Category Archives: Historic Events

Prisoner of War: Capture and Release

William McCabe Anderson, 1841-1902

William McCabe Anderson

William Mc Cabe Anderson, former prisoner of war.

 

Today I talk about the contrasting experience of two brothers, one who died and one who was captured and spent a year as a prisoner of war, but returned to live out his life at home.

Erasmus Anderson was the son of my 3x great-grandfather, John Anderson and his first wife, Emma Allison. William was the son of  John Anderson and his second wife, Isabella McCabe Anderson, my 3x great-grandmother.  When her first son was born, Isabella honored her family name by using McCabe for William’s middle name.

 

Two Brothers Go to War

Civil War Regimental Flag

Civil War 16th OVI Regimental Flag

You may have read the letters of Erasmus Anderson, my great-great uncle who served on the Union side in the Civil War and died at Vicksburg.  In his letters, he sometimes refers to his younger half- brother Will (William McCabe Anderson), who was also a soldier. For a time the two served side by side as their respective companies marched together as part of the 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. William’s obituary hints that he was imprisoned at the infamous Andersonville, and I wanted to get at the actual story of his service and his time as a prisoner of war.

Will enlisted in the army one year earlier than his brother, Erasmus. He was twenty years old and unmarried when Union patriots in Ohio began staging giant rallies to encourage enlistment.  Young Will, who was listed on the census of 1860 as a farm worker on his family farm, did not have any specific plans for his life, and no doubt the war sounded like a great adventure. On September 12, 1861, Will signed up in the same regiment that his brother would later join–16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (16th OVI). William was in Company B, made up entirely of men and boys from Monroe Township of Holmes County.

After gathering at Camp Tiffin in Wooster, Ohio during September and October, the new recruits were loaded onto trains and traveled by rail to Cincinnati’s Camp Dennison. (Follow the link to see two pictures from Camp Dennison.)

I have no letters from William, so have to depend on the newspaper report of the OVI 16.  Captain Theodore D. Wolbach wrote about the Regiment twenty years after the fact.  These wonderfully detailed accounts, published in the Holmes County Republican newspaper under the banner “From the Field” covered every movement of the regiment from 1861 until the surviving soldiers mustered out in 1864.

Not only does Wolbach fill in the details of the battles, but he also gives us sometimes hilarious and sometimes devastating descriptions of the everyday life of the Union Soldiers.  We are fortunate to have those articles, accompanied by additional battle maps, photographs and reams of information on OVI 16 at the website maintained by Michael Wood. I used that website for extensive research while I was writing about Erasmus Anderson, and will not repeat all of the information here.

The Making of a Soldier

In mid December the recruits traveled by boat , railroad and foot to Lexington Kentucky, where they stayed until mid January 1862. ( The beginning of many ‘hurry up and wait’ orders for this regiment.)

During the last half of January, the new recruits were broken in with daily marches of varying lengths, and Wolbach reports several days that they marched all day in the rain. When they arrived at Camp Duncan in Pulaski County, Kentucky (the area called The Wilderness), they spent ten days waiting. After all that marching, this break probably was quite welcome.

More marching through February, until they engaged in their first big battle–the campaign to secure Cumberland Gap.  Will had now been in the army five and a half months, and the regiment saw its first casualty at the end of April, two more months into his life as a soldier. The Cumberland Gap operation took time, and was not firmly in Union hands until June 18, 1862. However, the Rebels did not give up and the Union army found themselves under siege at Cumberland Gap in August until by September 8 and 10, the commander’s order them to withdraw from a hopeless battle.

Brothers Reunite

The now battle-hardened soldiers cheered the arrival of new recruits in October.  It is wonderful to imagine the enthusiasm with which the hardened, muddy, bedraggled Will Anderson welcomed his brother Erasmus, who had recently joined up. They had not seen each other for a year, and there must have been much catching up to do as the younger brother, now having gained the respect due to the tested troops, talked with his older brother whose feet were just beginning to toughen up from the long marches. Not only was this a family reunion, but the companies they belonged to were packed with men from Holmes County–men they knew well–had gone to church and school with–had harvested each others crops–and now were called upon to protect each other’s lives.

The day after Christmas, a steamboat took the troops to the Johnson plantation beside the Chickasaw Bayou. The battle that started the next day, the opening of the campaign against Vicksburg Mississippi,  was hopelessly difficult.  The 16th Regiment’s beloved Col. DeCourcey an Englishman who had volunteered service with the Union, did not believe his troops should have been given orders to make a suicidal attack on a bluff on December 29. The Southerners had brought in reinforcements and commanded the high ground  But General William Tecumseh Sherman was reported to have said, “We are going to lose 5000 at Vicksburg. We might as well lose them now.”

A Disaster for the Union

Sherman’s later report on the battle still rankled twenty years later when Wolbach wrote in the Holmes County Republican that he must correct the record.  It was not true that the men of the 16th were not up to the job and refused to follow orders to attack. Rather, they did everything they were called upon to do until they were pinned down by such devastating fire that they could not move.

By January 2, 1863 Sherman had decided further attempts were useless, and he ordered the troops to withdraw.

208 Union men were killed, 1005 wounded and 563 captured or missing. The South lost 63 dead, 104 wounded and 10 dead. It was a devastating defeat for the Union, and a warning that Grant’s plan to capture Vicksburg was not going to be easy.

William is a Prisoner of War

On January 5, 1863, Erasmus wrote home that he hoped that William was taken prisoner (rather than being killed.) He had no idea of the fate of his brother, who had been captured on December 29 and held in Pearl River Bridge camp, near Jackson Mississippi, where he was held as a prisoner of war until November the following year. The camp was built in and around a covered bridge. The prisoners of war were not allowed blankets. They could not build fires for warmth or cooking, or light candles because of fear of fire. Although that camp caused much illness and many deaths–probably including a lingering lung ailment for William,–the camp at Jackson was nowhere near the horror of Andersonville (Fort Sumpter).  See a sketch of the unusual setting here.

Sad News Greets His Release a Year Later

On November 10, 1863, the men who had been captured were released to join their comrades in Algiers, Louisiana  There, Wolbach reports, the men had a good time catching oysters and clams in the bays. Perhaps William survived because he was young and used to hard living.

Surely Will would have written to his family, and learned from them that his brother Erasmus had died at Vicksburg May 22, 1863, five months after Will’s capture. Sad news to follow the joy of his own release from the prisoner of war camp.

I lose track of Will’s wartime path at this point, although I know that some of the men who had been held as a prisoner of war were given a furlough and rested at home for some months before returning to their regiments.  I do know that Will continued to serve until the OVI 16 was dismissed on November 4, 1864.

Did he see further battles after being held as a prisoner of war? Did he join the enormous march in Washington D.C. to celebrate the end of the war? That I do not know.

I will write more later about Will and his life before and after the war.

How I am Related

  • Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the daughter of
  • Leonard Guy Anderson, who is the son of
  • Joseph Anderson, who is the son of
  • John Anderson and Isabelle McCabe Anderson, the parents  of
  • William McCabe Anderson

Notes on Research

United States Federal Census, 1860, Ohio, Holmes County, Monroe Township.

United States Federal Census , Veteran’s  Schedule, Ohio, Holmes County Monroe Township The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Number: M123; Record Group Title: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Record Group Number: 15; Census Year: 1890

Holmes County (Ohio) Republican, series entitled Camp & Field, by Capt. Theodore David Wolbach. Published Feb 24, 1881 to August 17, 1882.  Accessed at the website dedicated to the 16th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 

Letters from Erasmus Anderson, from copies provided by a relative, published at Ancestors in Aprons.

Bent’s Fort, Book Gives A Close-Up View of a Distant Relative

Charles Bent (1799-1847); William Wells Bent(1809-1869); George Bent (1814-1846); Robert Bent (1816-1841).

Wouldn’t it be nice if every ancestor we researched had been investigated by a meticulous scholar, and written about in an exciting and readable book?  Definitely too much to ask for in most cases–but in the case of the Bent brothers and Bent’s Fort, we can read a close-up of their lives in a book.

When I was writing about the Bent family--relatives and descendants of my 7x great-grandmother, Martha Bent How— I made a brief reference to “Charles Bent and his brother.” Charles Bent and his siblings were descendants of Martha’s brother Peter and the sons of a high achiever who went west to St. Louis and became a judge.  As I wrote earlier:

The judge’s son, Charles Bent, served briefly as the first American Governor of the Territory of New Mexico.The National Park Service maintains a fur trading fort Charles Bent and his brother established on the Santa Fe Trail: Old Bent’s Fort.

Bent's Fort

Bent’s Fort

During the Mexican War, the fort served as a base for the troops of American General Kearney. General Kearney  appointed Charles Bent as Governor of New Mexico after the Mexican War. He served from September 1846 until soldiers of the Pueblo uprising killed him in January 1847. (For those keeping track, Charles is the 4x great-grandchild of John Bent through Peter Bent. That makes Charles my 5th Cousin, 4x removed.)

A Closer Look at Distant Relatives

That reference was enough to make me curious to get a look closer at the lives of Charles Bent and that “brother”, which it turns out included three brothers and a sister and the children of all the above.

After reading all about the place, in David Lavender’s book, Bent’s Fort. I also would like to get a close-up view of Bent’s Old Fort.  [Picture from The Boomer Culture.com]The reproduction  that is pictured above now stands as a National Historic site. It’s Colorado location, just north of New Mexico, would fall within the range of a reasonable road trip from my home in Arizona.

Others besides Historian David Lavender have written about the Bent brothers, but none as thoroughly and in such depth.  His book, a close-up not just of the Bent brothers–mainly Charles, William, George, and Robert focuses on the second son, William a bit more than Charles, but only because Charles life was cut short.  We also hear the fascinating stories of Williams half-Cheyenne sons, also named Charles, George and Robert, who to varying degrees “went native” in the bloody post Civil War period when Western Indians fought in their last gasp attempts to retain their land and way of life.

Bent’s Fort and Western History

Charles Bent’s first ventures west of St. Louis coincided with the enormous fur trade when beaver skins drew hunters and trappers–the rough mountain men and canny merchants–into uncharted territory.  Without realizing it, they were preparing the way for an influx of settlers and farmers who would follow the roads they developed and weave through the mountain passes they discovered and radically change the very idea of the United States.

This map shows the history in capsule form.

Soon after Charles started working in the fur trade, he decided to become an independent trader. His younger brother joined him on the westward treks from St. Louis to the territory still ruled by Spain, and called New Mexico.  That territory include most of today’s New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and a little Texas and Kansas, too.  But the traders, including the Bent brothers, were not only dealing with mostly roadless wilderness, and Indians who were hostile one day and wanting to trade the next, but they were also dealing with a foreign government if they proceeded into New Mexico.

William oversaw the building of Bent’s Fort and they settled there with surrounding Indians–mostly Cheyenne–to selling goods. The Bent’s kept expanding their business–Taos, Santa Fe, other trading post/forts, and constantly changing political situations.

Through this book, I learned about a slice of American history in the early 19th century that somehow had escaped me.  As Beavers became early extinct and Beaver hats were no longer fashionable, the emphasis switched to buffalo skins.  Methods of transportation shifted from boat to foot and mule, to wagons pulled by mules, to wagons pulled by oxen, and eventually the railroads moved in about the time that the buffaloes disappeared. And Bent’s Fort, under the management of the Bent brothers, adapted to the changes.

The Conclusion for the Bents

The outcome for my relative, Charles Bent, was not so good.  After long years of trying to work fairly with the Indians and the governments of the United States and Mexico, he was made the first Territorial Governor of the newly American New Mexico.   It was a brutal time, medieval in the execution of “justice” and revenge on all sides.A few weeks later, Taos Pueblo men angered that some of their own were imprisoned, attacked Charles’ home in Taos. Although his wife and children escaped, Charles was brutally murdered.

William also had worked so well with Indians that no less than Kit Carson declared him the man who knows the Indians better than anyone.  Nevertheless, the U.S. government dragged its feet on a peaceful settlement with the Indians that William proposed.  The Army had already taken advantage of his good will by camping at the fort without paying rent, and when they proposed buying the fort, he burned it down, moved upstream and built a new, smaller trading home.

William tried to civilize his children, but the book shows that  sending them to St. Louis for their education wound up having little effect on two half-breed young men. His daughter who married a trader, also wound up living with Indians, and the results for the children were devastating.  Except for his son George, who lived to dictate his memories of the stories that came from Bent’s Fort.  Those memories fuel much of the book by Lavender, although he disproves many of the details of George’s family legends.

The Book

Many of the names of traders and soldiers who passed through the Bent territory were familiar to me. You’ve heard of Kit Carson and perhaps of Jedidiah Smith or Jim Bridger and  General Kearney. All these passed through Bent’s Fort from time to time. But that just scratches the surface of the men (mostly men) whose stories we hear.  Perhaps some of your ancestors were there, too?

If you want to learn about the beginning the Mexican war that finally made the United States an ocean-to ocean country; if you are curious about the lives and wars of the Native Americans in the west; if you had ancestors who joined the great western migration–you will learn much from Bent’s Fort.


For a guide to all the stories I have written about the Bents, go here.

How I Am Related

  • Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
  • Vera Stout (Anderson),the daughter of
  • Hattie Morgan (Stout), the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett (Morgan),the daughter of
  • Elizabeth Stone (Bassett) the daughter of
  • Elizabeth Howe (Stone), the daughter of
  • Israel Howe, the son of
  • David How, the son of
  • Martha Bent How, the daughter of
  • John Bent, Sr., who is the 4x great-grandfather of Charles, William, Robert and George Bent, sons of Silas Bent (1768-1827)

A Slice of My Life: Paradise and Doomsday on Mt. Weather

In 1945 I traveled with my family from Ohio to Mt. Weather, Virginia, a place so peaceful and beautiful that it hardly seemed real. I had become the heroine in my own personal adventure, living in a cabin like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little houses; living on a mountain like Heidi with her grandfather.

As an adult I discovered that the paradise of Mt. Weather now hides a secret even more serious than those mysteries unraveled by my other favorite literary characters, the Bobbsey twins.

The Summer of 1945 at Mt. Weather

Shenandoah

View of the Shenandoah Valley near where we spent the summer.

That summer the air was clear and the views from our modernized cabin stretched for miles.  I had just turned six years old and my little brother, Billy was only six months. World War II was winding down and the official peace treaty with Japan would be signed in September.

That summer, my father, Paul Kaser, worked for the U. S. Weather Bureau, the operators of Mt. Weather since the early 1800s.

Despite what the later news articles say, the Bureau of Mines did not control  Mt. Weather starting in the late 1930s. They might have coexisted with the Weather Bureau, but everyone my father had contact with that summer belonged to the Weather Bureau. They were busily sending up balloons into the atmosphere, not digging an underground city.

One of the men he had worked for in New Philadelphia six years before held a position at Mt. Weather, and invited him to come work for the summer.  A cabin was available on the property of a Dr. Tappan, who had a young daughter just about my age.  My father blissfully describes our home for the summer to his friend, Delmar (Red) Alderman, an old friend from Killbuck, Ohio.

Paul Kaser

Alderman Hardware back room. Paul on the right, and owner of the store, Delmar “Red” Alderman on the left.

Father starts the letter off with a bit of understatement–sneaking up on the spectacular view.

The view is not spectacular just pretty countryside miles and miles of it streached [stretched] out like a panorama. We can see Winchester about 25 miles. Our front yard looks out on the Shenandoah valley on the other side of the mountain is Bull Run valley and beyond are Bull Run Mountains. The air is so fresh you never get tired. The big thing is the peacefulness. No noise except of our own making. The cabin is a thing of beauty. The man who owns it has spent $3000 on it and has managed to keep it looking rustic. It is nicely furnished and has all modern convenience. Hot & cold water, electric refrigeration and modern kitchen except that cooking is done on a wood range or on an electric hot plate.

Although I was just six, the cabin and its surroundings made a lasting impression on me. Unfortuately, my parents did not take a lot of photos of that idyllic summer, but I have snapshots in my mind of the walks through the woods, visiting in the big house with Cummie Tappan and my fascination with the fact that the Tappans had a colored cook. (That’s how we would have described her then.)  I never had known anyone but Mommys to do the cooking!!

When we needed to buy something we went to the nearest “big” town, Berryville VA.

Berryville Main Street looking west

Sometimes Mother and I, pushing my baby brother in his buggy, would walk all the way to the Mt. Weather complex where we  visited Aileen Corwin, the wife of the man my father worked for. The Corwins also had a son my age to join me in exploring the woods.  I remember that Mrs. Corwin once  killed a rattlesnake with a broom when  it had invaded her porch. Fortunately, no snakes visited us, but each evening, mother checked me over carefully for ticks.

The Corwins lived in a simple wooden house near the edge of the complex. Beyond their house were a few two and three story wooden buildings that housed offices and “Government Building,”  a kind of dormitory for workers. We could walk anywhere in the simple complex and visit my Father at work. As I recall, roads were narrow and unpaved.

In his letter to  Delmar Alderman, my father describes how to get to the cabin.

Come to Winchester VA. You can come east on Route 40 or 50 or you can take the Penn. TurnPike and drop down to Winchester then take VA. State Route 7 and come to Berryville VA. (You can inquire there) follow 7 to the top of the ridge (10 miles or so) there you will find a cross road with a lot of signs reading Mt. Weather, Appalachian Trail and a lot of peoples names. Turn south on a gravel road and follow uphilll about a mile and a half till you come to a mail Box marked Dr. Tapppen. That’s the place. Come in and take off your things.

He also tempts his friend to visit by telling him that he can visit the Skyline Drive and Washington D. C., each only about two hours away from the cabin.  (We had gone to Washington D.C. to visit with my father’s nieces, Phyllis and Evelyn Kaser, who worked during the war in government jobs.)

I can remember walking along the sparsely traveled road with my mother, enjoying the wildflowers, learning the names of trees, and picking wild strawberries. Amazingly, although the Mt. Weather complex has changed drastically,  the area around Mt. Weather seems no different than it was 60 years ago. The Google Map street view of Route 601(the cross road off Rt. 7 that my father referred to in his letter) along the ridge of the mountain look so familiar to me, that I feel like Google must have an image of my mother and me walking along, looking for wild strawberries growing in front of the low stone walls.

But when my journey on Google Maps closes in on the Mt. Weather facility, I can’t “drive” right in. A sign declares FEMA Mt. Weather Emergency Operations Center, and a gate and guardhouse end the Google Maps journey.

Mt. Weather

The Mt. Weather Complex today.

What a surprise it was to see a Time Magazine article about Mt. Weather 45 years later. Digging into the mountain, government agencies had created a hideaway for important officials in case of atomic bomb attack. In 2011, Time magazine’s blog ran a condensation of that article from December 9, 1991, that you can read here. Although the road leading to the top of the mountain may look the same, the pastoral innocence of the Mt. Weather complex itself existed no more. The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) designation is a cover for the real mission of the place.

The title of the article, DOOMSDAY HIDEAWAY, describes a very different place than the one where my father worked and my family visited during the summer of 1945.

News items and Wikipedia have a gap in their timetables of the way that Mt. Weather morphed from a Weather Station into a secret underground hideout for high government officials in case of nuclear attack. The history the reporters dug up skips over the immediate post-war period when we saw Mt. Weather.

A more recent report, from NBC, (June 2015) indicates that the facility is no longer used as a hideout for government officials, but instead an “alternate” center of operations for Homeland Security. At any rate, the real work of the government there remains top secret.

The news sources say that in the late 1930s the Bureau of Mines started some excavations, and by 1959 the Bureau had completed an underground shelter in Pre Cambrian basalt.  Ironically, my father’s description of the place emphasizes “peacefulness” and a decade after he wrote that letter, the emphasis was on preparedness for war and disaster.

I am so glad that we had that short respite on the mountain at a moment in history when we were enjoying the prospect of long-awaited peace in the world and the peacefulness of the beautiful Virginia mountains.