Last month I went to the Missouri History Museum to see the special exhibit, The Civil War in Missouri. I have to say, the exhibit stressed and depressed me. What a horrible war, particularly in Missouri, which was recognized by both the Union and Confederacy.
Thanks to my family history research, I believed I had people living in Missouri at that time. But I didn’t have that info at my fingertips, so I wasn’t sure who they were and where they lived. (That’s one reason I subsequently downloaded the Reunion app. I blogged about the Reunion app on my organizing business’s website.)
I learned in the exhibit about General Order No. 11, in which all residents of the better part of four western Missouri counties–no matter what their loyalty was–were ordered to vacate their homes and the counties. I looked at the map at the exhibit and saw some counties whose names were familiar from my genealogy research. The horror of what these folks endured–being ordered, by name, to vacate their homes and told they couldn’t return to the county (or other specified counties) and then having their homes and communities destroyed by government-ordered fire–is bad enough. When I contemplated that my ancestors might have been among them, it made it even worse for me.
A week or so later, I was researching my great-great grandfather, John Jeffries, who was born in 1850. I found him on the 1860 census, living in Putnam County, Missouri. He was living in Bates County, Missouri in the 1870 census. (In both censuses, he was living with his parents.) I knew that Bates was one of the counties people were forced to leave.
I decided to try to look into the Civil War experience of people in Putnam County and started by locating it on a map. My heart was in my throat as I zoomed out to try to ascertain where within the state the county is located.
And I was flooded with relief to see that it’s in the north-central portion of the state, bordering Iowa. I think that means they would not have endured martial law. Of course, I still have plenty of social history research to do to verify that. And they probably endured another kind of misery there.
As I went through those emotions, I was really struck by how personal family-history research is and how it makes history feel very real. When you have a connection to an individual who lived through an historical event, it makes that event more vivid, more urgent.
Another interesting reflection is how having ancestors living in Missouri during the Civil War, which had both Confederate and Union sympathizers, made the war a little less cut-and-dried for me. I grew up in the state of Washington and so am a true northerner. I was taught that the Union was the side of the righteous and the Confederacy quite the opposite. The fact that my ancestors may have been terrorized by martial law imposed by the Union doesn’t make it any less horrible to me. Boy, there’s a lot of grey area there.