Your Civil War Stories
Read Civil War stories submitted by Deschutes Public Library users.
Great Grandfather Fired Last Shot at Appomattox
Two of my great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War...a paternal great-grandfather, Lemuel, for the South, and a maternal great-grandfather, Benton, for the North. They were both from the area around Weston in what is now West Virginia. Weston changed hands several times during the war. I know very little about Lemuel, but Benton's story is well documented.
Benton was a 4th generation American; the 1st generation had arrived around 1750 and settled in Harrison County in the Virginia Colony.
Benton enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 17 in 1861 and was mustered in at Camp Canaan, Virginia as a private in the 10th West Virginia Infantry. In the 10th W. Va. over the course of the war, 2 officers and 93 men would be killed or die of wounds, while 2 officers and 144 men died of disease-mostly dysentery. Benton was never wounded, but was hospitalized in August of 1864 for dysentery. He returned to his unit in November. In December of that year the 10th was transferred to the 24th Army Corps under General Ord. Benton was soon detached and made a member of the renowned Sharpshooters of the 24th, where he is best noted for having fired the last shot in the Civil War on April 9, 1865.
As he told the story in an interview reprinted in the Weston Democrat at the time of his death in 1933:
"We had marched all night long the night before that eventful morning and with the coming of dawn, we stopped near the town of Appomattox to get breakfast for we were tired and hungry. Before we had time to prepare anything to eat, word was received that Lee was attempting to break through our lines and we were double-timed to the scene of the action. Sharpshooters go in front of the line of battle, and we were ordered to silence a battery which was located near a house, the residence of a man named Tibbs. In making our way through the brush toward the house, two Irishmen sharpshooters were captured by the enemy and according to what they reported when they were released and later returned to our company, they had been taken before General Lee who questioned them about the number of Infantrymen drawn up. Not daring to tell him that they were sharpshooters, since a sharper did not get treated very well, they told Lee they belonged to the infantry, thus making him believe that the Union men were concentrated. We however continued to advance on the battery. Word soon spread that the Johnnies were going to surrender. Arriving at the house we were so located that we had a good view of the entire outlay and our commander, Major Cooley led us right up to the house. He started some of us around the right side and others around the left side. I was on the left side and as I reached a platform of a well on this side, I spied a Johnny making his way through the bushes. He was getting away as fast as possible and I took a crack at him. I hope I didn't hit him, but I might have since I was considered a pretty fair shot at that time. Just at this time we got the order to cease firing and that shot of mine at the Johnny was the last one fired in that section which was just over the hill from the town of Appomattox where Lee surrendered his forces that day."
He also told that he then sat down under an apple tree and was examining a knapsack some Johnny had lost. He had picked it up hoping to find something to eat. While he was looking through it, some of the Confederates came up and talked to him and other Union soldiers until ordered back to their ranks by their officers before the actual surrender.
Immigrants in the Civil War – the Border States
Great-great-grandfather Henry emigrated with his wife and young son in the summer
of 1852. Like many other Germans, he landed at New Orleans and proceeded up the
Mississippi to the St. Louis area, where German immigrants made up a large percentage
of the population. Although he had worked as a carpenter at home, here he settled
on a farm.
In 1861, the Missouri legislature voted overwhelmingly against secession, but the
people and their leaders were strongly divided; the governor himself actually led
his state guard against federal troops in May of that year. President Lincoln asked
loyalists to form home guards to support the Union cause, and in the St. Louis area,
the large German population, loyal to their new country, responded. The home guards
were disbanded later that year, and the troops joined the regular Army. By the end
of the war there were at least eight all-German Missouri regiments in the Union
Henry and his 14 year old son joined the German Militia of the Home Guards at Cole
Camp, Benton County, in June of 1861. His son was soon sent home because there was
no one else to work on the farm. As Henry himself said in a letter translated from
the German, “Many a man and boy was[sic.] killed in the fields where I lived. We
had to join up with one side or the other.” After the Home Guards disbanded, Henry
joined the German Regiment of the regular army, and the following spring he became
part of Company K of the 8th Cavalry Regiment. Henry could speak English by now,
but still wrote only in German. Because of his prior service in the German Army,
and the shortage of experienced men, he was made a corporal. A voucher found in
the National Archives shows that he was issued one horse and one saddle, value $65.00.
It is unclear exactly what date in June, 1861 Henry and his son joined the Home
Guard, whether before or after the June 19th Battle of Cole Camp, in which nearly
a third of the untrained German recruits became casualties. But Henry wrote nothing
about his experiences in the militia.
The Missouri 8th Cavalry was one of the German regiments. Henry’s unit was not involved
in the major battles of the war, but they saw plenty of action in frequent skirmishes
against the raiders who came north from Arkansas and slipped in at night to surprise
them. Notes in his pension file mention regular action against Shelby’s and Coffey’s
raiders. Probably because of his limited English, he left no written details of
his personal experiences.
On one nighttime pursuit of retreating raiders in the fall of 1864, his horse stepped
in a hole and fell, injuring Henry. Although he recovered from what the doctor said
was badly bruised ribs, he was bothered by pain throughout the remaining months
of his service. For some of the period leading up to his mustering out in the spring
of 1865, he was on light duty, accompanying wounded soldiers to field hospitals
that offered little nursing care, or in one case delivering a soldier with some
sort of mental disturbance to a mental facility.
Henry enlisted as a corporal and was promoted to sergeant at one point, but his
promotion did not last. From the records it appears he was promoted in order to
fill a guard spot where a sergeant was required, but the promotion was not approved
by the higher-ups. He was eventually mustered out as a private – probably due to
his extended time on light duty.
Because of his disability, which he said was a lifelong problem, he applied for
a disability pension; but although the doctor who examined him at the time of the
fall testified later that he was definitely unfit for service, his application was
denied several times, until finally in the late 1880s, his case bolstered by letters
from his commanding officer and several other witnesses to his fall, along with
depositions from people who had known him since the war, he was granted a pension.
His case had been damaged in the early 1880s by a doctor’s report (a copy of this
is in his pension file) that described him as simply fat and lazy, and suggested
more activity would do him good. The actual extent of his disability is unknown,
but he lived a full life and died in 1891, the Postmaster of Lake Bay, Washington.
Henry was no hero. He was just one of the many soldiers in that war who did their
jobs and hoped to make it home in one piece after the war. Henry was one of the
fortunate ones who did. He was buried in the family plot in Lake Bay.
Great Grandfather's Civil War Diary
Here is a copy of the transcript
of my great
grandfather’s Civil War Diary. Andrew Jameson came from Central Ohio and after serving
at Shiloh, was discharged for medical disability (a hernia).
The diary was a small leather bound volume written in pencil. I found it in the
attic of my family home in Northwest Ohio.
On September 25, 1861 Andrew P. Jameson enlisted in the Federal Army, becoming a
member of Company H. 57th , O.V.I. He was appointed sergeant, but was disabled in
April at the battle of Shiloh and again on October 28, 1962 at Corinth.
Drunken Dad Signs Up for Union Army
My ancestor, who was in his mid-forties, got drunk in town (Nebraska) and in a drunken
fit of patriotism, signed up to serve in the Union Army. When he sobered up in the
morning, he didn't want to go, so he made his oldest son, who was 17 or 18, go in
his place, using the father's name.
Years later when pensions were awarded, both men applied for the pension. The father
disinherited his son for even applying. After the father's death, a special act
of Congress awarded the son the pension for the remainder of his short life, although
L - a great-great-grandson
What Side Did They Fight For?
I was fortunate to know, for many years, my great grandmother, May, who was born
in 1871. May was born in what is now the state of Kentucky, the daughter of a minister
of the gospel who eventually moved his family to Illinois following his call. There
is where the family remained and where I was born during the War (WWII--referred
to by all people of my generation simply as "the War" as if there were no other).
May died in 1971, three weeks before her 100th birthday, so I had the great privilege
of knowing her for a good portion of my life. Along with some other things she had
treasured throughout her life, she gave me tintype pictures of her brothers and
uncles made in their Civil War uniforms.
When my father returned from service in Europe, he moved his little family south,
to Texas, where there was work and where my brother, who suffered a breathing difficulty,
wouldn't have to endure the cold northern winters. I was a small child when we moved
and Texas is where I grew up.
The old people I knew in my childhood all had Civil War stories, which was called,
in the South, "The War Of Northern Aggression." There were terrible, and, I have
absolutely no doubt, true, stories of Yankee cruelty and property seizure and destruction.
One of my husband's dear friends saw her brother kicked to death by a Yankee "occupier"
who was displeased with the shoeshine he had ordered the boy to perform.
I grew up with a visceral understanding of the abiding hatred that forms in the
population of a cruelly occupied vanquished combatant. They didn't forget, and they
educated their younger generations. In high school, I memorized the "Portrait of
a Southern Lady" portion of Stephen Vincent Benet's narrative poem "John Brown's
On one of my yearly visits to my family in Illinois, I engaged my great grandmother
in conversation about the War (of Northern Aggression), asking her whether her father
and brothers and uncles had ever talked about it. She said they didn't say much,
apparently because the memories were such that they would rather not discuss it.
They had mentioned the difficulty securing rations and told how they had marched
in bitter cold with what rags they could get their hands on wrapped around their
boots in a, mostly useless, effort to ward off frostbite. And they told how they
would find hardtack scraps, sometimes, in the mud as they marched and would pick
it up and wipe it off and eat it because they were so hungry.
I listened to her stories with great interest and when she paused, I asked, "Which
side did they fight for, Grandma?"
She cast a squinty eye at me with and with raised eyebrows said, "What?"
I said, "Which side were they on?"
She straightened her shoulders and said, with great exasperation and dignity, "Why!
They fit for the Union!"
Great Grandfather’s Service in the Union Army
My great grandfather's name was Marvin Boget, also known as Bogart. He was a ninth
generation American when he enlisted in the Civil War coming from old New York and
Dutch stock. Marvin was born in Greenfield Township, Michigan, on March 17, 1840.
He enlisted into the Michigan 22nd Infantry on August 13, 1862 at Commerce, Michigan,
and at the age of twenty-two he was considered an old man in his Company. Marvin
had some formal education and was assigned to Company I as a Corporal. On July 25,
1863, he was promoted to Sergeant. He was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga,
Georgia, on September 20, 1863 standing with the last on the field as the main Union
Army was retreating north. He was taken to Richmond, Virginia then to Andersonville
prison, being in the first group to be held there. He remained at Andersonville
for 18 months and was one of the last soldiers to be exchanged. He was released
on April 26, 1865.
He returned to his regiment and was mustered out at Nashville, Tennessee, on June
2, 1865. Marvin returned home to the same farm where he had been raised. He died
at age nine-eight of a lingering illness at his home in Novi, Michigan, 1940.
Marvin was the first cousin to Mrs. Henry Ford and spent many a time with his dear
friend Henry Ford. Henry gave Marvin a Ford automobile and with the help of a furnished
chauffeur, learned to drive at age 85, and continued driving for another 11 years.
Marvin had the distinction of being the second to the last surviving member of the
Michigan 22nd Infantry and attended the annual reunions until there were no more.
My great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier and served in the 34th Regiment,
Mississippi. He died in 1864. Before the war, he owned a small plantation ("Sugar
Pine") and owned a few slaves.
Grandmother Was A Confederate Sympathizer
My great, great grandmother, who lived in the mountains of Va., poured boiling water
through the floorboards of her cabin onto the heads of Union troops who were hiding
below. Luckily they retreated from the area without breaking down the cabin door
and bringing her harm. Obviously she was a Confederate sympathizer.
My Civil War Story
My family fought on both sides of this war. Most were from the Midwest where dozens
served. My maiden name is unusual and I know where my ancestors lived, so it wasn't
hard for me to find them listed on online genealogical websites. Several were listed
as being imprisoned in the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville.
Other, although fewer, family members fought from the south where they emigrated
from England in the 1600's and became plantation owners. I found references to them
online including in one slave narrative. After the war, an African America town
was founded in Texas named after this family.
Having identified so strongly with the Union side in the war, it was surprising
to learn that the family, although separated for 200 years by the time of the war,
were also southerners. No record survives re. if either side knew of each other.
Two Sisters Share Their Family Story
In the early 90’s, my Dad (now deceased) asked me if I could find out, using the
“new” Internet, if one of our relatives was at Andersonville (a notorious Confederate
prison camp). He thought so, but didn’t know anything else. At the time I could
not. Today, I can. Here’s the information for you since I cannot give it to him:
Name: Lewis Hettinger
Unit name: 1 Ohio Artillery
Type: Held at Andersonville and survived Capture date: 12/13/1864 Capture site:
I’m glad he made it.
After Ann shared her story, her sister Chris added this postscript:
Amazing! I am very relieved that Lewis survived. Odd, and yet not, to feel such
relief 150 years later. Since we don't know Lewis' relationship to Dad, we can only
guess. Perhaps we owe our existence to his survival. I looked at the date of his
capture and thought good, it was late in the war. Probably that's the only reason
survival was even a possibility. Then I thought, with the South disparately poor
toward the end, Andersonville must have been at its grimmest.