My brother Mike at Gettysburg, 1955
I’ve spent most of today browsing through American Civil War records stored at the National Archives. Earlier, I had discovered my second great-grandfather Jonas and his brother Frank (Benjamin Franklin) Nichols signed up for the Civil War draft the same day in July 1863.
Were they inspired by Mr. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address? I don’t know. Frank went off to war moving from one company to another, wounded and returning to active duty. Over these moves, he was promoted from Private to Sergeant to Lt. to Captain. At last in Pennsylvania in 1864, he was assigned to lead a company of Colored troops who had finally been given permission to fight.
The irony for me is that I grew up in the South and spent many hours as a Confederate sympathizer. When I was 15 or so, I even bought a Confederate cap In Mississippi, at the Vicksburg battlefield. For all I know, one of my relatives was there, but fighting for the Union.
Dad loved to visit Civil Was battlefields. We spent much time at Gettysburg where we visited a few times and took photos of the Wisconsin Monument soon after it was erected (?).
If Dad knew his great-grandfather had fought at Gettysburg, or anywhere else, he failed to mention it. I do know Jonas had registered for the draft and was somewhere during the war years but tracking him down has been a challenge. However, Jonas was missing between the birth of his oldest son in 1861, and his other son in 1868…little clue in those days when parents produced many offspring. I also know great-grandmother Ellen went home to Maine for the birth of the oldest son. I hope that is the answer.
David thinks one or more of his ancestors hid out in caves to avoid the Confederate draft. I found that at least one of them owned slaves and two of them were Confederate soldiers.
Why should we care about the Civil War other than the obvious reason, the emancipation of slaves? Another reason to care is because it marks the beginning of a strong central or federal government. The military draft registration, federal income tax, interest groups seeking favors in Washington and fat cats in New York City all come into being during this period. In my graduate history class on the Gilded Age we examined the question of when does it begin. The answer is during the Civil War. From that time forward the virtually sovereign states gave up much of their independence and corruption in Washington DC became a huge problem.
The professor of the class on the Gilded Age asked, can anyone name a president between 1870 and Teddy Roosevelt. Most of us could not because these presidents are so boring although a few of them led very corrupt governments. The best film about this period is Gangs of New York with Daniel Day-Lewis, which takes place during the draft riots and political corruption of Tamanny Hall.