Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Petersburg Campaign Ancestor

If one visits Pamplin Historical Park's Breakthrough Trail it is rather quickly observed that the Confederate unit posted where part of the line broke was the 37th North Carolina. At the time the 37th was in Gen. James Lane's Brigade, of Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox's Division of A. P. Hill's Third Corps. Lane's Brigade had moved into this position along Arthur's Swamp and inherited the earthworks when they were vacated by Gen. Samuel McGowan's Brigade in last days of March. On the morning of April 2, 1865, the 37th bore the brunt of the Union VI Corps attack; and snapped.

A soldier not with the 37th on that fateful morning was my ancestor Levi Ham. Levi was not like the majority of Civil War soldiers. Compared to his comrades, Levi was old. When he enlisted in Company A in Ashe County's Jefferson, North Carolina, on May 1, 1862, he was in his mid-forties. The recent conscription law likely prompted Levi's enlistment. However, his service records indicate that he did indeed volunteer. Other Hams that served in Company A included Isaac, Jackson, Thomas, and William, all likely Levi's relatives.

Apparently Levi was mustered into Confederate service at Gordonsville, Virginia, for the duration of the war. Levi's early months in the army seem to have been quite difficult for him. He is noted as being admitted to the hospital in Danville, Virginia, on September 17, 1862, while his regiment was participating in the bloody battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland. Levi was suffering from chronic rheumatism.

Levi returned to the 37th on November 3, 1862, but must have relapsed, as on November 8, he was admitted to Richmond's massive Chimborazo Hospital. Twenty days later, Levi was transferred to a hospital in Scottsville.

Levi's service records note that he was absent without leave from August 1, 1863. However, it seems that at that time he had transferred to Company G of the 21st Virginia Cavalry, a unit that was raised from the southwest Virginia mountains bordering his Ashe County, North Carolina home. His records for the 21st show that he enlisted with it on July 10, 1863 at Rich Hills. The record also indicates that his horse was "at home," and thus he was "not ordered up." Confederate cavalry usually had to supply their own horses, and apparently Levi could not obtain his.

By September 1, 1863, Levi had returned to duty with the 37th after his brief stay in the cavalry. Levi was then present for duty from September 1863 to February 1865. As part of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the 37th fought in the terrible Overland Campaign during the spring of 1864. Horrific clashes with the Union Army of the Potomac occurred at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor. The Tarheel unit arrived in Petersburg in June 1864. They fought in several battles around the "Cockade City,"  and Richmond, including Deep Bottom, Reams Station, and Jones's Farm. Sometime during this period, according to his 1905 North Carolina pension application, Levi received a gun shot to the knee, which happened "near Richmond."

The winter of 1864-65 was particularly difficult on the troops of both armies in the Petersburg and Richmond earthworks. Somehow Levi received a "furlough of indulgence" dated February 4, 1865. The furlough described Levi as forty seven years old, five feet eight inches tall, with a "fair complexion and dark eyes, dark hair." It noted Levi was "by profession a farmer." The furlough was signed by Lt. Thomas L. Norwood, who commanded Company A at that time.

Apparently Levi never returned to the 37th. Perhaps he found home more to his liking than army camp life. His last service record states that he was "absent without leave since 27th Feb. 1865." Or, perhaps Levi found his family needing him more than he felt his comrades did back in the Petersburg earthworks. Levi was one of many thousands of soldiers at this point in the war who asked themselves which commanded stronger allegiance, home or army?  It seems Levi chose home. Even if his family was not suffering with his absence, maybe he had just seen enough of that terrible war and had suffered enough for his cause.

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