In late October, I received an e-mail announcing the illegal removal of a Union veteran’s headstone (in Madison County, N.C.) by a direct descendant (but even more surprisingly, he is also a deputy of Gaston County, N.C.). Apparently the Union veteran had prior service with the Confederate army. Like some of the people with whom I have been acquainted in the past, this descendant must have felt that, despite service in the Union army to the end of the war, his ancestor was more sympathetic to the Confederacy [after all, doesn’t the descendant always know better?]. Other direct descendants did not agree with the removal of the headstone, and therefore the incident became news-worthy. The body of the article can be read in the Gaston [N.C.] Gazette.
There were indeed quite a number of Confederates to “galvanize” and join the ranks of the Union army, most especially under the hard conditions of life while POWs. The POW camp at Pt. Lookout, Maryland was well-known for the large numbers of former Confederates that enlisted in two of six infantry regiments (the 1st United States Volunteer Infantry, being one of the two) that was raised from Confederate POWs and deserters. Most of these regiments ended up on the frontier, defending western forts from native Americans (as further reading about “galvanized Yankees,” I recommend Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri: The Face of Loyalty by Michelle Tucker Butts and The Galvanized Yankees by Dee Brown).
However, in this instance, I felt that something was amiss and I just had to take a closer look at the details behind the matter. Technically, according to pension standards set for Union veterans, if one bore arms voluntarily against the U.S., they were not entitled to a pension as a former Union soldier [such as in the case, of, I think, most “galvanized Yankees”]. In evaluating loyalties in the case of former Union soldiers, I think these pension records set a good standard for the questions that we should ask. For example, what evidence, after the war, is there about the soldier’s loyalty? Is there a pension application showing some sort of testimonial as to sentiment? Did the veteran participate in U.C.V. or G.A.R. activities (or neither)? Did he try to apply for a Confederate pension? Did he apply for a Southern Loyalist claim? Is there some trail of paper showing a consistent trend toward desertion (or was he captured with an otherwise flawless record)? There is a lot to consider, but if a headstone is to be ordered [or replaced], it should reflect [I would think this is a no-brainer] the true sentiments of the veteran.
Just as an example, I know of several Confederate headstones from the Veterans Administration that were placed in the twentieth century [in the Shenandoah Valley] and should have never been placed (based on the reluctance of the men to serve – especially when they were conscripted. One soldier of whom I am aware was a member of the Stonewall Brigade for a grand total of 35 days! At the end of this “lengthy” term of service, he was exempted from service because he was a shoemaker. To prevent being taken in by conscription hunters again, the man headed north into Ohio and spent the rest of the war there before returning to Virginia. Yet, a visitor to his grave today, upon seeing the famous distinctive pointed headstone made for Confederate veterans, would probably think that this man was a true and faithful soldier of the Confederate army. Cough, cough, gag… yeah right…
Anyway, back to this subject of the newspaper article…
Looking into the records of this veteran (Stephen S. Shook) with the Union headstone, I came to the conclusion that there should be no mistaking his loyalties. Shook applied for (application #377637) and received a pension (certificate #471516) from the U.S. government as early as June 1880. At that time, the U.S. government wasn’t messing around with sifting through loyalties and letting applications slide through the system (though they weren’t nearly as strict later in the early 1900s). I didn’t have a chance to visit the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and personally view these records, but I am familiar enough with these records to know that Shook had to have some serious testimonials from friends and/or comrades as to his having not voluntarily borne arms against the United States. Incidentally, his wife received a widow’s pension not long after Shook died in 1902.
Furthermore, a quick review of Shook’s military service on ancestry.com revealed that Shook originally enlisted (possibly conscripted??? – I’ll comment more on this “enlisted/conscripted” issue in another post at a later date) as a private in Co. A, 58th North Carolina Infantry on 10 June 1862 (at the age of 30). He transferred to Company B, of the 5th Battalion N.C. Cavalry on 27 June 1862 and transferred once again on 3 August 1863 to Co. K, of the 6th N.C. Cavalry. Not long after this transfer, he deserted (2 September 1863) at Loudon, Tennessee.
According to the newspaper article, family members (other than the one who removed the headstone), recalled that Shook deserted from the Confederate army in order to attend his nine year-old daughter’s funeral (who, according to the family story, died in a house fire). “After the funeral, Shook couldn’t return to fight with the Confederacy. And for whatever reason, he later enlisted with a Union regiment out of Tennessee… He tried to come home for the funeral, but they wouldn’t let him and he had to go AWOL.” By the close of the war, as the story goes, “Shook had become a sergeant in Company M, Eighth Regiment of the Tennessee Cavalry, according to the tombstone issued by the federal government and placed over his grave in 1920.” This matches the records that I located on ancestry.com.
I just have to say, it sure is a funny thing when you hear neo-Confederates break loose with that ever-famous battle cry of “revisionist history!” After all, it doesn’t take long, looking back to the birth of the Lost Cause movement, to realize that this particular movement was “revisionist” – born as a twinkle in the eyes of Jubal Early in the 1870s – and alive and doing quite well (albeit not in its original form) as is obvious with this episode over a headstone.