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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