The ‘Confederate Column’ – a Times-Picayune Newspaper Feature

In 1902 the Times-Picayune newspaper ran this large ad on the front page of their 28 February issue.

ad seeking readers' stories for the "Confederate Column," Times-Picayune newspaper advertisement 28 February 1902

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 28 February 1902, page 1

This was the start of a regular feature – the “Confederate Column” – designed:

to tell of men whose acts of individual heroism do not figure in battle reports…[and] to set in strong light the genius and courage, and other virtues of the Confederate officers and soldiers.

The ad concluded:

Confederate soldiers everywhere are invited to assist in this work. Personal recollections, conspicuous battle incidents, stories of the campfire, and, in short, everything which may serve to illustrate the life, and do justice to the achievements of that great soldiery, will be welcomed.

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The Times-Picayune’s Confederate Column regularly featured Civil War stories like this one about the Battle of Fort Stedman, when Confederate Major General John Brown Gordon (1832-1904) attacked the Union fort on 25 March 1865 in a desperate attempt to break the Siege of Petersburg.

montage of "Confederate Columns" from the Times-Picayune newspaper

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Led by Gordon, the Confederate attack was initially successful.

photo of Confederate Major General John B. Gordon

Photo: Confederate Major General John B. Gordon. Source: Wikipedia.

But then Union troops pushed the Confederate attackers back and recaptured Fort Stedman.

photo of the Union Fort Stedman, taken 31 December 1865

Photo: Fort Stedman, taken 31 December 1865, by Timothy H. O’Sullivan (ca. 1840-1882). Source: The Library of Congress/American Memory (Digital ID: cwpb 02853 Source: digital file from original neg.)

Genealogists researching their Southern roots will want to check out this series that appeared in the Times-Picayune over 100 years ago.

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Captain Alden Howell: Last Confederate Officer

When Alden Howell passed away in 1947 at the age of 106, he was the last surviving commissioned officer of the Army of the Confederate States of America.

obituaryr for Alden Howell, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 21 March 1947

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 21 March 1947, page 9

It’s a good thing that there were multiple obituaries about this centenarian. Each historical obit gives us more of the details of his life.

For example, see this old obituary in the Greensboro Record.

obituary for Alden Howell, Greensboro Record newspaper article 21 March 1947

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 21 March 1947, page 10

We learn that he was a captain of “Company B of North Carolina’s Sixth Regiment,” that when he enlisted he had been “attending law school,” and that after the war he resumed his studies and received “his degree in 1866.”

We also pick up this critical piece of genealogical information: he “was a descendant of John Alden,” the famous ship’s cooper on the Mayflower, signer of the Mayflower Compact, and best known for marrying Priscilla Mullins. A great clue.

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In his ripe old age Howell was called upon to give advice, as reported in the Morning Olympian.

Confederate Veteran (Alden Howell) Gives Advice on Life, Morning Olympian newspaper article 19 February 1941

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 19 February 1941, page 1

“Don’t get mad. Don’t use cuss words. Never complain.”

Good advice – even now.

Even in this feel-good news article we pick up more genealogical details. He was an attorney and banker in Waynesville, North Carolina. He retired “15 years ago and moved [to Los Angeles],” and this critical statement: “He and his seven-year-old grandson, Kenneth Brimmer, jointly cut a birthday cake Tuesday” – a good clue that both he and his grandson were born on February 18th.

Genealogy Tip: Track down every newspaper article. Don’t stop with the first news article or obituary you find about your relative. Each one might contain the critical clue or fact that you need to build your family tree. Take those clues, verify the facts and document your family history.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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Gettysburg Address: Abraham Lincoln’s Monumental Speech

On the afternoon of 19 November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stood to address a crowd of about 15,000 people gathered for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He followed the main speaker of the day, famed orator Edward Everett, who had just finished delivering a two-hour address that was well-received by the audience. Then President Lincoln spoke for only two minutes, delivering his ten-sentence “Gettysburg Address” that has gained enduring fame as one of the greatest speeches in American history.

photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, 11 days before delivering the Gettysburg Address

Photo: President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, 11 days before delivering the Gettysburg Address. Credit: Alexander Gardner; Wikimedia Commons.

Gettysburg Ceremony of 1863

The ceremony that day was in honor of the dead who had fallen at the Battle of Gettysburg the first three days of July 1863, an incredibly bloody battle during the Civil War that ended the Confederacy’s invasion of the North, highlighted by the ferocious attack on the third day known as Pickett’s Charge. More than 7,500 military men and thousands of horses were killed during the three days’ fighting, and their rotting corpses stank in the hot July sun.

The deceased Civil War soldiers had been hastily buried in shallow graves on the battlefield, but 17 acres were later set aside for a proper cemetery, and the bodies were being transferred—Union dead only—to the new cemetery. (The Confederate dead were left in their battlefield graves until 1870-1873, when they were transferred to cemeteries in the South.)

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Now, four and a half months after the Gettysburg battle, the cemetery was being dedicated and Lincoln delivered his surprisingly short speech. He had been invited to “set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks” and Lincoln’s remarks were few indeed—yet powerful.

photo of the Lincoln Address Memorial, designed by Louis Henrick, with bust of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, erected at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1912

Photo: The Lincoln Address Memorial, designed by Louis Henrick, with bust of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, erected at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1912. Credit: CJC47; Wikimedia Commons.

Lincoln’s Famous Speech

It is impossible to know exactly what Lincoln said that day. There are five known manuscripts of his speech, but they have differences. Additionally, several newspapers reported the president’s speech, but these accounts all have variations as well. We will also never know how the crowd reacted to his speech. Accounts vary from no applause at all, to only polite applause, to long sustained applause.

Here is how the Albany Journal reported the dedication ceremony and Lincoln’s speech. Its account was based on the reporting of a New York Times reporter; that Republican-leaning paper was careful to note that Lincoln’s short speech was interrupted with applause five times, and claimed it was met with “long, continued applause” at its conclusion. It is interesting to note that not a word of the featured speaker Everett’s speech is quoted, but President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is quoted in its entirety.

article about President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 20 November 1863

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 20 November 1863, page 2

The 1800s news article reported:

“Gettysburg, Nov. 19

“The ceremonies attending the dedication of the National Cemetery commenced this morning by a grand military and civic display, under command of Maj. Gen. Couch. The line of march was taken up at 10 o’clock, and the procession marched through the principal streets to the cemetery, where military formed in line and saluted the President. At a quarter-past eleven the head of the procession arrived at the main stand. The President and members of the Cabinet, together with the chief military and civic dignitaries, took positions on the stand. The President seated himself between Mr. Seward and Mr. Everett, after a reception marked with the respect and perfect silence due to the solemnity of the occasion, every man in the immense gathering uncovering on his appearance.

“The military then formed in line, extending around the stand, the area between the stand and military being occupied by civilians, comprising about fifteen thousand people, and including men, women, and children. The attendance of ladies was quite large. The military escort comprised one squadron of cavalry, two batteries of artillery, and a regiment of infantry, which constitutes the regular funeral escort of honor for the highest officer in the service.

“After the performance of a funeral dirge by Birgfield by the band, an eloquent prayer was delivered by Rev. Mr. Stockton.

“Mr. Everett then commenced the delivery of his oration, which was listened to with marked attention throughout.

“Although a heavy fog clouded the heavens in the morning during the procession, the sun broke out in all its brilliancy during the Rev. Mr. Stockton’s prayer, and shone upon the magnificent spectacle. The assemblage was of great magnitude, and was gathered within a circle of great extent around the stand, which was located on the highest point of ground on which the battle was fought. A long line of military surrounded the position taken by the immense multitude of people.

“The marshal took up a position on the left of the stand. Numerous flags and banners, suitably draped, were exhibited on the stand and among the audience. The entire scene was one of grandeur due to the importance of the occasion. So quiet were the people that every word uttered by the orator of the day must have been heard by them all, notwithstanding the immensity of the concourse.

“Dedicatory Speech of the President.

“The President then delivered the following dedicatory speech:

“‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. (Applause.) Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

“‘It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. (Applause.) The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. (Applause.) It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have for us so far, nobly carried on. (Applause.)  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain (applause); that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.’ (Long continued applause.)

“Three cheers were here given for the President and the Governors of the States.

“After the delivery of this address, the dirge and the benediction closed the exercises, and the immense assemblage departed at about 4 o’clock.”

Historical newspapers are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors—they also help you understand the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers.

Did any of your ancestors fight in the Battle of Gettysburg or meet Abraham Lincoln? Share your family stories with us in the comments.

Related Abraham Lincoln Articles:

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Researching Old Military Records & War Stories in Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers for articles about his ancestors’ military service and records—just in time to help you research your military ancestors during this Memorial Day weekend.

As we commemorate Memorial Day this weekend, honoring the men and women who have died while in military service, you might feel inspired to research your veteran ancestors.

In our genealogy work, we frequently find ourselves having to use a wide variety of techniques to ferret out an obscure clue when we are working on our family histories. Often, this is especially true when we are working on the military service history of our ancestors.

One technique I have found to be especially valuable is searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for articles that relate to my military ancestors. It can be a very successful genealogy strategy, as well as introducing you to some valuable history and stories.

Researching My Civil War Ancestor

painting of the Civil War Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan, by Kurz & Allison

Painting: Civil War Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan. The author’s ancestor was killed during this battle. Credit: Kurz & Allison; Library of Congress.

Recently I was researching one of my ancestors, Captain James Ham. I decided that rather than simply search on his name, I would search on the military unit he had enlisted in during the United States Civil War: the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. My first newspaper archive search on the “Seventeenth Pennsylvania” returned some very interesting results, such as this 1862 article from a Pennsylvania newspaper.

The newspaper article is headlined: “The Camps at Harrisburg. A Visit to Camp McClellan.” Initially, the reporter gives us a detailed, firsthand account of what conditions were like at Camp McClellan, such as: “Mud and slush seem to be the main characteristics…”; and, “These are cavalry men. But few of them have yet received their horses. They are but novices in the art and science of soldiery; but yet the men of Camp McClellan are remarkably well-disciplined.”

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List of Calvary Regiments

Then the news article continues on to list the three new Cavalry regiments, one of which was the 17th. I was delighted to find this newspaper article contained every officer of the regiment—and listed as a first lieutenant was my ancestor James Ham.

article about the roster of the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 21 November 1862

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 21 November 1862, page 2

The next news article I came across was published after the war, from an 1880 New York newspaper. This report particularly caught my eye since it was at the Battle of Five Forks in Virginia that James lost his life to enemy fire. This newspaper article, though short, was firsthand testimony by Colonel Henry C. Durland, the commander of the PA 17th, and it reported for the first time the losses by my ancestor’s regiment of “seven officers and thirty privates.”

Losses at Five Forks, New York Herald newspaper article 15 October 1880

New York Herald (New York, New York), 15 October 1880, page 9

War Stories Abound

As I continued my newspaper research, I discovered dozens of news articles that reported on the military battles and movements of the PA 17th, which included more famous Civil War battle locations including Fredericksburg, Richmond, Petersburg, and several others—and often included fascinating first-person accounts of those battles.

Researching My Indian Fighter Ancestor

photo of Chiricahua Apache Chief Victorio, c.1875

Photo: Chiricahua Apache Chief Victorio, c.1875. The author’s ancestor fought against the Apaches. Credit: Wikipedia.

Here is another example of the value in using newspaper articles to fill in your genealogy and learn about an ancestor’s military service. One of my great, great uncles, Frantisek Vicha, served in the U.S. Army in Company “D” of the 16th Infantry while fighting in what we know as the “Indian Wars.” From previous research, I knew that he enlisted in 1878 and was discharged due to disability in 1881. However, I knew little about the Indian Wars and practically nothing about my ancestor’s military service.

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My first research finding in GenealogyBank’s newspapers was an old article from a 1919 New Jersey newspaper. This historical newspaper article listed the (unfortunate) multitude of Indian Wars and gave me a good overview of these conflicts and the time period when my ancestor fought.

article about all the wars and battles in U.S. history, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 5 January 1919

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 5 January 1919, page 6

The next article I located was from an 1880 Pennsylvania newspaper. This historical news article reported that “Company D, Sixteenth Infantry”—my ancestor’s company—was one of those sent in relief of General Hatch, who was pursuing “Victorio’s band of Apaches in New Mexico.”

article about the Apache War in New Mexico, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 2 June 1880

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 2 June 1880, page 1

Now I had a location that I could work from, with even more focus. I then began to search on Victorio’s Apaches and found this article from an 1880 Texas newspaper.

Victorio's Apaches, Galveston Weekly News newspaper article 8 July 1880

Galveston Weekly News (Galveston, Texas), 8 July 1880, page 3

I found dozens more newspaper articles detailing several battles and the movements of Victorio and his fellow Apaches. An interesting and helpful article was published much later, in a 1921 Arizona newspaper. This detailed article covers the time in Apache history when Victorio was the “accredited war chief” of the Ojo Caliente Apaches, including his death in 1880.

Apache, Past and Present, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 22 May 1921

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 22 May 1921, section: second, page 8

Then of course there was another old article I discovered about my Indian fighter ancestor, from an 1889 Ohio newspaper. This article reported an entirely different fight Frank Vicha had on his hands—but that one took place in a courtroom, and will have to be a story all its own for another time!

article about Frank Vicha filing for divorce, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 March 1889

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 March 1889, page 6

Historical newspapers are a great way to weave together the story of your veteran ancestor’s military service, and find more military records. Have you had success in finding your ancestors’ military records using newspapers? Tell us what you’ve discovered in the archives about your ancestor’s military service in the comments section below.

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149th Anniversary: Civil War Ends with Lee’s Surrender to Grant

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn more about Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant that effectively ended the American Civil War.

All of us have studied it, memorized the date, and (if we’ve been lucky) visited the place where it occurred: Appomattox Court House, Virginia, the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General U. S. Grant, effectively ending the United States Civil War on 9 April 1865.

Although General Lee’s surrender was 149 years ago now, that momentous historical event still seems fresh in the public’s mind—and it must have been incredible news to our American ancestors all those many years ago.

I decided to take a look in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives to see how the news of General Lee’s surrender was announced via the nation’s newspapers, and learn what has happened to Appomattox Court House since that fateful day.

Just six days before the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, surrendered, this Richmond newspaper was still giving its readers news about the war.

Vigorous Assault upon the Enemy's Works near the Appomattox, Richmond Whig newspaper article 28 March 1865

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 28 March 1865, page 1

Just days before Generals Lee and Grant were to meet at Appomattox, the Battle of Five Forks was raging as reported in this Albany newspaper. One of my ancestors, Captain James Ham of the Pennsylvania Cavalry, was mortally wounded in this action and died five days before Lee’s surrender. I wonder how his family received the news about the war’s end, coming so soon after they had received word of his death.

article about the Civil War's Battle of Five Forks, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 3 April 1865

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 3 April 1865, page 2

After Lee surrendered on April 9, it didn’t take long for word to spread across America, as you can imagine.

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The headlines of this Boston newspaper article say it all.

Surrender of General Lee and His Entire Army, Boston Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

That same day and in the same city, readers of this Boston newspaper saw this article, including this paragraph:

The joy of our population this morning, as the intelligence of the surrender of Lee’s army spread, hardly knew bounds. Men embraced each other with the most extravagant demonstrations of feeling; staid, quiet citizens forgot their equanimity for the moment and found themselves cheering in the streets for Gen. Grant and the Potomac Army; workmen in shore gave voice to a joyous outburst of patriotic exultation, and everywhere the same accordant strains of heartfelt rejoicing were heard.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, Boston Evening Transcript newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

Readers of a New York newspaper saw these headlines.

Surrender of Lee and His Whole Army to Grant, New York Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

New York Herald (New York, New York), 10 April 1865, page 1

On the same day and across the country in California, this San Francisco newspaper reported the important news.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 10 April 1865

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 10 April 1865, page 2

Twenty years later, as you can see in this 1885 Aberdeen newspaper article “The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold,” the details of Lee’s surrender to Grant were still being reported. I remember as a young student reading these types of Civil War stories and realizing for the first time that Appomattox Court House was the name of a town, and that Lee and Grant had actually met in the home of the Wilmer McLean family.

Grant and Lee--The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold, Aberdeen Weekly News newspaper article 17 April 1885

Aberdeen Weekly News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 17 April 1885, page 3

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The fortunes of Appomattox Court House waned after the war, as you can read in this 1884 New York newspaper article. It reports that the town was almost deserted and the McLean home had been:

…taken down, brick by brick, for removal to the World’s Fair, but for some reason the plan was not carried out, and the bricks and timbers are still stored in the vacant houses in the neighborhood.

article about Appomattox Court House, Virginia, New York Tribune newspaper article 10 June 1894

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 10 June 1894, page 16

Luckily for all of us, as you can read in this 1903 Dallas newspaper article, bills had been introduced in Congress to provide funding to buy and save the historic McLean house in Appomattox before it was sold to a Chicagoan who planned to move it there and use it as his residence.

McLean House at Appomattox, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 February 1903

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 February 1903, page 23

And of course as a genealogist, it would be hard not to note the remarkable role played by one of the Appomattox surrender’s lesser known but critically important players, Ely Parker. You might not recognize the name so I’d recommend you take a look at this wonderful obituary for this full-blooded Seneca Indian who actually penned Grant’s terms for surrender. This obituary appeared in an 1895 Cleveland newspaper.

obituary for Ely Samuel Parker, Plain Dealer newspaper article 1 September 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 1 September 1895, page 1

Today Appomattox Court House, Virginia, and the McLean House are part of our National Parks system and well worth a visit.

Read More Articles about the Civil War:

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I Met Abraham Lincoln: True Stories in Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of today being Presidents’ Day—Gena searches old newspapers to find amazing stories about people who were still alive in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s who had met Abraham Lincoln.

Did your ancestor meet a famous person? Maybe they had occasion to hear a great orator or speak with an author. Did they rub elbows with someone infamous? I’m always fascinated by the history that our ancestors, even our more recent ancestors, witnessed.

Do you have an ancestor who met, heard or saw Abraham Lincoln? There could be a variety of reasons a 19th century ancestor encountered the 16th president of the United States. As president during the American Civil War, Lincoln gave speeches and visited the troops so it’s possible that a person living in the 1860s may have had an encounter with him.

photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863

Photo: President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, by Alexander Gardner. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

But did you ever consider that some of those same people may have lived into the20th century and had occasion to tell their story about meeting Lincoln? Many Civil War soldiers or contemporaries of Lincoln would have been at least middle-aged to quite elderly when the 20th century rolled in. There were some alive at the beginning decades of the 20th century who were able to boast about meeting Lincoln.

So what if we up the ante? What about people who were still alive in the mid-20th century? The chances of someone who had met or personally saw Lincoln would have dwindled by then. However, a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives shows that there were still people at that late date who could tell of meeting what many believe is the greatest president who ever lived.

Samuel J. Seymour, Last Living Witness to Lincoln’s Assassination

In 1956 an elderly man appeared on the television game show I’ve Got a Secret. This TV show featured a celebrity panel who, when presented with a special guest, tried to guess what secret the person held. The featured guests’ secrets included things that were amazing or unusual about that person. Those who stumped the panel received a cash prize. Samuel J. Seymour spent about five minutes on the show while two of the panelists asked questions that led them to guessing his secret. (A side note: while many younger readers wouldn’t recognize most of the celebrities that appeared on the show, on the day of Seymour’s guest spot there was a very recognizable face—that of famous actress and comedian Lucille Ball—who was on the panel, but she didn’t get a chance to question Mr. Seymour.)

Seymour was a 5-year-old boy when he was taken to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April 1865—the night that President Lincoln was shot. While he did not know initially that Lincoln was shot, and did not see the actual shooting, he did remember years later the fear he felt that night. He also remembered feeling concerned about the man (John Wilkes Booth) that he saw fall onto the stage. In the chaos of the moment—and because he was so young—Seymour didn’t realize that Booth had in fact shot the President when he saw the actor suddenly leap down onto the stage.

Of the lasting effect of being at Ford’s Theatre that night, Mr. Seymour said: “…I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

Imagine that—a man in the 1950s carrying the memory of President Lincoln’s assassination!

I Saw Lincoln Shot, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 February 1954

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 February 1954, page 192

You can view the actual portion of this episode of I’ve Got a Secret featuring Samuel Seymour on YouTube.

Richard R. Davis, Civil War Soldier

The following 1936 newspaper article, written just three years shy of Mr. Davis’s 100th birthday, tells of his Civil War career and his meeting Abraham Lincoln one day when the president came and spoke to the troops. Of that talk, Mr. Davis remembered that Lincoln “told us then that we were fighting to preserve the Union of States and of our sacrifice.” After speaking, Lincoln walked amongst the troops with his son.

Davis recounts that when he tussled the hair of Lincoln’s son the boy grinned and said: “Do you think I’m a child? Say, I’m a pretty big fellow.”

Richard Davis: Civil War Veteran Who Met Lincoln, Druid newspaper article 1 December 1936

Druid (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 1 December 1936, page 1

Davis actually saw Lincoln several times, and also met other noteworthy figures of the time such as Generals Grant and Hooker. The reporter writes that it’s obvious that Lincoln was a hero to Davis and that his time serving in the Civil War was a “highlight of his journey along life’s highways.”

Meeting Presidential Candidate Lincoln

Because some young people who met Lincoln went on to live long lives, we do have stories of the Great Emancipator told by witnesses well after most who knew Lincoln had died. For example, Perry Green Brock—who died in 1949 at the age of 105 years—told of meeting candidate Lincoln in 1856 in Kentucky when he was a boy. Brock later fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War but doesn’t mention what he thought of Lincoln during that time. He was quoted in the following newspaper article as saying that the South would have won if “us rebels hadn’t run out of shells.”

Perry G. Brock, Who Met Lincoln, Passes at 105, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 24 November 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 November 1949, section III, page 6

Did your ancestor meet Abraham Lincoln or another famous person? If so, research the encounter in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, then write the story and preserve it for future generations. If your ancestor did indeed meet Abraham Lincoln, please share the details about the encounter with us in the comments. We’d love to hear your family story.

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Civil War Genealogy: How to Find Union Soldier Uniform Clues

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary uses information from a historical newspaper article—and photos from the Library of Congress—to show how you can read clues from the uniform your Civil War ancestor is wearing in that old family photo.

Are you a genealogist who has an old family photograph of a Civil War ancestor? Have you often stared at that old photo, wishing it could tell you a little bit more about your Civil War ancestor? Well, perhaps it can—if your ancestor is wearing a uniform of the Union in the photo, then that uniform can provide clothing clues you can follow to uncover your ancestor’s rank, position in the military, and perhaps hints of his military service.

Occasionally one finds a reference of such importance in historical newspapers that it rivals (or exceeds) what one might find in a well-written textbook. I was lucky enough to make a discovery like this: a newspaper article that explains how to read Union uniforms from the Civil War.

That news article, “Insignia of Rank in the Federal Army,” is an in-depth guide published during the Civil War. It only discusses the uniforms of Union participants, but illustrates how newspapers assisted our ancestors in describing the war and identifying soldiers by their uniforms, swords, chevrons (V-shaped stripes) and other insignia.

This Civil War military apparel and decoration guide can also be of great help to modern-day family historians in identifying the ranks of ancestors from their old family photographs.

Insignia of Rank in the Federal Army, Weekly Wisconsin Patriot newspaper article 5 October 1861

Weekly Wisconsin Patriot (Madison, Wisconsin), 5 October 1861, page 6

Perhaps you’ll find this newspaper article as intriguing to read as I did. However, because the text reproduces small, I’ve taken the liberty to transcribe it below. You’ll also find illustrative Civil War photographs, such as this one of an African American Union soldier, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: www.loc.gov/rr/print/.

photo of an African American Union soldier during the Civil War

Transcription:

Insignia of Rank in the Federal Army.

Now-a-days, when uniformed men are standing at all the corners, and are to be met on all the streets, it is pleasant to know just how to tell at a glance the rank of the wearer and the particular branch of the service with which he is connected. The Philadelphia Inquirer of the 14th inst. lays down rules for thus distinguishing the insignia of rank in the U.S. Army, and we quote as follows:

The highest rank in our army is that of Lieutenant General. Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief, is the only one who occupies this rank at present. The principal distinguishing marks of uniform are three silver embroidered stars on the shoulder strap or epaulette—a large one in the middle, flanked by two smaller ones—a double row of nine buttons on the coat, disposed in threes, a buff sash, a straight sword, and a sword-knot terminating in acorns. A Major General is the same, but with only two stars on the shoulder. A Brigadier General has one star, and the buttons up his coat number but eight in each row, disposed in twos. The Colonel is the highest in rank in a regiment, and wears a silver embroidered spread eagle, having in the right talon an olive branch, and in the left a bundle of arrows on his strap, the buttons on his coat in double lines, numbering eight, at equal distances.

photo of Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Union armies during the Civil War

A Lieutenant Colonel is second in command of a regiment, and is known by a silver embroidered leaf at each end of the strap; otherwise his uniform is the same as a Colonel’s. The Major’s is also the same, the leaf being of gold. His duty is to act as Aid-de-camp of the Colonel, and in the event of his two superior officers being disabled or absent, he takes command of the regiment; these three constitute the field officers of a regiment, and are mounted. The Adjutant, whose position is the same to the regiment as that of the Orderly Sergeant to a company, generally ranks as a Lieutenant.

photo of lieutenants in the Union army during the Civil War

Captains are commandants of companies, and are distinguished by two bars of gold on the shoulder strap, and eight buttons at a regular distance in a single row on the coat; the First Lieutenant is the same, but with one bar on the strap, the Second Lieutenant having a plain strap without marks. These last are called line officers. All regimental officers wear a red sash.

The Surgeon has the letters M. S. (Medical Staff) embroidered on his strap; also wears a green sash. The Quartermaster also takes a Lieutenant’s rank, and has the letters Q. D. (Quartermaster’s Department) embroidered on his strap; the Paymaster the same, with the letters P. D. (Paymaster’s Department) and the Commissary with the letters C. D. (Commissary Department). These constitute (with the Chaplain, who wears no marks, only plain clothes of uniform cut) the regimental staff, and all are allowed to have horses.

photo of quartermaster's mechanics in the Union army during the Civil War

The non-commissioned officers are hospital stewards, whose business it is to attend to the hospital stores, and all the details of the hospital department under the orders of the Surgeon. His insignia is a green band on the upper arm, with a serpent entwined round a winged staff, and embroidered on it.

Chevrons: The rank of non-commissioned officers is marked by chevrons upon both sleeves of the uniform coat and overcoat, above the elbow, of silk or worsted binding, one-half an inch wide, same color as the edging of the coat, points down, as follows:

The Sergeant Major is first sergeant in the regiment, and acts as orderly to the Colonel. He wears three bars and an arc in silk. The Quartermaster Sergeant’s business is the management of the details of that department. He wears three bars and a tie, in silk. The Orderly Sergeant is first sergeant in the company, and commands it in the absence of commissioned officers. The chevron is of three stripes without connection, and a diamond or star above. The Second Sergeant takes charge of half a company, called a platoon, and has the same chevron as the first, but without a diamond. The Corporals are in charge of sections or quarters of a company, and are distinguished by two bars in worsted.

photo of a corporal in the Union army during the Civil War

Of the swords, the cavalry sabre is the longest and has a steel scabbard. The field officers come next, the scabbard being of chocolate enamel, with git [sic] trimmings. The line officers’ plainer and shorter, with sheath of black leather. A general officer’s weapon is straight, with a gilt scabbard; regimental staff is straight and short; musicians’ and non-commissioned officers’ being shorter still, and more for show than use.

To indicate service: All non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates, who have served faithfully a term of five years, wear, as a mark of distinction, upon both sleeves of the uniform coat, below the elbow, a diagonal, half chevron, one half an inch wide, extending from seam to seam, the front end nearest the cuff, and one half an inch above the point of the cuff, to be of the same color as the edging of the coat. In like manner, an additional half chevron, above and parallel to the first, for every subsequent five years of faithful service; distance between each chevron one-fourth of an inch. Service in war is indicated by a light or sky blue stripe on each side of the chevron for artillery, and a red stripe for all other corps, the stripe to be one eighth of an inch wide.

The color of the cloth used for the strap of the general staff and staff corps, is dark blue; of the cavalry yellow; dragoons, orange; artillery, scarlet; riflemen, medium or emerald green; and infantry, light or sky blue.

photo of an African American sergeant in the Union army during the Civil War

To research Civil War Confederate soldier uniforms and other Union soldier uniforms not illustrated in this article, be sure to visit the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division at www.loc.gov/pictures/, or visit websites that sell Civil War reenactment supplies.

For example, C&C Sutlery has a number of illustrations showing Civil War uniforms available for purchase that you can refer to in your genealogy research.

Now that you have acquired all of this detailed information about Union soldiers’ uniforms, take another look at that photo of your Civil War Union ancestor. Pay close attention to all the details of the uniform, sword, chevrons and other insignia, and see what they can tell you about your ancestor’s military service.

Please share your Civil War genealogy discoveries in the comments, and tell us about any additional military uniform clues you use in your ancestor sleuthing.

Civil War’s Last Rebel Town Finally Rejoined the Union—in 1946!

Part of the fun of doing family history research in old newspapers is the occasional strange, unusual—and even startling—story you run across. Such certainly is the case with the tiny New York town called Town Line, which joined the Rebel Cause and seceded from the Union in 1861—and did not come back to the United States until 1946, 81 years after the American Civil War ended!

a photo of the Confederate battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia

Photo: Confederate battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. A flag similar to this was flown above the blacksmith shop in Town Line, NY, during the 1946 vote on whether the town would rejoin the Union. Credit: Wikipedia.

There have been thousands of books and movies produced about the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of eager visitors flock to Civil War battlefields every year, and the nation is in the midst of commemorating the sesquicentennial of this great and tragic conflict that caused more than a million casualties.

A Northern Town Joined the Rebel Cause?!

With all this interest and knowledge, however, few people know this Civil War story: the last Rebel town to rejoin the Union after the Civil War was not south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but was in the Union state of New York.

That Northern town was a tiny hamlet called Town Line, in upstate New York near Buffalo. For reasons no one seems to know anymore, the hamlet’s eligible voters (all 125 of them) met in 1861 and, after an intense debate, voted 85 to 40 to secede from the Union! Apparently the hamlet even sent five men to fight in the Confederate army in Virginia. But as the war dragged on the secessionist fever cooled, and the locals appear to have politely decided to quietly forget about their defiant stance.

However: they never officially rejoined the United States, until the patriotic fever following victory in WWII moved the residents of Town Line to rethink this matter of secession. Their surprising story is explained in this 1945 Oregon newspaper article.

article about the secession of Town Line, NY, from the Union in 1861, Oregonian newspaper article 9 September 1945

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 September 1945, page 103

This historical news article’s coverage of Town Line concludes this way:

“In the years that have come between, Town Line has not officially changed its decision. Technically, by choice of its voters in 1861, it is still not a part of the United States. But the folks that live there now feel that it is time for something to be done about it. ‘If our former allies in Mississippi and Georgia feel that the Civil War is over, so do we,’ said a prominent citizen of Town Line the other day.”

A Town Barbecue Brings about Change

Someone from the town sent President Harry Truman a letter about the situation, and he cheerfully wrote back:

“Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbeque it and serve it with fixin’s in the old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started? Who can tell? The dissidents might decide to resume citizenship.”

Well, they did just that, holding the barbeque in October of 1945—during which they agreed to hold a vote soon on the great matter at hand. Finally, January 1946 was chosen for the vote.

Town Line, NY Rejoins the Union

On 24 January 1946, by a vote of 90 to 23, the last Rebel town of the Civil War officially rejoined the Union.

New York Town [Town Line, NY] Rejoins Union, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 25 January 1946

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 25 January 1946, page 7

The Union was whole at last!

Are you researching your Civil War ancestry? Read more interesting blog articles about the Civil War and follow our Civil War Genealogy Pinterest board.

Remembering Robert E. Lee, John Denver & Wilt Chamberlain with Newspapers

During this October week in American history three giants—one quite literally—died who had a big impact on America:

  • Robert E. Lee, American soldier and Confederate general, died at 63 on 12 October 1870
  • John Denver (Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.), American singer-songwriter, died at 53 on 12 October 1997
  • Wilt Chamberlain, American basketball player, died at 63 on 12 October 1999

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)

Around 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, 1870, Robert E. Lee, the beloved Confederate general who had spent his years after the Civil War serving as the much-respected president of Washington College, died. He was 63. Lee had suffered a stroke on September 28, and in his debilitated state contracted pneumonia, which did him in. He died in Lexington, Virginia, the home state he loved so well.

Robert E. Lee is one of the giants in American history. He had a remarkable 36-year military career, mostly with the U.S. Army (fighting in the Mexican-American War and reaching the rank of colonel) while the last 4 years were spent in the Confederate Army (fighting for the South in the Civil War, the general who led the famous Army of Northern Virginia).

As shown in Lee’s obituary below, it is easy to see why U.S. President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union Army on April 18, 1861, the day after Virginia voted to secede. Lee was torn between his oath to serve the U.S. and its army, and his deep love for Virginia—but Virginia won out, and on April 20, 1861, Robert E. Lee resigned from the U.S. Army and headed home to become commander of the Virginia military forces.

Death of Robert E. Lee, Cincinnati Commercial Tribune newspaper obituary 13 October 1870

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 13 October 1870, page 4

This obituary provides a good review of Lee’s military career:

“Although not unexpected, the death of General Robert E. Lee, which is announced in our telegraphic columns, will create a profound sensation. General Robert Edmund [Edward] Lee, whose name a few years ago was on all lips, when he was at the head of the so-called Army of Northern Virginia, was born in that State, of distinguished parents, in the year 1808 [1807]. After receiving a liberal education, he was admitted into West Point, as a cadet, in 1825; entered the United States Army, as Second Lieutenant, in July 1829; was made First Lieutenant in September 1836; and Captain in July 1838. He was appointed a member of the Board of Engineers in 1845; Chief Engineer of the Army in Mexico in 1846; was made Major, April 18, 1846, for gallant conduct at Cerro Gordo; Lieutenant Colonel, August 20, 1847, for bravery at Contreras and Churubusco; and Colonel, September 13, 1847, for gallant conduct at Chapultepec. At the end of the Mexican War he was reappointed a member of the Board of Engineers, and in1852 was raised to the post of Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, which he held till March 1855, when he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry. He was appointed Colonel of Cavalry on the 16th of March, 1861, but resigned his commission in the United States Army a few days afterward under circumstance with which most of our readers are familiar. What General Lee did for the cause of the Rebellion during those eventful four years which will never be effaced from the memory of Americans, will be judged by history; and history, furthermore, will pass at a future day upon his military talents that opinion which his contemporaries will hardly be able to give.

“Soon after the close of the war he accepted the Presidency of Washington College, Virginia, and sustained a position of becoming dignity in regard to the past. Southerners almost universally entertained for him an affection that perhaps was not equaled in its intensity excepting by that in which General Thomas was held by the people of the North.”

To mark the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth, this Texas newspaper published a series of poems celebrating his life and commemorating his death.

Robert Edward Lee: One Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 20 January 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 20 January 1907, page 7

One of the poems about the famous Confederate general presented, “The Death of Lee,” begins this way:

The drapery of heaven hung low

In dark and gloomy shrouds,

And angels used the weeping stars

In pinning back the clouds.

The shades of gloom and woe prevail

O’er all the land and sea,

And eyes so long unused to tears

Now wept for Robert Lee.

 

A Christian soldier, true and brave,

Beloved near and far,

He was first in time of peace

And first in time of war.

Virginia never reared a son

As good and brave as he,

Save one, and that was Washington,

Who lived and died like Lee.

 

His peaceful sword is laid away,

His work on earth is done,

He loved the people of the South,

They idolized their son.

There’s not a woman, man nor child,

I care not where they be,

Throughout this still sweet, sunny South

But loves the name of Lee.

John Denver (1943-1997)

John Denver was a giant in the American music industry in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the leading stars of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre. He recorded more than 300 songs in his long, successful career, writing about 200 of them, including “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”

Denver also appeared in movies and numerous television shows, and was a humanitarian, advocate for space exploration, and a crusading voice for environmental protection. He was as passionate about flight as he was about music—sadly, his life was cut short at the age of 53 in a fatal accident while flying his personal aircraft solo off the California coast near Pacific Grove.

The below profile and obituary from the Register Star said of Denver: “His trademark wire-rimmed glasses and handsome smile—sort of a clean-cut hippie who could appeal to all generations—made him a winner on countless TV specials.”

profile and obituary for John Denver, Register Star newspaper articles, 14 October 1997

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 14 October 1997, page 13

As reported in the news article below, more than 2,000 people attended Denver’s funeral in Aurora, Colorado: “It was the kind of day he loved to sing about: plenty of sunshine, the peaks of the Rockies in sight, and lots of family and friends around.”

His ashes were scattered in the Rocky Mountains he loved so much.

On Sunny Day, Service Honors John Denver, Register Star newspaper article 18 October 1997

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 18 October 1997, page 8

Wilt Chamberlain (1936-1999)

It is no exaggeration to say Wilton Norman “Wilt” Chamberlain was a giant of a man. During his years playing center for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, Chamberlain stood 7 feet 1 inch and weighed 300 pounds. In his long professional basketball-playing career, which began with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958 and ended with the Lakers in 1973, Chamberlain set numerous scoring and rebounding sports records. He performed feats on the basketball court that still astonish us today—he once scored 100 points in a single NBA game, the only player ever to do that. Chamberlain is the only player in the history of the NBA to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a single season. No one else has ever done it—Chamberlain did it nine times, and in fact averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game for his 14-year NBA career!

The below obituary recounts a funny story from New York Knicks center Darrall Imhoff, who had the unfortunate task of guarding Chamberlain the game he scored an amazing 100 points:

“I spent 12 years in his armpits, and I always carried that 100-point game on my shoulders…After I got my third foul, I said to one of the officials, Willy Smith, ‘Why don’t you just give him 100 points and we’ll all go home?’ Well, we did.”

Wilt Chamberlain Dead at 63, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper obituary 13 October 1999

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 13 October 1999, page 25

Chamberlain was known for more than his prowess on the basketball court. As reported in the below news article, about 800 people attended Chamberlain’s memorial service in Los Angeles: “Wilt Chamberlain was remembered Saturday more for his curiosity, intellect and quiet generosity than his unparalleled abilities on the basketball court.”

Memory of 'Stilt' Honored, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 17 October 1999

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 17 October 1999, page 47

Chamberlain’s fierce rivalry with Boston Celtics center Bill Russell was legendary. At the memorial service, Russell told the crowd:

“‘I knew how good he was and he knew that I knew how good he was,’ Russell said, drawing laughter. ‘I’ll just say that as far as I’m concerned, he and I will be friends through eternity.’”

Newspaper Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family tree and the famous people you admire most!

National Archives Launches Crowdsourcing Site for Transcription

The National Archives has launched a Transcription Pilot Project website to enlist the general public in transcribing old documents to make them easier for researchers to find. This will be a tremendous help to historians and genealogists everywhere.

screenshot of the Transcription Pilot Project website launched by the National Archvies

Credit: National Archives

This transcribing is easy to do and there are a variety of documents online needing transcription, requiring a range of skill levels from beginner to advanced, needing the ability to work with old handwriting.

This is a practical project for genealogists to give back to the community.

Here is a typical example: a multi-page Civil War regimental casualty list with the names of the troops killed, wounded or missing.

screenshot of a Civil War casualty list, an example of the documents that are part of the Transcription Pilot Project launched by the National Archives

Credit: National Archives

As a volunteer, your task would be to read and transcribe documents like this old Civil War casualty list.

Your document transcription work will be reviewed and then published on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website, making it easier for other family researchers to read this document thanks to your full-text transcription. Having the names typed in electronically makes them easy to search.

Click here to see the documents being worked on in the National Archives Transcription Project.

Notice that there are two sets of documents that you can work on transcribing: beginner level and advanced level.

If you want to suggest documents to be added to this project, click here to alert NARA to your suggestions.

This is a great public service.

Your effort will help others find their ancestors for decades to come.

Consider helping out—visit the Citizen Archivist Dashboard today to learn how to volunteer.