Monday, April 25, 2011

Family Tree

I've been working on my family tree off and on for many years now. Recently, I had a breakthrough on a couple of the branches and discovered two ancestors who fought in the Civil War. Their stories are quite amazing.

One was a great-great-grandfather (my mother's father's father's father), James Price. He enlisted in the 58th Alabama Infantry in February, 1862. The unit was sent to Mobile to man defensive positions for a year. In 1863 the 58th moved to Tullahoma and fought in several small engagements. In September, the men participated in the battle of Chickamauga, where they distinguished themselves by capturing several pieces of Federal artillery the first day and breaking the Federal lines the second. However, the 58th paid a heavy price, losing over half its men killed and wounded during the battle. After recuperating and consolidating, they fought in the battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25th. Union forces defeated the Confederates and ended the siege of Chattanooga. The 58th suffered heavily: of 400 men in the fight, over 250 were killed, wounded, or captured.

My great-great-grandfather and his unit wintered over in Dalton, Georgia. In May, 1864, they fought at Resaca, GA, losing a third of their men in the first few minutes. They also fought at New Hope, Kennesa, and around Atlanta. In the fall they moved north into Tennessee and were in engagements in Columbia, Franklin (twice) and Nashville.

I believe that my great-great-grandfather was wounded and discharged at some point, probably in one of the 1864 battles, as he was married and had a child born in 1865. I haven't found any record of his discharge yet but will continue looking.

The other ancestor was also a great-great-grandfather: my mother's father's mother's father. Lorenzo Whitaker enlisted in the 2nd Mississippi in the spring of 1862. His older brother William had enlisted in the unit the previous year and fought in the Battle of First Manassas (aka, "Battle of Bull Run"). Lorenzo joined the 2nd Mississippi at Yorktown, where they were gearing up for another combat season. Shortly after he arrived, however, his brother was discharged due to an unspecified disability. Lorenzo and the 2nd Mississippi participated in the battles of Seven Pines (near Richmond in May, 1862), Gaines Mill, Second Manassas, and in September, at Antietam. There, they routed Federal forces out of the Cornfield, while sustaining losses of about half their men. The unit then retired to Goldsborough, NC, where they wintered over.

In the spring of 1864, they began combat operations again. They participated in the (unsuccessful) siege of Suffolk, Virginia, and then moved north as part of Lee's campaign to take the fight into Northern territory. The 2nd Mississippi was in the vanguard of forces moving toward Gettysburg when the fighting started on July 1. They inflicted heavy losses on Federal troops, broke their lines, and chased them toward Seminary Ridge. The chase became chaotic, however, and a large group was suddenly outflanked and surprised at the Railroad Cut, which put the Southern forces in a hole and unable to fire effectively. Many were quickly wounded and killed and the Cut became a killing ground. The Major in nominal charge of the Southern forces surrendered. My great-great-grandfather was one of those who was wounded and captured.

As it turns out, these were the lucky ones. Two days later, what was left of the 2nd Mississippi took part in Pickett's Charge, where they were decimated. Out of all the 2nd Mississippi's men who started across the field, only one was not wounded or killed.

Lorenzo and the other captives spent the rest of the war at Fort Delaware, a prison camp on an island off Delaware City. This camp was a gulag, on par with any concentration camp. At one time, it held up to 13,000 prisoners, many from Gettysburg. Water was putrified and food scarce. Rats were a delicacy. Diseases such as scurvy, smallpox, malnutrition, measles, dysentery, and diarrhea were widespread. All had lice. One prisoner wrote that he shrank from 140 pounds to 80 pounds during his time there. Approximately 2700 Confederate prisoners died during captivity; 2436 are buried on the island. Lorenzo survived captivity, however, and went on to raise a family on farms in northern Mississippi.

Reading history books about the great events of our past is all well and good, but it usually seems remote. Now, though, I have a personal interest in places like Chickamauga and Gettysburg. My ancestors were there. Those events shaped them, they shaped their children, and their children, eventually, shaped me.


  1. and then eventually, me!

  2. Thank you for sharing the story of your family history. Not only do you enlighten on the war of today but whoda thunk I'd learn about the Civil War as well. Your writing is most engaging in its narrative style. You paint with words as well as all of the other mediums you pick up to reveal a picture. Take care and keep it up.