Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Family Story

During the Civil War, my Great-Great-Grandfather William A. Camp, took up arms in the bloody sectional conflict known as the Civil War. However, despite being from Alabama, a state which officially seceeded from the Union, Mr. Camp fought for the North instead. My father's father's father's father owned no slaves, was dirt poor, and despite being nineteen year old, already had three children and a wife to support.

He had never been a devotee towards the Southern cause at all, but by 1864, when he decided to fight, the Confederacy was ruined. It had lost at Gettysburg a year before and it was within 9 months of surrendering. Confederate paper currency, valuable in the heyday of the C.S.A. was practically worthless by the end of the war. The Union however, paid in gold. I think he made a wise choice.

But he was hardly the only Southerner to fight for the Union.

When the gathering dark clouds of war were all encompassing in the South and in Northwest Alabama in particular in the spring of 1861, the voices of dissent were loud and clear. While some were eager to fight for a newly created secessionist government, many others considered an impeding war as a wicked, treasonous undertaking and wanted no part of it.

Indeed, a majority in the hills of Northwest Alabama, mostly poor yeomen dirt farmers, saw little value or reason in taking arms against the federal government. They recognized quite early that this was not their fight, but that it was the landed gentry. It was obvious to the hill folk that the plantation owners and their political spokesmen were fanning the war flames and talked the loudest about separation.

With their money and property and political power, it was the planters who felt most threatened by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president.

That “Black Republican” Lincoln, the planters said, would mongrelize the races. He would destroy everything they built as a finer civilization. Southern women would not be safe from roving gangs of black thieves. They only thing to do, the planters contended, was to fight protect their very way of life, to secede and create a government that would protect their interests, protect their property rights, and protect that “peculiar institution.”

Of course, the peculiar institution was slavery.

But in the rugged landscape of northern Alabama, slaves were few and far between. The same was true in the mountains of East Tennessee and North Georgia and western North Carolina, and western Virginia, which would later become a state because of its overwhelming anti-confederate sentiment.

Few slaves were owned in the upland South, simply because the land would not support a plantation economy. Those who did work the land in the mountain South were a fiercely independent breed, poor but proud, and of no mind to lend support to plantation owners who looked down upon them as uneducated and inferior.

Winston County resident James B. Bell, a farmer who owned no slaves, was typical of an Alabama unionist. He blamed secession on large "Negroholders." In a letter to his pro-confederate son in Mississippi on April 21, 1861, he wrote. "All they [slave holders] want is to git you pupt up and go fight for there infurnal negroes and after you do there fighting you may kiss there hine parts for o [all] they care."

Southern unionists were not threatened by Lincoln’s election but saw him more as a blank slate. They were willing to give him a chance as president and did not see the federal government as any threat to their property rights.

Read more, here.

Great-Great-Grandfather Camp we was part of the 1st Alabama Cavalry, officially of the state of Indiana.

The details.

Name: William Anderson Camp

Born: 23 November 1845

Died: 11 December 1925

Aged: 80 years

(Old for those days)

Age upon enlistment:

Malone. Randolph Co., AL
County Seat: Wedowee.


Rank at enlistment:

Rank at discharge:

Company Assignment:

Wedowee, AL

Mustered In
Rome, GA

To Corporal.

Mustered Out
Huntsville, AL

Buried: Forrest Chapel, Wedowee, Randolph Co., AL.

Here is his actual tombstone.


Anonymous said...

Kevin - I love these kinds of genealogical stories. This is a real gem!

I had ancestors who fought for each side. MathMan had at least one known ancestor from Wisconsin who was imprisoned at Andersonville and then mustered out in Madison, IN, which is very near where I grew up.

Thank you for sharing your story!

Fran said...

Wow- that is amazing Kevin. Holy crap.

My family history does not go in this direction. Italians who came over in the late 19th century, Jews who came over in around the turn of the century and Irish who were in NYC for a couple of generations at the same century turn.

Freida Bee said...

I really need to find out more about my more distant relatives. This is a beautiful account of your great- great grandfather.

Anonymous said...

Neat-o, CK!

My dad was very into geneology, and he would have loved this post.

We were in California already during the Civil War, but we had Union soldiers in our mix, too. Growing up, we had the discharge papers (signed by Lincoln!) framed in the living room, and two single-shot, long barrelled rifles (one with a bayonette with dried blood on it!) and in the umbrella stand, there was a ceremonial sword (one of the ancestors was a doctor, but he had a gilt-handled sword for dress-up). We used to chase each other around the house and yard with that thing!