Possible Shameful Family Secret

Quite possibly, my Great, Great, Great, (Great?) Grandfather was a Sergeant in Pennsylvania’s 116th Infantry Brigade…. until he (allegedly) deserted at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.  147 years ago, TODAY!

Well, at least a man with the same first and last name and from the same place as my Grandfather’s Father and Grandfather hailed from was… But William has always been a popular name.

At about 26 years of age, William joined the Union Army on July 7, 1862 as a Sergeant in Company H, and transferred to Company D on January 26, 1863.  Records show that he deserted somewhere near Gettysburg on July 1, 1863 – the first day of fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg.  He was summarily demoted to Private for his actions, and dishonorably discharged by Special Order No. 182 by the Army of the Potomac on December 12, 1863.

But how do they know exactly that he ran?  Did someone see him high-tailing it?  How do they know he didn’t get his head blown apart by a Minie Ball thereby becoming unrecognizable and was laying dead on the battlefield somewhere?  Civil War soldiers didn’t wear dog-tags, so how did they know who was who?

Ok, given what I know of my family history – he probably did desert.  And I bet that’s how that side of my family ended up in the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania, as the mountains of Monroe county are chock-full of hills, dales, valleys and ridges in which to hide-out.  Couple that with an article I read not too long ago about my hometown being a haven for deserters…

The local Historical Society posted an article about a dedication in May 2009 of some Civil War Canons in our town and had this to say:

I would say that Monroe and Pike are the only counties in the entire Union, north of the Mason-Dixon Line that don’t have memorials,” Werkhiser said.  The reason was simply politics.  This was a haven for deserters.  In 1863 Lincoln went to the draft and you had people coming here.  There was a really strong anti-war sentiment.

I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for him, deserter or not…  So, who am I to judge?

I often wonder when I look at photos of the Gettysburg dead if one of the dead, bloated and headless soldiers lying on the field isn’t him.  Then, I have this fantasy that he was captured by the Confederates and went in the opposite direction, and headed South.  There was a soldier with the same name in an Alabama Regiment.  I like to think he turned sides since my heart is Bonnie Blue, but given how defective and dysfunctional my family is it’s a fair bet he skipped out.

Happy Fourth of July Weekend!

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Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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