Friday, May 22, 2009

In Memoriam

While on sabbatical in the spring and summer of 2003, I began to write a family history on two Heald ancestors who died during the Civil War. My interest in this topic had begun in grade school when I wrote an essay entitled "The Heald Family of the Civil War." I still have this document--a large scrap book with lined composition paper glued to beige portfolio pages inside. As I now read it, I note various omissions and bits of misinformation, but it reflects throughout the passion I held for the subject as a boy. 

In researching that earlier essay, I came across various old documents folded up in an envelope in my grandmother's desk, among them my great-great grandfather Lysander's yellowed discharge papers from the Union army: "To all whom it may concern: KNOW YE, that Lysander Heald a private of Captain A. Garey's Company (G) 4th Regiment of HA Mass (Heavy Artillery) volunteers, who was enrolled on the 16th day of Aug one thousand eight hundred and sixty four to serve One years or during the war, is hereby DISCHARGED from the service of the United States this Fourteenth day of June, 18 65, at Fort Richardson VA by reason of Close of War."

My ancestor, Benjamin Heald, emigrated from Carlisle, Massachusetts to lands along the Nezinscot River in what would become the town of Sumner, Oxford County, Maine, in 1784. Benjamin's son, Hiram, married Sophronia Hersey in 1824. They had eleven children, three girls and eight boys. Of the eight boys, six would serve in the Union army, among them my aforementioned great-great grandfather Lysander. Two younger brothers of Lysander died during the war: Benjamin Franklin (known as "Frank") and James. It was these later two sons of Hiram and Sophronia of whom I wrote in my 2003 history.

As I eventually discovered, in the absence of letters, diaries, or other personal documentation, it was difficult to write a satisfactory history. I relied almost entirely on "second hand" material, whether of Sumner history, regimental histories, and the like. Bumping up against these limitations, and having come to the end of my sabbatical, I abandoned the project, leaving a seriously ill James left behind in camp as the Union army hastily withdrew from its position at Savage's Station during the Peninsular Campaign in 1862. As we shall see, he was taken by the Confederates and transported to a prison in Richmond.

Over the years, usually in the spring or late autumn, it has become my custom to visit the graves of Frank and James and my other ancestors now buried in the Sumner Hill cemetery. The cemetery is well tended and the headstones are undamaged. I've had contact with the present owners of the old Heald farmhouse down below the cemetery and they have offered to watch over the graves and make sure that all is in good order.

Over the next few posts, as we lead up to the observance of Memorial Day and beyond, I'll share some of what I wrote back in '03. I will begin with a daguerreotype and a November visit to the Sumner Hill cemetery.

(Photo: Lysander, son Arthur Clifton (A.C), and his son, either Charles or Stanley, at the Heald Homestead; Sumner, ME; 1902 (?))

No comments: