Showing posts sorted by relevance for query elmira. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query elmira. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Can Do Hard Things

Each and every individual in my family tree holds a special place in my heart.  The tragic, the strong, the loving, the determined and the stubborn--each person belongs and as I learn about their lives and what they encountered and endured, I feel greater determination to similarly face my trials with courage and the same spirit of perseverance.

 Burton W. Cook has always been a favorite of mine.  Although I am actually related to his wife and children and not Burton himself,  I nonetheless feel a strong draw to Burton and it's in researching him that I have learned something about his wife and children.  Unlike some of the characters in stories previously shared in this blog, Burton didn't dip in and out of the newspapers and court rooms, but he just seemed to be in the right place at the right time, places where ancestors are supposed to be, but mine so seldom are. I find him in deeds, tax records, Agricultural Censuses, Federal Censuses, Civil War records including enlistment and Southern Claims Commission  and he even had a will AND there is record of his burial! Who knew such a person existed?  So many of my ancestors are so elusive.

Burton W. Cook was born about 1831, and while the records show conflicting data, I believe he was likely born in North Carolina.  I would love to know who his parents were, but my research, in addition to the information that I've received from some of his descendants has failed to produce any parents.  Interestingly enough, the first document that I have for him is his marriage license to Mary Ganus on 7 April 1850 in DeKalb County, Georgia.  Mary was my second great-grandaunt and the oldest child of James (Gur)Ganus and Elizabeth McCluskey, my second great grandparents. I am unsure exactly where Burton was and what he did prior to his marriage.

On the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, just a short six months after their marriage, Burton and wife, Mary, are shown residing in the household of Shadrack Ellis, 89 years old, and Mary Ellis who was 35 years old,  living  in the Stones District of DeKalb County, Georgia . I have wondered why they were living with Shadrack and what the connection was?  While I can think of a variety of possibilities for the relationship and have explored options, I have not yet been able to prove any of them.

The first twelve years of Burton and Mary's life together appeared to be fairly typical of the time.  Burton farmed and Mary cared for the house and children. I did note that their first known child was born five years after their marriage, which is a little unusual for their time period..

Soon came the event that brought drastic change to life in the United States: the Civil War. Joining the ranks with neighbors and friends, Burton volunteered in Fayetteville, Georgia on May 1, 1862 and was mustered into Captain Samuel W. Marshborn's Company, Co C 53rd Regiment, the Georgia Fayette Planters.  Burton indicated that his place of residence was Atlanta. I was thrilled to find that Burton's record included a physical description.  Burton had a florid complexion, dark hair, grey eyes and was six foot tall.

At the time of his enlistment, Burton and Mary had three children. Isaiah M. was 7 years old, Elizabeth was  4 years old and Burton Calloway, their youngest at the time, was about three months old.   I can only imagine Mary's mixed feelings as Burton went off to fight. While she likely felt a loyalty and commitment to "the cause," I am sure the uncertainty that always accompanies war made it difficult for her to see her husband leave, not knowing if he would ever return and knowing that she alone would have to care for their family for a time.

I wonder if Mary was notified two years later, in June of 1864, when Burton was captured at Gaines Mill, which was sometimes called the Battle of Cold Harbor and took place in Hanover County, Virginia .
 PD-Art  Battle of Gaines's Mill
Elmira Prison Camp
Courtesy of Library of Congress
A month later, Burton was transferred by rail as a prisoner of war from Point Lookout, Maryland  to the camp at Elmira, New York.  Elmira had the highest death rate per capita of northern prisons with 24 percent mortality. The first group of prisoners entered Elmira on July 6th, and Burton arrived soon after on July 12th.  The camp quickly became overcrowded, and nearby Foster's Pond  filled with sewage creating a very unhealthy environment as the stench filled the air, bacteria spread and rats were drawn to the location in droves.  Disease was rampant throughout the camp.  The winter of 1864/65 proved to be one of the harshest that Elmira had seen with temperatures dipping well below zero and an extremely heavy snowfall. Blankets and clothing were very inadequate and many died from disease, malnutrition and exposure. In the spring, the thaw brought flooding to the nearby Chemung River which flooded the camp.  Conditions were so bad, prisoners referred to it as "Helmira."  .

I wonder if Mary was aware at the time of the deplorable conditions that her husband endured there.  Or, with the Civil War in its final months and Mary living just outside of Atlanta, was she totally consumed with  the challenge of trying to keep herself and her three small children safe and alive?  I wish I knew what she did, where she went and how she managed to care for her small family.  She could  not have known how history would eventually play out, nor how soon the war would grind to a stop.  Living in a time when "breaking news" is the norm, when a text or an email can be sent across the United States or across the world, it's hard for me to imagine a time when people were relatively unaware of the condition of love ones only a few states away.

The scene as citizens of Atlanta scramble to leave in
accordance to the mandatory evacuation order in 1864.
Wikipedia
 Both Burton and Mary endured incredible deprivation and hardship.  Burton survived his experience in a prison camp known for it's inhumane conditions while Mary, living just outside of Atlanta,  faced fear and uncertainty as she worked hard to keep her young family alive.  I can only imagine the joyful reunion as Mary and Burton, along with their three children, were reunited upon Burton's released from Elmira on June 19, 1865.  



In the years that followed,  Burton was able to return to farming and he and Mary added one more child to their family.  Mary C. Cook was born in 1868.

Burton died 3 January 1894 at the age of 63.  He was buried in the Abilene Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in Carroll County, Georgia.  The final record that I have for Mary is that of  the June 1900 U.S. Federal Census which shows Mary, 76 years old and living alone in Carroll County, Georgia.  Living just one door away is her son Burton and his family. Mary's final resting place is unknown at this time.

I wonder about Mary.  Did she too possess that Ganus "spunk"?  Perhaps it was that spunk that in part kept her going on those incredibly difficult days when she had to wonder if she and Burton would ever see each other again and if they would ever have a "normal" life again.  In any case, I feel an awe and gratitude for those such as Burton and Mary, that lived before, accepted life's challenges and kept going. I have learned about being strong and the capacity of the human spirit.  They faced adversity and kept going and showed me that I can too. It's a good reminder that I also "can do hard things."

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

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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, May 7, 2013

Piecing Together Their Lives ---Part 3

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.

image
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.  

image
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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Isaiah Cook

When I was a kid I loved nothing more than our summer trips to southern Colorado to spend time with family. I always felt so envious of my cousins who lived there in the small farming communities of Sanford, La Jara and Alamosa because they all grew up in close proximity to each other. They were not only family, but also each other's neighbors and friends and I couldn't imagine anything better. 

As I've researched my ancestors, I've found that many of the families grew up that way as well. They remained in the same or neighboring communities and had the advantage of raising their children close to each other. John Monroe Ganus', my 2nd great grandfather lived in Haralson County for many years and his siblings Martha Ganus Brock, Addison Ganus and Mary Ganus Cook all lived close by in neighboring Carroll County, Georgia. 



John's sister, Mary, married Burton W. Cook April 7th, 1850 in Dekalb County, but she and Burton settled close to other family in Carroll County. Burton and Mary's oldest known child, Isaiah M. was born five years later on the 14 April 1855. I've often wondered if they lost a child before Isaiah's birth. When he was about 7 years old, Isaiah's father, Burton, enlisted in the Fayette Planters, 53rd Regiment. I would assume that as the oldest child of four children, Isaiah had to step up and help his mother. I wonder how much he knew and understood about the war. Was he aware of the time his father spent in the Union Army's prisoner of war camp, Elmira? Surely his early years were affected by the hardships and fear common among so many of those living in Georgia. ( I share a little about his father Burton's life here.) After Burton was released and returned home from the war, did he tell his children the tales of the war? 





Isaiah grew up and married Sarah Jane Adams on 28th of January 1877 in neighboring Campbell County, Georgia. Just months before, in October of 1876, Isaiah's sister, Elizabeth, married his wife's brother,  Henry J. Adams.

Isaiah and Sally (Sarah) moved to Alabama about 1898 and purchased land. In 1900, he and his family were living in Cullman County and Isaiah was farming. Isaiah and Sally had a large family, totaling ten children in all.

By 1900, two of Isaiah and Sally's children had married and they had become grandparents. Their home was still full with six of their own children, their youngest being 3 years old. Their oldest son John Franklin Cook lived just down the road and farmed as well. Their married daughter Dora Elizabeth and her husband Fernando Edwards were living in Blount County, Alabama with their small son.

Isaiah died on 15 February 1904 when he was 49 years old, leaving his wife Sallie with four small children at home to care for, the youngest only one-year-old.




In 1907, Isaiah's oldest son, John F. petitioned the court to be appointed as guardian for his younger siblings, Burton Monroe, Velma, George T., Willie and G. F. Cook,  who were all minors and still living at home. After presenting a bond of $2,000, he was appointed the guardian on the 3rd of December 1907. It was very short lived however, as on December 30, just 27 days later, he resigned as guardian, indicating that he had received one of the assets of the estate but nothing belonging to the estate of the minors and that he had not exercised any control over the estate or performed any of the duties of guardian. I have not been able to find any additional information to this date, but there obviously is a story behind this and I would really like to find more so I know the "rest of the story."

Shortly after, Sallie loaded up her kids and moved to the beautiful rolling hills of Stout's Mountain where she farmed and remained the rest of her life. In her final years, she lived with her son Joe and his wife. Sallie died May 8, 1947 and was buried next to Isaiah in Fairview West Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in Hanceville, Cullman County, Alabama.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved

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