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My grandfather was a deserter? Fold 3 cards

Discussion in 'Researching Your Civil War Ancestry' started by bluefox85, May 2, 2012.

  1. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    :unsure:
    I don't know what to think of that. Should I be ashamed? It's kind of saddening, but I wasn't there. I know conditions were horrible, food was in short supply, and it was a sad and dirty war. His brothers and cousins fought to their deaths, died when illness took them, or were captured and released at the end. Granted, he didn't "desert" until March of 1865, so he was in the muck for 3 years. Did they call those that surrendered "deserters" too?

    I have a hard time understanding all of these cards. There are at least 15 for every relative of mine. The one's for Ezekiel say "deserted from the enemy", yet it says Confederate at the top...so did he desert from Union capture or is this Union documentation? Later ones say "oath of rebel deserters". It also says he was sent to Jacksonville, Fla?? Why would they send a prisoner/deserter back that far South? Any help clarifying this stuff would greatly be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    bluefox85


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  3. ExNavyPilot

    ExNavyPilot 2nd Lieutenant

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    Not sure about the specifics on your ancestor, but in my readings I've seen lots of mentions of soldiers deserting from their units and surrendering to the enemy. It wasn't common, but wasn't that unusual either. It sounds like Ezekiel just got tired of fighting and all the other hardships required by service. He might have lost hope in the Confederate cause, or just figured he did his share and didn't want to do any more. If he stayed with his unit he'd have to keep fighting and living with the hardships, if he ran away but stayed on the Confederate side of the line he could be captured and punished (perhaps shot) as a deserter, or he could give up to the enemy and stay behind Union lines until the end of the war. Perhaps he was sent to Jacksonville because that was in territory firmly controlled by the Union and thus the former Confederates wouldn't risk being captured there.

    I've read a bit more often about Confederates deserting to the Union side (maybe because the Union records survived better) but it happened the other way, too. In a book I just finished on Williamsburg in the Civil War--Defend This Old Town--one Union sergeant in the forces occupying Williamsburg fell in love with a local gal and ended up switching sides, even going so far as to get some of his fellow federals captured when he deserted. In the same book, a Confederate soldier had deserted and became a scout for the Union forces in Williamsburg. (You can imagine how the locals felt about him; he endured some pretty dire threats.)
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  4. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    Thanks for the reply ExNavyPilot. I always enjoy your posts and the help you provide. You're an asset to this community! I guess you're right, it's slightly better to descend from a deserter than a traitor. I also factored in at this point in the war, he had already seen 4 of his brothers and cousins die, so that too could have had a large role in the question of why. If only he would have held on for one more month, it would have been over, but who I am to judge. I guess this explains why I can't find him in any of the pension records.
  5. ExNavyPilot

    ExNavyPilot 2nd Lieutenant

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    Thanks for the compliments. I hear you about the loss of Ezekiel's brothers and cousins. He might have felt that, with the war going bad for the south, he didn't want to die in vain while leaving his folks without another son. You read about the PTSD going on now with our troops in Afghanistan/Iraq and realize that the same, if not worse, pressures were on our Civil War ancestors (much higher risk of disease, malnutrition, exposure...less chance of surviving wounds...for the Confederates, knowing that your family was suffering from the effects of occupation or troop foraging)...you realize that a lot of these soldiers who fought throughout the war probably went home mentally wounded.

    Do you know where his unit was when he deserted/surrendered? Was it after an intense period of fighting, or perhaps a long period of doing nothing?
  6. GELongstreet

    GELongstreet Sergeant

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    Deserting is no nice thing, and military spoken it´s a catastrophe. But from both the logical and the human point - what is wrong with seeing the complete and final defeat and having the wish to live and to return home? One of my grandfathers deserted the Wehrmacht in 1945 after fighting long times at the eastern front, and managed to evade all German or Allied forces in the black forest to return to his wife - and is still alive. Had he not done so he would likely not be alive now - which includes that I would not be here.

    And as I said earlier today, nobody is responsible for his birth - and neither for his ancestors.
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  7. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    Not yet. I've been so excited and preoccupied with finding their old records, that I haven't looked up all of their smaller battles. I know Connell was killed at Antietam, and Matthew made it all the way to the surrender at Appomattox and came home. I would have to compare dates of the 50th GA Regiment's battles with the dates on their muster roll cards and other records to get an approximate on where they would have been at what time. I do know from all the cards on Fold3, that he spent lots of time in the hospital, 3 different ones in Virginia to be exact. (Richmond, Danville, Winchester) The cursive is too hard to understand the reason, so apparently he had some kind of health issue.
  8. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    You're right. Like I said, I wasn't there so I can't judge.
  9. rhp6033

    rhp6033 Sergeant Major

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    By 1863 it was common for the Confederates to send scouts/spies into Union lines as "deserters". During the initial stages of the Chattanooga campaign Rosecrans thought this meant that the AoT was in it's final death throes, and gave orders for the "deserters" to be allowed to return to their homes unmolested by Union forces. But more than a few Union officers thought this was foolishness, for as soon as the Union army passed by, many of these "deserters" would return to the AoT with specific information on the numbers, order of battle, and route of march of the Army of the Cumberland. But by 1864 Sherman was said to have taken a decidedly different approach, requiring "deserters" to surrender their weapons and accouterments, and be sent off to assembly areas where they couldn't re-join the Confederate forces at a more convenient time. But by March 1865 it was rather late in the game for this tactic.

    My thought is that your ancestor probably was starving and lured in by the promise of good rations. To those who are truly starving over months at a time - not merely suffering from a "knawing appetite" which most of us feel at one time or another - food can be an incentive too strong to overcome. Since he had close relatives who had died in the service, the concern over the future welfare of his family may have been strong also. He may have been in a situation where his commander SHOULD have surrendered, but refused to do so - in such a case, the line between surrender and desertion isn't quite so clear.

    In general, remember that no one wants to be the last one to die in a war.

    A story my own father told me, from the Korean War, where he was a combat engineer. One day an older man appeared with transfer orders into the unit. A few of the more mischievious men in the unit decided to give this "newbie" an intruduction into combat, by driving him in a jeep in an area which was under Chinese observation and where jeep traffic would frequently be greeted with mortar fire. They knew that if you varied the speed of your vehicle, then the morter fire couldn't be zeroed in, but the new guys wouldn't know that. But this time, their little trip along the road was met not with mortar fire, but with a barrage of heavy artillary which appeared to have the entire road covered. They bailed out of the jeep, jumped into holes, and waited for the fire to abate. After some twenty minutes of heavy fire they ran back to the base (the jeep was a smoking hulk by then). They came to my father, who was company commander at the time as a 1st Lt., and said that the new guy was crazy, they had to do something to transfer him out! According to them, they were trying to dig deeper into impact craters using their fingernails and crying, while he was rolling around, laughing - he seemed to think it was the funniest thing he had seen in years!

    My Dad called him the new guy into his bunker and asked him what was going on. The new guy, in a thick German accent, explained how he had fought for almost five years on the Eastern Front in WWII, then deserted (avoiding the Gestop summary execution squads) so he could get back home within the western zone before surrendering. Somehow he had immigrated to the U.S., and upon getting his citizenship he promptly signed up for the U.S. Army. He had been a soldier since he was a teenager, and that's all he really knew how to do, he explained. He thought it was hilarous when the G.I.s tried to scare him with the jeep trick, he figured out pretty quickly what was going on. Seeing them so scared at a "little barrage" was hillarious to him - on the Eastern Front they would have considered this little more than a nuisance.

    I'd love to know more about this guy's story, but my Dad died at age 45 (shortly after I turned 16), so I didn't get to ask him many details.
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  10. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    This is an amazing find. You have hit the jackpot. Regarding Jacksonville, if you look farther there's probably a reason that has something to do with either getting him out of the fighting (in case he has a change of heart) or it's a prisoner depot....or something. That's not an area I'm familiar with, but I betcha we can find the answer...like Ole says, someone will know.

    Congratulations.
  11. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    Thanks for the reply rhp. Good story indeed!

    Thanks Nathan, but what's the jackpot that you are referring to?
    I wish there was more I could find on them, but they were poor farmboys and I'm not sure that any of them could even write. That being said, I probably won't find any letters or diaries. I would give anything for a picture, but I doubt that will ever happen. I plan to purchase Wiregrass to Appomattox: The Untold Story of the 50th Georgia Infantry Regiment, CSA. It's supposed to be the most in-depth look at 50th Regiment ever published. I'm hoping it will shed some light on the situation.
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  12. mulejack

    mulejack Sergeant

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    It quite an interestinjg story. A gem in my humble opinion. It's all part of our history. I would have no problem if this was any relative of mine. Curcumstances differ and who knows what events led to his decisions.

    Mulejack
  13. diane

    diane Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    I think you have a gem, too. For a long time we thought one of my uncles deserted after Gettysburg. He was just gone from the records and then, a few years after the war, turned up in California running a grocery. Just recently we found out he'd been shot in the stomach at Pickett's Charge and went home. Don't know how he got all the way to South Carolina with a stomach wound, but he did it. He didn't like the looks of the hospital and, being a Catawba, figured the white doctors wouldn't do much for him. Guess he did desert, come to think of it! At any rate, he was counted as colored that round. When he re-enlisted he was white. Must have been a long recovery indoors! :D His brother was the slave catcher and went through the whole war with the ANV. The ones in the Memphis area were planters and slave owners - they were Choctaw/Chickasaw - so they signed up with Forrest.

    So, I've got a deserter, slave owners and slave catchers! I don't feel embarrassed about it, though, and don't think I should.
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  14. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    Just a possibility - when I did a search in Fold 3 for my ancestor - Union - 14th Brooklyn/84th New York - his card carried the words "desertion" also. When I received his service records from Washington - there was a copy of that card and 4 others - he was wounded on the 1st Day at Gettysburg, shot in the hip - brought north to a hospital that was located where the Statue of Liberty rests today. Long story short - the other cards reflect he had never deserted, but was in a hospital - released - went back to duty, 14th Brooklyn's term of enlistment expired - transferred to 5th New York Vet. Vols. and killed at Petersburg - so bureaucracy was rampant then - some clerk evidently screwed up. Other cards showed the error.
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  15. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    How would I go about getting the entire service records? Or was it for Union soldiers only? I went to the library yesterday, and when I looked in the 6 volume Roster of Confederate Soldiers from Georgia, it didn't say anything about his desertion, just his enlisment date. All of his brothers and cousins have their enlistment dates along with day of death, or capture and prison time. However, looking in this book, I also saw Noah Roe (another cousin) and his said deserted plain out lol. So technically I had a total of 9 go, 7 Roes lol!
  16. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    I did it years ago by mail (pre-internet days) - below is a link where it can be done online - not sure what it costs now.

    http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/pre-ww-1-records.html#nwctb-list
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  17. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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  18. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    Thanks for that link! I know with Georgia's Virtual Vault I can access all pension records applied for (which I have and found pensions for Boney, Matthew, and Josiah's widow). The others weren't married when they died, and Alfred was rich. From my understanding, these pensions (for Confederates) were for those that were in dire straits and/or had nothing. All of their pensions show reason and they all say poor health, disabled, etc... No records for Ezekiel, which leads to my next question, could a "deserter" receive a pension?
    Thanks for all the help guys!
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  19. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    One more aside I learned - my ancestors father was awarded the pension (Union) - as long as he could show need. Wasn't just the wife or children. (They were Quakers). Good luck in your quest !!
  20. ExNavyPilot

    ExNavyPilot 2nd Lieutenant

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    The National Archives charges $25 per service record. They can provide either paper copies or put the records onto PDF files on a CD. In a typical "service record" (at least for Union) you'll have copy of descriptive physical roll, muster rolls, hospital records, pension records, burial records if died in service, etc. I found the cost well worth it.
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  21. bluefox85

    bluefox85 Private

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    Yeah that's defintely a worthy expense. I'd just hate to spend the $25 and get everything I already knew from Fold3. I'll call the archives first and get some more information. Eventually I'd like to get all 8 +1 (last night I discovered another Connell in Company I) for a small publication to go with our family album, but dedicated to our ancestors of the Civil War. It'll be a long project but from dates of muster rolls, etc... I'd like to pinpoint dates and where they were and what battles they were in.

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