Sunday, April 17, 2005

News From The Front

This summer I'll be visiting the U.S. again, and the trip, as usual in odd-numbered years, will include a few days in Milwaukee to see my mother-in-law. I'm looking forward to it. Seeing my mother-in-law again is, of course, always a joy. She's 84 now and still gets around pretty well, but the reason I'm really excited is that about a year ago I googled up an item on the net that I've been wanting to have a look at, just to see what I can see. We're talking documents here that are even older than my mother-in-law.

My great great grandfather served in the Civil War with the 27th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He didn't make it back from the war and by the time my great grandfather died in 1897, nearly all living memory of my great great grandfather had vanished into the mists of time. Twenty years ago a collection of letters, written before, during and after the Civil War, were donated to the library at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. A minister's wife in Sheboygan, named Mary Abbott Miller, apparently carried on a lively correspondence during the war with both her husband, the Reverend Alonzo Miller, and her brother, Martin Abbott.

Alonzo Miller served in Company B of the 27th along with my great great grandfather, who served in Company F. They enlisted at the same time and would have gone through training together at Camp Randall in the last months of 1864 and joined up with the regiment in Little Rock, Arkansas in the first few months of 1865. They would have traveled together from Little Rock to New Orleans and from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama and taken part in the sieges of Fort Blakeley and Spanish Fort in April and gone from there in June to the supply depot at Brazos Santiago at the mouth of the Rio Grande where they marched on and captured Brownsville in July and August. There probably won't be any specific mention of my great great grandfather's tragic demise in late July that year. But then again, there might be. Who knows?

The wartime correspondence between Mary Miller and her brother, Martin Abbott, should also be fairly fascinating. Martin Abbott signed on early in the war with the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was essentially an all German unit and one of the first regiments organized in Wisconsin. They took part in the battles at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in a division commanded by Carl Shurz, a German immigrant regarded by Mark Twain as one of the truly great Americans of the 19th century. The unit also took part in the battle at Lookout Mountain and ended the war under Sherman in the capture of Atlanta and his famous march to the sea. Schurz had close ties to Lincoln, so the 26th had a high profile and was often embroiled in controversy.

Mainly I'm hoping that the wartime letters will provide me with some new leads for researching the first decade my immigrant ancestors spent in America. I'll let you know how it goes when I've got the goods.

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