Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum

My mother's great grandfather, Michael Steele, married a woman named Charlotte Stradley, the daughter of a man who described himself as a "physician" in the 1850 census for Wabash, Indiana. That would be my great great great grandfather, Dr. Daniel W. Stradley. His grandfather came to America from England around the time of the Revolution and settled in Baltimore. Charlotte Stradley is the first ancestor I know of who was not either of German or Pennsylvania Dutch descent.

I recently located biographical records for her brothers, Dr. Ayres Stradley and Dr. Daniel N. Stradley, who both practiced medicine in and around Denver, Colorado at the dawn of the 20th century. The brothers attributed much of their expertise in medicine to training they had received from their father while growing up in Wabash. But they also cited lectures they had attended at established medical schools and apprenticeships they had served under the tutelage of other respected medical practitioners.

I try to imagine the frontier medicine practiced by this ancestor of mine, first in Zanesville, Ohio and then at age 35 in Wabash from 1849 on, where he spent the last forty-five years of his life, but I find it's quite a leap. Medical science made huge strides in his lifetime.

Born in 1815, it's not clear from his sons' accounts if he began life on the eastern seaboard in Baltimore or if his parents had by then already moved west to Ohio. Dr. Stradley's wife was also of English descent. Ayres Stradley III described his mother's father, Abner Bell, as a "hero of the War of 1812" and as a "minister of the gospel" .... "connected with the Methodist Episcopal Church." Ohio was certainly still very much life on the frontier in 1815, but much less precariously so after the War of 1812.

The Stradleys couldn't have picked a more interesting or exciting time to move to Wabash. The town was the last stop going up river before the series of more than a dozen locks along the Wabash and Erie canal connecting the headwaters of the Wabash with the headwaters of the Maumee in Fort Wayne. By 1850 a few of the packets and liners plying the canal were already powered by steam instead of mule drawn as they all had been when the canal first opened for business in 1835.

The Wabash and Erie meant that cargo and passengers could be moved entirely by boat between Lake Erie and any of the cities on the Mississippi, the Ohio or the Gulf of Mexico without braving the waves of the Atlantic. Canal boats could travel from Toledo on Lake Erie to Evansville on the Ohio near the junction with the Mississippi in about eight days. The canal era was to American transportation what the word processing and fax era is to the internet. Wholly obsolete in only four decades, the canal was George Washington's great dream of American progress. As a federally funded public works project, it was the 19th century's Hoover Dam.

The information concerning my great great great grandfather is a story in itself. I ran a Google search on the name Stradley shortly after writing my previous post about the death of Michael Steele's brother, Abraham Steele, at Andersonville. I knew that Michael Steele had married a woman whose maiden name was Stradley. The search led me to a site called Portraits and Biographical Records of Denver and Vicinity 1898. It was one of a number of books owned by Pam Rietsch, who transcribed and put them online as part of something she calls the Mardos Collection. She and her associates are active proponents of USGenNet, which apparently has made quite a bit of genealogical and historical information freely available online.

If Michael Steele's brother, Abraham, had survived his incarceration at Andersonville, he might very well have fulfilled his ambition to become a doctor. His father, Elias Steele, was married to a woman named Elizabeth Bickel. Her brother lived next door to Dr. Stradley in Wabash. When the Steele brothers moved from Ohio to South Bend, Indiana in 1864, their mother, Elizabeth, directed Michael and his oldest brother, Jeremiah, to go to Wabash and build a barn for her brother. They did. Dr. Stradley saw the barn, admired their work and asked the boys to build him a house. Michael had work to do in South Bend and couldn't stay, but Jeremiah remained in Wabash long enough to build the house for Dr. Stradley. A few years later, Charlotte moved to South Bend and married Michael.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Chattanooga Choo Choo

My mother's great grandfather had a brother who died at Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. I know because my grandmother told me so nearly forty years ago, around the time that my grandfather died. I didn't know any of the details so it really didn't mean much to me at the time. Today on the internet so much more information is readily accessible than at any time in the past and what I've found so far is fairly fascinating, at least to me.

The census of 1850 shows Abraham Steele living on a good-sized farm in the Mill Creek township of Coshocton county in Ohio with his parents, Elias and Elizabeth Steele, his older brother Jeremiah, four younger brothers, including my great great grandfather, Michael Steele, and a younger sister. Abraham was fifteen years old in 1850. The family had moved to Ohio from western Pennslyvania a few years before he was born. According to my grandmother, Abraham had planned to become a doctor. He enlisted in 1861 at the age of 26 as a private in Company H of the 80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

Abraham Steele died at Andersonville in Georgia in April, 1864, and is buried there. Diarrhea was listed as his cause of death. He was taken prisoner at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. A soldier in the Union army for more than two years, he spent most of that time as a prisoner of war. He was first captured in 1862 at the Battle of Corinth in northern Mississippi, shortly after the Union victory in nearby Shiloh. When Vicksburg fell in 1863 prisoners were exchanged and he was released and returned to his unit following a full year in captivity.

The 80th Ohio was transferred from Mississippi to Tennessee in the autumn of 1863 and became part of Sherman's "veteranized" Army of the Tennessee a month or two before Missionary Ridge, the dramatic climax of the Battle of Chattanooga. Many Civil War buffs consider Missionary Ridge to have been a major strategic turning point in the entire war. Union forces led by Grant and Sherman won the Battle of Chattanooga and took more than six thousand rebel prisoners. The Confederate forces under Braxton Bragg successfully retreated into Georgia from their key position in control of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, the prize for their victory at Chickamauga, but they took less than 500 Union prisoners with them when they withdrew, one of them Abraham Steele.

Accounts of the battle from a number of different sources indicate a limited number of Confederate opportunities for taking Union prisoners at Missionary Ridge. The fact that Abraham Steele was captured means that he must have been at Tunnel Hill, a railroad tunnel at the northern end of the ridge where the main thrust of the assault was launched by Sherman's forces. That assault was repelled by the brilliant generalship of Patrick Cleburne, whose account of the battle describes several surprise bayonet counter charges by his Texan defenders at Tunnel Hill that resulted in the capture of nearly five hundred Union soldiers.

Cleburne was winning his end of the battle, but the southern end of the ridge was also under attack from General Hooker's men who had captured Lookout Mountain a day earlier. The assaults at opposite ends of the ridge weakened the defense of the western slope in the middle portion of the ridge, where Grant's forces, led by the men under General Thomas, were able to advance in a frontal assault against withering fire from three tiers of trenchline, eventually securing the top of the ridge. Once the center of the ridge fell, the Confederate forces at either end were caught in a deadly crossfire and could only retreat down the eastern slope of the ridge.

I visited Atlanta about five years ago, a month after the collapse of the World Trade Center. I saw the Stone Mountain monument there and I think that visit piqued my interest in the Civil War. But it doesn't become real for you until you've located a few ancestors, relatives and in-laws and tried to make sense of the part they took in that conflict.

Living in Manila in the enormous shadow cast by the figure of Douglas MacArthur, it's easy to forget that much of MacArthur's reputation as a soldier was a product of his efforts to live up to the legendary exploits of his father, Arthur MacArthur Jr, who siezed his unit's regimental flag from a fallen soldier halfway up the ridge and planted the colors of the 24th Wisconsin at the crest of the hill during the frontal assault on Missionary Ridge.

I don't know if any of Abraham Steele's five brothers participated in the Civil War, but I do know that the year he died, 1864, was the same year that the rest of his family moved from Coschocton, Ohio to South Bend, Indiana.