Tuesday, July 22, 2014

From Murder Scene to Picnic Spot

Was this really the spot?  Families picnicked, children squealed in delight as they chased each other around the playground and a baseball field begged for boys to come play.  Initially one would never suspect this to be the site of the double cabin where George W. McCleskey was murdered.

Park where the Double Cabin stands

Intrigued by the story told earlier on this blog about the  shoot out at the double cabin,  a cousin decided on the way to a family reunion recently to take a little detour to Holland Lake in Weatherford, Texas to see the cabins for himself.  Claude Chambers took pictures and generously shared them with me.  The historical marker confirmed that he had the right place.



The marker reads:
THE DOUBLE LOG CABIN
At Holland's Lake * A monument to the pioneers of Parker County * The east room with bullet scarred walls shows where George McCleskey was killed by Indians in 1873 * The west room was Dan Waggoner's Headquarters Ranch House built in 1855 * Adopted meeting place for old settlers reunions
Orange arrows indicate where most of the
bullet holes can be seen
The cabins are well preserved and easily accessible.  Claude and his wife were pleasantly surprised to find that they could view the John Bumgarner's cabin up close.  The bullet holes still remain in the cabin.  As can be seen above, the cabin includes a "dogtrot." Dogtrots, which are primarily seen in the South, provide a breezeway which allowed ventilation.   Naturally it was generally the coolest spot in the house and I am sure was a real bonus in the blistering Texas heat.



Close up of the cabin's east wall
Although the cabin was moved several years ago, it was carefully reassembled to preserve the history of the cabin.  Originally built in an isolated area near Holland Lake in the late 1860's, today the cabin's surroundings stand in sharp contrast to their original location. Although the marker indicates that George McCleskey was killed in a shootout outside the cabin in July of 1873, as people stop and read the marker, peer into the windows and maybe even stick their fingers into the bullet holes,  I imagine very few know the full story or comprehend the impact that event had on the wife and children who were left behind.  

Thank you cousin Claude for taking time to visit the double cabin and for sharing with me your visit to this piece of family history!  

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Thought I Knew


I thought I knew history.  After all, I had certainly taken my share of history classes over the years.  As a child, I listened in school, attended the assemblies and dutifully completed my history assignments.   High School required yet more history and in college I took 5 history courses as part of my graduation requirements.  I hate to admit that through it all, I never really learned to like or appreciate history.

It really wasn't until I began to research my own ancestors and discovered their lives intertwined with historical events that I suddenly found history interesting and relevant to me.  When I learned that I had ancestors in America very early on and that my fourth great grandfather, David Gurganus, participated in the Revolutionary War and that my third great grandfather,  Joshua Rainwater, fought in the War of 1812, the details of those events suddenly became fascinating and the events and dates began to fall neatly into order.  I have even found myself actually reading history books on my own, without the urgings of a teacher or the fear of failing a test, and I have liked it!


Visiting Virginia this past May took history to an entirely new
level.  As I've said before, it's one thing to read about history, it is another thing to visit the sites where those events actually took place, to feel the emotion of those places and to ponder how those events impacted not only my ancestors' lives, but my own.  As we visited the various historical sites in Virginia,  I found myself looking at many of the events in an entirely different light.  Much of what we saw there pertained to the Civil War, but we visited many other significant historical sites there as well.


When we visited St John's church in Richmond, we were able to see the exact spot where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech declaring "Give me liberty or give me death."  As our guide shared with us the riveting details leading up to that event, she helped us to feel his passion and to better understand the significance of his speech.  I wondered what kind of commitment to liberty my ancestors had felt.



Of the many places we visited, Colonial Williamsburg was without a doubt one of my favorites.  There I learned about elements of our nation's beginning that I had never before internalized.

As we walked around the park, we listened to the murmuring of actors dressed in period clothing, portraying discontented and concerned citizens and imagined what it felt like to live in a time of such uncertainty.  While typically so much of our study focuses on the main characters of history, this helped me to consider the sacrifice, commitment and courage required by even the common citizen as steps were taken to establish our country as an independent nation.  I realized that not everything significant occurred in a meeting behind closed doors or on the battlefield.   What type of discussions had gone on among my ancestors, their families and friends?  What was the talk around the family dinner table or over the fence with the neighbors?  With each step taken towards independence, what had been my ancestor's understanding of the situation and had they wrestled within their own minds with their allegiance?

In the park, women in long cotton dresses, bonnets and crisp white aprons, represented mothers and wives of the time. They gathered in clusters as neighbors and friends and anxiously shared their concerns and fears for their sons and their husbands, discussing the rumors of pending rebellion.  It helped me to see and think about issues that I had not considered before.  Living in a new land, citizens had serious concerns about not only the unknown consequences of separating themselves from their mother country, but also about their ability to exist alone in a new world. For the women, losing their husband would mean facing life in a new colony alone.  How had my female ancestors felt as the rumors of rebellion and war began, knowing that it would take their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers and leave them alone?

We listened as a man portraying George Washington shared his views and experiences, allowing members of the crowd to ask him questions.  I wondered how my ancestors felt about many of the issues he presented.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we heard the fife and drum procession long before we saw it and I felt excitement as they rounded the square and moved onto the field.   Following their spirited performance,  the minutemen stepped forward, then loaded and fired their muskets and I felt chills down my spine.  They had done an excellent job in transporting us back in time and I felt a renewed gratitude for the courage shown by those willing to forge a new life in America and for the steps they took in establishing a free country.

I thought I knew history, but there is so much I didn't know.



As I look forward to the Fourth of July, my thoughts will be of the many men and women throughout history that courageously took a stand for what they believed, despite the cost to them personally. Thanks to them, we live in a land of many privileges and freedoms.  In addition, my prayers will be for the many men and women that continue in the fight to maintain that freedom.

God Bless the USA!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Enemy Was Coming

The enemy was coming.  Confederate soldiers worked feverishly,  digging with whatever tools they had and throwing the heavy soil up, creating mounds along the ever deepening trenches.  Would the trenches be enough?  Would they have time to complete them before the arrival and attack by the massive Union Army?   It was the end of May in 1864 and James Blackmon and Burton Cook were at Gaines Mill,  preparing for what would be known as The Battle of Cold Harbor.  Weary from 3 years of war,  the soldiers pushed to build earthworks, gun pits and trenches.  Although they were often outnumbered in their battles, experience had taught them that the primitive barricades made a difference, often providing the edge they needed in their battle against their Yankee aggressors.




Battle of Cold Harbor, throwing up breastworks
Forbes, Edwin, 1839-189
It had been a little over two years since David Ganus had died in Winder Hospital in Richmond, Virginia (see his story here).  Brothers-in-law James Blackmon and Burton Cook had managed to survive while fighting with the Georgia 53rd Regiment, Company C, known as "The Fayette Planters."   James, however,  had been wounded in the left arm and shoulder at Spotsylvania in 1862,  and would suffer the rest of his life as a result,  so his continued participation in the war could not have been easy.  Over the course of the war, the regiments, the supplies and the rations had become increasingly smaller,  and yet the battle raged on, each side determined to win and return home.

The remains of trenches dug by CW soldiers

James and Burton had seen and experienced much in the two years since David had died, things that they would never forget. Many of their friends and neighbors had lost limbs, their sight, or their lives in that time.  Were they aware that a younger brother-in-law, James Ganus, who fought with the Georgia 44th, Company G, had been discharged in July of 1863?  James Ganus was shot at Sharpsburg and additionally had contracted an illness which left him partially blind and consequently he was found unfit for service and sent home.

Did they know of the depredations and hardships faced by their families back home? James Blackmon and Burton Cook had married Ganus sisters, Mary and Margaret.  The women lived in close proximity to one another just outside of Atlanta during the long absence of their husbands.

The stories and details of my ancestors and their families raced through my mind as we visited the various Civil War sites on our recent trip to Virginia.  Understandably,  the day we visited the Cold Harbor Battlefield Park in the area of Gaines Mill,  my thoughts focused on James Blackmon and Burton Cook who had fought there.


Road driving into
Cold Harbor Battlefield Pa

We left the interstate and turned onto a winding rural road as we made our way to the park, and I wondered where the Fayette Planters had camped.  It was hard to comprehend that well over 100,000 Union soldiers and more than 60,000 Confederate soldiers had converged on this area for the battle.  Do you ever find yourself wishing you could travel back in time and take a peek into your ancestor's life for just a moment?  While I really didn't want to see all of the horrors associated with this battle, I did find myself wishing that I knew more about what James and Burton had actually experienced here.

We turned off the paved two lane road onto a dirt road leading to the main portion of the park. The road was lined with dense trees and I was once again in awe of the beauty of Virginia.  It was hard to believe that this had been the scene of the long and brutal Battle of Cold Harbor.




After following the dirt road for a few miles, we pulled into the parking lot.  It was a beautiful area with lush green fields surrounded by dense trees.   Historical markers provided basic details about the battle and reminded us that despite it's current beauty, many men had lost their lives here.

We decided to follow one of the marked trails that led into a wooded area.  Little streams of water trickled here and there and the trees filtered the sunlight,  creating dense shade.  Having read about copperheads and rattlesnakes in Virginia, I felt a little wary and wondered if they had posed a problem for the soldiers.

Walking the trail at
Cold Harbor Battlefield 

As we continued along the path,  I was taken by how still and peaceful it was there.  I stopped and looked around and tried to imagine what it must have been like in May and June of 1864 for both Confederate and Union soldiers.  I could easily imagine the scenes portrayed in movies about this battle with men running through the trees, gunfire coming at them from every side,  the smoke from the rifles and muskets thick in the air.  Did James and Burton crouch behind the mounds with hearts pounding as they fired upon oncoming troops in one of the bloodiest fights of the Civil War?

They had been there.  Along with thousands of other soldiers, James Blackmon and Burton Cook had been there on June 1, 1864, and it was there during the Battle of Cold Harbor that both men were captured by Union Troops. They were initially taken to Point Lookout in Maryland and then in July they were transferred to the prison camp called Elmira in New York.  (You can read Burton's Story here and James' story here)

 The enemy had come and while the trenches and earthworks had provided a measure of safety for many of the men, for others, such as James and Burton, they simply hadn't been enough.   


Battle of Cold Harbor
Kurz & Allison
Library of Congress

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

358...More than a Number

The tears blurred my vision as I stood before the marker which read 357 to 360.  David Ganus was number 358.  I had known before we arrived that he was buried in a "mass grave" in Hollywood Cemetery, and yet the hard reality of it really hit me when I found the marker.  I realized that he died in Virginia in December, and that the ground was likely frozen.  I realized that it was difficult for those of the time to keep up with the large numbers of the dying men in Winder Hospital and more specifically in the Civil War, and  I realized that they couldn't possibly provide caskets for each soldier, but it was difficult to see a number and realize that that was all that remained to mark the end of David's life.

David Ganus #358
Hollywood Cemetery
I reminded myself that as the war had raged on, that those regiments in battle had had little time or resources to do more than just bury the dead and even that created a huge challenge. The numbers of dead surged beyond anything they had anticipated and the lack of man power and materials with which to dig a grave made it difficult if not nearly impossible.  Consequently, many lie within the earth, their location still unmarked and unknown, and so I felt grateful that at least there was a record of David's death and a marker to indicate where he lay.

On our recent trip to Virginia, we took a Confederate Tour that ended at Hollywood Cemetery.  While there are many others buried there, including past residents of Richmond, and several US Presidents, a substantial portion of the cemetery is a burial ground for Confederate Generals and thousands of Confederate soldiers.

Our guide told us that the men were buried like they fought, shoulder to shoulder.  As I scanned the rolling hills of the cemetery,  I was amazed at the number of visible markers.  I  knew that the number buried there represented a small fraction of those that had died during the Civil War and that while some soldiers at Hollywood Cemetery had their own headstones, many others, like David, were buried in groups.  I decided to return another time to visit David's spot.

Hollywood Cemetery
My husband and I did return a few days later and I was able to find David's marker and had time to think and to feel.  It seemed that so much of that trip had been about thinking and feeling.  Thinking about those who had sacrificed all for a cause they believed in, thinking about what they had experienced,  thinking about what I knew about their families and what had come of the generations that had followed.  Being there and seeing where they had fought and where they had died brought about feelings that were deep and went way beyond anything I had experienced as I had read about their battles within the comfort of my own home.

As I thought about David's wife, Malinda and considered that she never remarried and died very poor, I realized that more than likely she never visited the grave of her husband buried nearly 600 miles from her home in Georgia.  Had any member of his family been able to stand at that spot?   Was I the first?

Hollywood Cemetery 
Those that take that solemn walk through the soldiers section of Hollywood Cemetery see a sea of stone set with numbers, each number representing a life.  For most soldiers there, there is no individual headstone with name, date of birth and death, no mention of children, parents or hobbies.  If each life was marked as they are today, what would those markers tell us of those that lie there?

 #358,  David Ganus was born in Fayette County, Georgia on October of 1836 to James Ganus and Elizabeth McCluskey and died on 23 December 1862 in Winder Hospital, Richmond, Virginia at the age of 26.   He was James and Elizabeth's fourth child and a brother to Mary, John, Margaret, Rebecca, Jackson, James, Calloway, Martha and Addison.  He married Malinda Davis on 14 March 1857 and was father to Mary, Nancy and Burton. He was a farmer and a Georgian and had a whole life ahead of him when he enlisted.  He was loved and undoubtedly as the war ended and men returned home ......... he was very missed.   He was so much more than a number.


To read more of David's story from an earlier post,  click here .

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014

No Place for the Sick

It was no place for the sick or injured.  Damp, cold, lacking in blankets and tents,  the Georgia 53rd Company C,  "Fayette Planters,"  camped in a wooded area just outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  It was December of 1862 and it had already proven to be a bitterly cold winter.


Surgeon at work during Civil War
Library of congress 
It had only been eight months since David Ganus had enlisted in the same regiment of the Confederate Army as his two brothers-in-law, James Blackmon and Burton Cook.  He left behind his young wife, Malinda, and three small children, in order to fight for the southern cause. Many had thought the war would be short  and expected to return home to their families soon.

David's regiment fought in many of the historic battles and he managed to come through each without injury, but in the month of December, while his regiment was in Fredericksburg,  David became extremely ill.

David's service records indicate that early in December he became ill with the all too common typhoid, while other records show that he suffered exposure and pneumonia.  Whether he suffered from all three or there was confusion due to the extent of his illness or possibly lack of knowledgeable medical personnel to properly diagnose his illness, we get the picture of a man that was extremely ill. David's best chance for survival was to be transferred out of camp to the nearest hospital, which presented yet more challenges.

Bringing wounded soldiers to the cars
Library of Congress 
Initially there was no organized way to transfer the sick and the injured to hospitals.  Recently when we visited the Chimborazo Medical Museum in Richmond, Virginia, we learned about some of the heart wrenching conditions endured by the soldiers.   There we saw some of the crude and primitive medical instruments used in the treatment of the soldiers and watched a short video about the civil war hospitals of the area.

Eventually the military came up with a system where soldiers were transported from their camps to the hospitals, but the trip was often very difficult for someone whose health was already compromised.

The sick or wounded soldier was first taken in the back of a wagon over rough and bumpy dirt roads to a location where he could be loaded onto a train and he would then travel the rest of the way by rail. Miserably hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter,  void of even the simple comforts,  the rough trip was often excruciating for a soldier already in pain and misery.  David had to make the nearly sixty mile trip to Winder Hospital in cold, frigid December temperatures while suffering symptoms common to his illness that could have included fever, nausea, diarrhea, coughing, aching and fatigue.  However long the trip took, I am sure that for those in such desperate circumstances, it felt like eternity.

Hospital Ward Alexandria
Library of Congress 

Had David's brothers-in-law, James and Burton helped to load him onto the wagon?  Had they worried and tried to help as they watched their wife's younger brother grow increasingly more ill?  Did they write home to tell of his condition?

After about a week at Winder Hospital and just two days before Christmas, on December 23, 1862, twenty-six year old David Ganus passed from this life.  He died as most soldiers died, without any family at his side and far from home.  His body was taken to nearby Hollywood Cemetery where he was buried alongside many other Southern soldiers.

While sadly Winder Hospital no longer stands,  I knew that our Virginia trip would not be complete without a visit to Hollywood Cemetery to see David's final resting spot.


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014


For more of David's story, see this earlier blog post .







Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Walking the Sunken Road

As we walked the "Sunken Road" beside the stone wall at Fredericksburg,  I surveyed the field below. I could envision in my mind's eye  the brutal battle scene often portrayed in Civil War documentaries and movies.  But the field, once war torn, showed few scars and instead stood peaceful and serene.  It felt surreal to actually be there and to stand on the very site where so many men had lost their lives.


Present day "sunken road" and the rock wall

My husband and I had traveled to Richmond, Virginia to attend the National Genealogy Society's 2014 Conference.  Afterwards, we visited a few of the many historical sites in the area, including the battlefield at Fredericksburg, Virginia.  While I loved knowing that at one time, my ancestors had been there, I hated knowing why.


Our visit was in May and as is typical for the season, the air was warm and humid.  A few songbirds sang in the trees surrounding the fields, but otherwise the air was still and quiet,  a sharp contrast to December of 1862.  That December, as troops converged on the battlefield, the bitter cold, snow and mud added to the misery of the war.  While cannon balls took out lines of men,  bullets riddled the smoke filled air,  killing many who courageously fought, and yet they were not the only enemy.  Lack of good food, few tents and a shortage of blankets, along with rampant disease and inadequate medical care,
took the lives of many.

Gallant Charge of Humphrey's Division
at the Battle of Fredericksburg
Library of Congress

David Ganus, Burton Cook and James Blackmon were all at Fredericksburg.  David Ganus was born in 1836 in Fayette County, Georgia to James (Gur)Ganus and Elizabeth McCluskey.  David was a younger brother to my 3rd great grandfather, John Monroe Ganus. Burton Cook was married to David and John's oldest sister, Mary, and James Blackmon was married to their sister, Margaret.  David, Burton and James were among the thousands of Confederate soldiers present for the historic battle at Fredericksburg.

Cobb's and Kershaw's Troops
behind the stone wall
Library of Congress



As I paused to read the historical markers, I felt a flood of emotion as I imagined David, Burton and James, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, their neighbors and friends. Given the number of soldiers there,  it is doubtful that David was even aware of the presence of other more distant relatives, such as Florida cousins, Willis and Moses Gurganus.   As regiments from multiple counties and states joined together at the various battles, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and fathers all fought, sometimes side by side and sometimes on opposing sides




Part of the original rock wall today,  built by Confederate Soldiers

I was grateful that we practically had the park to ourselves that day because I wanted to feel and to think, without the distractions of a noisy crowd.  I wanted to reflect on what I knew about the men that I have researched and grown to love and to pay honor to them as I walked along the road where they had once been. As we walked along the Sunken Road behind the rock wall and at the base of Marye's Heights,  I felt a solemn reverence for the significance of that site,  as it had offered significant protection from the oncoming Union troops.  According to "The Dorman-Marshbourne Letters" by John W. Lynch, the Georgia 53rd was posted on the road below Marye's Heights on December 14th and 15th of 1862.

Luckily David, Burton and James all survived the battle at Fredericksburg, but David developed pneumonia and a few weeks later he was sent to Winder Hospital in Richmond.  With that,  I knew where our next stop would be.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Richmond Bound

While I may have grown up far from my Southern roots, I nonetheless feel a deep connection to everything Southern.

I have Southerners on both my mother's and father's side and, although I have ancestors from many parts of the US, and of course ancestors that came from other countries, it's my Southern lines that I seem to be drawn to the most.  I love learning about my ancestors and I enjoy the "genealogy scenery" along the way, meaning I love to learn about their culture, their traditions, their lifestyle and their history.  So when the National Genealogy Society announced that their conference for 2014 would be held in Richmond, I was thrilled. 

Now, as of yet, my research hasn't actually taken me directly into Virginia.....and notice I said, yet. Having folks in North Carolina at the beginning of the 18th century, I suspect it is just a matter of time before I find myself digging through Virginia records.  But in the meantime, having ancestors that fought in the Civil War, I nonetheless have connections to Virginia, although it definitely lacks some of the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with seeing something like an ancestral home. 

My 2nd Great Grandfather's brother, David Ganus, whom I wrote about in a previous post, died from exposure in December of 1862 in Virginia and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Although he lies in a mass grave, they do know the lot where he is buried and I do have plans to visit there.

Richmond Destruction
Wikimedia Commons
David Gurganus Jr. was a brother to my 3rd Great Grandfather, James (Gur) Ganus.  I shared David's story in this post. David and wife Elizabeth watched all three of their sons go off to war.  Willis, Moses and David all fought for the rebel cause and, of the three, only one survived and returned home.  Civil war records indicate only that Willis was buried in "Virginia." While I wish the records were more specific, knowing that he was there will have to be enough.  

My tree is full of rebs that volunteered from their home states of Georgia, Florida,  Alabama, Tennessee and both North and South Carolina. While none of them actually were from Virginia, Virginia nonetheless played a significant role in many of my ancestor's lives.  Not only did many participate in the bloody battles that took place in Virginia, but I have several who lost their lives and were buried there.  

The NGS Conference promises to be worthwhile with some of the best presenters genealogy has to offer and I am so excited.  The trip will not only be an opportunity to learn from some of the best, but it will also be a time to visit historical sites that played an important role in my ancestors' lives.  I look forward to sharing my adventure with you in the coming weeks.   

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014