More evidence to chip away at the myth of Confederate nationalism

Posted on March 10, 2008 by

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After exchanging a couple of e-mails with a friend last night, I mentioned a genealogical website that I thought looked like it had potential. I gave the trial version of Footnote a try about a month or so ago, but it seemed to have slow response time (it may have had something to do with my being on dial-up!). However, after sending the e-mail to my friend, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the site and do a little navigation. I knew that Footnote was putting images of Southern Loyalist Claims on the site, but I really had not taken the time to look at them. This wasn’t the first time I have seen the claims as I spent a couple of days, about two years ago, transcribing information from the claims from Page County. However, with the word “free” attached to the claims records last night, I couldn’t resist the chance to look again.

Instead of looking into Virginia records, I probed the records for Kentucky, Maryland and West Virginia, in search of family members. Finding nothing listed under them (looks like they didn’t apply), I gave a shot with a branch of my wife’s family, which was from Marion County, Alabama. As I started scrolling through the list of names, one struck me as being familiar – Burrell Howell. Looking back in my family tree program, I found that Howell was indeed connected, in fact, he was my wife’s fourth great grandfather. Howell also had a plantation and was a slaveholder (though, according to the 1850 Marion County census, he only had one slave).
I had information that showed that two of Howell’s sons served in Co. K, 5th Alabama Cavalry (serving under, among others, Forrest and Wheeler). Military records showed that these men enlisted – there was no evidence in the records of having been conscripted or deserting. So, at one time, I thought that they might be pretty stout supporters of the Confederacy. The claim of Burrell Howell said otherwise. According to Howell, his sons HAD been conscripted, and at some point, when they were both sick in Tennessee, he made the trip across the state line and brought his boys home, apparently having convinced the authorities that they were going home to recover. But according to Howell and others who added testimony to the claim, the boys did not return. Ultimately, Howell was proven as a Unionist and his application was approved.

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Now I realize that this was just one man and his two sons, but what strikes me is that most of my wife’s ancestors from Marion County served in the 5th Alabama Cavalry. Burrell Howell was the family member with an application to the Southern Claims Commission, but, considering that his sons were conscripted and yet were shown on the records as having “enlisted,” it makes me wonder how many others were taken into the 5th Alabama Cavalry (and the entire Confederate army, for that matter) as unwilling participants (also, I can’t help it, but it frustrates me knowing that some people, in this day and age, look at the military records “as is” and automatically think that their ancestor eagerly volunteered for service in the Confederate army. There is a need to dig deeper, otherwise the person “honoring” his or her Confederate ancestor does so with ignorance and under an illusion, thereby making the Lost Cause Myth even more of a myth).

On another note, Marion County, Alabama holds some interesting stories when it comes to the Civil War, after all, there were several men from the county who volunteered not in the service of the Confederacy, but for the Union, and served in the 1st Alabama (Union) Cavalry.

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