The Cruel War Is Raging

In my last post, A Mom’s Goodbye, I began the story of Greene Dodson and his home-leaving to join the Army of the Confederate States of America.  Today I continue building proofs which document my family’s lore.

All sorts of paper have been saved by our federal, state and local governments, and while I may groan about filling out the forms today I am sure grateful my ancestors completed theirs.  The Confederate’s Citizens File is one such collection of forms and notes, offering proof of services and goods rendered by private citizens and businesses to the Confederate States of America.  My search of this data-mine was possible through the entity of through which I pulled up a file on James H Dodson, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  Previous work with Federal census data from the mid-1800’s has confirmed the existence of only one James H Dodson in Mecklenburg County, and therefore this file documents some of the transactions my great-great-grandfather made.  Bonanza! for among these records was this scrap:

James H Dodson, Consents to the enlistment of his son. See paper filed with Co. I 25 Battl Va Inf–W.G. Dodson

The search moved to the files of Civil War Soldiers, Company I, 25th Battalion, Virginia Infantry (Richmond Battalion).  Upon clicking my cursor I felt a connection so palpable, I could almost talk to my ancestors.  In November of 1863, with the war continuing far longer than anyone had ever dreamed, Greene Dodson dropped out of school and traveled the hundred or so miles to Richmond, Virginia, capital of the Confederate States of America.  His father accompanied him in order to give his consent, which reads:

Richmond, Virginia  Nov 21, 1863

I hereby consent for my son, William G. Dodson, to join and become a member of Capt. Aston’s Co. I 25th Inf Batt.                                               James H Dodson

Witness: W.E. Hitchcock

It appears that someone had written out the text, with James filling in his son’s name, and signing his own name.

Four other documents are included in this file, yielding precious nuggets of information, keystone elements of my family’s story.  William Greene Dodson, seventeen years and eight months, stood 5’9″ tall.  Greene was light complected with dark hair. His hazel eyes must have burned with earnest bravado as the young farmer signed the enlistment papers for Captain Samuel T. Bayly.  Volunteering to serve three years or the duration of the War, my great-great-uncle took the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America and its leaders.  By the end of the day 25 November 1863 all the forms had been filled out, all the recruitment exams and procedures conducted–William Greene Dodson was a Private with Company I, 25th Battalion Virginia Infantry.

I imagine James and Sarah down home in southside Virginia, pausing during their chores, half expecting to see their son’s lanky frame come ’round a barn door. And then remembering with a mixture of pride and fear that Greene had stepped into being a man, answering a call to duty.

We leave Greene in Richmond, where he is on the List of Recruits, 31 December 1863.  There are no further muster cards for this ancestor with this company.  I can only speculate at this point what Greene did between December 1863 and 15 April 1864 when he re-enlisted.

Next:  The Dodsons of  Company B, 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry.

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Map of Richmond, J.F. Gilmer, 1864

A Mom’s Goodbye

This morning, as I steeled myself to watch my son’s back recede into the maze of airport security this weekend, I felt a tug from the past.  “Remember,” she said, “he is going on an adventure, following his dream and his loyalties, to become the man he needs to be.  At least he enters into a world of safety and civility, with a university’s throbbing pulse.  He won’t be put deliberately into harm’s way.  You are lucky.”

Sarah Jane Rowlett Dodson must have felt awash with anxiety and sadness as she watched her son’s back recede down toward Dodson’s Corners, Virginia.  Greene left home to pursue his adventure as a soldier for the Confederate States of America.  He didn’t get the chance to become a man.

It is going to be much easier to ponder this mother’s goodbye than to say mine.  So my next few posts will be a bit of productive coping.

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My proof that Greene Dodson actually existed and fought in The War Between The States begins with my Grandmother Strickland’s family history, “Some Genealogical Facts of the Strickland-Sayles Family”, compiled and written by Florette Sayles Strickland, March 1976.

James Dodson and Sarah Jane Rowlett, united in marriage 18–, in Mecklenburg Co. Virginia.  Born to this union: Greene, Virginia, Harvey, Henry, Dora, Molly, Adlaide, Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie), born Aug. 15, 1856, Edward (Ed), and William Rowlett (Bud).  ….Greene, the oldest son, was killed while serving in the Confederade (sic) Army near Petersburg, Va. shortly before the War ended. He had left school to join up, tho (sic) he was under age.

The 1860 Federal Census provides further evidence.  Listed among the residents of Regiment 22, Mecklenburg County, Virginia are Dodson, James (45), Sarah (35), William (13), Eugenia (10), Harvey(8), Maria (6), Mary (5), Lilly (3), Usebia (2).

Because my grandmother referred to the eldest son as Greene I have concluded that Sarah Jane’s boy was named William Greene, after James’ mother, Mary Greene.   The search among Confederate Soldier records included all the possible variations: William, Wm., William G., W. G., Greene, William Greene Dodson.  After falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, I found the muster cards provided some confusing results.

Next: The Confederate Citizens’ Papers yield an important clue.

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Map of Mecklenburg Co., Va. Surveyed under the direction of A.H. Campbell Capt. P.A.C.S. in Ch’ge Topl. Dept. [by] H.M. Graves Lt. Engrs. Sept. 1864.

Map Collection at the Library of Congress

Wordless Wednesday: Civil War Map of Southside Virginia and North Carolina

Today I am sharing a discovery: a Civil War map from the collection of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, drawn by A. Lindenkohl. Annotations provide clues about where my Dodson and Strickland families lived during the Civil War.

The Issue of Slavery Has Overshadowed The Discussion

April 2010 was Confederate History Month in Virginia, proclaimed so by its Governor, Bob McDonnell.  This month-long celebration was to lead these southern citizens to

to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present ….

In this original proclamation Virginians were not urged to reflect on  how slavery had contributed to the country’s descent into civil war.  In fact Brandon Dorsey, of the Sons Of Confederate Veterans, successful lobbyist for this state action, felt that the civil rights issue of slavery gets too much attention when the Civil War is remembered.  You can listen to his comments here, in Michael Martin’s NPR essay “When Slavery Overshadows Confederate History.” National attention and public outcry forced the Governor to concede that  he had made a mistake, and the final proclamation contained the clause:

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history…

Ya think?

I attribute my current family research and study to the outrage this political episode provoked in me.  I realized that I had the documents to interpret this history from a very personal place, and that by writing my family’s story I could contribute to a broader conversation about our country’s racial history.  The comments to the article cited above are representative of the beliefs held by various groups and individuals, and many of them not accurately grounded.  In taking The Civil War and Reconstruction Era course I am developing my arsenal of facts to counter misconceptions and promote rational discussion.

A discussion that is justifiably overshadowed by slavery.

Don’t Cry, Mama. I will Be A Good Boy.

I am taking a course, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877, to provide a mental skeleton on which to drape my family history.   Thanks to the Open CourseWare concept, anyone can download the syllabus, reading list, and video lectures of Yale professor David Blight. Investing less than $200, I ordered the books online last week, and within days I have completed my first readings about the “peculiar” nature of antebellum South.

Already I know one task that I must complete as I narrate my family’s place in this country’s story. I must transcribe from family wills and deeds the names of slaves, and post them.  Somewhere.  I must do this.  I must–for at least two reasons.  I feel obligated to speak about slavery, and to insist that this American story be included in all of the coming Civil War Sesquicentennial  Observances.  White folks don’t talk about slavery, and that needs to change if we as a nation are to recognize our potential.

Last year I left the National Archives quite humbled by the papers I could hold, read, copy, study–and by all the details I could learn about my people.  A local welcomed me to Washington as I strolled through the Conservatory garden, and I shared how touched I was that someone cared so much as to preserve and organize all kinds of documents.  He smiled.

“You are lucky.  There are no documents to tell my story.  I can’t find my ancestors.  They were slaves.”

“And my great-great-grandfather owned slaves.  I feel so sad,”  I replied.

On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration that was as close as strangers could get to talking about slavery, and how it had constructed very different legacies for our families.

In his 1853 essay, Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup described the slave market in New Orleans.  One mother,Eliza, pleaded with an interested planter to buy her family, as a group.  “She promised, in that case, to be the most faithful slave that ever lived.”  But the slaveowner could only afford to buy her small boy, Randall, leaving Eliza and Emily to be traded later.  “Eliza ran to him; embraced him passionately; kissed him again and again; told him to remember her–all the while her tears falling in the boy’s face like rain.”

Perhaps my writing will provide a fellow genealogist with long-sought names and places.  It will certainly provide me with an opportunity to shoulder the burden that slavery has left on this country.  Race still matters.  Differences still cause fear.  We have way too much yesterday and not enough tomorrow in our national conversations, conventions and conferences.

” ‘Don’t cry, mama. I will be a good boy. Don’t cry,’ said Randall, looking back, as they passed out of the door.”

I hope our country can walk through the door, into a future of candid conversations about our past, our present and our future, as Americans, all of us.