Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Left to right: James Paschal King, Ted Welch and James Paschal King, John Giggy before the Battle of Shiloh, and Ted Welch.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is intended to honor those who died in service to their country, but we considered it a day to decorate the graves of all our family members. I didn’t make it to Redmond this year, so this is my tribute: a few words about the ancestors who fought to both establish this country and to stop its independence; to preserve the Union and to destroy it; and who fought for their country in Germany in World Wars I and II and the Pacific in World War II.

My ancestors fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War–Garretts for the Rebels and Welches for the Loyalists–and both sides of the Civil War. In fact, I had a bunch of great-great-grandfathers and great-great-uncles facing off against each other in the Civil War battles at Stones River, Shiloh, and Chickamauga.

The Garretts and Blacks enlisted in the Confederacy at Nashville, Tennessee. William Archer Garrett, my great-great-grandfather, fought with Murray’s Cavalry and Smith’s Cavalry, and his two brothers, James Paschal Garrett and Samuel Woodson Garrett, served with other Tennessee regiments.

Samuel Arnold Black, my Great-Grandmother Permelia’s brother, served in the 23rd Tennessee infantry. He was captured at Hatcher’s Run, Virginia, on April 2. 1865, sent to City Point, Virginia, then to Point Lookout, Maryland, where he spent the rest of the war.

His brothers Hamilton Black and Thomas Jefferson Black also fought for Tennessee. Thomas was captured in Lebanon, Kentucky, and exchanged for Union prisoners on the steamboat Mary Crane. He was once again taken prisoner, this time at Sheperdsville, Kentucky, and forwarded to Louisville Military Prison in Indianapolis. From there he was sent to Camp Morton, Indiana, and ultimately to Camp Douglas, Illinois. There he died on September 12 or 13 of chronic diarrhea as a prisoner of war. He is buried in grave #1349, Chicago City Cemetery.

Fighting for the North were my great-great-grandfathers, James Fletcher Skidgel, Jesse Pearce, and John Giggy. John Giggy enlisted for duty in LaGrange, Indiana, and was wounded at the battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga. At Shiloh, a limb knocked from a tree by artillery fire fell on his shoulder, and at Chickamauga, at bullet pierced his thigh.

James Fletcher’s father and my great-great-great-grandfather, Abraham Skidgel, mustered in on July 20, 1862, in Kendallville, Indiana. He was 58 years old, but gave his age as 44. His 19-year-old son, Abraham Jr., had been drafted, and Abraham Sr. wanted to look after him. Nancy, Abraham’s 59-year-old wife. died just two days after he left to enlist.

My great-uncle Earl Chamberlain served in World War I, as did Ernest Deering, the husband of my Aunt Irene, one of my dad’s sisters. Ernest Deering’s death in that war was just the first such loss to war that Aunt Irene had to endure.

The history of my dad’s service in World War II is told both in my blog and on the website for the 101st Cavalry, but also serving were at least two of Ted Welch's nephews: my cousins Milton Welch and James Paschal King (named, I assume, for the James Paschal Garrett who fought in the Civil War). James, who was the son of my Aunt Irene and her second husband, died on December 18, 1944, when a typhoon sent his ship, the USS Hull, to the bottom of the Pacific. The record of his military service ends with the words "Lost at sea."

I can’t put flowers on their graves this Memorial Day, but I can write out their names and hope they will not be forgotten.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day

From left to right: Anna Belle Giggy Chamberlain, my great-grandmother; Ethel Maude Skidgel Chamberlain, my grandmother; LaVeita Joy Chamberlain Welch, my mother; and Bonnie Ruth Chamberlain Schamber, my aunt.

In the summer of 1959, when I was ten years old, I took a road trip to Oklahoma and Texas in the company of my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my aunt. Mother and Aunt Bonnie sat in the front of our station wagon, Grandma and Little Granny sat in the second seat, and I rode in the back with the luggage.

I had no idea at the time how lucky I was to have those days in their company, and I wish I remembered more about that trip. I recall a lot of laughter and singing, but I have forgotten the family stories and gossip. Worse, I have forgotten their voices. I spent the long drive reading a book or staring mindlessly out the window. I took their presence for granted. They had always been in my life, and I expected they always would be.

For the first 13 years of my life, I was never more than a short walk from my great-grandmother. Born during the Civil War, she told stories that awakened my love of history—stories like how bushwhackers killed her Uncle Alex for his new gun, and how they left her, a frightened five-year-old, alone to drive the wagon home. She outlived two husbands and all three of her sons, and she wanted to live long enough to put a silver dollar—one penny for each of her 100 years—in the collection plate at church. She missed it by just one year.

My grandmother lived until she was 88, and I was 30. In some ways I was closer to her than mother. I went to her with my secrets, and in the battles with my mother, she always took my side. Until I started school, she took care of me while my mother worked, and, after my grandpa died in 1958, she and Little Granny lived in a small trailer in front of our house. It was there I would sit for hours, listening to stories about how Grandma raised seven children while picking cotton in the Rio Grand Valley and fighting the dust bowl in Oklahoma. She was the soft lap and the big arms of my childhood, and when I try to remember the voices of those women in the car, hers is the one I hear, singing hymns loudly and off-key.

My mother died 12 years ago, and Aunt Bonnie has been gone 23 years. It is only now, in their absence, I realize how blessed I was to have so many mother figures in my life. They disciplined me and loved me and helped me sort myself out, and I miss them almost more than I can bear. If I could have just one wish this Mother’s Day, it would be to take another road trip with LaVeita and Bonnie and Ethel and Anna Belle. And this time, I would pay attention.