As our nation begins the commemoration of the sesquicentennial (i.e., 150th anniversary) of the Civil War, I have been spending a lot of time researching one particular ancestor of mine who was involved in the war. My great-great grandfather Lewis Kinsey Harris served from one of the first battles to one of the last. He rose from the rank of private to captain. In the last battle he was in on April 9, 1865, the colonel of the regiment went down and he served for a few weeks in his place. When L.K. died 53 years after the end of the war, the local newspaper announced “Captain Harris Called by Death.”
I am writing another blog (called An Indiana Soldier) in which I am tracing week-by-week L.K.’s involvement in the Civil War. So far I’ve put up a few posts about his life before the war, but this week begins the actual story of him as a soldier. I’m sure some of the weeks will have great stories and sometimes all that I’ll be able to report is the mundane movements of his unit from one place to another–a true representation of the nature of army life, even in an exciting time like the Civil War.
Several years ago I started researching L.K. and his wartime experiences. Our family had a few documents that had been passed down from generation to generation. I knew a few of the stories. But to really get a sense of what he did, I had to get a copy of his pension file from the National Archives (over 200 pages long!) and research each of the regiments he was involved in (three total: the 8th Indiana, the 36th Indiana and the 69th Indiana). It’s been fascinating and fun, but it’s also been frustrating because there’s always more to learn and it feels like there’s always more out there to find (alas, time and resources are limited).
Since I’ve started the other blog, two interactions with people have caused me to think more deeply about the Civil War and my family. A cousin of mine asked which part of my family L.K. came from (undoubtedly wondering if she was related to him). Then I read another person’s genealogy blog who is also interested in the 69th Indiana and she mentioned having 24 confirmed Civil War veterans in just one branch of her family (see The Faces of My Family blog).
This made me reconsider the question of who among my ancestors had served in the Civil War. I had briefly looked into this years ago, but hadn’t found any other direct ancestors who had served. I cursorily glanced at some of my three-times-great uncles’ records, but didn’t find anything of interest–especially when compared to the life and service of L.K. Harris. The only other veteran I found was L.K.’s brother William who served in the 69th Indiana with him as a musician, but since his service paralleled L.K.’s there wasn’t much to say about him.
But now, since I have reopened the question of who among my ancestors–uncles, cousins and all–served in the Civil War, I have found another potentially interesting story. My three-times-great uncle, William H. Jarvis, was the brother of my great-great grandfather, Ambrose Jarvis (for more on Ambrose, see my previous post Dying in 1918). The Jarvis family lived in Clay County, Kentucky among the foothills of the Appalachians, in an area where the question of which side to join was open to debate.
I am just beginning the process of researching William H. Jarvis and his service in the Civil War. A brief glance on Ancestry.com turned up his consolidated service record and some enlistment papers indicating his age. In January 1864 when he re-enlisted after his first three-year commitment was up, he said he was 20 years old and 7 months. That means in 1861 when he initially signed up for the war, he was 18 years old (assuming he didn’t lie about his age, although census records indicate he might have been 16 at the time).
He apparently fought for the Union in several battles that L.K. didn’t–Perryville, Stone’s River, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge. It looks like he served from near the beginning of the war (September 1861) to the end (August 1865), but he started and finished as a private. His infantry unit (the 8th Kentucky Infantry) was eventually dissolved and absorbed into a mounted infantry unit (the 4th Kentucky Mounted Infantry). His wartime experience will likely look very different than L.K.’s.
I’m looking forward to learning more about William H. Jarvis. If anybody who stumbles across this blog has any information about him, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll try to post more as I learn more about him.