Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Piecing Together Their Lives ---final post

It’s been eleven years since that first email that marked the beginning of  Karen's and my genealogical journey together.  Since that time, we have continued to share our research and so much more.  And while there still remains unanswered questions about Margaret, we have learned a lot about her and together we have pieced together the following story.

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Margaret Ganus Blackmon
(Only known photo) Contributed by Karen
as shared with her by Darlene Emmert
Margaret Ganus was born about 1832 and married James Blackmon on the 16 December 1857 in Fayette County, Georgia.  For some time, James and Margaret remained in Fayette County where Margaret had grown up and where her parents and several siblings continued to live. There, James farmed and Margaret undoubtedly was busy caring for their house and their children .  They had been married for about five years when the events leading to the Civil War began to unfold.  Loyal to the Confederacy, James joined countless others in enlisting to fight for the southern cause.
 
On a spring day in 1862,  Margaret watched as her husband, James  Blackmon, her brother David Ganus, and her brother- in- law, Burton W. Cook, all  boarded the train bound for Richmond, VA.  Alongside their neighbors and friends, the men had enlisted on  May 1, 1862 with the Fayette Planters, Company C, 53rd Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry.   I can imagine the two sisters and their sister-in-law standing with their arms around each other and their children gathered close as the train carrying their husbands, fathers and brothers chugged out of the station.   I am sure that they felt some anxiety as they said their goodbyes, but many southern families believed that it would be a short battle and that soon their loved ones would return home and life would resume.

The Civil War deeply impacted Margaret’s family in many ways, as it did most families on both sides of the conflict.  Margaret had both brothers and brothers-in-law enlist.  Her brother David, never returned home, but died of pneumonia while at Camp Fredericksburg, a story I shared in an earlier post.  Her brother, William, had many health problems incident to the war and died at the age of 33, leaving behind a widow and four young children.  Her brother James, also developed health problems as a result of his service and suffered for the remainder of his life.  In addition, James Blackmon's brother, Edmond, suffered with bilious fever and other ailments during his service, and his brother-in-law, William Speight, died of disease at Knoxville, leaving behind a young wife who delivered their baby girl a month after his death.  According to James Blackmon’s pension application, he was wounded in the left arm and shoulder in 1862 at Spotsylvania, injuries which continued to plaque him until the end of his life. Additionally, his service records indicate that he was frequently ill while enlisted.  I can't imagine the grief and worry that Margaret felt each time she received word of a loved ones' death, injury or illness, while she herself continued alone to bear the heavy weight of feeding and caring for herself and their children.  

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James Blackmon was among those captured at “Gaines Farm,”  which was at the center of the battle of Gaines Mill, or First Battle of Cold Harbor.  He and brother-in-law, Burton Cook, were then taken as prisoners to Point Lookout, Maryland.  A month later Burton and James were transferred to Elmira, New York, which was nicknamed  “Helmira” by the prisoners, due to the deplorable conditions there.  As I shared in a previous post,  Elmira had the highest death rate per capita of northern prisons.  I know that mental attitude can make a difference for those that are imprisoned and forced to endure such horrible conditions and so I wonder whether Burton and James pulled together and helped each other to have the will and determination necessary to survive the months of deprivation.

At the same time, I wonder if  their wives, Mary and Margaret (who were sisters), were truly aware of the extent of their husbands suffering during their imprisonment.  I wonder if the sisters wept together, consoled each other, and prayed together for better days to come.  Did they help each other care for their children?  Did they work together to find ways to feed their families?   Both Margaret and Mary lived outside of Atlanta and undoubtedly endured a multitude of hardships in the years that followed.

James was released on 7 July, 1865, nearly a month after brother-in-law Burton Cook.  It was likely difficult for Margaret when Burton returned home to her sister, while her own husband remained at the prison camp.  Did Burton share what they had endured or did he spare Margaret of any additional worry?  When James Blackmon was finally released, he signed the required “Oath of Allegiance,” and thankfully from it we have an idea of what he looked like as his physical description indicates that he had a dark complexion, dark hair, grey eyes and was 5 feet 9 inches tall. 

While I know that life following the Civil War was never the same for the southern people, I am amazed at the resiliency these families showed as they picked up and moved on with life.  James and Margaret remained in Georgia for at least twenty more years, had  five known children and James somehow managed to provide for their family by farming, which was no small feat in post Civil War Georgia.

For some unknown reason, by 1888,  James and Margaret had moved to Blount County, Alabama.    They were living there on a 200 acre farm near “Joy” when James died 11 September 1903.  Karen shared his very short death notice that appeared in the September 17, 1903 edition of The Southern Democrat.  It simply stated “James Blackmon, 66, died last Friday, near Joy.” 

On 11 July 1905, Margaret’s Civil War Widow's Pension Application  indicated that she had absolutely nothing and had never remarried. Several of Margaret's children were living in the area and hopefully they were a source of help and support for her in the winding down scene of her life. While we are unsure of exactly when Margaret died, we believe that it was sometime after her filing in 1905 and before 1910. 

Margaret saw and endured a great deal of hardship during her lifetime.  She sent a husband to war, buried at least one child and managed to care for their other children while James was in a Civil War prison camp. Living in an area frequented by tornadoes and hail storms, she and James faced the elements, even though weather frequently threatened their farms, their homes and their very existence. While her life was full of many trials and hardships, I am sure that it included many joys as well.  James and Margaret remained by each other's side for 46 years and brought five children into the world.  They lived to see and enjoy grandchildren,  lived much of their life surrounded by extended family, and were able to somehow always provide for themselves.

Although families today don’t always remain in close proximity to each other as they did so many years ago, thanks to the internet the world has become a little smaller and we are able to feel a closeness to distant "kin" regardless of our distance.  Over the years, Karen and I have shared family history and so much more.  We have shared good times and hard times, prayed, laughed and cried together.  We've emailed, Facebooked, texted and talked on the phone.  Despite the odds and the distance, we found each other and have become an important part of each other's lives.

Karen wrote in a recent email:
I think Margaret, my ancestor, and her brother John, your ancestor, would be very pleased to see that their "children" love each other so much and have found each other across the years and miles. So many times since then, you and I, and our families, have leaned on each other through heartbreak and celebrated our joys together.
She went on to say:
Thank you, Michelle, for "keeping it real" for me--- because that is what genealogy is all about-- understanding that our ancestors were more than just dates on a census record, but real people who held on to each other for support and invested their hearts in each other--- just as I have with you.
I could not have said it better. Genealogy connects us to our dead whom we never knew and in the process, it can connect us to the living as well. It helps to provide us with a sense of belonging and family in a world that is increasingly disjointed. As we piece together dates and places, I know that we also piece together lives of both the living and the dead.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

PHOTO:  Wikipedia Commons.  Gaines Mill by John L. Parker, 1887

14 comments:

  1. That was totally awesome. I am so proud. Not knowing where Margaret and James were laid to rest has always left me with this huge hole in my heart. Your telling of her story gives me the first semblance of closure. Thank you for that.

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    1. It's been a wonderful adventure hasn't it? I hate not knowing where she is buried too---it would be so nice to honor her there. Thanks for your comments (and everything else!)

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  2. I felt so moved reading this post....my great grandfather Jesse O Burgess fought on the Union side for Iowa. I have letters he wrote during the war and they just break my heart...I often wonder the same thoughts you have....I luckily have a small window into his thoughts and feelings, he missed and loved his wife and child so!!!! My great grandmother Mary Louise Dibble Burgess had four brothers go off to war, only one returned, one having died in Libby Prison. The grief that mothers and fathers felt back then had to be beyond words. Thank you for sharing this....Sandy Burgess McClay

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    1. Thanks Sandy. It was certainly a sad time in our Nation's history and there was so much heartache on both sides. You are truly fortunate to have letters that your ancestor wrote! What a treasure to have his writings that allow you to get a glimpse inside his heart.

      Thanks for your comments!

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  3. Michelle, what an epic unfolding of that bigger picture of the War Between the States and your family's joint part in that sequence. I especially treasured the story-within-a-story of your collaboration with your newly-discovered relative, Karen. I hadn't realized it spanned such a long time period.

    I'm especially savoring your concluding paragraph, and the conclusion that, in this process, we "piece together lives of both the living and the dead."

    Well said.

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    1. Thanks Jacqi! Collaboration provides clues, but so much more--the relationships that have been formed have really blessed my life.

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  4. I think that you and Karen have worked together in much the same way that you are imagining Mary and Margaret might have worked together. You have gone through ups and downs together, just like kin. You have found each other and then have become close, just as family members are close. That is a big accomplishment, and you express it beautifully.

    Those Civil War prison camps really were hell-holes, weren't they, whether in the North or in the South? So many people who write about their ancestors and the Civil War had several ancestors spend time in prison camps. It feels practically unanimous.

    And I totally agree with you that providing for a family after the Civil War was "no small feat." Talk about a hardscrabble life, farming to survive. The South was devastated and impoverished, and sometimes people resorted to suicide. I have one letter in my line by a former soldier who thinks he might kill himself, leaving one less mouth to feed. I think his brother talked him out of it.

    Margaret and James lived through hard, hard times. They persevered. In piecing together their story, you have added meaning to their lives and to the lives of your readers.

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    1. That's a good way to look at it Mariann and it's true! Karen and I have worked together through so much, just as Mary and Margaret did.

      Thank you so much for your beautiful comments and your insight.

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  5. Michelle,

    What a beautifully written account of your ancestors and the terribly difficult trials they lived through. You painted a vivid picture with your words and honored your ancestors in the process.

    Our ancestors really aren't just names on a census. They are real people who lived real lives and it's our opportunity and privilege as family historians to share their stories.

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/05/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-may-10-2013.html

    Have a great weekend!

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    1. Thanks Jana. I've heard it said for years that we need to take the time to write the stories and I've been so focused on research, I resisted, but it's been an amazing experience. In taking the time to write, I am seeing things and realizing things that I had not seen before and it is giving me a whole different level of appreciation and understanding and I am realizing that writing truly is an important part of the process.

      Thank you for including my post in your Fab Finds---I love that post!

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  6. So well told and beautifully written. Genealogy can bring unexpected blessings if we are open to them.

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    1. Thank you so much Kathy and it's true! Genealogy gives us so much more than we imagined!

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  7. I second-third-fourth the others who praise the beautiful writing of this real look at the lives. In two of my linked ancestral families all of the brothers and brothers-in-law went off to war (on the Union side); one died at Andersonville, others of disease, and most survivors suffered from the hardships, injuries, and malaria the rest of their lives. Such brave relatives we have from that time, including the women and let us not disregard the children who must have undertaken tasks beyond what we would think of as their years. There is always a cascade of effects beyond what we ordinarily think of as the direct participants.

    Thank you for this achingly beautiful portrayal.

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  8. Thank you so much. You bring up a good point and I appreciate you reminding me of the children. Thank you for your thoughts and insight.

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