Friday, 26 February 2016

My Family History from the American Civil War

Once upon a time, as a civil war raged in their country, four men joined hundreds of thousands of others by signing up to fight for the just cause. None of the four died on the battlefield and eventually they returned home where they all lived happily ever after.

But that isn't quite the way it turned out, as you shall see.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) marked a dark chapter in the history of the United States. About the same number of American soldiers died during the Civil War as have died from all other American wars combined.

The first two stories below are about my second and third great grandfathers who served as Union soldiers. The other two men, also Union soldiers, are not blood relatives being related to me only through marriage to my second great grandmother. However, their stories are an important part of my family history and it will be seen that the death of the one man really enabled the existence of my whole branch of the tree.

All four men were older than the norm at the time of their enlistment (Christian Hoover especially so) and all suffered health complaints for the rest of their lives as a result of the conditions they encountered during their service. Since discovering the Civil War records for these men, I have become much more interested in the details of soldiers' lives during their war service and the long-term effects it had on them and their families.

  • Christian Hoover (1809-1897) - served 1861-1862 as a private in Co. C, 11th Illinois Cavalry Regiment  

My third great grandfather Christian Hoover signed up early on in the War. His strong feelings against slavery likely served as his motivation.

Recruiting for the 11th Illinois Cavalry began in October of 1861, and recruits started going into camp at Camp Lyon, Peoria, Illinois about the beginning of November. Twelve full companies were recruited and mustered into the United States service by Captain Watson on 20 December 1861. Christian Hoover, actually age 52 but lying to shave 10 years of his age, was included in the group mustered and mounted that day. (The distinction between the cavalry that Christian Hoover served in and the infantry that the other three men served in is that although all road horses, infantry members dismounted to fight while cavalry remained mounted.)

The new recruits remained at Camp Lyon until 22 February 1862 when they broke camp and marched some 10 days to Benton Barracks, Missouri. There they were armed with revolvers and sabers. On 25 March the first Battalion embarked by boat to Tennessee and the remainder of the Regiment followed the next day. They landed at Crump's Landing and Pittsburg Landing on 1 April and set up camp.

The first actual fighting commenced on 6 April. Several men were killed and wounded that day and the next in what is known as the Battle of Shiloh. The Regiment was on duty up to the capture at Corinth and participated in the raid in which the railroad track was torn up at Purdie.

Although the Regiment would go on to see much additional action for the duration of the War, Christian Hoover's war ended with his discharge on account of disability making him unfit for duty on 1 July 1862. While participating in the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, he had contracted rheumatism, chronic diarrhoea and piles which caused him excruciating pain for the rest of his life. During the War, the 11th Regiment lost 2 officers and 32 enlisted men  as a result of military action while it lost 8 officers and 237 enlisted men to disease. The Civil War continued to take its toll for decades with men like Christian Hoover whose health would never recover.

Over the years, Christian and wife Mary suffered financially from his inability to work and attempted to get special increases in his pension claim.  Pensions for veterans who had suffered war-related disabilities (and their widows and children under 16) became available from 1862 onward, but by 1890, pensions were based on age and length of service. Disability seemed to continue to entitle one to additional benefits. One affidavit from Christian dated 23 January 1893 indicated that the $17/month pension was insufficient to keep them in medicine and incidental expenses. He was affiliated with the veterans group G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) and local members rallied to provide some aid.

Tombstone of Christian Hoover - photo courtesy Jean Pinnick

Christian's illness eventually got the best of him and depression set in. On 15 December 1897 he ended his suffering by shooting himself in the head with a 32-calibre pistol, yet another (belated) casualty of the American Civil War.

A secondary victim of the War was Christian's widow Mary, left penniless and nearly blind in her old age.

  • George Garner Wescott (1836-1916) - served 1864-1865 as a private in Co. D, 12th Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
With the average age of a Civil War soldier being 18, they were often referred to as "boys". My 2nd great grandfather George Garner Wescott didn't enlist at the beginning of the Civil War, but waited until 1864 to do so. By then he was 28 years old, considerably older than average.

The procedure for enlisting involved a local community "Captain" who would recruit about 100 boys from his area. At the beginning of the War, the period of enlistment was 3 months and the amount of training was minimal. Taverns in small towns usually had a ballroom which was converted into accommodations for the new recruits with 10 beds lined up on each side of the room. There was often an initiation into the "order" with much noise and high-jinx involved.

The first training would have occurred in their local areas with the Captain who had recruited them, after which they headed to Camp Randall, about a mile beyond the city of Madison, WI. The recruits were housed in conical tents set on raised wooden floors, 20 men to a tent. There was barely room for them to sleep. There was a hole in the centre of the tents, bricked at the bottom and sides and covered with a sheet of iron for a fire. There was no way to control the heat; often men would be soaked with perspiration in the tent and then head out into the frigid cold for training drills or guard duty. Like Christian Hoover, so many of the men developed a condition labelled "rheumatism" with painful swollen joints, blaming their condition on those early tent heaters.

A couple of years before George joined up, the 12th had left Wisconsin for Kansas in January of 1862. They travelled by train (sometimes in hay cars) and sometimes by steamer, but often marched for days on end. Notwithstanding being called "infantry", there is little mention made of riding horses. Many of the men ended up with frostbite. They weren't always well supplied with food or tents and sometimes had to sleep on the ground in the mud and snow. Diarrhea was common.

One rainy night they were called out and formed up in front of their Colonel Bryant's tent. The Colonel had a newspaper in hand and, with tears rolling down his cheeks, he read them the account of the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in which many Wisconsin men known to them had died. (It may be noted that this was one of the few battles in which my other ancestor Christian Hoover from Illinois had taken part.)

The 12th eventually also made its way to Tennessee. While in Memphis, many of the men contracted smallpox. The company took an active role in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. By July they were attached to the Third Brigade, 4th Division, 16th Army Corps but temporarily attached to the 13th as they began the expedition to Jackson. The weather was hot and sultry and many of the men dropped with heat exhaustion. The group also took part in the Meridian Campaign early in 1864. After over 2 years and some 400 miles of marching, fighting and destroying railroads, their uniforms were disintegrating. Shabby soldiers were without shoes and some even without trousers. With new recruits arriving, the veterans were sent home on much-needed furlough.

George Wescott - not clear whether this is George Garner or another of the George Wescotts
One of those new recruits was  Private George Garner Wescott who signed up to join Company "D" of the 12th Wisconsins on 15 October 1864 at Milwaukee. George left wife Sarah and three young children behind. His record indicates that he was 5 feet 5 inches tall, blue-eyed and black-haired. Interestingly, he enlisted as "Garner Westcott" and his record points out that the surname was sometimes given as "Wescott". It is believed that he enlisted under his unusual middle name to differentiate himself from the more ubiquitous "George" since there was at least one other George Wescott listed. (Cousin Jack Brown recently found evidence that George was named for an uncle named George Gardiner Wescott, with the name "Gardiner" being the maiden name of a maternal ancestor.)

George entered the War in time to participate battles at Orangebury, Columbia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and in Sherman's famous "March to the Sea" through Georgia late in 1864. An excellent Civil War website with more information about the various battles can be found through this link.

Fortunately for George (and his descendants), the war ended early in 1865. George took part in the Grand Review of the armies in Washington, D.C. on 24 May 1865 shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln. George returned home, mustering out at Madison on 16 July 1865. He returned to his life of farming and carpentering. He and Sarah went on to have five more children, including my great grandmother Mary Jane ("Mayme") Wescott.

In his Claimant's Affidavit in support of his Civil War Pension application, filed in 1890, George says that he has been afflicted with Rheumatism and Kidney Complaint (contracted in the U.S. Service) "and have been afflicted with the same ever since my discharge from the Service. But thought I would never apply for a Pension as long as I could earn a living for myself and Family, with their assistance. My Family are all grown up and their own masters and I cannot look to them for assistance. That I am often laid up for days and weeks at a time, wholly unable to do any manual labor by reason of Rheumatism and Kidney Complaint. Can safely say that I have not been able to do one fourth of an ordinary man's labor since my discharge from the Service."

His neighbor John Taggart swore an affidavit in support of his 1890 application, saying that he'd known him to suffer from rheumatism and lame back for 25 years. Another neighbor, Alfred Aspinall, swore that he had known Wescott since 1860 at which time he had been sound and able-bodied. Aspinall went on to say that after the war, he noticed he was a different man physically, troubled with rheumatism and kidney trouble. The surgeon's certificate confirmed rheumatism and kidney trouble and also mentioned heart problems and indicated that overall his general condition was poor. He weighed 133 pounds at the time and was 55 years of age. George's application was accepted.

George died of heart failure 19 May 1916 at age 80. His accrued pension of $22.50 was paid out to widow Sarah in 1916. By then, Sarah was making her own application for a Widow's Pension. The confusion over her husband's names continued to haunt the process and necessitated additional documentation and correspondence, but she did receive a widow's pension until her own death in 1932.

Other Wescotts in the War

George Garner was not the only Wescott who went off to fight. There were three other Westcotts who had also served in the same unit as George: Ananias, Willet and Erskine Westcott - all three had been discharged for disability prior to the end of the War.

George's first cousin Morgan Ebenezer Wescott served in Co.E of the 17th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Ebenezer signed up at the age of 17 and truly was one of the "boys".

Morgan Ebenezer Wescott
Photo provided by paulj on Find a Grave website
Ebenezer's letters home to his mother during the War were later published by him in 1909 as a book called "Civil War Letters, 1861 to 1865". These letters are fascinating for the detail they offer about daily life of the soldiers as well as for how freely he was able to describe what was going on in the War without being censored. His first letter was from Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin dated 19 January 1862. On 28 June 1862, his letter from Corinth, Mississippi contained the following: "There is a good deal of sickness among the troops and it is on account of bad water. We have to go to the Tuscumbia river after water and that is several miles away. The water is hauled in wagons. Each company has a barrel and the team (6 mules) to go twice a day and when we get the water it is not fit to drink. We have lost three men of our company by sickness. Mother, you thought when I came away from home that I was so young that I could not stand the hardships. Well, the boys stand it better than the old men. Not one of the boys in our company has been sick as yet."

In another letter to his parents from Vicksburg, Mississippi on 20 June, Ebenezer described how they were so close to the enemy's position that neither side dared show their heads above the sandbags topping their pits. During the day, they were on their guard, "but at night we sometimes have a picnic." He described how they would start up a conversation, calling each other "Yank" or "Johnny" and deciding to get together for a friendly chat, albeit with rifles in hand. "There are usually six or eight of us together, and two or three will meet them half way between the rifle pits, and sometimes talk for two hours. They are just as sociable and friendly as if we were brothers. They always want coffee and we give them some, if we have it, and we generally have some, and when we part they will never shoot until they say, "Hello, Yank! You in your hole yet?" We answer, "Yes." "All right then." Maybe they blaze away a dozen or more shots and we do the same. What do you think of that?"

Ebenezer's letters also described how they would never help themselves to the abundant Southern fruit, watermelon and sweet potatoes, "except it happens to be in our way and we make it convenient to have it in our way." At Beaufort, South Carolina, they all enjoyed the oysters from the beach. But they weren't just there to enjoy the food and he described marching through swamp with water hip-deep and how difficult it was to find a dry place large enough to lay down at night, "but the boys don't grumble."

Despite his youth, Ebenezer eventually did get sick near the end of the War. He was hospitalized but returned home to his parents. The next year he married and started his own family and lived until the age of 81.

  • Lewis C. Edwards (c.1834-1866) - served 1862-1865 in Company "C" of the 112th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry

On 24 October 1861 in Henry County, Illinois, my widowed 2nd great grandmother Barbara Hoover married as her second husband a widower named Lewis Edwards. This was the same month that recruiting for soldiers in the War was beginning in Illinois. Barbara's father Christian Hoover had signed up almost immediately.

Lewis had been born about 1834 in Frank Town, Huntingdon County (now Frankstown, Blair County), Pennsylvania. His first wife Mary had died 28 September 1860. No record has been found of any children for Lewis and Mary.

Newlywed Lewis waited until the summer of 1862 after President Lincoln called for an additional 300,000 soldiers before signing up for a 3 year term. He enlisted as a Private in Company "C" of the 112th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

At Peoria, the men received uniforms, equipment and some training. Unlike many other regiments, the officers were elected by the men. By October they left for Cincinnati and preparation for active service in the field. The men spent the first of many nights spreading out their blankets and sleeping on the ground under the stars. Most of the "transportation" was done on foot, marching from one place to the next. Foraging for food was common. Water supplies were not always reliable. The 112th remained in camp at Lexington over the winter, which was a miserable damp one. Many of the men became ill. By March 1863, 300 of the men in the regiment were ill and 32 had died from illness. It does not appear that they had yet seen any "action".

Their first encounter with the rebels occurred in Kentucky and was a fairly civilized and bloodless affair. While on reconnaissance, about 25 men of the 112th under the command of Captain Dow were surrounded and taken prisoner by a group of 250 Rebel cavalry under the command of Captain Morgan. The Rebels took their hats, coats, boots, gloves and all valuables before allowing them to return to the Union side. The next day, a smaller group of the same Rebels was surrounded by Union forces and Captain Dow was able to get his gloves returned by Captain Morgan with thanks for their use. Lewis Edwards was not listed among the men involved in these almost-friendly skirmishes.

In fact, Lewis Edwards was reported as having "deserted" at Lexington, Kentucky on 1 January 1863. It turned out that he had not, in fact, deserted, but had been in hospital at the time. He was one of the many men who had fallen ill during that first miserable winter. Additional medical records show that he was admitted to the hospital at Camp Nelson, Kentucky on 18 April 1864 for stomach problems and furloughed to his regiment 26 September 1864. Again on 12 May 1865 he was admitted to the hospital at Camp Douglas near Chicago, Illinois until his discharge from service 31 July 1865.  It seems that he had contracted tuberculosis from which he never recovered. His Certificate of Disability for Discharge was dated 6 July 1865 in Camp Douglas, Illinois stated that he was totally disabled as a result of pneumonia contracted while in Service.

Affidavits filed in support of his widow Barbara's pension application made for herself and for their twin daughters Minnie/Mary and Grace/Martha imply that Lewis's health had continually declined. Samuel Blackfan swore that he had known Lewis before he went into the army and that he "knew him to be a man of robust figure, and have good reason to believe he possessed good health up to the time he enlisted." He went on to say that he didn't see him after his return home until shortly before his death, that he was present at his death and assisted in preparing the body for burial. He said that "his body was in a very emaciated condition and indicated that he had been sick for a considerable length of time."

It is questionable whether Lewis Edwards actually sired any children. His first wife Mary Harbison had died, apparently childless, in 1860 at age 30. Although Barbara had given birth to one son Samuel in her first marriage, she did not become pregnant during the 10 or so months of marriage to Lewis prior to his departure for War. The year given for the birth of his supposed twin daughters 28 November of 1865 or 1866 is inconsistent in the records and may well have been sometimes slanted toward the earlier year in an attempt to obtain orphans' pensions for the two daughters. If they were actually born in 1866, it would have been a bit more than 9 months after Lewis's death. One has to wonder whether he would have been capable of fathering a child given his severe disability and failing health even if they were conceived early in 1865 and born later that year. He is said to have been home on furlough in February of 1865. If the twins were born in November of 1865, it would have been after Lewis was sent home to die, but Barbara gave birth to them at her sister's home in a completely different state. Why leave her dying husband? It is all a bit of a mystery.

In any event, Lewis definitely was NOT the father of Barbara's youngest son, my great grandfather Charles F. Edwards who was born in Keokuk, Iowa in February 1869, a full three years after Lewis's death. Although we don't know who Charles's father actually was, it would have been unlikely that Barbara would have developed a relationship with this unnamed man had Lewis lived.

Union Gravestone for Lewis Edwards at Western Township Cemetery near Orion, Henry County, Illinois
Photo by Craig Otto from Find a Grave website

  • George W. Payton (c.1820-1893) - served 1862-1865 in Company "B" of the 33rd Regiment of Iowa Infantry Volunteers

Meanwhile, in Iowa, on 9 August 1862, a man named George Payton (senior) enrolled for service as a Private with Company "B" of the 33rd Regiment of Iowa Infantry Volunteers. He was 42 years old when he enlisted. A large man at 6 feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds, he had sandy hair and hazel/grey eyes. 

There was a George W. Payton (junior), age 23, who also enlisted in Company "B" of the 33rd Regiment. Given George Senior's age, this is probably his son. There were possibly other children as well. The younger George was captured and later paroled in February 1863 at Yazoo Pass, Arkansas.

In October of 1862, George senior contracted smallpox near St. Louis, Missouri. From then until January 1863 he was treated at Bloody Island, near St. Louis. The disease settled in his eyes, partially blinding him and making him unfit for further military action. He served as orderly to General Rice until Rice's death in 1864 and then served with the Quartermaster, often driving ambulances. He was honorably discharged at the end of the War on 17 July 1865 in New Orleans. George junior mustered out the same day and place.

George senior went on to have several more children after the War: Robert born 1866, Jacob born 1868 and Mary born 1870. His wife died sometime between 1870-1873. According to Affidavits filed in his Pension Application, he returned from the War suffering from impaired eyesight and painful eyes and was unable to perform a full day's labour after his return.

He eventually received a pension for the disease of the eyes that he suffered as a result of smallpox contracted during the War.

Widowed Barbara Hoover Edwards (under the name Margaret Alice Edwards) married widower George W. Payton on 18 August 1873 in What Cheer, Keokuk County, Iowa. By then George would have been in his early 50's and needing assistance with many of his daily activities. George was a friend or at least an acquaintance of Barbara's family for some years prior to this. Barbara's sister Kate (Hoover) Lefler had helped look after him upon his return from the War and Barbara's father Doctor Christian Hoover had given him treatment for his eyes and both swore Affidavits in support of George's Pension Application.

Civil War gravestone for George W. Payton, Burlingame City Cemetery
Photo Courtesy Jean Pinnick of Find a Grave website
Whether this was a marriage for George and Barbara's mutual convenience rather than a love match can be surmised. Certainly George needed a care-giver and Barbara needed the respectability of a husband. The two ran a boarding house, but it seems that George wasn't living with her in Independence, Kansas, at the time of her death from a tumor in 1890. No mention is made of him in her obituaries although he outlived her by some three years. Barbara's burial location cannot be located, but she does not seem to be with George at Burlingame, Kansas.

Final Thoughts:

It has been said that for every 3 men killed on the Civil War battlefield, 5 died of disease. Medical care was rudimentary. Sanitation was mostly absent. Emotional trauma was not recognized then as it is now, with the result that thousands of cases of post traumatic stress disorder went completely unreported and unrecognized.

Men like Christian Hoover, George Garner Wescott, Lewis Edwards and George Payton were typical of the men who signed up to fight for either side during the American Civil War. No doubt at some level all accepted that they were risking death on the battlefield. It is doubtful that they fully appreciated what hardships they would face in terms of food, clothing, sanitation, medical care and shelter during their service. It is even less likely that they foresaw that disease contracted during the War would so dramatically affect them and their families for decades to come. 


  • Singer, Peggy M. (ed.), "The Marching Twelfth - The Story of the Twelfth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment as Told by the Men Who Served in It", Heritage Books 2007 (based on an unpublished group of stories collected by Hosea Rood, 1893)
  • Westcott, Morgan Ebenezer, "Civil War Letters, 1861-1865 - Written by a Boy in Blue to his Mother", 1909 
  • Illinois Regimental and Unit Histories website accessed 29 September 2015 at
  • Civil War website accessed 29 September 2015 at
  • Civil War Pension application files for George Garner Wescott, Christian Hoover, George Payton and Lewis Edwards, National Archives, Washington, DC
  • Thompson, B. F. (late Captain of the Regiment),"History of the 112th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer in the Great War of the Rebellion 1862-1865", Toulon, Illinois, 1885; full text accessed online on 22 February 2016 at