I was planning to write a bit more about my GG grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Jenkins Hubbard, but in researching her married life, I got sidetracked with some of the details from my GG grandfather’s Civil War pension records. Here’s an interesting link to the national archives for information about Confederate pension records. The US government did not pay pensions to confederate soldiers but many of the southern states did. After the war, the soldier or his widow, could apply for a pension in the state where he or she lived, which was not necessarily the state the soldier served during the war. The pension system in the South was governed by the individual state laws. (Hmm… I wonder if anyone moved from one state to another based on the pension laws?)
My ancestors who fought for the Confederacy were all from Virginia (at least all the ones I’ve discovered so far) and I have collected a lot of information about their pension applications. Using my relatives as a sample, it’s worth noting that it was not easy to get a pension payment. Persistence, a true medical disability and a good lawyer were important to a successful claim. It made me happy that my great great grandfather who suffered epilepsy after he got sunstroke during the war, finally got his pension application approved just a few years before he died in 1919. Happy and sad, because he first applied in 1889 and had several applications denied. He worked as a church sexton and a school janitor for most of his life after the war. When he died in 1919, his cause of death was listed as gangrene of the foot.
I think one of the most heartbreaking statements I ever read was his response to a question on his first pension application in1889.
Q: Did you lose an arm, a leg or an eye during the war?
A: No but I’d gladly give a limb or an eye to be be able to work a day’s labor.
I have friends who claim that they don’t want to learn about the Civil War or visit Civil War battlefields because the magnitude of the death and devastation is too horrific. To which I say – you can’t change it. The dead are dead. Why not honor them by learning what compelled so many men to fight and die under those horrific circumstances? Why not visit the place where your ancestor fought and maybe was wounded or died? For whatever reason, I am captivated by it. I’m not sure I can fully articulate my reasoning.
My direct ancestors survived the war (or I wouldn’t be here since the children I descend from were conceived and born after 1865) but some of their brothers and uncles did not. I think that by learning about them and the battles they fought and died in, I help keep them alive. Their stories are not forgotten. This is important to me.
Although I have ancestors who fought for the Union and the Confederacy, I grew up in Richmond, VA, capital of the Confederacy. In all of my 20+ years of life with my family in Richmond not once did anyone in my family mention the Civil War or any of my Civil War ancestors. Frankly with all I’ve learned about them in the past two years of research, I find that astounding! What I wouldn’t give to have had a conversation with my great grandmother about her father – Robert Hugh Hubbard who suffered from epilepsy after the war. What was he like? Did he talk about the war? How did his injuries during the war affect him? I was only 13 when Nanny died and I don’t even know if her father ever talked about the war during her life – but I would like to know if he did. I certainly can tell from his pension applications that he lived with the effects of that war for many years after his service ended.
Since those are conversations that can never occur, I do my best to recreate my ancestors’ lives through the records I find. And you’d be amazed at what those public records reveal. There is always the risk that I’m interpreting things contrary to how they really were, but I get a much different impression of an ancestor who was on furlough or absent due to illness during significant parts of the war than I do from an ancestor who was captured during Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. How can I not?
There is no doubt that the war was terrible, perhaps the most terrible thing that ever happened to our country. But because of it our nation is stronger – we are the United States of America. Some people “jokingly” say that the war hasn’t yet ended in the South. I would never defend the horrible injustices that occurred in the South during much of the century following the war, but I grew up in the South, I’m proud to currently live in the South, and I know that I’ve had many more interracial friendships than most of my friends who grew up in the North.
Okay – I digress – but I have very strong opinions on this subject. In my next post I will stick with my analysis of Sarah Elizabeth Jenkins Hubbard. Specifically I want to look at her marriage to Robert Hugh Hubbard, so the things I have mentioned about him in this post are relevant. I know they met after the War and that he was much older than she was (a pattern that mimics her parents’ marriage.) What forces shaped her into the “mean” person that my grandmother said she was. Is there a “mean” gene in our family? Hmmm… so many things to think about when we explore the past.