In honor of National Night Out, my in-laws invited us to their community potluck at Inver Glen Senior Apartments last night. We were introduced to their friends at dinner, a couple from South Saint Paul.
Making conversation, I asked our dinner companions if they were history buffs. “Do you know much about the Civil War?” I asked, hoping to find kindred spirits. (I’ve been reading books about the Civil War this summer and am eager to find like-minded friends.)
Myrna, age ninety, jumped into the conversation with both feet. She said, “I don’t know that much about the Civil War, but when I was two I traveled by train from Saint Paul to Charmain, Pennsylvania to meet my great grandmother. Charmain is near Gettysburg and my great grandmother told me she heard the cannons of the Battle of Gettysburg as a child.”
Wow. That blows my mind! In 1927, my new friend Myrna had a conversation with her great grandmother about hearing the cannons of Pickett’s charge on July 3, 1863.
We talked about how that story makes the war feel like recent history. I would love to know the rest of the story about how her family was affected by the Civil War. So many questions to ask!
My ancestor, 1st Sergeant of the Co. I, 37th Wisconsin, Charles P. Brown served in the war and died of disease in 1864, stationed in Virginia during the final months of the war. Aformer teacher that grew up in upstate New York, Charles was a well-spoken man. He wrote letters to his wife Francelia who stayed behind in Bay City, Wisc. during the war. She saved the letters and passed them on to her daughter Carrie, who passed them onto her daughter, my grandmother Francelia.
We treasure those letters and as I read his words, I feel connected to my family of long ago. Charles chides his young children for their poor penmanship, asking his daughter, my young great grandmother Carrie, to, “...do better in the future and keep her paper clean.” He cheers his wife on from the war, telling her to, “Be wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove…be thankful for every little favor: for this is a very selfish world.”
Charles' letters offer hints of the cruelty he witnessed and the challenges his wife and four young children faced in his absence… a history I know we share with many other families from both the Union and Confederacy. One letter asks his wife to, “Pray for the Soldiers of the Union.” From where I sit now, four generations later, I hope they prayed for the Confederacy soldiers too, with that harmless dove in mind.
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