Dad hailed from Rockbridge County, Va., home to Lexington, VMI, and Robert E. Lee’s ornately carved sarcophagus. Confederates occupy the mid-19th century limbs on Dad’s family tree, and Dad mapped that tree before he died.
During the early 21st century, Susan and I explored the Shenandoah and discovered the ancestral Confederate graves in obscure Rockbridge County cemeteries. I stood near where a Yankee bullet killed an ancestor “down” the Valley near Front Royal. Later I explored Confederate forts near Richmond where great-grandfather Joseph Godfrey Swartz, then 16, likely shivered and starved in January and February 1865.
Mom hails from Maine. She’s at least a fourth-generation Yankee, and through her we trace our Maine ancestry to circa 1870. So far we have not penetrated the genealogical wall erected about that year, so if a blood ancestor wore Union blue, we don’t know.
But there’s a “step” Billy Yank in the MacKinnon family tree. Appropriately surnamed Blood, he married my grandfather’s mother in the early 1900s, about 40 years after serving with a Maine regiment.
So there’s the family connection to the Civil War.
As for chronological luck, I was born on April 9th. Have you ever explored your birth date’s history to see what exciting events occurred on that special day, other than you being born?
I did: Bataan fell on April 9, 1942, and Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865. Given the choice, I opted for Appomattox Courthouse, especially after the Civil War Centennial kicked off in April 1961.
Fifty years later, I started writing “Maine at War,” envisioned as a monthly BDN column about the Maine men and women involved in the Civil War. Meeting these folks as I researched their stories, I realized that Maine sent hero upon hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country.
Many of them remain there, often buried in graves marked “Unknown.”
“Maine at War” will introduce these heroes. We will tour the battlefields where they fought, and we will discuss the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it.
Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jive with Civil War reality.