I am at a loss as to what to say about the past few weeks. They were deeply painful in the losses we suffered. When the time is right I will write about it as I always do but for now that would be opening healing wounds. So I shall carry on with healing and with writing.
I am so behind on blogging given the list of topics I have… but the good news is that means I’m not out of ideas. The good news for you is you don’t have to see bottom of the barrel scrapings of writing I have fodder for months! Today I’ll turn to how plain dusty records that are bland in and of themselves tell a vibrant story of a very interesting man. Now on with the post…
You know I love a good story. That’s partly why I love genealogy – the records tell stories of people long gone. Let’s take Joel Dennis Jr. born 1828 d 1896. He was your basic subsistence Appalachian farmer. His relation to me is 3rd great grand uncle, which is neither here nor there just why he’s on my list of potential Civil War vets in my family tree. He was the right age at the right time to get swept up in the war. So when I ran a list of new tree additions that met the criteria to serve he showed up. Well yesterday I found his service record and POW record. Pretty dry stuff until you read it and glean out his story. He was 5’8″ tall had a dark complexion from working in the fields, his hair was dark but I bet his blue eyes were piercing from their darker setting. He could read and write which was unique at the time in that area for those in his situation.
First off know his father was a Col in the Union Calvary and his brother was a Pvt in the Union mounted infantry. So I was surprised to find he was a Confederate (one of 7 so far in my tree and yes I’m a Southerner but come from predominately Union area of East TN) He enlisted in Cocke County Tennessee where he lived with his wife Matilda and son Robert. He signed to Capt. Lynch’s Company (Tennessee Light Artillery) as a Private. He mustered into the Confederate Army on 30 Jun 1863. On 4 Jul 1863 he was captured by the Union in Vicksburg Mississippi. His glorious career was all of 4 days.
Here you gotta know a bit of history – Vicksburg was big awful battle. The Union captured a lot men in this battle but really didn’t have the capacity to imprison them all. So given as oaths and signing them were very important back then they offered parole to their Union families to those whoo would sign a loyalty oath. Joel refused to sign. I could see an arrogant just enlisted young man refusing such a thing.
He was in the Marine Hospital in Vicksburg on 17 Jul 1863 and was granted mercy parole by Lt. Col. W. P. Davis of the 23 Indiana Volunteers (a Union regiment) without signing the oath. He must have been faking it or not very sick/injured given what he did next. Not having signed the oath Joel fought again against the Union and was captured in Memphis on 20 Jul 1863. On 3 Aug 1863 he was sent to St. Louis military brig as an “ardent Rebel who will not reform.” There he was held there until 14 Aug 1863 where he was transferred to Camp Morton in Indianapolis.
Here I go back to his home in Cocke county. Matilda died of typhoid fever in 1864 while he languished at Camp Morton. One can only guess that when word reached him his resolve was crushed. His boy was an orphan living with his mother, the wife of a Union Col. If he ever wanted his family again he’d have to go over to their side. I’m only guessing that’s what happen but seems reasonable as he requested the loyalty oath parole still available to POWs from Vicksburg. On 2 Jan 1865 he signed the oath that he had refused to sign a year and half before. I am sure he was a changed man after such a long time as a prisoner. He then returned home and took up farming again, married a Union widow, and had two daughters. He never claimed a Confederate pension.
I find it interesting in my great grandmother’s notes about the Dennis family she didn’t note he was a Reb. She did note it on others. I think it is possible she didn’t know. I could see that he returned and the family took him back never mentioning it again.
You see there is a story in the old dry service records, POW files, death certificates and such. When you put them together the life of a farmer more than 100 years ago during a turbulent time comes back. Joel, Matilda, and their son Robert were just one family of many that knew the hardship of war.
Until next time.