to be an old man with quite a story. 

I told the Park Ranger at the battlefield that my great-grandfather had fought there and she looked him up in the computer database. From the information there, she was able to tell me which regiment and unit he was with (for the record, he was fighting with Clingman and Hoke . . . as in Clingman's Dome and Hoke County, NC). She showed me on a map exactly where he would have been when the fighting was going on. So I was able to walk to the actual place where he was . .  probably the place where he got shot. She also gave me the number of the film so if I ever visit the National Archives in Washington, DC, I can look up the details about his military service. (This is not yet available online.)

Ironically, just a few hours before I arrived at the battlefield, another visitor stopped by. This person was a descendant of a certain Connecticut Infantryman who died that day. The unlucky soldier had been a part of Upton's regiment. It was Upton's regiment who was firing on my great-grandfather's regiment. The Park Ranger said it was very rare to get two descendant visitors in one day - especially from regiments who were firing at each other!