In previous posts, I’ve written about Horace Scott’s (my 3rd-great-grandfather) service in the Civil War, and discovering that his father Hiram Scott (my 4th-great-grandfather) enlisted as well, after Horace fell ill from tuberculosis in 1864. Hiram joined his son in Company C of the 95th Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers, where he contracted and died of dysentery. From Hiram’s wife’s claim for her widow’s pension, I learned that Horace had a younger brother (Winfield) who was too young to fight in the war and who stayed home in Illinois with his mother.
While looking for more information on Horace and Hiram’s service in Company C of the 95th Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers, I came across the Illinois Civil War database, hosted by the Illinois State Archives. Using this database, I discovered that there were not just two Scotts in Company C of the 95th Regiments, but four. There was also a 19-year-old Willard J. Scott and an 18-year-old James H. Scott. Were these yet more brothers of Horace? Scott is not an uncommon name, so I compared the details of the four records (below) to see if I could see any patterns.
As I mentioned in previous posts, my newly discovered cousin Anne dropped a bombshell on me about six weeks ago when she mentioned that Sever Severson kept a diary in 1864, the year he died while serving the Union Army in the Civil War. She had a faint photocopy of it that her mother had made, and she recalled that it had been passed down to another branch of the family. She tracked down these cousins and found they still had the diary. One of these cousins, Charlie, lives only two and a half hours away, and Nancy lives in Spain, but just so happened to be visiting over the last two weeks (the curious coincidences of this encounter could fill a post on their own).
A little over a week ago, I drove out to the Sierra foothills to meet Nancy and her father Charlie. Nancy and her father are also descendants of Sever Severson, and they’re also passionate about family history. Nancy and Charlie are descended from Celia Severson, the sister of my great-great-grandmother, Carrie Severson (making Nancy and I third cousins, one removed, and Charlie and I second cousins, twice removed). After a talking for a while, Nancy took me upstairs to where their family history files are kept and showed me the diary.
It was smaller than I imagined (4.9 x 3.25 inches; slightly larger than an iPhone), and in much better shape than I expected it to be. Nancy and I both put on our cotton gloves to look through the diary, and I couldn’t help thinking that Sever would be happy to see the grandchildren of his grandchildren (or, in my case, the great-grandchild of his granddaughter) being brought together after all these generations by the diary he wrote 149 years ago.
Locating an ancestor’s Civil War military service records can sometimes be difficult, but it is by no means an impossible task. If your ancestor served in the Union army, if he had a distinctive name, if you know where he lived, when he served, and you’ve found at least one mention of the unit (company and regiment) that he served in, it can actually be an easy, straight-forward task. Even if you have only some of this information, you can often still find your ancestor thanks to a number of tremendously useful indexes that are available in printed form or online.
If, on the other hand, your ancestor had a common (and commonly misspelled) name, if you’re unsure of when and where he served, if all available military documents strangely omit reference to his company and regiment, and if he seems to be missing from all relevant indexes, it sure starts to feel like it might be impossible.
In today’s post, I’ll share my experiences trying to find my ancestor’s elusive Civil War service record. I have a record that he was drafted in June, 1863, and he’s included in a list of the men going to war in September, 1863. I also have strong evidence that he died in a Union hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 30, 1864, that he was buried in a military cemetery that same day, and that he was exhumed and reinterred with a military headstone in Marietta National Cemetery. Yet between September, 1863, and September, 1864, if the consulted sources are to be believed, there is no record of his military service. I’ll see what I can do about that.
In Part 1 of this post, I introduced the story of Sever Severson, the Norwegian immigrant, husband, and father of five daughters, who was drafted for military service in the Civil War and apparently died in the war, never to come home.
In a recent post, I shared news about an exciting development that’s come to light in my research into Sever Severson’s death—knowledge that Sever kept a daily diary from January 1, 1864, until September 26, 1864, just four days before he died, and that at least a copy of that diary has survived.
In this, the second post in this series, I’ll assess what I don’t know in regards to the emerging story of the life and death of Sever Severson, and I’ll formulate questions that I’ll need to answer in order to shed light on these unknowns. I’ll do what I can to answer as many of the questions as possible, and then I’ll chart a course for finding answers to the remaining questions.
What a week it’s been! After writing the first post of this series on the death of Sever Severson, while planning my next steps for research, I was reviewing my previous research on this subject. As I was looking over some past correspondence, I noticed that I had received a message through Ancestry.com from a woman (I’ll call her A.W.) who appeared to be my third cousin, once removed. My great-great-grandmother, Ellen Caroline “Carrie” (Severson) Bailey and her great-grandmother, Cecilia M. “Celia” (Severson) Leary were sisters, and both were daughters of the man I was researching, Sever Severson.
As those who’ve known me can attest, I’m generally not known as a great correspondent. My genealogical work is an exception, as I try quite hard to keep on top of my communications with family members and genealogists with whom I share common research interests. So it was with no small amount of embarrassment that I discovered that I had let a promising correspondence slip away through neglect.
I’m not sure why I was so busy at that particular time two years ago (although people who know me well will tell you that I’m always busy, all the time—it’s my nature), but my response was a quick note saying I’d write back as soon as I had a moment. By the time whatever it was that I was working on had eased up, I had forgotten about A.W.’s letter.
I’d like to introduce the tragic story of a Norwegian immigrant, Sever Severson, dying far from home in the service of his adopted country. Despite his death while serving his country, his service to his adopted country was apparently all but unnoticed by the very government he was fighting for. If not for his death, burial, later disinterment and subsequent reburial in a military cemetery, his country and his descendants may not have even known he died, far from home, fighting for the survival of the country that we call home.
I do not know this story first-hand, of course, because Sever is my great-great-great-grandfather, and he died a century and a half ago. Even his daughter, my great-great-grandmother Carrie Severson Bailey, was only 4 years old when he went to war, and whatever memories she may have had of her father did not make it down through the family to me.
In Part 1 of this series, I’ll present what I currently [think I] know about Sever Severson—his life, his family, his military service, and his death. In subsequent posts in this series , I’ll chart a research strategy, undertake the necessary research, present the results of this research, and will hopefully be able to draw some conclusions about the life and death of Sever Severson.