Friday, August 7, 2015

Harshbarger line: William Withers, Civil War and Pension Records

Again, it is a joy to be able to share the story of William A. Withers, 1840-1912, as found in his Civil War and Pension records.  Again, it's a story of one of the masses of soldiers who went into the war a private, and came out of the war a private, with difficulties incurred in service (also before and after, in William's case) that affected the rest of his life. We read about the generals who became U.S. President of CEO of some big company, but the story of the privates is largely untold.  I've previously written about George R. Allen (Allen line) and David Wise (Beeks line), and now it's time to tell William's story.

He was born, according to his statement, on February 24th, 1840 in Frederick, Ohio, which was in either Richland County or Knox County, depending on which affidavit we look at.  (His family's 1840 census record shows them in Morris Township, Knox County, Ohio at the time of the census.)  When he was just a baby, he rolled or fell into the fire and the middle, ring, and little fingers of his right hand were burned off to the distal joints. (I can't imagine how painful this must have been, and how horrible it would have been for his mother!) As he grew, his burned fingers did not grow with him and they were eventually just small stumps which turned inward on his palm, with no range of motion to them. 

This was a challenge, but he learned to overcome it because he enlisted in Company C of the 15th Ohio Infantry on August 30, 1861.  Apparently he could still use his "trigger finger" and so was acceptable according to the standards of the time.  He enlisted for a term of three years.  On one of his musters, his residence at the time of enlisting was c/o Mordecai Bartley, Mansfield, Ohio.  (I've done just a little bit of research on this man, who was a U.S. Congressman and governor of Ohio, but I haven't yet found a family connection.)  William is variously listed as having enlisted at Lexington and at Mansfield, Ohio.  Most likely he took the oath and signed preliminary papers at Lexington, but went to Mansfield when the company was actually formed.

For the first year or so of his service, there is little information other than he was present at company roll calls.  However, he was sick beginning about July 28,1862 with the diarrhea/dysentery that was so common with the troops.  This was at Discard Station, Tennessee, and he was treated, apparently in the hospital at Talahoonia, (I wonder if this should be Tullahoma, but I give it as I see it) by the surgeon in charge of the hospital there.  It fascinates me that he was also treated by a "citizen physician."  This was in Tennessee, early in the war.  Was this physician a volunteer who came to help the Union troops?  Was he a Union sympathizer?  Or was he more or less pressed into service by the Union?  Someone could write a novel about this, or at least a short story!

After this, we find William was a teamster and usually was on detail somewhere at Division Headquarters.  He seems to have hauled supplies for about a year.  A teamster did not have an easy job because they had to be up at dawn to feed and care for their horses or mules, and they had to take care of the animals the last thing at night.  In between, they worked long, hard hours through all kinds of weather, hauling whatever needed to be hauled to keep the men supplied.  However, it did give a weakened man a chance to take a break when he needed to, and probably allowed for a more frequent answer of a call of nature, which may explain why William received this assignment.  After about a year, he was moved from teamster to ambulance driver.  This seems to be his assignment when he was located at Corinth, Mississippi according to the affidavit of Thomas Bowsher, who later claimed in Columbia City that he had known William at Corinth.  There are several payroll reports where he is detailed at Bridgeport, Alabama as an ambulance driver.  It's not clear whether he went out into the field to pick up wounded soldiers, or whether he met them at the railroad station or steamboat landings, but he must have been a busy man. 

William did not re-enlist when his term of service was up.  He had been at Corinth, he was at Atlanta for that battle, where he received the damage to his ears that would eventually result in loss of hearing (he was very near the cannonading, according to an affidavit later in life), he had spent a year hauling sick and wounded soldiers to the hospital, and he was not well himself.  At his discharge in Chattanooga, Tn. on September 20, 1864, he received the $100 bounty he was due from his date of entry, and he was on his way home.

We don't really know where he went, but he was in Columbia City, Indiana by 1865.  Apparently he worked in a woolen mill in the city or nearby, because later he told of rheumatism in his right knee that was caused by being "wound around a line shaft."  He injured his shoulder then, too, but it must have healed for there is no other mention of that in the pension records.  On June 16, 1867 he married Barbery Cook, even though he was hard of hearing, had chronic diarrhea, and had a knee injury.  It makes me think he must have been a charming man with other good qualities. 

During the next years, he raised a family, farmed, and did some manual labor although affidavits say he was frequently sick and unable to do more than half a man's work.  In 1889, as the pension became closer to reality, William started gathering his affidavits and getting physical exams. In 1890, it became much easier to get a pension, and William wanted to make sure he was ready to qualify.  He did qualify for an $8 pension, which was later raised to $12 and eventually to $24, in 1904.  Along the way, he had numerous physical exams in which he was diagnosed with chronic diarrhea, rheumatism in the right knee, impaired right hand due to loss of fingers, deafness, disease of the neck and throat, and lumbago, not necessarily all on the same exam.  He was rejected a couple of times for an increase in pension, but appealed and eventually won out 

Among those who made affidavits for him, other than physicians, were Christian Hawn, Alexander Kemery, Albert Cook, and Henry Keiser.  It is possible that all of these men were somehow related to William, or would be related, through their children or grandchildren.  

William died October 5, 1912 and his wife "Barbery", which is specifically noted as how she spelled her name, applied for a widow's pension a week later.  This was granted and she received it until her death on October 29, 1915.

We've been to William's grave site and we put a flag on the grave, because we knew he had been in the Civil War.  It's nice to now be able to have some details of his life, and to understand more of the sacrifices he made for his country.  Thank you, William A Withers, and the hundreds of thousands of men like you! 

The line of descent is:

William Withers-Barbara Cook
William Withers-Della Kemery
Goldie Withers-Grover Harshbarger
Cleveland Harshbarger-Mary Margaret Beeks
Their descendents