Thursday, July 31, 2014

To Sign or Not to Sign?


It was over.  General Robert E. Lee had signed the surrender and Confederate soldiers began returning home. While technically the war was over, for many southerners the emotional scars were deep and would be slow to heal.  There would be many issues to resolve in the turbulent years that followed.  Many resented the government they felt had betrayed them and the resulting friction was more than evident .

Surrender of General Lee
Library of Congress
Upon their release, each rebel prisoner of war faced the decision of whether or not he would sign a document declaring his allegiance to the United States Government. Would he maintain his allegiance to a Southern government that had failed, or align himself with the government he had fought against?

Initially, I was surprised to find an Oath of Allegiance in Burton W. Cook's Civil War file.  While it would be easy to assume  a change of heart,  as I have read about the Oath of Allegiance, I have learned that many, if not most Southern Confederates signed simply because they wanted to return home.

Included among Burton W. Cook's Civil War file is a paper which reads:
"Name appears as signature to an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, subscribed and sworn to at Elmira, N.Y., June 19, 1965."
It further indicates that he had enlisted in Georgia 53rd, Company C, that he resided in Atlanta, Georgia and includes a physical description and was signed upon his release from the prison, Elmira in New York.  From this paper, I learned that Burton had a florid complexion, dark hair, gray eyes and stood 6 foot tall.  Because Burton appeared successful in his acquisition of land and goods, I had previously assumed that he had at least some education, but this paper seems to suggest otherwise.  Burton signed "by mark," implying that he could not write his name.  Had it been difficult for him to sign a paper he could not read,  presented to him by people he did not trust?

Although there is relatively little information on the form, for me it is a gem because it provides information found no where else about Burton W. Cook, married to Mary Ganus, my second great grandfather's sister.  It underscores the value of finding every source pertaining to each ancestor. From this document, I learned what Burton W. Cook looked like, where he lived, that he was among the many that were not educated, and that after years of war and imprisonment,  he signed his allegiance to the United States Government.  For the details it provides for me and for Burton's descendants, I am so glad that he signed.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014



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