Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Local Families in the Civil War

 A lot of people have seen or heard the Civil War referred to as a "brother's war" because of the instances of family members fighting on opposite sides (Mary Lincoln's Confederate brothers and Kentucky's Crittenden family are two famous examples) but there were also many cases of family members fighting on the same side, a point that I am learning more and more through my research into Campbell County soldiers and sailors. 

When I started this project, I knew of the Seither brothers - three fought for the Union, but a fourth had moved to New Orleans in the years before the war and became a Confederate soldier - but did not know of any other Campbell County families that had fought in the war. I was obviously foolish, and perhaps naive, but I now have confirmed at least 30 (thirty!) instances of brothers, fathers/sons, and cousins from Campbell County fighting for the Union cause. I certainly never expected to find so many. I've even found some where three or four brothers joined the war effort. Four brothers in the war were grandsons of a Revolutionary War soldier whom the Daughters of the American Revolution are going to honor later this year. That was pretty cool to find. 

Even a couple of weeks ago, when I realized I had found a few examples and decided to look into it more closely to figure out just how many I had uncovered, I did not think it was such a high number.  I'm still surprised, but I do realize that there are probably even more out there that I haven't found (especially cousins or uncles/nephews - the set of cousins I know of only came to my attention because they were distant ancestors of mine.) 

This whole research adventure has been quite fun and educational to me, with the presence of so many families having multiple members fight in the war being the latest example. I have started a separate document to try to track them, and I have a few more names listed to research as possibilities, but who knows what else might pop up to attract my attention and time.

I still need to decide eventually what to do with all this information. A book would be ideal, but is it realistic? I want it to be, but I wonder if anybody else wants to read all this or if my work is good enough to be published. Oh well, I'm enjoying what I'm finding and will make other decisions as I need to, but I thought this was a good excuse to publish another blog post.

Hopefully I will have other interesting finds and observations to share as this process continues.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Making Progress on Book (or Am I?)

I’m still working on what I hope turns out to be a book on Civil War Soldiers and Sailors from Campbell County, Kentucky, and have made some good progress recently, though if this progress creates more work is it truly progress?

I think so, at least in terms of the quality of this work.

I was working on the finishing touches of an interesting but brief story of a local soldier who had been executed while running from soldiers sent to capture him and return him to the regiment. I thought I just needed to confirm one tidbit, then do some quick proofreading and it would be finished, but, instead, I found out much more information about his family, including two of his older brothers who were arrested by Union officials for harboring him while he was AWOL.

One signed the Oath of Allegiance, a copy of which remains in his file. It is the first copy of an oath that I have found associated with any of these men. Maybe I’ll find more when I work more in the Confederate side, but this really excited me.

The other brother of the executed soldier actually ended up joining a Union cavalry regiment about fifteen months after his brother’s death. A local genealogy site includes an unsourced article claiming this brother suffered a couple major wounds in his time in the service. I need to look further into that as nothing about it was on Fold3 at first glance. The idea that he joined the Union army after one brother was executed for desertion and after he and his other brother were arrested truly blows my mind, even baffles me. It’s just a fascinating turn of events. This is now one of my favorite stories.

I will, of course, double check this latest information to make sure I did not miss something or am not overreacting, but this is the kind of find that makes research interesting, even dare I say fun, at times. 

This will allow me to add genealogical information to my original story idea, but I’m now wondering if I should keep my original story and add all this information to it or limit my story to the basics I originally found and then add a second story with more family details on it, including the oath and the oldest brother’s service.

Decisions, decisions.

Even though this might slow me down, I actually am very happy to find this additional knowledge. I’ll figure out soon enough how to handle it, but I’m glad that’s an option. This story is now even more intriguing to me.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Book Review: Murder on the Ohio Belle

Amazon.com: Murder on the Ohio Belle eBook : Sanders, Stuart W.: Kindle  Store
Stuart W. Sanders 
Copyright 2020
University Press of Kentucky

Murder on the Ohio Belle is not a Civil War book, but covers the war era including the generation of people who brought on and fought the war, thus making it a worthwhile read for those focused on the fighting years. Mid-nineteenth century culture is the main theme of this work, as seen through the experiences of one steamboat, its crew and passengers.
As its title implies, Murder tells the story about a killing (actually two) that took place on the steamboat Ohio Belle, but it goes well beyond that, serving as sort of a biography of mid-nineteenth century steamboat and American culture, or at least many aspects thereof.

This book starts with a strong introduction. Many works use such a start to explain the author’s goals for the book, but few are as straight-forward and effective as the this one.

The hope of this book is to “help us better understand nineteenth century riverine culture.” (page 2) It explores the relationship northern owned boats and their crews had with slavery and slave culture along the Ohio River.The phrase “fluid border” between free states and slave states was literally true, since the waters of the Ohio formed much of that border. The author shows that these boats profited from, and thus supported, slavery with the business they conducted in the south.

Sanders further pledges to explore“how Americans contended with violence” (page 3) such as murder, lynching, and warfare, and argues “the history of the Ohio Belle also presents a portrait of how western antebellum society embraced retribution.” (page 4)

This work considers a variety of period cultural issues, such as “interpersonal violence, slavery, honor culture, and retribution.” (page 4)

The introduction comes to a definitive conclusion: “A single event…can illuminate a more important, broader narrative about our past.” The plan is to show readers “important themes from the nineteenth century that are still relevant today” (page 5), such as vigilantes, injustices, and others.

“History, including the tale of a murder on a steamboat, still matters” is an apt final sentence to this introduction.

The book lives up to the promises and goals listed in its beginning. It does so mostly in a chronological fashion, but does jump ahead and back at appropriate times to tell the story fully. 

This is not a long book. It has an introduction, eight chapters and a conclusion which combine to take up 111 pages, including the acknowledgements, but does also feature 30 pages of notes, some of which include information beyond the citations. This length, and the writing style of the author, make it a quick and easy read, so anyone worried about finding enough time to read an entire book should still consider this one.

Besides the telling of the story of the actual murders, and how it parallels mid-nineteenth century American behavior, this book also details the career of John Sebastian, the captain of the Ohio Belle, and how he dealt with those issues on his boat.

Another interesting aspect of this work is the story of Margaret Garner. Many people have heard or read  of her escape from slavery in Boone County, Kentucky, across the Ohio River to Cincinnati, where she killed her young daughter instead of letting slave catchers capture her. This book details more of her story after that incident, as she was sent downriver aboard a steamboat.This part of her story is not as famous as her attempted escape, but does include more heartbreak. Her tale was an unexpected but valuable addition to the study of the region's culture at the time. Few stories illustrate the nature of slave-state Kentucky’s proximity to the free state of Ohio as clearly as hers does.

Violence, revenge, honor, and the definition of a “gentleman” (and expectations of such a man’s behavior and interactions with others) are concepts that appear throughout the book, and are familiar to Civil War students. The use of alcohol, mixed with gambling and traits like pride, honor, and the tradition of carrying concealed weapons was a common contributor to problems, including occasional mob violence. This behavior on “the Ohio Belle, and other vessels was simply a reflection of behavior on land during this period.” (pages 58-9) This book provides examples of this, including in the river city of Louisville.

Class distinctions – particularly between wealthy planters and “lower” economic classes, but also between races – were ever present in how people behaved on land and water.

Of course, the defining event during the steamboat era of the mid-nineteenth century was the Civil War, and chapter seven dives into it, how it affected the Ohio Belle  (captured by the Confederacy) and John Sebastian (he lost his left arm during the conflict.) It was the ultimate example of violence during the era, but these years also continued to demonstrate the dangerous desire and search for vengeance, much like during peace time.
Overall, this is a fine book for anybody who enjoys history, but it also covers topics that should interest those focused on the Civil War, river history or social/cultural history in mid-1800s America. This book is a pleasure to read. I happily recommend it.

Friday, May 27, 2022

I'm Still Here, Still Researching, Still Blogging

 I know that blogs are now a thing mostly of the past as podcasts (even via video) and live streaming have come into vogue and are the major tools of social media and communication, as well as new apps and, honestly, probably some things of which I have not heard yet, but I'm still here, as is this blog. 

I know my activity here has slowed down considerably. I mostly regret that. Last year just was not a productive year for me from a  research or writing perspective, but things have improved in 2022. I have resumed doing research for my book (or website)  project, and have started writing more. Now, that will include this blog. It may not be a daily thing, but I do hope and intend to write much more frequently. 

Many of my entries will probably focus on my current research, mentioning interesting stories I find, roadblocks that confound me and other  issues that come to mind, including my attempt to figure out what the final product will be and  if there is any end  in sight.,

Anyway, I have found more good information for my Campbell County Civil War Soldiers project. I even found a few new names in the last week or so, and have determined to write many more individual stories than I originally anticipated. These men deserve to be remembered for their service.

Recently, I created a document for the 23rd Kentucky Infantry regiment. I have over 120 names for it. My current plan, always subject to change, is to write several stories on many of these men, but also to  have a separate story just on the regiment. I know of no regimental history for this group, so this will be a challenge, but I should be able to put together at least a few  hundred words of a high-level look at the experiences of this unit. I think that will help me, and hopefully others, to understand better what the individuals went through during the war.At least that is the goal.

I may do something for the 53rd Kentucky as well, especially company F, another unit with many Campbell County men in it. This unit formed late in the war, but were involved in the Second Saltville Raid in late 1864, and I've found several names of men who were killed, captured, or wounded during that expedition.

Another recent addition to my  project is to take a closer look at the sailors whose names I've found. I assembled a list of ship names I've found associated with these sailors and surprisingly came up with more than 50 ships. Several of these men served on multiple vessels, but I do see at least one of them was a "receiving ship" for new sailors, a concept new to me. This part of the project will probably be quite educational to  me as I look into the navy and these individual ships. It will certainly be a challenge even to do a high-level, not-too-detailed study like this, but I think it has potential to be interesting to me and to improve my understanding of  the war. 

Several of the ships I've found were either built in Cincinnati, or the  navy purchased them there, so I like the regional nature of that. It should fit in well with the scope of my book since Cincinnati is right across the river from Campbell County (though I believe Cincinnati's ship-building area was a bit further west than where Campbell County is.)

At one glance, this seems to me more like a county history than a war book and perhaps that is accurate and maybe even desirable, but it has already changed how I  look at the war and study it. I may never be an expert in military tactics, strategies, and operations.

This project still comes down to studying the individual men who fought the war and who lived in my home county before, during, and/or after the war, including their lives inside and outside of their military years. There is a lot of good information that I believe is worth finding and sharing and I'm hoping this little project of mine can contribute to the understanding of Campbell County history, the Civil War, and/or the men who fought it and the people who lived through it. If I advance the understanding or knowledge of even one piece of these areas, it will be a good thing.

I'm going to go ahead and just post this now, on a Friday afternoon, without thorough proofreading or checking it on for a couple of days before I post it. Enough with such delays (though I do have another family-history post related to the war that has been in "draft" mode for a while. I'll have to complete it soon, but I do plan to come back and post more about what my research finds and where my plans and goals head in the future. This has research has been a very positive experience for me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

William Orlando Tarvin, Co. F 53rd Kentucky Infantry

An unexpected aspect of my quest to identify as many Campbell County Civil War Soldiers and  Sailors was the discovery of more of my distant relatives who served in the war. The first one of these soldiers who I realized was related to me was William Orlando Tarvin.

Orlando, as he went by, was born on May 11, 1841 in Campbell County, probably Carthage. He was the son of Thomas Floyd and Winifred Gholson Kercheval. William’s great-grandfather was Reverend George Tarvin, my sixth-great-grandfather, making us second cousins, five times removed, a distant relationship, but still a relationship.

The 1860 census listed him as Orlando Tarvin and reported that he lived with his parents and eight siblings. He had no occupation listed at the time.

 Orlando joined company F of the 53rd Kentucky Infantry, signing up in December 1864 in Newport, along with many other Campbell County men. He joined as a private and eventually was promoted to sergeant.
 The 53rd Kentucky had formed late in the war and missed out on the most famous battles and campaigns but it did help guard the Kentucky Central Railroad which ran south from Covington and through Lexington. It also protected areas in Kentucky against guerilla attacks. Its most noteworthy service was as part of the Saltville Raid into southwestern Virginia in December of 1864 when it helped destroy Confederate salt  works and several of the unit's men were wounded, killed or captured. 
One early 1865 story in the Cincinnati Enquirer listed Orlando among a group thought to have been captured by the Confederates during that campaign, but it was a  mistaken report regarding him, though others on the list did become prisoners of war.

After the war ended, Orlando, who was listed as 5 feet 7 inches tall, with blue eyes, sandy hair, and a florid complexion when he enlisted, transitioned back to civilian life. In 1870 he lived with his parents and three sisters while working as a cooper. He then married Sarah Lee Nelson on November 29, 1876 in Carthage, with Reverend James Jolly officiating the ceremony.

Four years later, the 1880 census listed Orlando as a farmer living with his wife and two daughters and, according to a family history report one of his descendants assembled, became a busy citizen in Campbell County. He served multiple terms as postmaster at the Flagg Spring Post Office, from 1890 to 1895 and from January of 1900 until that office closed in 1906.

On July 19, 1897, Governor William Bradley gave Orlando another responsibility, appointing him Justice of the Peace for the Sixth Congressional District of Kentucky. 

In 1900, the census listed his name as Orlando W Tarvin, and showed that he lived with his wife, five children and his wife’s aunt, quite a large household. He was still a farmer.

On September 9, 1907, Orlando’s life came to an end. The Kentucky Post reported that Orlando, who was also a Mason, had just attended the Alexandria Fair before his wife discovered him dead in his bed that fateful morning. His funeral was “the largest ever witnessed in that section of the county” and he was buried in Grandview Cemetery in Mentor.

On of his direct descendants forwarded me some of these details and I thank her for the assistance. Before then, I knew he was on the list, but her email made me realize he was probably related to me and from that point on, I uncovered the same about his cousins - more Civil War ancestors for me!

A future post may explore the careers and lives of his brothers and their five second-cousins who served in the Civil War  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Goodbye, Ramage Museum


 I left my role as a board member and volunteer at the James A.Ramage Civil War Museum at the end of 2020 as I had been there since 2006 (on the board since 2008) and thought it was time for a change for both me and the museum.

In hindsight, perhaps I got out in the nick of time, as on August 25, Fort Wright’s mayor enacted an executive order  shutting down the museum and eliminating the current museum board. Not long afterwards, the city council voted to approve his action.

He did explain some reasons for his sudden (at least publicly) decision, and there was some confusing statements made in his remarks. I wonder what, if anything, went unsaid, though I have some thoughts that will remain private for now.  I also think he could have handled the situation differently, but do not really want to write about that, at least at this time. Maybe later. This decision angered me and though the anger has subsided a bit over the last few weeks, the disappointment hasn't. 

That said, what is done is done.
Some good news I’ve learned is that the artifacts in the museum will be handled  properly, in accordance with applicable laws and standards. The main director (or whatever her title is) at another local museum is working with the city on this task.  (I was able to retrieve my items I had left there on loan.)

I was extremely disappointed and heartbroken - though not totally surprised - to receive this news. The timing and manner in which it occurred both caught me off-guard, especially since I was not as involved with the board as I had been in the past, but the result was not. This seemed inevitable, thought the when and how remained uncertain, especially after a June city council meeting in which it was said the museum would have one year (based on the city’s fiscal year) to raise funds and the city would hire someone to prepare a master plan for the park and museum.  To have this happen just a few days after Battery Hooper Civil War Days, the museum's biggest annual event, was especially unfortunate and terrible, perhaps even insulting.

JARCWM was not the biggest museum in the world and did not print unlimited money for the city, but it sits on historic ground (Battery Hooper was a local defensive position during the Civil War) and a beautiful parcel of land in a small city full of strip malls and chain stores/restaurants. It was a cultural and historic entity in a city with nothing else like it. It did not shut down because there was too much competition, though I suppose the powers that be thought that one museum was one too may.  Sigh. 

People from many states visited each year and it provided a perspective unique to the region, with displays on Squirrel Hunters, the Black Brigade, the diary of a local soldier, and more local history that is hard to find elsewhere. Perhaps the board never fully capitalized on or fully exploited  the museum’s strengths and the stories of the Civil War in the area, but everybody there was a volunteer. We did not have museum professionals and experts leading us. We all were on our own time and did the best we could, often just trying to proceed without attracting too much of the city's time or attention, since we had come to expect little help from that area. You can't fight city hall, as they say.
This is probably something I could write about for thousands of words and hours and hours of time, and as time passes I will likely share more memories of the good times I had at the museum, the friends I made, the people I met, and everything I learned about the war, local history, and even myself. I doubt this blog would have ever existed had I not started volunteering at the museum. I may not have decided to  take guided tours at Perryville and Cynthiana, during which I met more good people and learned more about the war. I likely would not have created my small collection of Civil War books, artifacts, and ephemera. I may not have joined the board at the Campbell County Historical Society had I not had the experience at the Ramage Museum, and my current research project to tell the stories of local Civil War soldiers may not have started. 
JARCWM was good to me and my life and its closing is a sad, disappointing, event. It was a good place with good people. I hope the city does continue to preserve the site of Battery Hooper. Very few physical remnants of the Civil War exist in the area, so it is important to keep the ones that remain.

I encourage readers to support your licsl history organizations, groups, museums, and societies. Even local libraries often have historical displays. Support Dutch institutions - even if you don’t have large amounts of money to donate,  smaller amounts help, or donate your time. Even if you can only volunteer for specific events, that helps. Otherwise attend events, purchase memberships and help your friends and family know about such groups and what they do.. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Book Review: Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union’s Queen City

Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Union’s Queen City

David L. Mowery
Copyright 2021
The History Press

I admit my reading of books has been too slow in the past year or two, but I did just finish an enjoyable and informative book, one about a local topic.

David Mowery’s most  recent book, Cincinnati in the Civil War,seems like a fairly short book, 279 slightly undersized pages before the end-notes and index in the hardback copy I have, but is full of information and details about Cincinnati and even the northern parts of Kenton and Campbell Counties in Northern Kentucky. (Campbell County is my lifelong home.)

As I first heard of and purchased this book, I thought I had a good grasp on the basics of this subject, and though perhaps there was some accuracy to that egotistic belief, this work showed me just how basic that understanding was no how much more there is to Cincinnati’s Civil War story, far beyond the “Siege of Cincinnati” which was the subject most familiar to me. 

This book is quite readable, with a nice flow to it, and the various photographs and illustrations add more perspective to how Civil War Cincinnati appeared. The pictures of buildings long gone are especially intriguing (though perhaps additional illustrations of the forts and batteries constructed for the late 1862 panic may have contributed more to this work.)
The seven main chapters of the narrative do a terrific job of covering just what the title says, starting with the coming of the war, to concerns about Cincinnati's location near slave-state Kentucky, the importance of defending the city, then an apt description of the "Siege," followed by discussions of other southern support or threats north of the Ohio River and finally the ending of the war. It is not a review of the entire Civil War - it is a detailed look at one area's experiences in the war, the war's effects on that area, and, most of all, Cincinnati's impact upon the war. This book is exactly what its title says it is.

The seven chapters of the main text are followed by five separate appendices, touching on topics such as ship-building in Cincinnati, regional war-time fortifications, a very educational (at least to  me) look at the locations of Civil War sites in the area (even noting the locations of buildings, camps, etc. that no longer exist), a history of Spring Grove Cemetery and listing of notable period figures interred therein, and a table listing Civil War units in which men from Cincinnati (and its home of Hamilton County) served, noting which companies, regiments or other units were composed mostly of these men. The inclusion of so many people snd -laces in this section really adds a lot of value to the entire book. 
The book’s organization - the narrative description of the subject as included in the book's title, followed by the appendices, more focused on specific subjects that had contributed to the bigger story of the city's part in the war - works wonderfully.

Overall, I enjoyed this book because of the information it provides (and, perhaps selfishly, because of ideas it gives me for my project that I have discussed here.) It is, practically, a must read for those interested specifically in Cincinnati Civil War history, but is also a valuable work for other Civil War and local history enthusiasts. I certainly recommend this book.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

More Rambling on my Project

I recently  posted another update on the progress on my project, but had a few other thoughts and comments to share.

This entire project has really given me a new perspective on learning about  the war. Maybe I've briefly mentioned this idea in a previous post over the past year, but here it is again, in more detail than anything I've written about it before. 

Most of the Civil War learning I have done in my life has been by reading books. I also have read magazine articles, newspaper articles, and various online stories, and have watched videos and other similar content and have visited a couple of battlefields and been on tours of those places.  I suspect this is pretty standard for most students of topics like this.

In the last couple of years, my reading of books has greatly decreased, for multiple reasons (or excuses) but starting this book project has led me to a different way of learning. Reading so many military records of individual soldiers - mostly on Fold 3, but some on ancestry. com or even civiliwardata.com - has helped me see the story of the war differently - not from the view of generals and leaders or of famous battles of thousands of soldiers, but from the individual stories of so many men. It is true that such stories do populate  many Civil War books - mentions of soldiers wounded, captured or perhaps court-martialed - but finding the stories in the files and then researching them for more details just has a completely different feel to it for me. Maybe it is because this is still somewhat new, but I feel like I'm learning more just how the war played out. No, I don't have a better understanding of any individual battle (though, for instance, I had never heard of the First Battle of Murfreesboro before finding a Union soldier captured during it) , but maybe I know more about  what the human cost was besides mere numbers and figures.

Also, I think that trying  to add some genealogical/demographic information to the military information has added to this feeling I'm trying to describe. I realize my research may not change the interpretation of any battle or famous warrior, but I do feel it can add to the history of Campbell County and perhaps bring more information about at least some of the men who fought during this bloody war that still fascinates so many people 160 years later. It adds a human touch to these (mostly) faceless names - they were born, died, and usually had wives, children, siblings, etc. Of course I knew that intellectually, but finding this information in various records lets it hit more differently than just reading it in somebody else's work.

 Perhaps someone not necessarily interested in the details of battles might find some of the genealogy information and stories from civilian lives to be interesting. One soldier I found became a local policeman after the war and then was the first officer from Newport to be killed in the line of duty. He survived years of war, but not his civilian job. I have found a future mayor and some long-time local doctors who fought in the war and other similar stores about civilian lives.  I've found several stories similarly interesting and hope to uncover more. 

One of my latest lessons was when I found a card in a soldier's file. It was dated for after the war, but concerned the solder's mustering out, which a CMSR had mentioned  had not officially occurred. I was trying to figure out when this young soldier had finally left the army, when I found the other document, which mentioned him mustering out "by way of favor." 

I wondered if the military had done a "favor" to him by letting be listed as officially mustered out, perhaps because he had  enlisted at just 14 years of age. I asked about this on a Facebook group and a  long and interesting discussion basically confirmed this was probably the case, though the discussion also mentioned that an old meaning of "favor" was "letter." 

Another post-war document in the file officially noted his discharge and the date, and could reasonably be called a "letter," so I do believe the military did not officially discharge him in 1865 after his term expired - or at least did not leave paperwork proving so - and some postwar project, perhaps at the soldier's request, found this error and the "by way of favor" remark and the "letter" in the file basically closed his case and approved his honorable discharge.

In all the files I had reviewed - probably a few hundred by now - I had never seen anything like this, but it was a fascinating find and led to an enjoyable conversation. It also showed me that not everything went as it was supposed to and that even strict military procedure and bureaucracy made and perhaps even corrected mistakes. It was just a new and weird situation to find that phrasing - "by way of favor" - on a form, something I never could have expected to find (though one of the posters in the discussion said he had seen it before. This is not the type of situation most Civil War books discuss or even mention. 

I also found a soldier whose two service cards showed him joining two separate regiments on the same day, with a comment about having transferred to one,  but a helpful soul confirmed that this soldier had just transferred  from one unit to the other without mustering out of the service, so the date he joined the army remained the same. If he  had left the service, then rejoined the second regiment, the second form would have included a new date.  Perhaps I should have realized that on my own, but now I know.

Anyway, sorry this is not the most organized  or formal post, but I wanted to share those thoughts.

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