Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It Was Over--Or Was It?

It was 1871 and, although the Civil War had been over for many years, for many Southerners it was far from over.  Many struggled with substantial losses on a variety of levels.  Land stripped and void of vegetation, loss of farm animals and in many cases the complete loss of their homes and personal belongings all contributed to a sense of desperation.  It would take many years to establish a sense of normalcy in their lives and some would never fully recover.  Living just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, the Ganus families were among the many that struggled.

North Side of Atlanta
following the war
Library of Congress
Beginning in March of 1871, the federal government allowed citizens in some Southern states to file for compensation for the losses sustained during the Civil War.  Applicants were required to prove that property was taken or destroyed by the Union Army.  In addition, applicants were required to prove that they remained loyal to the federal government during the war. Thousands of Southern citizens sought relief from their impoverished condition by applying.  Burton W. Cook and wife Mary (Ganus) were among those who applied.

In Clayton County, Georgia on the 26th of June, 1871,  Burton filled out an application for losses he suffered at the hand of the Union Army.   His claim was rejected without justification.

The paperwork however still contributes information to what is known about Burton.  Filed among the Southern Claims Commission papers, Barred and Disallowed,  Burton claimed the loss of a mare valued at $100.00 and 35 bushels of corn valued at $35.00.   He indicated the property was taken in Fayette County, Georgia by General Sherman's army on its way to Jonesboro on 31st of August, 1864.  

Anxious for any opportunity to receive their "just dues" from the federal government, many Southerners filed erroneous claims.  The question is not whether Burton's family suffered losses, but whether Burton was always loyal to the US Government?  I suspect I know the answer.   While Burton's damages pale in comparison to many other claims, unfortunately, his claim also lacks the testimony that accompanies many claims.  As luck would have it, his file consists of four pages of the basic form, with no additional testimony.

The files can provide interesting reading.  Some include testimony in which the claimant describes in great detail the harsh circumstances personally endured.  Some include dramatic statements of their professed allegiance to the government.  Often such richly woven stories include the names of family, neighbors and friends.  I found myself smiling at one such lengthy claim that comprised many pages of testimony describing the claimant's love for the federal government in addition to his secret disdain for the rebel cause.  The claimant added that he had always supported the federal government.   Unfortunately his case was rejected with the conclusion that not only had the man supported numerous sons while they served as Confederate soldiers, but he himself had served for a time and had contributed substantial funds and supplies to the Confederate Army.

Burton too had served in the Confederate Army from the beginning of the war until the end when he was released as a prisoner of war, and yet he filed a claim.  Was his application simply an effort to receive compensation for losses?

The basic form that Burton filled out required that the applicant provide the names of individuals who could verify the truth of the claim.  I was interested to know who he listed and was pleased to see his witnesses were James Ganus of East Point, Fulton County, Georgia and Mary Cook, also of East Point.  Mary was Burton's wife and James was his father-in-law.  While the document does not contain James' actual signature, it does give me reason to believe that James lived at least until June of 1871 when the application was filled out. James was shown living with Burton and daughter Mary on the 1870 US Federal Census.  This is the latest document currently known on which James' name appears. James would have been approximately 72 years old, a ripe old age for that time.


While Burton's file is relatively small, I am grateful for the few details it provides.  Once again I am reminded of the benefits of finding all documents relating to our ancestors.

I am sure Burton felt at least some disappointment when his claim was rejected, although his situation was not uncommon.  The number of people claiming property loss greatly exceeded the number who received compensation.   Undoubtedly, for those who had been so vested in the Southern cause, proving their loyalty to the US Government was a difficult sell.

The war was over,  issues continued and yet slowly the South did rebuild.  While much had been destroyed, the unconquerable spirit for which Southerners were known survived.  And so, Burton and his family, along with countless others, began the tedious process of rebuilding.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

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