Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ancestors in the war: Henderson Turner

Henderson Turner and his 2nd wife Sarah (I'm descended from his 1st wife.)

 My 3 times great grandfather Henderson Turner provides an intriguing story, probably the most interesting of those of my ancestors involved in the Civil War. He was the grandson of Roger Turner, a Revolutionary War soldier who served with multiple volunteer companies from Surry and Wilkes Counties, North Carolina. The farm Henderson owned on Turkey Creek, Ky.  may even have been given to his grandfather as a land grant for his war service. (It appears that one of Roger's uncles, Roger Turner Jr. (Roger was a popular name it seems) fought for the British during the war and had his land confiscated afterwards. I have not found any Confederates in my family tree, but apparently had a Tory.)

Most of what I post about Henderson will come from family oral tradition, as little official documentation exists about his military service.

This family lore claims that Henderson served in the Civil War but never mustered out, making him ineligible for pensions, though no official records confirming that have been found. I have also heard that he may not have any official paperwork due to his age. He was born in May of 1847, so he apparently was only 15 years old when he entered the service. If so, he may never have mustered in either, which would eliminate the possibility of any paperwork. He may have snuck into camp with his half-brothers who did officially join the army. Henderson perhaps served as a scout for their unit. Whatever his role, he would not have been the only boy to serve in the military during the war, though many others were drummer boys.

The one piece of documentation that does exist is the 1890 Veterans' Census which lists him as a private in Company K of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry, a Union regiment, from October 10, 1862 until March 24, 1864. If these dates are accurate, he had not even turned 18 - the minimum age to join the military - when he left the service. Another part of the family legend claims that he left the army at the Newport Barracks, along the Ohio River in northern Kentucky, and walked all the way to his home in Breathitt County, which is about a three hour drive even today. Unfortunately, he apparently left Newport before getting any discharge papers, so his application for a pension was denied.

Henderson's great-granddaughter, my great-aunt, had heard much of this information and wrote a brief description of him in a story in a local history book called Common Folk, Volume 2, published by the Breathitt County Historical Society. She described “Grandpap Hent” as a tall and skinny man whose legs nearly dragged the ground when he rode a horse. That must have made him an interesting-looking figure when scouting or serving in the cavalry.

In his later years, he lived with one of his children but sometimes became upset and threatened to leave and go someplace else only to have one of his grandchildren beg him to stay, which he inevitably did.

Henderson died May 29, 1933, at 86 years of age and is buried in the Hannah Sebastian Cemetery.

Here are pictures of his headstones, courtesy A descendant applied for a veteran's headstone for him, and this was approved, so someone in that office saw enough evidence that he had served.

Why Henderson may have left the service in Newport instead of at Camp Nelson, where most of the regiment apparently mustered out - the two places are more than 100 miles apart - is another mystery, perhaps going back to his youth and unofficial status in the military. Or perhaps family oral legend may not have this part correct. Nonetheless, it is an interesting story to ponder. I just wish there had been some documentation, but oral tradition is a different sort of history and can be important itself. Without it, very little else is known of his military career and I admit is intriguing to have such a story in my family tree.

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