Sunday, December 19, 2004

Gone With The Wind

I've done some more reading and found additional details concerning William Ebert, the soldier with the 12th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry who I think may have been my great great grandmother's younger brother. The Regimental History for the 12th includes a fairly detailed account of the Battle of Bald Hill outside of Atlanta on July 21st and 22nd, 1864, and William Ebert is specifically mentioned as one of the ten men from Company D who were wounded in that battle on the 21st. Ten more men from that company were killed that day making it the single bloodiest day in the war for Company D. Two regiments, the 12th Wisconsin and the 16th Wisconsin, attacked the outer perimeter of the rebel defense for the city of Atlanta, gaining for the Union a foothold in the series of trenches that had been dug by rebel defenders on the eastern outskirts of the city. Once ensconced inside the defense works, Sherman's army was able to gradually extend its control of the networked trenches over the next two months until the city fell into Union hands.

The 12th had seen very little combat during its first two years in the war, which were spent mostly in the vicinity of Vicksburg as part of an extended siege and subsequent occupation. The rebels there had preferred surrender to starvation. The 12th was apparently "veteranized" in the spring of 1864 for the Army of the Tennessee's push from Kentucky through Tennessee and Alabama into Georgia and the Carolinas. This meant that a number of soldiers with considerable combat experience whose units had completed their three years of service were able to reenlist and transfer into the 12th Wisconsin, a well-seasoned but not yet combat-hardened outfit, rather than start from scratch with a newly formed regiment consisting mostly of green recruits. The men of the 12th in 1864 were in the last year of their three year enlistment and many were counting the days until they could go home having done their stint. Men in the unit who were willing to reenlist were given furloughs that spring so they could visit their families and help recruit replacements for those who didn't plan to reenlist. One of the soldiers in Company D, Charles Waldo, had been a young newspaper editor for the West Bend Post before the war and had regularly published letters in that paper throughout the first two years of his enlistment. His letters didn't glorify the war by any means, but they did make it clear that for a great many infantrymen the war was perhaps not a grand adventure but certainly something different and a bit more interesting than a life of hard labor on the family farm. His accounts of daily life in the army made it abundantly clear that a thousand men from the next county had spent far more time cleaning their guns than shooting them. So it's not that hard for me to imagine a twenty-year-old younger sibling of one of my ancestors joining up, probably in defiance of his elders, a father pushing around a sixty-year-old German beer gut , and the husbands of his older sisters, who were almost forty and couldn't go because they had kids to raise.

Signing up as he did on George Washington's birthday, William Ebert might have had perhaps six or eight weeks of boot camp to learn the basics of soldiering before he was sent off by train to join up with the remainder of the regiment at the end of April in Cairo, Illinois. More than three hundred new recruits joined the regiment that spring and they perhaps had a chance to share their barracks at Camp Randall in Madison for a few days with the five hundred or more "veterans" who had earned furloughs by extending their enlistments. From Cairo they apparently went by boat on the Tennessee River to Clifton, Tennessee, where they arrived on the 14th of May, then they marched 300 miles across northern Alabama through Huntsville to Decatur and on to Rome, Georgia before arriving in Ackworth on the 8th of June as part of "the Atlanta campaign under General Sherman." .

According to the record, twenty-five men from each of six companies from the 12th, comprising a force of 150 men, were assigned the task of storming a rebel entrenchment at Kennesaw Mountain on the 15th of June after a means was found to get past a dense thicket not far from the entrenched position. They managed to dislodge the entrenched rebels and hold their position for a short period of time before rebel reinforcements arrived to drive them back beyond the thicket. The short-lived success of this maneuver seems to have established the blueprint for the plan of attack employed a little more than a month later at Bald Hill. Only one man from Company D was killed at Kennesaw Mountain and a small handful were wounded in the encounter, but the fact that this strategy was repeated suggests that it was viewed as a workable one, albeit potentially quite hazardous. At Bald Hill the battle lasted two days instead of fifteen minutes. The casualty count was much higher, but they were able to establish control of the position and from that foothold in the enemy trenches they carried forward a two-month siege with quite limited losses for their unit.

My guess is that William Ebert, the green recruit, had a good chance to see what soldiers are expected to do at Kennesaw Mountain and a chance to do it himself a month later at Bald Hill, where he suffered a wound that probably put him in a hospital for about six months before he was told in January, 1865, that his services to the Union army were no longer required. He probably returned to Scott Township in mid-January just as my great great grandfather and his brother-in-law were completing whatever training they received at Camp Sigel in Milwaukee in preparation for their great adventure in Mobile Bay and on the Texas gulf coast at the mouth of the Rio Grande.

A retrospective view of Sergeant Charles Waldo, the embedded reporter with the 12th Wisconsin, is provided in a student essay written in 1967 by Herbert Neeck, who had access to an extensive diary maintained by Waldo in addition to the steady stream of letters posted in the West Bend Post. The string of newspaper accounts ends just as my ancestor's probable sibling was undergoing his basic training in Madison. It may be that the trenches on the outskirts of Atlanta weren't real conducive to successful warblogging, but I think we all know that few accounts of what transpired there could really compete with the panoramic view later provided by Margaret Mitchell in 'Gone With The Wind'.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

This Just In

I received a few e-mails this week in reply to e-mails I sent. Nothing unusual about that. But I do have some news as a result. I heard from The American Civil War Homepage and am informed that later this month my webpage and I will be listed as their contact for descendants of Civil War soldiers who served in the 27th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. More than a thousand men served in the 27th and three-fourths of them survived the war, so after four or five generations the number of potential descendants of those survivors is now quite large if not yet astronomical. Needless to say, I don't really expect to hear from all of them.

I also heard from the managing editor of the Kewaskum Stateman, a small, family-owned, weekly newspaper that has been in business now for 109 years. I'm told that for a small fee they will be happy to track down an obituary from their archives which may help to resolve one of the enduring mysteries raised on my webpage, the meaning of my middle name. Ordinarily all of my genealogical research is done free of charge, but in this case I'll make an exception as I know what it is I'm looking for and they know how to find it. I don't belong to or to any of the other big genealogy sites that charge monthly or annual fees for membership. It may be that the paysites are well worth the expense, but I can't vouch for them personally as I've never joined any of them. My experience has been that an amazing amount of material is already freely available on the internet. One of the main purposes of my webpage is to demonstrate just how much information can be gleaned from close reading of only a few key, freely available documents.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

My Niche

I signed up with Blog Explosion about a month ago and this is only my third or fourth post as a BE member. Belonging has greatly increased the amount of traffic I get which I guess is the main idea, but the vast majority of those visitors have been of the thirty seconds and out variety. I've gotten a couple of encouraging comments from a few people who have read my blog and managed to find their way to my webpage, but so far I don't really feel like part of an online community. The most important effect of belonging is that my page has had enough visitors so that it now registers on the search engines and I am starting to get the occasional visit from Google searchers for whom my site may be a bit more relevant. Family history enthusiasts, German genealogy researchers and Civil War history buffs occupy related spheres that are separate but have significant overlaps. Blogging is for me a way to look at some of the overlaps and try to find ways to make those separate spheres interesting to outsiders who are not actively involved in any of them. So far I haven't had a great deal of luck, but as a project I think it's one that will take some time to gain momentum and I suspect it will require some patience and persistence.

A day after last week's post appeared I went to lunch at a local Sbarro's, one of my usual haunts. Usually I dine alone as the Filipinos tend to give expats an amount of personal space rarely extended to other Filipinos. But on this occasion an elderly Filipino saw me eating alone and asked if he could share my table. He told me he was eighty-eight years old. That means he was in his mid-twenties when the Japanese began their invasion a few days after Pearl Harbor. He told me that the Japanese were harsh, but that things were very orderly and people felt safe and secure during the Japanese occupation of the country. This man would have been not yet thirty when MacArthur restored American rule to the Philippines. I've read books about the Battle of Manila, some of which estimate the causalties in my immediate neighborhood at far in excess of 100,000 lives, so I knew enough to be able to ask questions that would trigger a few memories. He was especially impressed by last month's elections in the U.S., marveling that Kerry could concede defeat only one day after a poll decided by only a few hundred thousand votes in southern Ohio. Vote-counting in the Philippines routinely takes a month or more to determine an outcome, even when the exit polls suggest a wide margin of victory. Bush-Gore in 2000 is the kind of post-election politicking Filipinos expect from their elections, but usually with a few more shootings than we're accustomed to seeing.

My seatmate from Hong Kong to Manila, the last leg of my recent 30 hour transit from the mid-Pacific via Auckland on an Airbus owned by Cathay Pacific, was a forty-year-old remodeling contractor from Cincinnatti. He'd never been out of the continental U.S. before, but apparently had struck up a romance with a Filipina on the internet. His fiance' was planning to meet him at the airport. Immigration rules say that marriages arranged over the internet don't include a green card unless an in-person, in-country relationship prior to the marriage can be documented. So he planned to spend a week or two in Manila as the guest of his bride-to-be. He seemed fairly content with the role Cincinnatti played in the outcome of the recent U.S. election.