Thursday, April 9, 2015

Appomattox Day

150 years ago today, General Lee met General Grant at the McLean House at Appomattox VA to sign the instrument of surrender.  This was the beginning of the end for Civil War fighting.  Within a few months, the remaining Confederate generals would also surrender.  General Lee's troops were allowed to return home, permitted to keep their horses, given rations, and able to retain their side-arms if they were an officer.  The generosity shown by General Grant toward the defeated was unique for the victor of a civil war.  Winston Churchill later wrote that this magnanimity "stands high in the story of the United States."  

I love history, and I especially adore being able to see the history of the United States in my own family. Harrisons were on both sides of the Civil War.  Taps was actually written while General McClellan's Army of the Potomac was encamped at Berkeley Plantation, the home of the Harrisons in Virginia.  President Lincoln visited the troops there, and used this location as his base to visit Richmond after it was taken by Union forces.  Following the war, the Harrisons did not return to Berkeley.  My own branch of the family had migrated to Ohio after the Revolution, and they were raising sheep in Knox County by the time of the Civil War.  I find it interesting that the pioneer spirit led my ancestor David Harrison to travel to the new state of Ohio to build a life, while his cousins remained in Virginia and eventually lost their home when they fled before the Union troops.

David's son John Lum Harrison was a little too old to go off to battle when the Civil War began, and John Lum's son James Virgil was just a child during the war.  James Virgil was the paternal grandfather of my own grandfather Virgil Grube Harrison.  My grandfather's maternal grandfather, however, saw significant military action during the Civil War.

John Kurtz Grube was my great-great-grandfather.  At age 21, he enlisted in the 17th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  According to family legend, I had always heard that John Kurtz Grube marched with General Sherman from Atlanta to the sea.  This morning, I got out the picture I have of him, and decided to see if I could verify this family legend.  I was absolutely delighted -- thanks to Wikipedia -- to be able to trace the movements of his regiment and confirm that it did see action throughout the South in the time he served, including marching from Atlanta to the sea.

From genealogical research done by my grandfather, Private Grube was mustered out on 5 June 1865.  In 1868, he married Rebecca Ann Wagner.  They settled first in Carroll, in Fairfield County. They farmed there, and their first two children (Dora & Clarence) were born there.  Later, they moved to a small farm on Maize Road in Columbus.  According to my grandfather's records, John worked for the railroad and then for Columbus Door & Sash to supplement his farm income.  The latter job required John to walk from Maize Road to downtown Columbus to then take the horse drawn public transport car to West Columbus for a job that paid $1.25 per day.  John & Rebecca had two more daughters, Portia Katherine and Monnie Hazel (my amazing great-grandmother).  My grandfather was close to his aunt Portia, and was an advocate for the name Katherine when my father suggested it for me.  Portia Katherine was herself named after John's mother Katherine Kurtz Grube -- who was born in 1801 before Ohio was a state, had her son John at age 42, and passed away in 1889.  My mother Rebecca was named after John's wife Rebecca.  The Civil War feels much more recent when I think about these men & women who are my family.

I share this with you not simply because I am enamored of my own family history, but because I hope it serves as an example to remind us that the men & women who lived through the Civil War are not that distant.  They lived lives with many of the same struggles that we have, just at a different time.  John Kurtz Grube was only 21 when he went off to engage in fighting to protect the Union in a bloody Civil War.  He was just one young man, yet his efforts helped to contribute to preserving our nation and protecting equal rights for all.  I hope that in the present day, we are all willing to pledge our lives & fortunes to the same efforts: protecting our great nation and supporting equality of opportunity for all.

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