The Civil War… “through the eyes of my people”

Posted on December 31, 2010 by

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Sesquicentennial Commemorative stamps for 2011

Just jabbed my friend Harry a little by pointing out that some still refer to the Bull Run battles as the Battles of 1st and 2nd Manassas, respectively. It was all in good fun, and owe a hat tip to Harry for pointing out that there are some quality Civil War stamps on the horizon… and not the cartoon-like images we saw a few years ago.

Actually, the First Bull Run (Manassas) stamp caught my attention because of my personal connection… with some of the people who would have been in the overall picture of the taking of those guns at 1st Manassas/Bull Run (hey, I can do that, as I had people on both sides in that battle… albeit those in gray far outnumbered the one kinsman in blue that was there).It’s what we see in the Sydney King’s print from 1964 that stirs me. You see, just to the right, though you can’t see it, the 33rd Virginia has taken Griffin’s guns (actually, at this particular moment in this scene, they were probably in the midst of reforming, having been repulsed). Yes, the boys from the 33rd “got their dander up”. As Ricketts told it, Griffin’s guns were a little to the rear on his right. The 33rd took Griffin’s two howitzers between 2 and 3:30 p.m. It was a bit of a mess, but, from what I recall from various sources, the 33rd (as I indicated) was repelled about the time, or slightly before, the rest of Jackson’s brigade moved against Rickett’s guns… and this is what we are seeing in King’s painting… the precious seconds before the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 27th Virginia Infantry swallowed-up Rickett’s guns.

Michael Shuler

In that assault on Griffin’s guns, I had many an uncle and cousin. The most senior in rank among these kinsmen was Michael Shuler, a a teenage lieutenant, who had hardly completed his first part-time term at Roanoke College. He wouldn’t turn 18 until almost two months after 1st Manassas. He was one of the more fortunate kin, as he walked away from the taking of Griffin’s guns without a physical wound. Another uncle, Martin Van Buren Koontz, wasn’t as fortunate. He was mortally wounded at the guns. At the ripe old age of 21, he died on July 23. I suspect his brother, 29-year-old George William Koontz, also of Co. H, 33rd Virginia, saw to it that his brother’s remains made it home to be placed in the family cemetery, near Columbia Bridge, in Page County.

Of the same company, Peter Sours recalled (in April 1914)…

Our mess consisted of Paul Miller, Peter Sours, Philip Lucas, Siram Printz, Irenus Printz, Silas Somers, all neighborhood boys of Valleyburg, formed one mess, and at the first battle of Manassas, we were drawn in line of battle in a pine thicket near the top of the hill, a battery on the flat was playing on us. Before we charged, a ball came along bounding on the ground and caught Paul Miller in the lower leg. We were ordered forward and charged the battery, where I was wounded. Philip Lucas was shot in the head at the battery, Siram Printz was killed near the battery. Silas Somers was wounded in the thigh. Irenus Printz only one escaped.

In fact, no other battle in the war brought more sorrow to the folks of Page County than 1st Manassas. More were killed or mortally wounded in that one day, than in any other single day of the war. Co. H (Page Grays) bore most of the brunt, while Co. K (Page Volunteers), 10th Virginia Infantry (see here, here, and here), saw some losses that day as well. I’m of the opinion, that because of their action that day, in quite possibly being in the spearhead that took Griffin’s guns, they were “rewarded” with the esteemed post of regimental color company for almost the balance of the war. A sense of pride, yes, but also a prime target for enemy fire… as losses in the coming years would prove.

So, does this image give me a little thrill? Darn skippy it does. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked along that pine thicket imagining what they thought… followed by a walk toward Griffin’s gun position, imagining the blood of my kinsmen that made the blades of grass red that day.

But, “through the eyes of my people”? To a point. As anyone who reads this blog probably realizes, I often take-on history through the “eyes of my people”, but I think I know when and where to hold back. To me, my ancestors offer “insertion points” in historical moments. Genealogy is actually what led me to my passion for history (even before my teenage years). After all, my people were at some places where some pretty amazing stuff took place, and I don’t mind telling anyone that I find it pretty awesome that I can trace back to these distant cousins, uncles, grandfathers, who bore witness to the events on many a battlefield. Yet, I can’t don their experience as my own. I can’t don their feelings like an overcoat, at any particular moment, as my own. I can’t don the “causes” behind which they rallied (and the various reasons they did… voluntarily or reluctantly), as my own. Their time, their world, their context was their own. I am not (and hence, another inspiration behind today’s post… thanks Brooks) a Confederate (although I have been known to play one from time to time :-) ); they were Confederates… but even that is complicated.

Studying my people at these places, and the world around them, as they may have seen it… it all gives me things to contemplate… to consider.  I have no right to think, at any time, that I know what they thought and what they felt, and that what they felt and thought is my path for action in life. I can only imagine… and it’s enough of a thrill for me.

All that said… I want to also take time to wish everyone a very happy New Year!  I think we’re about to have an incredible journey in the upcoming Sesquicentennial.

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