Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thanks to a Skeptical Pension Examiner

In the mid-1890s, Special Examiner A.G. Greenstreet investigated the case of James W. Landon, late of the Fifth Iowa Cavalry, who claimed that he had suffered a gunshot in the left thigh and was captured by Confederates along the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta in the summer of 1864. Landon further stated that this wound caused a partial paralysis of his leg. Greenstreet became suspicious of the paralysis claim after learning that Landon had been badly injured in his left ankle after a fall from a hay wagon in the early seventies. A skeptical Greenstreet made a preliminary investigation, and recommended that Landon's case be formally investigated.

The investigation request was granted, and Greenstreet opened the case in 1895. He interviewed a number of witnesses, including several of Landon's old army buddies and neighbors — and Landon himself. Landon's twelve page testimony includes minute details of the circumstances surrounding his wounding that I have found no where else. Landon explains that his regiment was routed near Newnan, Ga., on July 31, 1864. In the disorderly retreat that followed, Landon and two comrades — both enlisted men — became separated. For four days they struggled to get back to Union lines, hiding by day and traveling at night. At one point a Confederate patrol spotted them, and during this event Landon received his wound but evaded capture. On August 4, Landon and others were spotted again and this time were taken prisoner. The three men were sent to Andersonville Prison. At some point after this, they became separated. Landon was later transferred to Camp Lawton before being paroled at Savannah in November 1864. Landon survived the ordeal and returned to his regiment. The other two men were also released from prison: Landon W. Silcott (note his first name — a coincidence?) of Company B died of disease at a military hospital in Annapolis, Md., on Dec. 29, 1864. John S. Lemmon served in Company D and went on to become a first lieutenant.

The reference to Andersonville is of particular interest: Landon's military service record makes no mention of his having been imprisoned there, although it does note his stay at Camp Lawton. Landon does not appear on the official list of Andersonville prisoners. Lemmon's name is also not on the list. However, Silcott is a confirmed Andersonville prisoner.

That Landon and Lemmon are not confirmed as prisoners is worthy of further study. It is possible that the details of their capture and imprisonment have escaped notice (until now). My next step is to request the military service and pension records for Silcott and Lemmon to get a fuller picture of their wartime experience. If I am able to find enough evidence, I will bring it to the attention of the folks at Andersonville.

This is my second case of a unconfirmed Andersonville prisoner: Several years ago, while researching the life and military service of Darwin King of the Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery, I found several references in his pension file to his imprisonment at Andersonville, including affidavits by his comrades. King's name was not on the official list, so I contacted the authorities, who suggested I send copies of all the materials I had collected to them. They reviewed the information and added King's name.

If you have any information about Landon, Lemmon or Silcott, please contact me.

Oh, and I am grateful to Special Examiner Greenstreet: Without his quest for truth and justice, it is very possible that Landon's story might have been forever lost to history.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Joy of Indexing

Writing the index is perhaps the single most thankless task involved in writing a book, but is all-important. A well-organized index is a helpful guide and handy reference to persons, places and things. A poorly-organized index, or no index at all (gasp!), has caused me on more than one occasion to groan audibly — unless Google Books has digitized it.

Having been exposed to countless indexes during the course of my research, I determined to arrange the index for Confederate Faces in a simple, direct manner. In short, it breaks down into five categories: Names of people, Geographic locations, military operations (skirmishes, raids, battles, and campaigns), military facilities (forts, prisons), and troops (by state).

I wrote the bulk of the index in one very long day. (Once I got into a rhythm, my impulse was to keep going with it.) This was Monday. Then, I spent about two hours yesterday tweaking the organization and double-checking my work, and dedicated a little time this morning to a final review.

The index is the last hands on writing I'll do for this book.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Fellow Enthusiast

Last week I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Jon-Erik Gilot, a Civil War researcher and collector. A profile and possible photograph of one his subjects, William Humphreville of the First and Second West Virginia Infantries, is an interesting read.

Weekend in Windham

Last night, I returned home after spending the weekend at the Civil War Heritage Music Gathering & Encampment in Windham, New York. Historic Centre Church (pictured here) served as the focal point for the activities, including presentations by fine artists, a maker of quilts, and, of course, the musicians.

I was quite impressed with the range of groups that assembled, from the thirteen-member Providence Brigade Band, nattily attired in red and blue and playing period arrangements of Abraham Lincoln's favorite tunes and other music, to The Chanteymen, a dynamic duo dressed in period naval uniforms who belted bawdy tunes originally sung by working sailors. I was especially impressed with the unique and unexpected sound of the latter group, particularly their rendition of Cape Cod Girls, a crowd favorite.

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend was Saturday night's Grand Concert. The Centre Church was packed, and in the audience sat Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The finale, which featured all of the bands on stage, received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance.

I played a small part in the Grand Concert: I slowly flipped through a Powerpoint presentation of soldier photographs while Helen Beedle played the piano in her inimitable style.

On Saturday morning and again on Sunday, I conducted a half-hour presentation, "Thirty Soldiers in Thirty Minutes." It featured photographs and stories of Union and Confederate men with connections to New York.

I very much enjoyed the event, and thank John Quinn for inviting me to participate. This is an event I recommend for anyone who has an interest in Civil War music!