Saturday, February 11, 2017

I found my ancestor – Not There!

For the past year or so, I've been poring through texts about the American Civil War, especially the Battle of Gettysburg, as research for a book about my ancestor Thomas Maness. Modern books about the Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Regiment, antique books from the library published by old veterans at the dawn of the 20th century, archived maps and narratives.

I hate it.

Technology and terrain brought "enfilading fire" from cannon down upon the troops, while tactics that hadn't changed much since the Revolutionary War kept men marching toward the enemy in all-important line. My great-great-grandfather's regiment, the 26th North Carolina Infantry, lost the highest number (and percentage) of men of any regiment in any battle in the War (Underwood, p. 58). His company, Company H, reported only six men on the duty roster who hadn't been killed, wounded, or captured.

Since Thomas Maness didn't die in the war, and wasn't captured until the following year, I set out to prove that he was one of those six men.

I'd been using Civil War service cards for Thomas: individual records that were transcribed years ago from old rosters (found in Fold3, from microfilm at the National Archives). Besides dates of service and POW time, the cards contain rich details like height and eye color, and the fact that Thomas couldn't read or write (he made his mark). I created a timeline, putting the information in order, and realized there was a huge gap in Thomas' records through much of 1863. That was frustrating, since the Battle of Gettysburg occurred 1-3 July 1863.

I almost went to D.C. last year, but fortunately found out that the information on Fold3 was all the National Archives had as far as service records. I finally found out the original muster rolls were closer to home, in the North Carolina State Archives, and planned a trip to Raleigh.

The archives where I work contains many old ledger books of church records, and that's what I expected for the muster rolls. To my surprise, the librarians brought out huge sheets the size of unfolded road maps. Each sheet detailed one payday and muster (attendance) for Company H, with names and details listed down both sides.

Company H muster roll for 30 June 1863

I went straight to the critical date of 30 June 1863. Ignorant of the large Union force in the nearby town of Gettysburg, but wonderfully timed for future historians, the Confederate army mustered and paid their soldiers the night before the battle. That muster has been used to cite who was in the Battle, although usually by numbers rather than individuals.

The ink or pencil on this particular sheet had faded so much I strained to read it. Finally I found T. S. Maness at the very bottom on the front. I leaned over and followed the line across the page to faint writing in the "Remarks" column: "C[ont] in hospital at Petersburg, V. A." Thomas wasn't paid that day, although his cousin on the line below, Jonas Sedberry Maness, was paid $22.00 for 2 months.

Thomas wasn't there.

I was shocked and pleased and probably laughed. All that research for nothing – my ancestor wasn't even in the Battle of Gettysburg! Why was it funny? Because it matched up with oral history, passed on by Thurman Maness and Lacy Garner. The stories said that when Thomas felt a particularly awful battle coming up, he took "salts" (laxatives) and made himself sick enough to miss it.

Thomas Maness might not have been the most honorable man in the world, but he was certainly a character. His scrappy wit kept him alive — and without that, I wouldn't be here.