Barry's Relatively Speaking:Locating the Civil War Record of Smithi

Posted on Aug 18, 2012

Barry's Relatively Speaking shares the personal experiences and stories of genealogists found in the Everton Genealogical Helper Magazine collection on W. Cooper shares the following experience.

My great grandfather, John M. Smith, was in the Civil War while living in Tennessee. But how to find which unit he was in! In the book, "Tennesseans in Civil War", Part II, I discovered there were nine John M. Smiths and twenty-three J.M. Smiths in the Civil War from Tennessee. With that I gave up!

Last year while working on another family line I learned a distant uncle had been killed in that war. I didn't know his unit either but his name, Wm. C. Gracy, was not common so I took a chance that he would have been the only one with that name, when I wrote to the General Services Department of the National Archives to request his record.

After I received his record I reasoned that since he and Smith had been brothers-in-law, living in adjoining counties they might have served in the same unit. I rechecked the thirty-two Smiths in the above mentioned book. Sure enough there was one in the same division as Gracy.

At the same time I noticed that Part I of "Tennesseans in Civil War" tells about the various military divisions - - and from what counties most of the men in each division came from. Consequently, I could have arrived at the same Smith by checking Divisions and Companies make up of Lincoln County men and cross checking them with the thirty-two Smiths.

I sent for Smith's military record from the National Archives. There was nothing in the record to prove definitely he was 'my' J.M. Smith. The record also didn't give much information as to the part of the war he had been in, and I was curious to know.

Then I found the book, "Military Bibliography of Civil War", compiled by C.E. Dornbusch. It has titles of articles from books and magazines written about the war, and gives where the articles can now be found. I was so delighted to find one entitled, "Diary of Private W.J. Davidson, Co C 41st Tenn. Reg." the very same 'outfit' J.M. Smith was in. At last I could find out something of what he had been through. This diary had been published in eight issues of the Annals of the Army of Tennessee in 1878. The Tennessee State Library has a copy, the issues now bound in book form. The Interlibrary Loan Division of the Dallas Public Library was able to borrow a copy for me to read.

You can imagine my amazement to find 'Jack Smith' mentioned twice in the diary. The first time Davidson wrote, 'Jack Smith, my brother-in-law, arrived yesterday as a new recruit. I was so disappointed because he brought no mail from home.' Suddenly, I remembered Jack's sister had married a Davidson. Checking my family notes at home it was a W. J. Davidson that she had married. By sheer luck I was now definitely sure the J.M. Smith's military record that I had received was that of my great grandfather's.

Davidson also happened to mention how W.C. Gracy received his fatal wound. Even though the author was not related to Gracy he, no doubt, knew him through his brother-in-law, Jack Smith. Jack's wife was a Gracy.

In the same Bibliography I found an article written by a participant in the battle of Pleasant Hill, La. Another of my great grandfathers had been killed in that battle. (No, his name wasn't mentioned) It was in a magazine, The Land We Love, published 1868. I was able to read it at Fondren Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

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