Your Civil War Memories
These are the Civil War memories submitted through our website, sharing personal accounts of interaction with history, memory, and the continuing presence of the Civil War in our society today. Our thanks to our contributors. Revisit this page often, as our archive grows.
A Family Tradition
Where to begin?, . . . the Civil War has been a continual presence in my life from my earliest childhood memories.
I remember being astonished as a second-grader to learn that my third great-grandfather fought in the war and to hear the remarkable story of his journey from Appomattox to Gastonburg, Alabama. After stacking his musket at Appomattox, William Leshore Fluker walked nearly 700 miles home, stopping to steal at least one watermelon from an obliging patch along the way. He later planted the seeds from that melon in his own garden, where they still grow around his ruined homesite deep in the woods of Alabama.
I remember family trips to Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Shiloh, Ft. Donelson, Vicksburg, Manassas, Mosby’s Confederacy, Cold Harbor, Richmond, Appomattox, and Gettysburg. In fact, as a thirteen year old I was given the choice of visiting Disney World or Virginia’s Civil War battlefields. Of course I chose Virginia.
My parents and I visited Lexington, Virginia, and the campus of Washington and Lee. I remember being amazed to see Lee’s trusty steed Traveler’s old stable doors wide open – the locals believe the ghost of the horse goes for gallops in the dead of night.
In fact, my Civil War memories are rife with ghosts. On a visit to Dover, Tennessee, near Ft. Donelson, my parents and I stayed in an old mansion that had once served as a field hospital. Tormented by scenes from “Gettysburg,” where amputated limbs piled up outside of windows, I was understandably on edge. A better candidate for a haunted house I couldn’t imagine. Suddenly, to my surprise, the doorknob in our room began to rattle and turn. My father threw open the door, ready to kung-fu an intruder, only to confront a long, deserted hallway.
Such experiences made the Civil War inseparable from my childhood and family memories. It has become very personal for me. Indeed, it hardly seems possible that the war ended over a century ago, when it is continually carried on in my family legends and vacation photo albums.
Amy Laurel Fluker
Jefferson City, Missouri
“War is Hell”
I had a great-grandfather who was a POW at Camp Ford in Tyler, Texas. He was in the 106th New York and a farmer in the Finger Lakes region of western New York. He was wounded at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. Thus, he was captured and spent seven months as a POW. He lived and came back home and farmed. I have his diary and can clearly see that “War is Hell.”
Mr. Herbert Swingle
Fairport, New York
I grew up going to Gulfport, Mississippi during the summer to stay with my grandparents. They encouraged me to go to many different camps. My grandfather, who was a member of the board at Beauvoir, wanted me to attend a camp in the basement of Beauvoir. We learned all about the Civil War, from how they dressed to the “language of the fan.” At the end of the camp, we would dress up and have a dance and ceremony. I went for many years and became friends with the reenactment group there. They took me on a couple of reenactments and, after hearing ghost stories, I decided maybe I should stay at home. One of the women in the group told me about how she went to use the restroom and a cold hand went up her thigh! After that, they made the men escort us. Even though I didn’t stay in the reenactment group, I have enjoyed learning about my past and visiting battle sites. My grandfather had pictures of Confederate soldiers in our family and helped me join the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Being the son of immigrants, I lack the strong ties to the Civil War that many American southerners possess. My ancestors never fought alongside Robert E. Lee nor were they decimated by Sherman’s March to the Sea. I had studied the Civil War as if it were any other topic taught in school; my heart contained no special place for the matter.
Yet, perhaps it should. In my seemingly fruitless search to find a Civil War memory, I realized that memory does not have to be something tangible, nor does it have to consciously affect one’s life. No, I have not visited the battlefield at Gettysburg, nor listened to stories about antebellum relatives, or even watched Gone With the Wind, but the Civil War era has no doubt significantly impacted my own life. In fact, had the events not transpired as they did, it is almost certain that I would not be where I am today: a non-white living in the heart of the former Confederacy. Furthermore, the Civil War has helped shape, both consciously and unconsciously, who we are as Americans, especially down in the South. We are, in some regards, still distinct as a region. While not a true southerner, I have undoubtedly been affected by the supposed culture that pervades the Deep South, whether I am aware of it or not. Therefore, I remember the Civil War not as someone with direct bloodlines to the affair, but as one of the many others who see the ramifications of the war every day. Memory is more than the past; it is actively alive in the present, and I remember the Civil War as such.
Originally hailing from Northern Virginia as I do, Civil War history has been deeply entrenched in my life since a very early age. Throughout my elementary education, the Civil War was always the most prominent part of our history curriculum, and my teachers always taught it with more passion than their other lessons. I grew up one county north of Prince William County, which is where the first official battle of the Civil War was fought (at Manassas), so we frequently visited it as a field trip. I remember being out on that battlefield and feeling the hair on my neck rise. Standing on such hallowed ground, where so much blood had been shed between kin and countrymen alike, had an impact on me that has lasted the rest of my life. I became fascinated with the war and its characters, particularly fellow Virginians like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The fact that these men, despite not condoning the cause of the war, remained loyal to their state and fought until the bitter end was very complex and interesting to me, and I wanted to know more. These early memories provided me with the foundation and motivation to discover as much as I could about this historic event, and I continue to do so to this day.
For Christmas 2009, my aunt bought me a subscription to Ancestry.com, something I had long wanted. I became literally addicted to it, staying up until two and three in the morning often times just to find more information on my relatives. One of my favorite eras in history is the Civil War era, so I was especially interested to find information on my forefathers who served. So far, I’ve found my great great grandfather, John Taylor Sanford (1846-1923), who served in Co. B, 9th Mississippi cavalry and fought at Vicksburg; my great great great grandfather, Willima M. “Bill” Vinzant (1811-1887), who was a well known and wealthy cattle farmer in Smith County, and was captain in Co. K, 3rd Mississippi cavalry; and, most interesting of them all, my great great great grandfather, Samuel Jospeh Sills (1834-1865), who died as a Confederate prisoner of war at Camp Case, Ohio. Sills is buried in plot #918 at the Confederate cemetery at Camp Chase.
A Tale of Two Wars
Just before my cousin, William O. Lease, joined the Navy during WWII, our grandmother, Margaret Blanche Rutherford, told him of our Uncle James who fought for the Union in the Civil War. She hoped to discourage her great-nephew from joining the Navy, so she told him the tragic story of James’s death in vivid detail. She told him that James had also been young and rebellious. Though most of my ancestors belonged to the Comanche Tribe in Oklahoma during the Civil War, they had also lived in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, and Kansas. During the move from Kansas, James ran off to join the Union Army in early 1861. The family heard from him only once and never knew if he was alive--until one day their fears were realized. A young man came to announce James’s death to his family. This young man told them that he and James had both fought in the Battle of Balls Bluff in Virginia. The Union troops were extremely outnumbered and had been forced to retreat. Hundreds fell from the Bluff, some falling on their fellow soldiers’ bayonets and others falling into the water. James, he said, fell into the water after his boat capsized because there were too many men trying to find a spot onboard. James never liked the water and had never been much of a swimmer. He was never recovered and presumably drowned. My grandmother was proud that James had given his service to the Union, leading to her membership in the ladies’ auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic.