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 .