Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Civil War Meets Rock and Roll

Often when engaged in genealogical pursuits, we find little tidbits of information about an ancestor intriguing or humorous, shocking or sad.  We may not see them immediately, but discover them after files and documents are received and filed away. Only when we take the time to fully understand the documents before us, when we read them analytically and record their contents do we realize what we have. 

I’m not going to admit how long I’ve had this lengthy Civil War pension file on my ancestor, John D. Alexander, or whether I have completely analyzed all of its 165 pages. So don’t ask me. I’m not saying.

John’s file is interesting because it was filed not by John after returning from service in the war, but by his only child, Charles.  Add to that the fact that Charles was an adult at the time of filing for his father’s pension, and you get a sense of why the file is both interesting and lengthy.

But I digress. 

John, as a resident of Kansas, joined Company D of the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry on 24 September 1861. His wife, Harriet, had died in March 1861, leaving him to care for their only child, Charles (born 21 October 1859). Charles went to live with John’s parents, William and Mary Moore McReynolds Alexander near Golden, Adams County, Illinois, and his father went off to war.

John’s brother, David, died of injuries received in the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee on 30 Jan 1863, having been a Corporal in the 84th Illinois from Adams County, Illinois.

John and Company D of the 8th Kansas had been in Nashville, fortifying the headquarters for General Rosencrans. The next movement for John and the Army of the Cumberland would be the Tullahoma Campaign.  John and a friend of his, Asa F. Phillips of Marysville, Kansas, got a three-day pass in the latter part of June 1863, a brief chance to get away from their daily duties before embarking upon Tullahoma. 

It turns out that John’s brother, William Alexander, had also volunteered for the Union Army. With the 84th Illinois.

In a brief letter contained in the pension file for John Alexander, Asa Phillips recalls the furlough.

They went to visit their brothers. And their brothers were on Cripple Creek in Tennessee. 

Cripple Creek. Hey, isn't that a song?

"Up on Cripple Creek" - The Band

Admittedly, although quite familiar with the song, I had never really known exactly where “Cripple Creek” was.  Upon doing a bit of research for this post, I discovered that the verdict is still out on which “Cripple Creek” the rock group, The Band, was singing about. Some say it’s Louisiana, and others claim Colorado.

According to the map of the Murfreesboro area, there is a Cripple Creek there, too.

I’ve listened to the song again a number of times recently, and have thought a lot about what John and Asa, and presumably Asa’s brother and William Alexander did during those couple of days. I wonder what they talked about, whether they went somewhere, what they ate. I wonder if John and William talked about their brother, David, and the fatal wounds he received at Stones River. I wonder if they shared any letters from home or whether John knew anything of how his only son, Charles, was getting along.

I wonder if William had any idea that he would be shot in the head at Kennesaw Mountain, and live to receive a pension.

And I wonder if John knew that by the end of the war, he would be nearly too ill to care for himself due to lung disease, and that he would die on 25 March 1868 at his father’s home in Adams County, Illinois, exactly 7 years to the day that his young wife, Harriet, had died. 

On a side note, the pension application made by Charles Alexander was denied, as there was insufficient evidence to prove that John’s lung disease was as a result of his participation for the duration in the Union cause.