Recalling another instance of “shuffled” Civil War “memory”

Posted on March 27, 2008 by


Quick story today…

A couple of years ago, I ran into a gentleman in the Shenandoah Valley who proudly announced to me that he had a sword used by his great-grandfather (Perry Francis Cave) in the Civil War. I was greatly interested and asked him his ancestor’s unit. That was not so readily available, but there was an assumption that he must have belonged to Ashby’s command, the 7th Virginia Cavalry. I asked him his ancestor’s name and he told me, so began my investigation into this mystery.

I searched in the Confederate service records and came up empty. Still, having a lineal ancestor myself who has no record on file with the Combined Service Records (CSR), I knew that I had to follow-up with a search of the Confederate pension records for Virginia. Again, I came up empty. This continued to puzzle me for sometime, that was, until I decided to probe into the “unspeakable domain of Yankee records for Southerners.” Alas, I found the man (with the name slightly rearranged to read “Francis Perry Cave) in the records of… Co. G, 66th Ohio Infantry. What in the world was this man doing in the 66th Ohio Infantry? More importantly, in light of this regimental affiliation, how was this descendant led to believe that his ancestor had served in the Confederate army? Was it simply because he had an artifact in-hand (that, somehow, his ancestor had acquired) and the story just seemed to conveniently fit?

To make matters worse, not only had this man evaded service in the Confederate army, but his affiliation with the 66th Ohio was rather short-lived as well, as he ended up deserting. He was later tracked down by Union authorities, but spent most of his service (from what I can remember) in hospitals far from any battle lines (and well north of the Mason-Dixon Line).

I suppose some might say that family remembrance of the facts had, over the years, been conveniently swept under the rug. However, to take it to the next level and say that the ancestor had served in the Confederate army… it still baffles me. Perhaps there had simply come a time, over the course of relating family history, where telling the truth just wasn’t the right thing to do, especially in a community where Lost Cause mythology continued to grow to “rule the roost.”

Oh, and did I mention that F.P. Cave’s brother, Washington John Irvin Cave, served in the 33rd Virginia Infantry (the Stonewall Brigade) for all of about a month? Not only that, but after being exempted from service because of his work as a shoemaker, he skeedaddled across the lines and hung out in the North until the war was over. Ironically, his grave is marked today by (are you ready for this) … a Veterans Administration headstone that proudly recalls his service in the 33rd Virginia Infantry. It appears to be yet another case of descendants knowing better the story of their ancestors (either that, or just wanting to cover-up the truth).