More unraveling of complexities in a family’s story

Posted on July 8, 2012 by


Since the “wires” seem to be hot with stories of Southern Unionism (Craig offered-up yet another story of Southern Unionism just today!)… here comes another meaty morsel which I ran across recently.

I don’t recall, exactly, how it came to my attention, but recently, while perusing the Web, I ran into a biographical sketch of a distant uncle who took up residence, years after the war, in Kansas. The sketch was part of the History of Reno County (Kansas).

“Uncle Mike” – Capt. Michael Shuler, Co. H, 33rd Va. Inf.

Knowing my third great-grandfather’s inclinations (who was also this distant uncle’s brother) toward Unionism… I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Then again, my third great grandfather’s son, and that distant uncle’s nephew (Michael Shuler), was a company commander in the Stonewall Brigade. Not to mention, Michael’s brother, Isaac, also went off to join the Confederate army (though there is no service record… simply a personal account stating the fact), voluntarily, (as I recall, wanting a little payback for his brother, who was killed in the Wilderness, in May, 1864), in 1865.

Like I said… it’s complex… and the story seems to become more complex all the time.

Still, I think when we can get beyond the “Oh, this fellow was a Confederate, so everyone in his nuclear family must have been as well” state of mind, the complexities might not be as uncommon as some may think.

It might be indelibly etched (thank you ,”Lost Cause” legacy) in some minds that whenever a southern boy left home, to serve in the Confederacy, this was the most common scene… but… not so. Image from Gilbert Gaul’s (1855-1919) “Leaving Home”

Anyway, my fourth great grand uncle (John Shuler’s younger brother), William D. Shuler, is described thus…

When Virginia ordered a vote on secession in 1861 he was one of twelve voters in his precinct who voted for a continuance of the Union.

Well, actually, that’s news to me, because the actual number of men in Page County, Virginia who voted against secession was less than that… although I’m aware of several who had Unionists sentiments and were either coerced into voting against what they wanted, or influenced to stay away from the polls altogether. In truth, he may have been one of four to vote against the ordinance… but considering this next tidbit, below, I have my doubts, because I just can’t see that William would hold the rank of lieutenant with such outspoken sentiments…

Yes, that’s correct… at the beginning of the war, William D. Shuler was on the rosters of the 97th Virginia Militia, AND listed as a 2nd lieutenant. Egad! How can that be?! Of course, I’m grinning because, again… it doesn’t surprise me.

Now, one can look at this in two ways…

… from the Kansas biography, his sentiments might be read as Unionist, but…

… read alone from his service record (he served, therefore he believed…), and not being aware of his Kansas bio sketch, his sentiments might be considered Confederate-leaning.

All the more reason to get below the surface, and not jump right into the “what you see is what you get”/WYSIWYG mentality.

I’ve said it before, some folks like to suggest loyalty based on the mere appearance of an individual on a couple of cards in the Combined Service Records of the Confederate army.

Not so fast…

The Kansas biography also states…

He was drafted into the Second Virginia Infantry, under “Stonewall” Jackson, despite his opposition to secession and served for a year before employing a substitute to take his place, during which time he participated in the battles at Blue’s Gap and near Harper’s Ferry.

Wellllll, yes, and no.

Again, as I’ve said before (you have to follow => this link to a previous post in which I mentioned details about the 97th Virginia Militia, also known… not as the Second Virginia Infantry, BUT as the Second Regiment, 7th Brigade, Virginia Militia), early war militia service is a rather unsure thing upon which to claim overwhelming enthusiasm and dedication to the Confederate cause. In fact, as the above quote suggest, William Shuler may have indeed felt as if he was drafted… even before the first Confederate draft, in the spring of 1862 (150 years ago, just two months ago). Like many a Virginia militia unit, the 97th Virginia was a prewar unit, which was, in essence, “activated” by the Commonwealth for military service after secession. Bottom line… these guys didn’t actually sign up for this type of thing. Some of these same men may have embraced the “cause”, but just how many did not?

As for the second part of the quote above,  “under ‘Stonewall’ Jackson”… that is correct, for the 97th did see service with Jackson, beginning as early as late summer, 1861, and did see minor action… in fact, one of those actions being where Shuler’s brother-in-law, John D. Aleshire, another lieutenant in the 97th, was mortally wounded in action.

The last entry for William D. Shuler in the rolls of the 97th is in December, 1861. Considering the biographical entry, I’d say he probably continued to be in the unit (at least on paper) until it was disbanded, in January, 1862.

Here’s one more portion from that biographical sketch that is relevant to this whole thing…

Upon leaving the army he returned home and there was seized by Union forces. Upon explaining his position toward secession, however, he was released and the federal soldiers gave orders that his place should not be molested.

If I were to guess (based on other things I know about the two occupation episodes for my home county, in 1862), I’d say he was probably taken into custody by Federal soldiers in April 1862, with the first occupation of Page County. What puzzles me, however, is the absence of anything further regarding his experiences during the war. He was, after all, age-eligible for the Confederate draft, but somehow stayed out. Did he find an exemption? Perhaps.

My gut feeling is that this Virginian of the Valley was a Unionist before the war, and during the war. After the militia was disbanded, he may have just laid low, took on a government job as an exemption (and kept his sentiments to himself), or left the county for a bit, and returned only after the conclusion of the war. There’s nothing to say for sure.

William survived the war, relocated to Kansas, in 1875, and became known as “one of the oldest and best-known pioneers” of Reno County. William died in 1924, and was buried in Mitchell Cemetery, in Hutchinson, Reno County, Kansas.