First Blogiversary: A one-gun salute

Today is the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy — the family history blog that I launched on 24 April 2014 to begin sharing the stories of my ancestors and the roads I traveled to find them.

August 2014: Union artillery reenactors. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of Molly's Canopy -- 24 April 2015. Photo: Molly Charboneau
August 2014: Union artillery reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of my family history blog Molly’s Canopy. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In weekly posts for the past year, I have primarily chronicled the Civil War experience of my paternal great, great, grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery.

So it seems fitting to celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy with a one-gun salute by Union artillery reenactors.

This blog came to life amid the boom of cannon at my first Civil War reenactment — the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Saunders Field where my ancestor fought.

And out of that illuminating cloud of gun smoke marched ancestors who have waited patiently for years in my research files — advancing, at last, to tell their stories.

First came my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull who — despite war-related illness — was on duty for key battles of the U.S. Civil War during the 1864 Overland and Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

Soon, others joined him. Arthur’s wife, my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, their children and extended family. His 6th N.Y.H.A. commanding officer Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching and fellow artillerists Capt. John Gedney, Sgt. William Thistleton and Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds — whose writings helped animate Arthur’s wartime experience.

Then my late dad Norm Charboneau, a WWII Navy veteran, who traveled with me on many genealogy research trips and helped me discover Arthur’s story — along with numerous valuable clues about our other mutual ancestors.

Next was my Uncle Fred, dad’s youngest brother, whose letters home from his WW II Army assignment give insights into their family life — and Aunt Gig who gave his letters to Dad.

And most recently, my paternal Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and family during their years in Civil War Baltimore, Md.

For the past year this blog has taken me on an incredible, almost magical, journey back through time — as I connected my ancestors to the places and circumstances in which they lived,  the great historic events that shaped their lives, and their unique position in the evolution of my family.

Writing my ancestors’ stories also reconnected me in ways I would not have imagined with my decades of genealogy research. The process helped me identify and evaluate unexamined details in my family history files — and pointed me toward new avenues of research and discovery.

Today, as I celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy and the beloved ancestors who made it possible, I am so grateful that I went looking  for them all those years ago. They have taught me a lot during the past year — and the journey is far from over.

Tomorrow begins year two, during which new ancestors will make themselves known. My heartfelt thanks to readers of Molly’s Canopy who have hung in with me this past year. And a warm welcome to new readers — I hope you will subscribe and join me on the journey.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Mourning President Lincoln

My great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was convalescing in the U.S. General Hospital at Fortress Monroe — 150 years ago this week — when he learned of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. This news could not have been good for his recovery from functional heart disease.

http://www.loc.gov/resource/lprbscsm.scsm0302?sp=3
Mourning badge for U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1865). Throngs of mourners lined the route of Lincoln’s funeral train to bid farewell to a president who had seen them through the U.S. Civil War — only to be brutally struck down just as the serious work of post-war Reconstruction was to begin. Artifact and image: Library of Congress

One can only imagine the shock and dismay that traveled through the hospital wards and along the battlefronts as Union soldiers and sailors learned of the 15 April 1865 death of their beloved president.

They had fought for him, most had voted for him, and many affectionately called him “Father Abraham” and “Old Abe.”  Now without warning, he was gone — shot by a pro-slavery assassin.

Just days before on 9 April 1865 — after Union forces surrounded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia — Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to U.S. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

The surrender of Confederate troops spanned three days — first cavalry, then artillery and finally infantry exchanging their weapons for a pass to return home to civilian life.

On 12 April 1865 — four years after the shelling of Fort Sumter by the secessionists — the Confederate infantry stacked their weapons at Appomattox.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated two days later.

July 2011: Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Md. News of Lincoln's assassination traveled on telegraph lines along this road between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md., where some of those telegraph poles still stand among the trees. Photo by Molly Charboneau
July 2011: Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Md. News of Lincoln’s assassination traveled on telegraph lines along this road between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md. Remnants of the telegraph poles still stand among the trees. Photo by Molly Charboneau

In a 27 April letter, British antislavery author and actress Fanny Kemble captured the widespread grief and anger shared by so many worldwide on learning the circumstances of Lincoln’s death.

I cannot write I feel too incoherently all the horror & misery of this abominable crime — it is a southern deedit represents the spirit of slaveholding.

Sentiment among Union Army ranks ranged from tears to anger to vows of vengeance — sentiments my ancestor Arthur Bull no doubt experienced among his fellow convalescents during his hospital stay.

And I have to wonder: What was the reaction in Baltimore — where my Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey  lived in 1865 — when they and other residents learned that assassin John Wilkes Booth was from Maryland?

Bidding farewell

After Lincoln’s death, cannons boomed for a day and a night — every half hour — in his honor. A funeral train swathed in black crepe bore him home from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Missouri, as throngs of mourners lined the route.

Wearing black ribbons and mourning badges, they stood by the tracks to bid farewell to a president who had seen them through the U.S. Civil War — only to be brutally struck down just as the serious work of post-war Reconstruction was to begin.

The loss was still keenly felt more than a decade later when preeminent African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke these eloquent words in his Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln.

…while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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To hospital at Fort Monroe

During early March 1865, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — formed part of the defenses of Bermuda Hundred, Va.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96516942/
Reception of the wounded soldiers by the national authorities at Fortress Monroe, Va., showing the cars conveying them to the hospital and surgeons dressing their wounds (1862). My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was admitted to the hospital at Fort Monroe on 15 March 1865. Image: Library of Congress

Battles raged further south as Union forces under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — having completed their march to the sea — advanced north through the Carolinas toward Richmond, Va., to meet up with the Union Army of the Potomac.

In Washington, D.C., on 4 March, President Abraham Lincoln was sworn in for his second term  — delivering a second inaugural address calling for post-war reconciliation, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Yet the lines where my great, great grandfather Arthur was stationed, about halfway between Richmond and Petersburg, Va., remained relatively quiet — and Union soldiers on duty with him were hopeful.

“Should Sherman be successful, I am confident the war will soon be at an end,” wrote my ancestor’s fellow artillerist Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds in a 1 March letter to his wife.

Then, on 26 March he wrote that “a movement is anticipated soon should the weather continue favorable.”

However, my great, great grandfather would not be part of that 6th NYHA movement — for in mid-March, his health flagging, he was transferred back to hospital.

According to a 27 Jan. 1884 report in Arthur’s pension file from the U.S. War Dept., Surgeon General’s Office, Record and Pension Division:

Priv. Arthur T. Bull, Col. L, 6′ N.Y.H.A was admitted to G.H. Fort Monroe, Va. March 15, ’65 with functional disease of the heart…

My ancestor had been troubled by heart and lung complaints since he “gave out” on the march during the spring 1864 Overland Campaign.

Then, he was sent away from the front to De Camp Hospital in New Rochelle, Westchester Co, N.Y., for treatment during the summer — rejoining his 6th NYHA regiment in the fall for the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

This time — after being in and out of hospital in January 1865 — Arthur was sufficiently ill to again be removed from duty and transferred on 15 March to a hospital away from the front lines.

My great, great grandfather would remain in the 1,800-bed Union Army General Hospital at Fort Monroe — for treatment of what now sounds like a chronic heart condition — until being returned to duty on 2 May 1865.

More on this in future posts.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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My Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore

Last of three posts on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore.

During the U.S. Civil War, Baltimore, Maryland — home of my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and their family — experienced great political and social ferment.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baltimore_Riot_1861.jpg#file
Massachusetts Militia passing through Baltimore. The city where my Dempsey ancestors lived was placed under federal martial law in 1861 after a pro-slavery mob attacked Massachusetts Militia members en route to federal service in Washington, D.C. Image: Wikipedia

At the start of the war, in 1861, Baltimore City was placed under federal martial law after a pro-slavery mob attacked the Massachusetts Militia as it passed through the city en route to federal service in Washington, D.C.

Known as the Pratt Street Riot, the confrontation resulted in the first bloodshed of the U.S. Civil War and led to the placement of Union soldiers all around Baltimore City — in hospitals, camps, and barracks — where they helped keep belligerent Southern sympathizers at bay.

Meanwhile — like my Dempsey ancestors before them — new waves of immigrants were arriving in the city to seek a better life. Free and formerly-enslaved African Americans were joining the newly-formed U.S. Colored Troops and heading to the front.

And in late 1864, Unionists in the Maryland legislature succeeded in passing a state constitution that abolished slavery — which was followed on 3 Feb. 1865 by Maryland’s ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It was into this cauldron of rapid social change 150 years ago that my great grandmother Elizabeth and her twin sister Maggie were born to the Dempsey family on 28 Feb. 1865 — early arrivals in the first generation that would grow up after the U.S. Civil War.

Two generations would pass before a descendant of my Irish ancestors Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey (my paternal grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” Owen) would marry a descendant of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his wife  Mary (my paternal grandfather William Ray Charboneau).

How fascinating to discover that, before they were joined, these two branches of my family had a separate yet parallel experience of living through a defining period in U.S. history.

More on both families in future posts. For now, we return to my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull on duty at Bermuda Hundred, Va.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1865: The Dempsey twins are born

Second of three posts on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore.

During the final months of the U.S. Civil War, my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine Dempsey welcomed two additions to their large family in Baltimore, Maryland.

http://www.loc.gov/item/75694535/
Baltimore, Md. (1869). At the junction of Lanvale St. and Fremont Ave., shown above, my Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley in the wooded area to the right. Lafayette Square is shown at center. Image: Library of Congress.

On 28 Feb. 1865, Katherine gave birth to twin daughters — my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her sister Margaret M. “Maggie” Dempsey.

What was life like 150 years ago for my Irish ancestors in the city of more than 200,000?

The Dempsey family

According to Baltimore City Directories, from 1870 to 1886 William Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley — a typical location for working class housing behind the main-street buildings.

The list of Dempsey family members in the 1870 U.S. Census for Ward 8 of Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md., gives a rough idea of who might have lived in the household five years earlier — parents Katherine and William; sons Thomas, John and William; and a daughter Mary. The birth of the twins, Elizabeth and Maggie, would have brought that total to eight.

Unlike in the 1860 U.S. Census, when my great, great grandfather William declared a personal estate worth $40 (about $1,170 today), there is no dollar figure next to his name in 1870 — implying that the family was just making ends meet.

Oldest son Patrick, and younger sons James and Andrew — from the 1860 census — are not listed in the Dempsey household in 1870 . I can’t rule out a census-taking error. Yet their absence suggests an evolving family that may have weathered loss and heartbreak.

The wider community

When my Dempsey ancestors were first enumerated in the 1860 federal census, Maryland was a slave state. But there were many free African Americans residing in Baltimore — some of whom also lived and worked in the city’s alleys.

German and Irish immigrants swelled the city in the pre-war years — with the Irish-born population peaking in 1860 at more than 15,500.  The Catholic Church and the Hibernian Society — formed in 1803 to aid Irish immigrants — provided a social framework and support system that likely benefited my Dempsey ancestors.

Lafayette Square near the Dempsey home became Camp Hoffman, the 3rd Maryland Infantry’s barracks during the Civil War — a Union Army encampment where Northern troops recuperated from such hard-fought battles as Antietam and Gettysburg.

My ancestors probably grew accustomed to the sounds of Union soldiers marching and drilling, and the clomp of military horses along the pavement.

Which makes me wonder: As a blacksmith, did my great, great grandfather William do metal work for the Union Army? Or shoe their mules and horses?

More on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore in the next post.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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