Friday, October 27, 2006

My Kinfolk Go to War

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored." If you know a bored god who needs work, have him or her submit a resume and sample miracles. We'll try to find a praise and worship team in need of good new leadership.

Samhain is almost upon us. And it should be of no surprise to those of you out there who work that life goes on no matter what. Last night my husband's local authorized a strike to begin at midnight, October 31. The vote in favor of strike was overwhelming. You see, the new owner of the plant wants to fire everyone anyway. Might as well picket.

I don't handle these things well. I'm an extremely anxious person. This anxiety derives from my father's kinfolk, who were the worryingest bunch of critters I ever saw. Two of them literally worried themselves to death. I hope I have time to tell you about it.

I give you good odds that I'll be the next fine Johnson to worry to death. Some have met worse fates.

Yesterday I told a true story from the dusty family annals about how my father's ancestors buried 13 runaway slaves who had committed mass suicide in the little family graveyard, rather than allow bounty hunters to take the bodies back south out of Pennsylvania into Virginia.

These Appalachian farmers had seen their share of hardship, including the death of children by many and varied illnesses. It's not possible, however, that they ever experienced anything quite like a mass suicide, including parents who willingly murdered their own offspring rather than return to slavery.

The opinions Dad's people held of slavery and their neighbors to the south is not recorded. I don't think it's a leap, though, to say that they already held slaveowners to be vermin, and this "Chaneysville Incident" just strengthened their views. Dad's people lived in a small community of large, hard-working farm families who all knew each other. The incident must have been a topic of conversation. (I know a scholar would accept this unscientific remark, so please be advised that it is possible that 13 people could commit suicide on your property and you wouldn't talk about it with your neighbors and kin. Possible but not bloody likely. What's the idle chatter going to turn to at the mill? The new spot of mange on the cow?)

At any rate, when the Civil War broke out in 1861, the township in which "The Chaneysville Incident" occurred just pretty much emptied out of all its young men. Anyone who was old enough to enlist grabbed a horse and headed out to fight Johnny Reb.

My research shows an Aaron Imes who served at South Mountain, was hospitalized for shell shock in Baltimore (sure sounds like kin), returned to duty and was wounded at Second Fredericksburg. He's from Bedford County, but not a direct ancestor.

Family research also shows a hardy bunch of brothers named Bennett - five of them - who all enlisted. Theirs would have been one of the nearest neighboring farms to the dread place where those slaves committed suicide.

The two oldest Bennett brothers took the horses and joined Coles Cavalry, the 1st Maryland, out of Cumberland. They were captured and sent to Georgia to a prison called Andersonville. One of them died there. The other, Cold Mountain-style, walked home and arrived at the family farm in deplorable condition.

This is oral tradition, subject to all the scrutiny thereof. The Andersonville survivor, my great-great-great uncle Enos, was so wretched-looking that his mother ran out into the field when she saw him coming, made him strip off his rags, and brought him bath water on the spot.

Okay, you can almost hear the soggy "Gone with the Wind" music playing through that one.

But the rest makes sense. The written family history says Enos Bennett claimed he lost his brother in an escape from Andersonville. They somehow leaped the fence and dived into the river, and the brother was drowned. That was Enos's story, and no one thought of traveling down to Georgia to see if there was a river anywhere near Andersonville Prison. There isn't.

Exhibit A: Andersonville Prison

Whatever really happened at Andersonville, Enos kept to himself. The family history notes that he was a holy terror for many years after the Civil War, always eager to fight, and always a fierce fighter. He was finally cured of this tendency by a pastor who helped him to find inner peace by praying to God.

As opposed to some government psychologists thoroughly grounded in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Of the five Bennett brothers who set out to the Civil War, only three returned. My great-great-great grandfather was one of them. He served as a Teamster. (Needed them then, sure need them now.)

I have another great-great grandfather who served four years and came home with chronic bronchitis. He tried valiantly to collect a government pension and got the first check two weeks after he died. (I've got the correspondence.) Another great-great-great grandfather was drafted as a 42-year-old father of five girl children. He was present at Appomattox.

Never having met any of these folks, I can't assign a motive for their service during the Civil War. Maybe they just were tired of milking cows. Maybe they thought it would be exciting, glorious ... and they'd get new clothes. But maybe they also felt called to put an end to the need to dig graves for people running from evil.

It's so uplifting to assign high moral values to your ancestors! Many and many a politician has done it with immoderate success.

Tomorrow we'll learn how to drill five holes into the tip of a human hair, side by side and in a perfect row. No, seriously. Really and truly! With the fringe benefit that we'll be able to worry the whole doggone time about this upcoming strike.

Top image: Statue at Andersonville Prison


Jodie said...

Please don't worry yourself to death. I'd miss your unique voice here.

Interrobang said...

I have an ancestor who fought (on the Canadian/British/winning side) in the War of 1812-14, and we have several of his letters to his family. His motives seem to have been that the army provided a steady paycheque, and it was considered the proper thing for a young unmarried man of his time, place, and social class to do as an occupation. Same as it ever was, I guess.

I'm sorry your husband is going on strike, but on the other hand, I'm glad that he's a) unionised, and b) not living in an at-will employment (also called "right-to-work" ha ha) jurisdiction.

Kelli Kidwell said...

Thanks for this Anne. I am a long lost cousin. Enos was my ggg grandfather too, and my great grandmother was a Johnson. I worry myself to death too, love birds, and on occasion have also endeared myself to a turkey vulture. It's funny what runs in families!