Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Civil War Stories: The Merritts

The Civil War: April 12, 1861- April 9, 1865

Headline: Fall of Fort Sumter
The American Civil War started at four thirty a.m., April 12, 1861 when P. G. T. Beauregard, the first brigadier general of the Confederate States Army, fired on his former United States Military Academy teacher, Robert Anderson, at Ft Sumter, South Carolina.

Thirty-four hours later, when the white flag of surrender went up over the fort, the causality count was one horse.

Thus began the deadliest war in American history. (World War II was the bloodiest.)

Newly elected President Lincoln declared war the next day and called for seventy-five thousand volunteers, with possibly two hundred thousand more requested later.

Boys Army 

Young Union soldiers
Our second great grandfather*(see relationship notes at bottom of page) , George Leonard Merritt, responded to the president's call.

Born about 1848 in Stamford Connecticut, at thirteen he was among the estimated 100,000 soldiers in the Union Army younger than 15 years old. He was wounded in war.

Youngest Civil War soldier wounded 
"The youngest to sustain injury in battle was probably William Black (pictured on left), who at the age of twelve was wounded in his left arm.  
(Note: Drummer boys and musicians did not fight and were not scrutinized. However, sometimes a drummer boy would sneak into a battle and join his comrades.)" - Civil War Voices  
In some cases, especially in the early days of the war, over zealousness clouded some father's judgments. Dad would join and approve his young sons' enlistments.

Often eager young recruits lied about their age to join. Just as often, eager recruiters winked, nodded and signed them up. In those first days, no one thought the battle would last longer than three months.

American Civil War Soldiers
[database on-line]
Provo, UT, USA
Connecticut 6th Regiment 

George Leonard Merritt joined the Connecticut 6th Regiment Volunteer Infantry. Of the 1610 recruits mustered in on September 13, 1861, 56 were killed, 15, missing, 179, dead, and he was among the  379 who were wounded in action.

His regiment arrived at Washington DC on September 19th, 1861.
Lincoln inspecting troops
"After 20 days of drill and discipline, broken only by a visit from Abraham Lincoln on a tour of inspection, the regiment left Washington for Annapolis, Md on October 8."-Connecticut 6th Regiment Volunteer Infantry
They fought through Charleston and Savannah, reaching as far south as Jacksonville, Florida in 1863. On April 1, 1863, the 6th left Jacksonville and fought back through South Carolina and Virginia. back to Connecticut, where they mustered out on August 21, 1865.

After the War

George Henry Merritt
Son of a Union soldier
Born in the Okefenokee Swamp
Instead of going back to Connecticut, two years after the war, in 1867, our northern ancestor fathered our great grandfather, George Henry Merritt (and two years later a daughter, who died in childhood) in the Okefenokee Swamp with a much older widow of a Confederate soldier, William Webb. 

The first child of our second great grandmother, Lydia Pittman, was born in 1847, a year before the young Union soldier. grandpa George Leonard.  Four more children and one war later, grandma Pittman is documented as Lydia Merritt living in the Okefenokee area on the 1870 Federal Census.

No husband is listed. She is the head of the house; her occupation listed as 'keeping house'; her worth, $200. Her nineteen year old son, William Jr. and his two younger teenage sisters are living with her; all but her under the family surname Webb.

George and Eliza, age three and one, respectively, are listed under the Webb surname as well. Eliza died as a child and George was a Merritt on every record save this one.

And only on this census does our then forty-three year old second great grandma, Lydia (Pittman Webb) Merritt, lose three years. She's listed as forty in 1870. She gains those three years back by the 1880 census.

The Swamp
"By late in the war, Soldier Camp Island in the Okefenokee had become the temporary home to nearly 1,000 draft dodgers and deserters."American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection (page 546)
If a young, kid 'Yankee' could father children with the widow of a Confederate soldier anywhere in Georgia in 1867, it would be in the Okefenokee Swamp.

So, how did a young, wounded in action, Connecticut Yankee end up in the Okefenokee Swamp? What drew him there?  Is it tempting to wonder if he, too, was hiding from something?

Whatever brought him to the Okefenokee, we know what took him out. He was last seen alone and waiting at the Blackshear train depot shortly after the 1870 census. When someone recognized him and asked why he was there, he simply replied,

"I'm going home."

Train schedule  for March 1870

NoteRelationships are expressed from the perspective of the grandchildren of Willis Edgar and Carrie (known as) Mae (Merritt) Musgrove. 

*Terms of relationship - grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc.  - are used here generically to include  relatives such as fourth great grandfathers, great grand uncles, second cousins twice removed, etc.

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