Tag Archives: Civil War

Christmas Past to Christmas Present

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As I was decorating the house the other day for the Christmas holidays, for some reason I started thinking about what my ancestors would have been doing at Christmas time during the civil war.

Christmas Decorations 2013

I’m sure they didn’t string fancy garlands or lights and probably not every one put up a Christmas tree as the European custom of having a tree was just becoming popular.  If they did decorate a tree, I’m sure the decorations would have been handmade usually of stringed sugared fruits, ribbons, popcorn, pine cones, colored paper, silver foil and spun glass ornaments.

As I looked around guiltily at all of my decorations, I wondered did they decorate their houses? Did they sit with their families around a fire and sing songs?  Did they trade gifts and visit neighbors?

Not having any way to know what my ancestors did, I started thinking about my husband’s ancestors.  Then I remembered that we had a copy of my (now ex) husband’s great-grandfather, A.J. Smith’s diary that he wrote during the civil war.  My (now ex) father-in-law, Al Reynolds has the original diary in his possession.

This is A.J. at about the time he enlisted as a Pvt. in Co. K, 20th Regiment Arkansas Infantry, CSA on March 6, 1862 in Lafayette Co., Arkansas.

AJ Smith

So, I pulled the diary up and looked for dates around Christmas time and this is what he wrote (the year is 1863 from farther up in the diary):

“Dec 24th Ark troops and some others to the amount of 500 are parolled for exchange and put on the steamer New York and go to the Fortress Monroe and ly over till the evening of the 25th. On the night of the 25th ly in the mouth of James River.  On the morning of the 26th sail to City Point and wait for the Confederate Boat from Richmond till the morning of the 28th.”

We know from his diary and muster rolls that he was taken prisoner at Big Black on May 16, 1863 and imprisoned at Fort Delaware and then later at Point Lookout, where the parole he mentioned above took place.

I went back into the living room at this point and sat and looked at my tree.  A.J. was not sitting in a warm house around a tree with his family during the Christmas of 1863. However, I imagine being paroled from prison after seven months, was a pretty good Christmas gift.  I imagine he was sitting on that steamer on Christmas eve, glad to be on his way to freedom and thinking very much of his family at home, but was he even thinking about it being Christmas as he didn’t mention that in the diary?

I found a picture of the New York steamer, which you can view here.  I can’t imagine being stuffed in there with 499 other parolees.  I wonder what he was fed?  I’m sure it wasn’t anything like the meal we will eat on Christmas eve.  In fact, he was probably lucky if he got anything at all.

In doing a bit of research, I came across this entry, written in a diary on Christmas day 1863, by Sergeant John L. Hoster of Co. A., 148th NY, who was serving an extended period of non-combat duty in the Fort Norfolk, Virginia area.  He wrote:

“Cool but pleasant. Corpl. Spaid, Dick Bachman, the orderly and I had a splendid Christmas dinner today, consisting of roast goose, mashed potatoes, good gravy, bread and butter. The goose was bought in market yesterday by F. Spaid for $1.25, stuffed with crackers and oysters and roasted by Mrs. Duncan. We had it served up on a fine large platter, borrowed, bought or stolen for the occasion. Had a fine supper on the remains. Flag of truce ship, New York, came here today and took away a few prisoners to City Point. A schooner also came today with several new pontoons which were unloaded at the dock.”

Wait, what?

This dude is chomping down on a goose, from a platter probably stolen from some southern lady, while poor A.J. was getting taken away to City Point. Sgt. Hoster’s good fortune didn’t last long as it was only a matter of time before his own goose was cooked and the next Christmas he was sitting in a Confederate prison eating sweet potato soup and meal dumplings.

I am happy to report though that Sgt. Hoster did eventually return home to his family, as did A.J.

I don’t know what any of my ancestors were up to during the civil war at Christmas time. Of the eight great-grandfathers that I had during that time period, four of them fought during the war between the states.  One was shot in his head and survived, but suffered greatly for the rest of his life.

So, this Christmas I will remember what my ancestors, and my husband’s ancestors sacrificed so that we could end up here together, living a life of luxury compared to what A.J. was going through during 1863.  I’m thankful, and I don’t take it for granted and I know my husband doesn’t either.

My son, Pvt. Cole is currently at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma completing his AIT training.  We get the privilege of Skyping. If you don’t know what that is, it’s where you both log on to Skype either on a phone or computer and we can chat while a webcam sends video, to the person on the other end. This is what my screen looks like when we are talking.

Skyping with Justin

I can only imagine that A.J.’s mother would have wished for a letter or some word that A.J. was still alive and was being released and would be on his way home soon.  He had already been sent home once deathly ill to recover at his parents house, only to then be later captured.

His father, Robert Burnett Smith was off fighting in an Alabama regiment and so I imagine his mother, Sarah Yates Smith lived in constant fear for her husband and son. She also had, two other sons fighting; John Calvin Smith and Joel Benjamin Smith.  She wasn’t lucky like I am to be able to sit here at my computer and see a smiling face from hundreds of miles away, with just a few clicks on a phone.

Have you thought about what your ancestors were doing during Christmas way back when, and how drastically different it is from what we do now at Christmas time?

I’m thinking maybe we should cook a goose in honor of A.J. this Christmas and share that story with the kids! :)

Military Monday – Courage, Home & Fireside

Meet Corporal James Adams.

Corporal James C. Adams

Corporal James C. Adams

I found this photo in the belongings of my 2nd great-grandfather, Rev. Francis Hereford Williams.  I have been researching Rev. Williams trying to prove his service in the war between the states in order to get him a headstone.  Finding this picture was the first bit of evidence that led me to believe he was in the civil war.

Here is the back of the photo:

Corporal James Adams back of photo

Corporal James Adams back of photo

It says:

Corporal James Adams
Co. D. 1st Rgmt LA Vol

Lost his leg at the battle of Malvern Hill, VA.  July 2nd, 1862 Sunday.  Thus another brave young man commenced the weary march through life with one limb, having freely given the other for

Courage, Home & Fireside
A Comrade

I did a bit of research on Corp Adams, and found him to be in the Confederate Home in Austin, Texas at the same time as my 2nd great-grandfather, Rev. Williams.  I found no evidence that he lost his leg in that battle, there in no mention of it in his muster rolls.  That doesn’t mean anything though, as my Rev. Williams suffered a head wound and I have not found any of his muster rolls, nor any that list a Williams with a head wound.  They did mention that Corporal Adams had severe eyesight problems, which is verified by this picture if you look at his eyes.

The rooster for the Austin Confederate Home, does list his disability as loss of leg.

Conf Home Register Corp James Adams

Conf Home Register Corp James Adams

I don’t know how he lost his leg, but it’s evident he suffered.  I would love to know more about my 2nd great-grandfather’s friend.  It’s evident he thought highly of him!


Rev. Francis Hereford Williams – Part I

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For some time now, like two years to be exact, I have been working on one dead-end after another with my 2nd great-grandfather, the Rev. Francis Hereford Williams.

I’m going to take you on a little journey of discovery as to how I found out about him, and his story as it unfolded to me.  Well, sort of.  He’s still a mystery to some extent.

Rev. Francis Hereford Williams

This is him.  I would not even know who he was if cousin Nedra Harris Turney hadn’t saved a letter that my grandfather, Earl Higginbotham was going to burn because she wanted the stamp.  This was the contents of that letter.

Ben MartinI know you are wondering what that letter had to do with him right?  I mean she is asking about Ben Martin in it, not Francis Hereford Williams.  Now, that is a find in itself, but that’s a different story for another time.  It was the piece of paper that was enclosed with this letter that was really the most important.  I would like to point out first though, that I find it really comforting that my great-grandmother, Dona Higginbotham was trying to find out about her ancestors with this letter.  FROM 1913!!  How lucky am I that Nedra saved this letter??  Because this little jewel that was inside was a great find.  I’d like to hug Dona’s neck for this one! Oh, and Nedra’s too.

Ben Martin Descendants

There he is, Francis Hereford Williams listed as the father of Dona’s sister, Minnie Elizabeth Williams Hooks!  Ancestors listed all the way back to 1787!


Of course, I haven’t proved all that, but thank you Dona for saving it with the letter.   Thank you Bepaw (Earl) for not burning it and giving it to Nedra, and thank you Nedra for saving stamps and getting the letter from Bepaw (Earl), and thank you ….. just kidding.  I could go on and on but that is all.  Amen.

Now, I know you want to ask me how that list proves Minnie is Dona’s sister, and that Francis Hereford Williams is actually Dona’s father.  Well, it doesn’t.   Right.  I know.  Just when you think you have a lead, you still can’t prove the relation.

The problem was on the 1880 census, Francis and Mildred were listed along with Minnie.  Dona wasn’t born yet.  She would have been listed on the 1890 census, but we don’t have a 1890 census and by the time the 1900 census rolled around, Dona was already married to Rufus Higginbotham.

All was not lost though.  After months and months of trying to prove this relation and coming up dry, my Dad’s first cousin, Gary Higginbotham came through for me.  He found his father Milton Higginbotham’s baby book.  Milton was my grandfather Earl’s brother.

Milton Higginbotham's Baby Book
Milton Higginbotham's Baby Book

Booyah, Baby!!  I do have a census report for Rufus, Dona, Earl and Milton all living together as a big happy family, so I finally tied them all together.

On my next post I will give you a run down of how I then started putting pieces together of Frances Hereford Williams in the war between the states, and as a minister.  Then, I’ll move on to the really juicy stuff.  Family scandals and such.  Yeah, I know a minister involved in a family scandal?  Not really, but I do believe he changed his name to Francis Hereford Williams, from possibly Watkins.

Why do I think so you ask?  Well, you will just have to stick around and find out.


I just wanted to say that one more time.

Oh, and be sure you do keep coming back, I have my one year blogging anniversary coming up on the 16th and I’m going to have a big surprise for you!


Ok, I’ll stop now.



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