Unsolved Mystery: Union ancestor Depew poignant last letter

Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
Time to dig again.

Oh yeah. But another pair of eyes never hurts :smile:
Thanks !
You are correct.

The first "red flag" for me ... was that a relative had transcribed and typed the records during the 1970s.

No doubt they ment well, but the same situation happened in my family.
It took us almost 35 years to find the real story (only because of typos and the lack of understanding how the Army issued numbers to various regiments and battalions)

But yes ... another pair of eyes never hurts.

:smoke:
 
Joined
Dec 31, 2010
Location
Kingsport, Tennessee
Very pleased with the knowledge and enthusiasm here on CivilWarTalk. May I please ask for suggestions to find a Union soldier whose Regiment and name fail to match muster rolls?

Civil War letter discovered in my great grandmother's family Bible is a young father's firsthand account of five hard battles and two months on the Mississippi River, yet his last name Depew fails to show in federal military or civilian records and his first name is illegible from a fold across the paper. The letter identifies him as 1st Lieutenant in Co. F Kentucky Volunteers (its soldiers referred to the 3rd Regiment although it had been re-designated the 7th Regiment). He asks that family should direct letters to Memphis, Tennessee, to follow the Regiment.

This family letter has many clues, poignant in the heartfelt writing style of those times. However, neither muster rolls, pension files, hospital nor census records match a Depew or Depeau for his 1863 death year. To his mother, he asks that she recollect a wife and little children mourning his absence, and that God may bless dear sisters, Deborah and Relda.

My ancestor's identity eludes discovery, although his accounts of places and dates match history:
He inventories for his father the captured Confederate Army, its weapons and property that matches accounts from McClernand's taking of Ft Hindman in the Battle of Arkansas Post and a previously unsuccessful six day battle that winter at Vicksburg.

On the letter's January 29, 1863 date, Vicksburg is in sight once again as he writes from Camp Gear, but the camp is not listed on siege maps. Although fine when he left West Virginia, he writes his health is not very good. "Will you pray for me that I may fight the battles of my country and be able to return to my family in peace again." Noted at the bottom the letter: "Died one month later."

His identity remains unknown as I continue attempts at tracing my great grandmother's previous generation for cousins or great uncles, as no other direct line seems to explain her possession of this letter from her father's maternal grandmother Mary Polly Depew. What have I missed in trying to identify him, or what may I have mistakenly assumed in my search? Suggestions and observations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Keith Williams
https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/george-rhea-cox-24-2zhns
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
Well, I found this which has already been discovered:
https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UKY0007RI

Along with this map, that I'm sure @Kwms has seen.

Battle_of_Arkansas_Post_map.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Battle_of_Arkansas_Post_map.jpg

Thus far, I've found nothing new.

However, according to his letters, it would match the movements of the 7th/3rd Kentucky guys.
My first guess is Camp Gear or "Geer" was a temporary camp, thus is not recorded on official maps.

But I may be wrong.

For what it's worth, I hope the above may help

I will keep looking.
 

16thVA

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 8, 2008
Location
Philadelphia
Not sure what to make of his words, “My health was fine when I left West Virginia.” Your suggestion to where he served and where he came from might fit with his referring to leaving home from West Virginia or perhaps as I understand you to think, that West Virginia was a point of reference within his time of service. Thank you for the thoughtful suggestion; it broadens my consideration of how to continue this search.


According to the service record of the 7th KY they were sent to Charleston, WV in late 1862. So that is undoubtedly what he meant. I seriously doubt he was from WV.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
These links have letters with more info on Young's Point. Sounds like a brutal place to be stationed.

https://ancestorsinaprons.com/tag/youngs-point/

https://www.pal-item.com/story/news/local/2016/02/07/our-past-letters-civil-war-front/79818472/

And here is an explanation of the place from The American Battlefield Trust:
"In January, 1863, as Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee advanced on the strategic Mississippi River town of Vicksburg, he established supply depots and training camps for black soldiers in northeastern Louisiana at Young’s Point, Milliken’s Bend, and Lake Providence."
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
"In January, 1863, as Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee advanced on the strategic Mississippi River town of Vicksburg, he established supply depots and training camps for black soldiers in northeastern Louisiana at Young’s Point, Milliken’s Bend, and Lake Providence."
I did find some reports alluding to USCT camps, but not enough facts to mention.

Perhaps Kentucky Union troops at the USCT camps during that time may be need to be researched in more detail.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
Given that the letter was transcribed, it's possible, I suppose, that the 7 was actually a 1. Or F was an E or some such mix up. They put a lot of curly-cues on letters and numbers back then....

I did find some reports alluding to USCT camps, but not enough facts to mention.

Perhaps the USCT camps during that time may be need to researched in more detail.
Would it be fair to say that Black soldiers at that stage were often given the work of unloading wagons or doing other physical labor?
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
Would it be fair to say that Black soldiers at that stage were often given the work of unloading wagons or doing other physical labor?
Absolutely.

That would be a perfect assessment of how the United States Army viewed Black men at the time.
There are many threads about the treatment of United States Colored Troops (USCT).

The US Army eventually relented, when they realized these men could & would fight.

But this thread is about helping a member identify a relative.
 
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Story

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA
So his regiment was stationed at Young's Point in January, 1863, (see reference above) which was a supply depot and training camp for USCT. His reference to "Camp Gear" would fit into the idea that he was in a supply depot.

Exclusive to or inclusive of the USCT Regiments?

This makes it sound like it was supplying all units.

In the spring of 1863, as Grant's forces marched south through Louisiana and crossed the river into Mississippi, Young's Point, LA, served as a vital supply depot for the Union army.

https://www.nps.gov/vick/learn/historyculture/youngs-point-january-july-4-1863.htm

Point is not to get tunnel vision on USCT if it was inclusive.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
Inclusive. This link https://ancestorsinaprons.com/tag/youngs-point/
I posted earlier has letters from a Union soldier who is a War Democrat and not particularly happy about the Emancipation Proclamation to put it mildly. He writes about the terrible conditions everyone is laboring under and the use of contrabands around camp. Just a guess on my part, but maybe the African American men were being recruited as soldiers as well as used for labor in unloading supplies and digging Grant's canal.
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
@7th Mississippi Infantry noted, it's a solid hit for the 7th (previously 3rd) KY Infantry.
Overlapping details abound https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7th_Kentucky_Infantry_Regiment_(Union)
So true.

Seems those guys were shuffled around among various commands.

I couldn't keep up with em'.
( The map was just as complex)

But my first impression was they were involved at Chickasaw Bluffs & the attack on Fort Hindman.

I still think a combined effort can answer @Kwms 's questions.
 
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Story

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Location
SE PA
NPS has three choices from KY, none of them good hits -
https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-soldiers.htm#sort=score+desc&q=Depew

Joseph Depew, 47th Mounted KY Inf
- possibly him https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6307198/joseph-mabry-depew

and Robert E Depew / Samuel P Depew, both Co E KY Independent Light Artillery

Then there's Jasper F Depew, died 22 December 1863
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3290875/jasper-f-depew
based on running 1863 as a date of death
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial...id=&linkedToName=&datefilter=&orderby=r&plot=

We're assuming a date of death around February 1863 based on the hand-transcribed note on the letter.

I haven't checked the Depews born 1832-1842 on FindAGrave, so ... have fun.
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial...atefilter=&orderby=r&plot=&page=2#sr-23161074
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Location
Upstate New York
I think we all have to assume that one (or more) of the words has been mis-transcribed. As @Story points out, the details for this being the 7th KY are pretty solid. so I'd eliminate that as the error. The possibility that the company is wrong is there, but the fact that there aren't other Depews in other companies makes it harder. The date is also something that could be wrong - is it Jan or Jun?

I think we seriously have to consider that the Depew is the error. There is always a tendency for people transcribing hard to read documents to find what they are looking for - so if the original transcriber started with the thought that this was written by a Depew family member they may well have seen Depew when it wasn't there. We know there was damage to that area of the letter, which is why the first name is unknown. It is possible that both parts of the name were illegible but the temptation to see Depew was strong enough to align the letters in the transcriber's sight.

One argument for this is - there is a lieutenant from Company F who died in 1863 after being wounded at Vicksburg. Thomas Buchanan fits a lot of the boxes - not only the rank and company, he was also old enough to be married and have children. I have not been able to find enough records for him to ID his sisters. It may be that he had some times to the Depew family which caused his letter to end up with the Bible. @Kwms do you see a connection in your tree?
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Location
Upstate New York
Just running down Thomas Buchanan - he was reported sick in the January muster roll - which also fits with the letter. Here is a brief list of facts on him -

Born 1825 Tennessee
Married Letitia "Letty" Greene
Lived in Whitley County, Kentucky
5 children - Nathan, Judia, Lewis, Henry, Sarah Debby
Enlisted 1861 Williamsburg, KY as a sergeant
Promoted to 1st Lt 1862
Wounded at Vicksburg May 1863
Died of wounds June 1863
 

Kwms

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2021
I think we all have to assume that one (or more) of the words has been mis-transcribed. As @Story points out, the details for this being the 7th KY are pretty solid. so I'd eliminate that as the error. The possibility that the company is wrong is there, but the fact that there aren't other Depews in other companies makes it harder. The date is also something that could be wrong - is it Jan or Jun?

I think we seriously have to consider that the Depew is the error. There is always a tendency for people transcribing hard to read documents to find what they are looking for - so if the original transcriber started with the thought that this was written by a Depew family member they may well have seen Depew when it wasn't there. We know there was damage to that area of the letter, which is why the first name is unknown. It is possible that both parts of the name were illegible but the temptation to see Depew was strong enough to align the letters in the transcriber's sight.

One argument for this is - there is a lieutenant from Company F who died in 1863 after being wounded at Vicksburg. Thomas Buchanan fits a lot of the boxes - not only the rank and company, he was also old enough to be married and have children. I have not been able to find enough records for him to ID his sisters. It may be that he had some times to the Depew family which caused his letter to end up with the Bible. @Kwms do you see a connection in your tree?
No Buchanan in our tree.
I’m impressed with the skill you have all brought to analyze this, and I have learned so much from how you approach this. Thank you for caring about bringing his story to life for me and my family.
I agree with each of you regarding transcript errors, more so as to errors on single characters or numbers as more likely than a string of letters in the name Depew/Depeau/etc. (As @7th Mississippi Infantry recounted his family’s 35 year efforts because of typos & misunderstandings as to ranks and regiments and @Reconstructed Rebel noted the perils of deciphering the curly-cues in single digits and letters in company names.)
I will look more closely at federal records and perhaps not discount that the records of those times might hold information inconsistent with a separate notation “died one month later” or rank/regiment.
I will keep watching this thread, while I dig in more broadly to research, and out of respect for your expertise and time you’ve invested, I will post significant findings wherever they may lead.
 

Kwms

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 5, 2021
Just running down Thomas Buchanan - he was reported sick in the January muster roll - which also fits with the letter. Here is a brief list of facts on him -

Born 1825 Tennessee
Married Letitia "Letty" Greene
Lived in Whitley County, Kentucky
5 children - Nathan, Judia, Lewis, Henry, Sarah Debby
Enlisted 1861 Williamsburg, KY as a sergeant
Promoted to 1st Lt 1862
Wounded at Vicksburg May 1863
Died of wounds June 1863
The Buchanan entry is certainly compelling.
 
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