Sunday, January 22, 2012

You don't know what you don't know, until you know it.

I’m currently researching and writing a Civil War story involving the Beaman, Cranford, Hulin, Hurley, and Moore families of Montgomery County, North Carolina. At the onset of the war many of them were members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church They were hard working farmers who owned no slaves; their loyalties and beliefs were strongly tested by the war. In the Piedmont area of North Carolina violence became commonplace as a result of these beliefs, and led to persecution and murder. The story of outliers and Home Guard, conscription and desertion, culminating in the murder of three Hulin brothers is the story I am researching.

Until I began reading about the subject, I didn’t have a good perspective on the lives of the North Carolina families I was researching. I had Civil War documents, but no real understanding of what they meant. I first learned about this story when I stumbled upon Victoria E. Bynum's Unruly Women. Since then she has written The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies which explores the same issues I’m writing about.

As I was researching my North Carolina families, I noticed that many of the men in the area died of disease soon after going into the Confederate army. Calvin Hurley was one of them. The documents show that he enlisted, or was conscripted, into Co. H 14th NC Regt. in July 1862, for a period of three years. Calvin was reported sick in August and died in Richmond 6 September 1862, of typhoid.

Conscription plays a big role in my story so I read They Went IntoThe Fight Cheering by Walter C Halderman III, a book about conscription in North Carolina. I learned that initially, after the conscription law was passed, soldiers were sent to “camps of instruction” for a period of time before being sent to the front lines. Men were exposed to illnesses and diseases and became ill, but there was a medical staff in the camps as well as somewhat decent living conditions, (They had a roof over their heads.) As the war progressed, the demand for troops in Virginia increased so the new soldiers were sent almost immediately to fight. When they came in contact with diseases at the front lines, the poor conditions and lack of medical care led to death for many of the new soldiers. Measles, mumps, typhoid and dysentery were common causes of death. It has been estimated that as many as two-thirds of the confederate soldiers died from disease. 

Not only do I have a better picture of the Civil War, I’m beginning to understand the nuances of the documents pertaining to my ancestors. It makes me wonder what else I might have overlooked.

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