Help Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville, NC!

For those of you who support historic preservation, here is an opportunity to help support an historic site in North Carolina that is in danger of losing a good portion of its funding!

A View of Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville, NC.

A View of Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville, NC.

Located in Huntersville, just north of Charlotte, Historic Latta Plantation is one of the state’s most treasured historic sites. Built in 1800 by James Latta, an Irish immigrant, the site was purchased by William Sample in 1853. The site has connections to the American Civil War, as several of Sample’s sons joined the Confederate Army as part of the 53rd North Carolina Infantry. In the 1970s, Latta Place, Inc. began to secure funding to restore the plantation house. The site opened in the later part of that decade. The site was then transferred to Mecklenburg County. Today, Historic Latta Plantation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the site’s rich history.

Today, the site is hosts over thirty different events, and several summer camps for children. Between 12 and 20,000 school children visit the location every year. The site also hosts an annual Civil War Reenactment, which draws hundreds of visitors each year. In addition, the site provides one of the most tranquil places you could ever visit. Except for the Visitor Center and the occasional airplane flying over, you would scarcely believe that you are in the 21st Century.

But now, Latta Plantation is in danger of losing its funding from Mecklenburg County due to proposed budget cuts. The site has only a handful of full-time staff to run the site, and has already had its funding cut drastically. If the county does go through with its plan to cut funding to the site, it would greatly hinder the site, and its continued programs.

A petition has been started to encourage the commissioners of Mecklenburg County to not cut its funding to Latta Plantation. I encourage everybody who is interested in saving this valuable piece of history to sign the petition. The link to the petition can be found here. And for more information, you can visit the official website to learn about the Latta Plantation, and why it is important not only to North Carolina history, but to overall American history as well. Please, do not hesitate. Help support this beautiful historic site today!

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CONNECTIONS TO THE PAST: Part One – Primary Documents

The first part in a series of articles discussing the personal connections we have to the people, places and events of the Civil War era.

Although the events of the American Civil War are a century-and-a-half behind us, there are still many things that connect us to those people, places and events that shaped this important part of American history. One of the most important are what have been termed “Primary Documents” by modern scholars. From diaries and journals, to letters home, to telegrams and after-action reports, to discharge and parole papers, these are our most important, and most intimate, connection to the people who lived at this time. It is by reading these primary documents that we can get a sense of who these people were, what they were fighting for, and how combat affected them mentally, physically and spiritually.

I am currently in the middle of working on my Master’s Thesis, the final research project for Graduate School. I am focusing my research on two units that fought in the American Civil War. One of those units is the Confederate 49th North Carolina Troops. As part of the research, I have to go through many primary documents pertaining to the unit. Not only has this been very good for my research project, but it has also been an eye-opening look into the lives of the men who fought in the unit. Much of what I have found has been truly memorable, and also heartbreaking.

In all the research that I have done so far, three moments stand out for me. The first was on my first research trip in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, back at the end of November this past year, to go through the Southern Historical Collections. I went through several documents, but probably the most fascinating that day was the diary of Captain Henry A. Chambers, who served in Company B of the 49th North Carolina, which he kept between June 1863, and April 1865. The diary gives many detailed accounts of the battles the unit fought in during that time, as well as his feelings about the outcomes of those conflicts. His description of the Battle of the Crater, fought on July 30, 1864, is truly memorable for its great detail, and its heartbreaking description of the loss of men (The full transcript of his diaries, including the one kept 1863-65, can be found here).

The second moment came the following day, as I was going through the special collections at Duke University in Durham, NC. I was going through the papers of John Lane Stuart, who fought in Company D of the 49th NC. He wrote several letters to his family at home. But while going through the packet of documents, I stumbled across two small slips of paper. Both were the parole papers given to him after the war had ended, and he had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States. These are important, because there are apparently only a few of these parole slips known to exist. What is also interesting to point out is that, in the first one given to him in August of 1865, the man writing the document misspelled his last name. On the document, the man filling out the form spelled it “Steward.” But when Private Stuart affixed his signature to the document, he spelled it the correct way. This is fascinating, and a bit humorous as well. The other one, which is a “copy” of the oath given to him a month later, the name is misspelled again, this time as “Stewart.” These are unique documents to see, and to find them was a real treasure.

The last moment, and probably the most emotional one, was going back to UNC-Chapel Hill a couple of weeks ago to do more research for the project. This day, I went through the Phifer Family Papers, and some of what I found truly moved me. One of the soldiers who’s letters I went through was Ed Phifer, who went on to be a Lieutenant in the 49th NC. He wrote several letters home, each time wishing members of his family well. As I did a quick look through other letters, I came across a slip of paper folded in two, covering a document that was a little more brittle than the other documents I looked through that day. As I opened it to investigate, I discovered it was the funeral notice for Lieutenant Phifer, who died after suffering wounds. I went back, looking through other documents, and discovered a telegram sent on July 18th, 1864 from Petersburg by his brother to his family notifying them of his death. It was very heart-wrenching to realize that the man whose letters I was going through was one of the men who did not return home from the war. Although I did not know him personally, I did begin to well up a little bit for him and his family, knowing that he gave his life for his home and family, and that his loved ones would not see him again in this life.

To go through these primary documents from the war is to connect personally with the men and women of that time period. To see how they lived through America’s darkest days. To read for yourself what they fought and died for. And most important of all, to feel a personal connection to the events of the American Civil War, a feeling that historical books cannot give you. To me, these documents are just as important a connection as the battlefields and structures of the period that are preserved. For it is through these letters, diaries, journals, and other items that the men themselves are given life again. I encourage everybody to take a day or two to visit the places that hold these types of documents, to see for yourselves the private collections of the men and women who shaped the most important time in our nation’s history.

Antietam 150th: The Bloodiest Day Remembered

On September 17th, 1787, the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia approved the final draft of the United States Constitution, and thirty-eight delegates, including George Washington, the President of the Convention, filed forward to sign the document. It was a great moment in American history. “In writing the Constitution, the Founding Fathers launched a daring experiment. The idea that a free people could begin a new country by designing their own government and writing down the laws and principles they would follow had never been tried before. The Constitution has guaranteed freedom, equality, opportunity, and justice to hundreds of millions of people.”[1] However, this document, birthed out of the promise of freedom for all Americans, allowed for the continuation of slavery in the United States. The question of slavery would not be answered until the American Civil War, a conflict where the issue of slavery and freedom was at its very heart. A century-and-a-half later, the very existence of the country for which the Constitution was created, as well as the question of slavery, would be fought over for twelve agonizing hours along a creek named the Antietam, near a small Maryland town called Sharpsburg.

The road to Antietam began on August 30th, 1862. On that day, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia dealt a severe blow to Union General John Pope and his army at the Battle of Second Manassas. It was a major triumph for Lee and his men. They had successfully prevented George B. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac from taking Richmond the past July. Now, another large army had been defeated, and forced to retreat from Virginia. Now, Virginia was briefly free of Federal troops. Lee, not one to rest on his laurels, planned a bold move. He planned to take his army north into Maryland.

Lee had several reasons for doing this. With the fall harvest coming along, he could feed his army well. Maryland was also a state being held in the Union by force, and the presence of Confederate troops in that state could be viewed as liberation. He felt the state might show them hospitality, and the army might receive additional troops from the state as well He also saw a chance to possibly move into Pennsylvania, if things went well. Success in the northern states might also convince European powers to intercede in the war on Confederates behalf. Although some felt skeptical that a move into Maryland, which might be construed as an invasion, would succeed, the plan was approved. On September 4th, 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia began to cross the Potomac River into Maryland, for the first invasion of northern soil by Confederate troops. He divided his army into four wings. Three of the wings were sent with General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to deal with the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The fourth segment would move along the Blue Ridge Mountains.[2]

In Washington City, Union President Abraham Lincoln was having serious troubles. His last three army commanders had proven to be the wrong man for the job. Irving McDowell had been defeated at First Manassas in July of 1861. George McClellan had lost all nerve and had retreated from the Peninsula the past July. And John Pope had been defeated at the Second Battle of Manassas in August. Lincoln was desperate for a victory, so he reluctantly returned McClellan to command of the Union troops in the field. On September 13th, McClellan received a piece of luck in his hands. A copy of General Lee’s Special Orders 191, detailing the troop movements of the entire Confederate Army, was found in a field wrapped around some cigars. McClellan knew the chance to defeat Lee was given to him. “I have all the plans of the rebels and will catch them in their own trap,” wrote the exuberant McClellan to President Lincoln.[3]

On September 14th, 1862, Confederates were surprised by the Union assaults at Fox’s and Crampton’s Gap along South Mountain. Although they stood defiantly, the Confederates were no match for the oncoming Federals, and Lee was forced to order a retreat. However, Lee halted the retreat when word reached him that Jackson’s attack on Harper’s Ferry was succeeding. He stopped his men near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, along a stream known as Antietam Creek, to wait for further word. The following day, Jackson wrote that the garrison had surrendered. Lee decided to wait along the Antietam to reunite his force. While Jackson ordered A.P. Hill and his division to remain at the Ferry to parole Federal prisoners, he took the remainder of his force to reunite with Lee. By the end of the 16th, he had rejoined Lee at Sharpsburg. Still, Lee had only some 38,000 troops, and was outnumbered by McClellan three to one. But McClellan would once again prove being inept to command and his failures as a leader would result in the bloodiest single day in American history.[4]

The Battle of Antietam began at dawn on September 17, 1862. “The Union army launched assault after assault against the Confederate left – precisely where Lee had positioned Jackson. Fierce fighting raged incessantly for nearly four hours in” the Miller Cornfield,” the East Woods, and the West Woods. About midway through the butchery, as Jackson’s reserves were thinning, John Bell Hood rushed forward with his division, the Texas Brigade leading the charge.”[5] Although the Texas Brigade suffered heavy losses, they halted the Union momentum.

The Miller Cornfield, site of some of the heaviest fighting at Antietam.

Also involved in the fighting around this sector was the 49th North Carolina Troops, which would see heavy fighting in the West Woods. Although not present at the battle himself, a member of Company I of the 49th, William A. Day, wrote of the battle in his history that he wrote some thirty years later. “We were in the battle all day and made several charges on the enemy, driving them back several times,” Day wrote.[6] The battle along Jackson’s sector raged for four hours, and although the attacks by six Union divisions had caused the Confederate left to buckle, it did not break. When the first phase of fighting at Antietam was over, over 8,000 men were killed or wounded.[7]

The next phase of fighting shifted to the Confederate center, where Confederates held a depression known as the Sunken Road. Here, Federal troops would once again attack in wave after wave. Amongst the units charging against this position was the Irish Brigade, led by General Thomas Francis Meagher. Although they showed gallantry in the fight, they were unable to successfully drive Confederates from their position. However, Federal attacks did inflict serious casualties. The road became covered in Confederate dead, with blood filling the bottom of the depression. From this time forward, the Sunken Road would be forever known as the Bloody Lane. “The Confederate line broke here after three hours of valiant defense, but the Federals failed to exploit the breach.”[8] 5,500 Confederate and Union troops fell in this phase of the battle.

The Sunken Road (left), and the field Federal troops crossed to get there.

The third and final phase of the fighting shifted to the Confederate right, where Major General Ambrose Burnside attempted to dislodge Confederates on bluffs overlooking the Antietam. He first tried to send troops over a narrow bridge that now bears his name, but to no avail. However, Union troops were able to forward the Antietam downstream, and were successfully able to push the Confederates from their positions. However, just “as Burnside was about to smash Lee’s right, more help arrived: A.P. Hill’s division hurrying up from Harper’s Ferry. Hill’s men swarmed onto the battlefield, stunning Burnside and driving him backward – thus securing Lee’s line and ending the battle at dusk. It represented a remarkable effort by Hill, who had marched his men seventeen miles in seven hours and battled for another three, saving Lee’s army from certain defeat.”[9]

Overlooking the site of A.P. Hill’s attack at Antietam.

With Hill’s successful counterattack, the Battle of Antietam was over. Confederate losses totaled 10,316 killed, wounded and captured or missing. Union losses amounted to 12,401. In just twelve hours of fighting, both sides had lost over 22,700 men, the highest casualty numbers for any single day in American history. And the battle that was fought became a tactical draw for both sides. Although Lee had suffered the loss of nearly a third of his army, he remained in place the following day, as if daring McClellan to strike again. But McClellan chose not to do so, and on the night of the 18th, Lee began to pull his army back across the Potomac, to the safety of Virginia. McClellan chose to not follow, allowing the Confederates to escape.

Although Lincoln was furious with McClellan for not chasing Lee, he realized that the Confederates had been thwarted in their attempt to invade Maryland. This gave the President the “victory” he needed to change the aim of the war. On September 22nd, 1862, five days after the bloody fight at Antietam, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, stating that any slave held in bondage in those states in rebellion would be forever free as of January 1st, 1863. With this document, Lincoln gave the war a dual purpose: preserve the Union, and end the scourge of slavery. This document also helped to keep European powers at bay, and Confederates began to realize that a war over the very question of slavery was one they could not win. So, it can be said that the Battle of Antietam was truly the beginning of the end of the American Civil War for the Confederacy.

Works Cited and Consulted

Bennett, William J., and Cribb, John T.E. The American Patriot’s Almanac. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2008.

Day, William A. A True History of Company I, 49th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, in the Great Civil War, Between the North and South. Newton, NC: Enterprise Job Office, 1893.

Frye, Dennis E. “Bloody Antietam: ‘The Most Terrible Clash of Arms…’” Gods and Generals: The Illustrated Story of the Epic Civil War Film. New York: Newmarket Press, 2003.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.


[1] William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb, The American Patriot’s Almanac (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2008), 354.

[2] Dennis E. Frye, “Bloody Antietam: ‘The Most Terrible Clash of Arms…’”, Gods and Generals: The Illustrated Story of the Epic Civil War Film (New York: Newmarket Press, 2003), 113.

[3] Frye, 113.

[4] Frye, 113-114.

[5] Frye, 114.

[6] William A. Day, A True History of Company I, 49th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, in the Great Civil War, Between the North and South (Newton, NC: Enterprise Job Office, 1893), 28.

[7] Frye, 114-115.

[8] Frye, 115.

[9] Frye, 115.

MOVIE NEWS: Spielberg’s “Lincoln” Bio-pic Gets November Release Date!

Daniel Day-Lewis and his Lincoln appearance.

We have often discussed the film Lincoln, the $50 Million project from Director Steven Spielberg, on this blog and the To Appomattox blog. But today, we finally have confirmation of the film’s release date. Although a December release date was rumored, the film is now scheduled for limited release on Friday, November 9th, according to ComingSoon.net. The film will then go wide on November 16th, a week later. The film stars Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, who is supported by an all-star cast, including Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant. It is based in part on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

This is one that a lot of us history lovers have waited for, and now we have less time to wait than originally planned. When the film is released, a review will be posted here. So, stay tuned!

“It Was Not War – It Was Murder:” The Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1st, 1862

Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Malvern Hill, which was fought on July 1st, 1862, outside of Richmond, Virginia. Although a tactical victory for Union forces, this conflict, the final in a series of battles known as the Seven Days’, this battle marked an end to General George B. McClellan’s first time in command of the Army of the Potomac. It also marked the rise of General Robert E. Lee, and the Army of Northern Virginia, as a forced to be reckoned with in the Eastern Theater of the war. Here, we shall look at this battle, and its effect on the war.

Drawing of the Battle at Malvern Hill

The Battle of Malvern Hill was the culmination of the infamous Peninsula Campaign, which began in March of 1862, when Union General George B. McClellan led the Army of the Potomac from the Virginia Peninsula, in an attempt to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond. Although a cautious man, “Little Mac,” as his soldiers affectionately called him, was almost successful, bringing his men to within a few short miles of the city. But it was mainly because McClellan faced a similarly cautious general in the form of Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. But all of that changed on May 31st, 1862, when Johnston was severely wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. In his place, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed his military adviser, General Robert E. Lee, to command the Confederate army in the field. It was a decision that Johnston himself credited as a great moment for the Southern cause.[1]

Lee wasted no time in preparing a campaign against McClellan. He sent one of his best cavalry officers, James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart, on a reconnaissance ride that would eventually complete an entire circuit around the Union army between June 12th and June 16th. From the information Stuart gathered, Lee chose to attack the enemy. This decision would culminate in what would become known as the Seven Days’ Battles, of which Malvern Hill would be the final conflict in a series of six engagements fought over several days. In assaults at Oak Grove, Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, Savage Station and Glendale, Lee would time and time again attempt to drive Union forces from strong defenses.  And with the exception of Gaines’ Mill, Lee would be defeated at every chance. This frustrated Lee, who wanted to deal a complete blow to his enemy. However, it did have an effect on the mind of his opponent. McClellan feared that he was outnumbered, and even though he won several of the engagements during the Seven Days’, he continued to pull his troops back, fearing that his men might be destroyed, and with it his reputation.[2]

After several failures to defeat the enemy, and drive them from their positions, Lee still hoped to achieve success. But this time, the Federals had set up a defensive position on Malvern Hill, their strongest one yet. “One hundred and fifty feet high and flanked by deep ravines a mile apart, Malvern Hill would have to be attacked frontally and uphill across open fields. Four Union divisions and 100 guns covered this front with four additional divisions and 150 guns in reserve. Unless these troops were utterly demoralized, it seemed suicidal to attack them.”[3] Yet lee chose to do so, with many signs leading him to believe the enemy was demoralized. That, along with his frustration at continual failure, led him to attack “those people” yet again. Longstreet, usually against this type of assault, shared his commanding officer’s sentiments.[4]

The attack was planned for the morning of July 1st. That morning, “Longstreet found two elevated positions north of Malvern Hill from which he thought artillery might soften up Union defenses for an infantry assault. Lee ordered artillery to concentrate on the two knolls. But staff work broke down again; only some of the cannoneers got the message, and their weak fire was soon silenced by Union batteries. Lee nevertheless ordered the assault to go forward.”[5] Lee had once again hoped that artillery crossfire would silence enemy artillery, and once again, that hope was not realized. Despite this, the men were ordered to move forward. What followed was a series of piecemeal assaults. “Some intrepid souls actually stormed to the crest in the face of overwhelming fire; most were mowed down along the slope or fell to the ground, unwilling to advance farther, and made their way back when they thought it was safe.”[6]

For some of the Confederates, Malvern Hill would be their first time in battle. One of the units who would see the elephant for the first time was the 49th North Carolina, commanded by Colonel Stephen Ramseur, and part of Robert Ransom’s brigade. Having only trained for two months before being put into battle, Ramseur wrote to his brother about his misgivings before the fight. “I do not put much confidence in my men,” and said that they “look scared & anxious.”[7] But just as other Confederates would make their own states proud, the 49th NC would do well under fire. One of the men who wrote of his experiences in this fight was William A. Day, a private in Company I from Catawba County. Years after the war ended, he wrote of his experiences while serving with the 49th.

Of Malvern Hill, Day wrote a vivid description of his Company’s action:

We arrived in the vicinity in the evening and formed our line of battle in the woods near the clover field. We remained there till late in the evening. When the advance was made we moved out of the woods into the clover field, and were soon in full view of the hill. We moved rapidly across the field, keeping our lines in perfect order under terrible fire from the batteries on the hill. We could see our artillery retreating, lashing their horses. The fired was too hot for them, and they had lost so many men they had to fall back. When we reached the fence a staff officer was there sitting on his horse crying at the top of his voice: “Lord God Almighty double quick, they are cutting are men to pieces,” and kept on repeating those words. In crossing the fence and swamp our lines were broken and, moving on the foot of the hill where we were sheltered from the fire, we re-formed our line. In a few moments the command charge was given. We gave what the Yankees were pleased to call the “rebel yell,” and started at double quick up the hill, and were soon breasting the storm.

General Bob Ransom, with a white handkerchief around his cap, spurred his horse through the lines and dashing in front of the 49th Regiment, called out in a voice that could be plainly heard above the uproar of battle: “Come on boys, come on heroes, your General is in front” and kept cheering us until we had nearly reached the Crews house. He then turned and galloped down the line. We charged up to the Crews house within thirty feet of the batteries. Sergeant Frank Moody of company I was carrying the colors. They almost wrapped us in flames – we could go no further. We halted and fired round after round at the Yankee artillerymen, whose faces shined by the flash of their guns. Our firing seemed to make no impression on them. Our Colonel Ramseur was badly wounded, and passed the order down the line to lie down. This sheltered us from the fire, which passed over our heads. We lay upon the ground about five minutes, when orders were passed down the line to fall back in good order. The batteries by this time had slacked their fire. We moved back until we were under cover of the hill and re-formed our line.[8]

According to Day, Company I lost sixteen men killed, wounded or captured. Losses amongst the other companies in the regiment were high as well.[9] Overall, Lee’s failure at Malvern Hill cost the Confederates over 5,600 men, while Union losses amounted to around 2,100. D.H. Hill called the battle murder, and not war.[10] Once again, Lee had failed to dislodge Union troops from their defensive positions. And yet, McClellan, fearing himself outnumbered, once again ordered his men to fall back. In August, after spending the entire month of July with their backs against the James River, Lincoln ordered the men to withdraw from the Peninsula to help with events taking place in Northern Virginia.

The Seven Days’ battles, which culminated with Malvern Hill, had been extremely costly for the Confederacy. In the six battles that took place between June 25th and July 1st, the Army of Northern Virginia had only won one of the engagements, and lost over 20,000 men in the process, while Union forces lost nearly 16,000 men. However, despite Confederate failures, McClellan’s cautiousness forced him to continue falling back, despite outnumbering his forces. When he and his men were pulled from the Peninsula in August, Lee and the Confederates had a tactical victory. With this, Lee began to plan an offensive against the Union Army of Virginia, commanded by John Pope, leading to the Battle of Second Manassas at the end of August, briefly freeing Virginia from Union troops, and leading Lee to plan his first invasion of the North. With the Seven Days, the legend of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was forged.

Works Cited

Day, William A. A True History of Company I, 49th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, in the Great Civil War, Between the North and South. Newton, N.C.: Enterprise Job Office, 1893.

“Dod Ramseur to Brother, 5 June 1862.” Stephen D. Ramseur Papers. Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Glatthaar, Joseph T. General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse. New York: Free Press, 2008.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.


[1] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 461-462.

[2] McPherson, 463-469.

[3] McPherson, 469.

[4] McPherson, 469.

[5] McPherson, 470.

[6] Joseph T. Glatthaar, General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (New York: Free Press, 2008), 139-140.

[7] “Dod Ramseur to Brother, 5 June 1862,” Stephen D. Ramseur Papers (Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill).

[8] William A. Day, A True History of Company I, 49th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, in the Great Civil War Between the North and South (Newton, N.C.: Free Enterprise Job Office, 1893), 20-21.

[9] Day, 21-22.

[10] Glatthaar, 140.

Remembering Family on Memorial Day

Memorial Day. To some, this is just a day off from work, where we do labor around the house, go to baseball games, grill hot dogs and hamburgers, amongst other things. Those are all well and good. But for many, this is one of several days every year where we reflect on our American freedoms, and those who have fought and died in the preservation of our country.

In honor of our fallen soldiers.

For me, it is a day to reflect on all of those ancestors of mine who served in our armed forces. And in the past couple of years, we have discovered that our military ancestry goes as far back as the American Revolution, the war that broke off the tyrannical chains of Britain, and set up the country we live in today. In that war, my five times Great Grandfather, Thomas Hemphill, was an officer in the North Carolina militia, part of the famed Over-Mountain Men. He was a Lieutenant when he led his men into battle at King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780. It was at this battle that an entire wing of British General Cornwallis’ army was surrounded and captured, helping to turn the tide of the Revolution in the South. Lieutenant Hemphill would eventually be promoted to Captain before the war’s end.

When it comes to the American Civil War, I know of at least two ancestors who fought in the Confederate army during the war. While it is not popular to honor Confederate soldiers on American Memorial Day, I do so because these men fought for the same reasons that all American soldiers have fought: the defense of their homes and families. On my Mother’s side of the family, my three or four times Great Uncle, Henry P. Brendle, fought as a part of Thomas’ Legion, a Confederate unit in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee/Western North Carolina, and was comprised entirely of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers. They fought in several major engagements  in the mountains, and a portion of this force was even involved in the fighting in the Shenandoah Valley, and at Monocacy, in 1864. After the war, Henry Brendle returned home to start over.

On my Father’s side of the family, my three times Great Grandfather, Elijah W. Marlowe, served in Company A of the 49th North Carolina Troops. This unit first saw action at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, and was also present at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, before spending most of 1863 in North Carolina to help with troubles in the state. They returned to Virginia in 1864, and took part in the vicious battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. What was left of the regiment was virtually destroyed at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and surrendered just a few men at Appomattox eleven days later. Elijah Marlowe was apparently captured twice, before being paroled at Point Lookout in June of 1865. He returned home to start his life anew.

The Second World War saw thousands upon thousands of families send their families off to fight. My family was no exception. On my Dad’s side of the family, my Grandfather, Joseph Hancock, and three of his brothers (Leroy, Howard, and Adolphus Hancock Jr.) served in the war. My Grandfather and Howard served in Europe, while Leroy and “Junior,” as Adolphus was called, served in the Pacific. Another of my Grandfather’s brothers, Sherman Hancock, served in Japan during the occupation following the end of hostilities. All saw the horrors of war in their most brutal form, as they fought to virtually save the world from the Axis powers, and make the world safe for democracy. My Grandfather would go on to serve in Korea as well.

Vietnam saw its own share of horrors, and those men who served there have never been given credit for the sacrifices they made. My Uncle Conrad served in that war at the beginning, but was not there to see the horror that it became. My Uncle Joe was also in that war, though I was unaware of this until recently.

Of course, not all of my family who has served in the military has seen war. But that does not mean their service was any less appreciative. On my Mother’s side, my Grandfather, Clifford Payne, served in the Navy during the 1950s. He always jokes about “having served in the Cold War,” but in a sense, he is not joking. If American and Russia had gone to war, men like him would have served in a conflict far more brutal and unforgiving as any way previously fought. We are grateful to them for serving in a time of such unrest.

And today, that service to our country has not waned. My fourth cousin, Joel Evans, is currently an officer in the United States Army. We are grateful to Joel for his continual service to our country, and pray that he will remain safe.

If there is any of my family I have missed, it is hard to keep track of everybody who has served in our armed forces, both in war and in peacetime. But know that your contribution is still on my mind. And to all of those who have served, and are currently serving in the United States military, thank you all for your service to our country. It is your sacrifice that is keeping our country safe. May God continue to watch over you, and keep you safe from harm.