“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind ...” — Proverbs 11:29
I’ve been collecting genealogical tidbits about my ancestors since I was in college, but just in the past 10 years or so have become a hard-core genealogist. That is, I work on it just about every day and spare moment.
History is history, but genealogy is personal, and personal history hits home to each and every one of us, even if we’re not inclined to set it down in writing.
Anyway, I recently stumbled upon a line on my mom’s side of the family, which I kind of had neglected over the years because there was a rich wealth of easily accessible information on my dad’s side.
And with access to literally tens of thousands of records, census files, old photos, land claims, tax rolls, marriage, death or birth information available online, it has become much less of a chore to branch out the tree, so to speak.
While researching my maternal great-grandmother, Louise Ford, I hit upon a treasure trove of genealogy on her father, who it turns out was a Union soldier in the 25th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
As I piled up the information on my genealogy family website on Henry H. Ford, it struck me how many of my forebears were just like the rest of the people across the history of our country who moved westward as the United States expanded.
I would wager the vast majority of this nation’s citizens have a distant relative who started in the East and moved to the Midwest and eventually the Plains and beyond through the 1700s and 1800s.
The reason all this struck me was the fact my mom’s side of the family all fought or sided with the Union in the American Civil War, while my dad’s side, to a man, were Confederates.
That meant it not only was North against South, it was family against family during our darkest hour, when Americans killed Americans on battlefields from Virginia to Pennsylvania, from Georgia to Maryland, from Mississippi to Kentucky.
Each of us, no matter who we are, where we come from or where we’ve been, have 16 sets of great-great-grandparents. Every one of us. Even if they died at some point, you have to have 16 in some way, shape or form — it’s unavoidable.
So, of my 16 great-great-grandfathers, I’ve discovered provenance at least five of them fought in the Civil War — three for the Confederacy from Texas and Virginia, and two for the Union, from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
That’s a pretty big split to have to reconcile at some point when the two lines of my family came together upon the marriage of my mom and my dad.
But what about families during the Civil War? Have we not read stories of brother against brother, father against son and so on?
Here are a few documented accounts of the Civil War’s schism:
• Four of President Abraham Lincoln’s brothers-in-law wore Confederate uniforms.
• Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife, had a brother, Dr. George R.C. Todd, who served as a volunteer Confederate surgeon. He was quoted as saying Lincoln was “one of the greatest scoundrels unhung.”
• Washington, D.C., gossips said of Mary Lincoln, she was “two-thirds pro-slavery and the other third Secesh.”
• Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne had one brother in the Southern army, one in the Northern.
• Esteemed statesman Henry Clay, of Kentucky, had three Union grandsons and four Confederate.
• Sen. George B. Crittenden, of Kentucky, had two sons who both became major generals, one on each side.
• At Bull Run, Frederick Hubbard of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, who wore gray, met for the first time in seven years Henry Hubbard of the 1st Minnesota Infantry, who wore blue. The brothers both were wounded and by coincidence placed side by side in a barn serving as a hospital.
• Jeb Stuart’s chief of staff, Maj. H.B. McClellan, had four brothers in blue and a first cousin, George B. McClellan, twice was commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac.
• Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson may have been the finest Confederate general to ever don the uniform, yet his sister Laura was a Union sympathizer and unshaken in her devotion to the Old Republic. She sent a message by a Union soldier saying she would “take care of wounded Federals as fast as brother Thomas would wound them.”
These stories go on and on throughout our history — brothers discovering they were on opposite sides when their opposing units were in battle, or fathers discovering their dying sons on the opposing side.
Today, as an increasingly partisan political nation, this bitter time in American history should be a sobering reminder — a house divided against itself ... shall inherit the wind.
Christy is news editor at the News & Eagle and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org