Friday, October 10, 2003

#20 Rachel and Nancy and the Civil War (see #19)

If Rachel and Nancy met at a quilting circle or a hymn sing after the Civil War, would they have sensed a bond? Perhaps. Rachel’s great grandson Howard, born 8 years after she died, married in 1934 Nancy’s grand daughter Olive, born 10 years after she died. Nothing else ties them together, not ethnic heritage or language, not geography or politics, not education or social status.

Nancy, born in 1833 and 12 years older than Rachel, was a 7th generation American, a descendant of Swiss Mennonites and German Lutherans living near Dayton, Ohio. Rachel, probably born in 1845, was perhaps 3rd or 4th generation and living near Dandridge, Tennessee. The census of 1870 shows that her father was born in Virginia, about 1795. The Scots-Irish ancestors of the families in her area of east Tennessee had come to America before the Revolutionary War.

We could stretch credulity a bit and say they had religion in common. Both were members of the protestant group Church of the Brethren, known as the "Dunkers" or German Baptist Brethren in the 19th century. Nancy’s father and grandfather had been River Brethren, a group related to the Mennonites. As a youngster, Rachel was perhaps under the care of whatever preacher came through the mountains of east Tennessee in the 1840s baptizing and marrying. It is possible her son William married into the Brethren and brought her into the church with him.

Rachel had only one child, a son, born in 1862. Nancy had nine children, five girls and four boys born between 1853 and 1876. Rachel had at least two brothers, and Nancy had eleven siblings. In 2003, Ada, grand daughter of Rachel, and Muriel, grand daughter of Nancy, are living in the same town and attending the same church.

So if I had Nancy and Rachel in the same room and could ask them anything, I think I’d ask about the war that divided them, north and south, blue and gray, brother and brother, cousin and neighbor. Just 20 years old when the war was over, Rachel lived not far from Knoxville, an important supply route for the Confederacy. East Tennessee was strongly Unionist, although Tennessee was part of the Confederacy. The Army of Ohio actually occupied little Dandridge where Rachel lived. So I’m guessing that even in her little community there were divisions of loyalty and young men lost for both causes.

Living on a farm near Dayton, Nancy a young mother of 5 at the end of the war, would have been fairly insulated from the battles. First, her family was probably pacifist, and second, battles recorded within Ohio were in the southern counties near the Ohio river border with Kentucky and Indiana. However, Ohio did send many regiments of cavalry, artillery and infantry, and these young men may have been friends and neighbors.

And so I would want to know how did they get their news--was it from returning soldiers passing through, asking for food for the trip home? From refugees fleeing other areas of their states? Was it from a newspaper or magazine which the expanding rail routes were bringing to the farmers? Was it from letters sent to neighbors from sons on the front lines? Did they even know how to read? Did they search the lists of wounded and dead? Were commodities scarce? Were there enough men around to plant and harvest the crops? Did they think it was someone else’s fight as neither family had ever owned slaves? Did they wish they could vote and boot President Lincoln out of office? Was there resentment toward the free blacks in the area? Who were they holding in their prayers? And when the war was finally over, were their lives forever changed?

Nancy and Rachel, two women bound together by their futures.

1 comment:

Joan said...

What an fascinating and intriguing post! Your concluding sentence provokes the mind to some unique considerations. I was reading this blog regularly in 2003 and sometimes read older posts in addition to current ones; I wonder how I missed reading this post then.