History of the Civil War touches close to home

George Brown
The dates of April 9 through 15 hold unique standing in the annals of the Civil War. On April 12, one hundred and fifty years ago this week, this tragic chapter in our Nation’s history began with the bombardment of Ft. Sumter.

Though not great in number, there were Americans yet alive whose own fathers had fought at Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Yorktown. Now in their 80s and 90s, these children of the Revolution wondered if they might now be witnesses to a war that would end with the dissolution of this Nation for which their fathers had so valiantly fought to establish.

Four war-torn years later, their fears were relieved as a telegraph clerk tapped out a simple message: “Appomattox Court House, Virginia. 9 April, 1865. General Robert E. Lee has this day surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. Fighting has ended. The war is over.”

When Grant entered the parlor of the McLean House that April afternoon, Lee was already there and rose to greet him. Lee stood nearly half a foot taller than Grant and was 16 years his senior. Grant had long admired Lee’s courage and leadership, and he now showed respect and deference to Lee as they reminisced about having met during the Mexican War.

To preserve Lee’s dignity, Grant inserted a sentence in the articles of surrender instructing that neither Lee nor his officers would be required to lay down their side arms or to give up their horses.

I cannot help but wonder, as these battle weary generals sat across from each other finalizing the terms of surrender, if Grant recalled that it was Lee whom President Lincoln had summoned to Blair House on April 15, 1861, just three days after the war had begun, and offered him command of the Union Army.

I think Grant took no pride or satisfaction in seeing the sad expression that now countenanced Lee’s face as they concluded their meeting. For Grant it was enough that the fighting had ended. Nothing else mattered.

What did matter at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, was that this war had labored on for four long years, with a far greater loss of life and property than anyone could have imagined would be required. Much of the country, especially in the South, had been laid waste and the blood of more than 618,000 men, all Americans, had been spilled on the fields of battle in what, to this day, stands as the bloodiest war in our Nations history.

But, it was not over yet. Although the war officially ended on April 9, the greatest mortal wound of all was still to occur five days later on April 14 with the assassination of President Lincoln.

Were it not for a late decision by General and Mrs. Grant to decline the invitation to join the President and Mrs. Lincoln at Ford’s Theater that evening, Grant may not have lived to see his 43rd birthday on April 27, for it was Booth’s intention to kill Grant, as well. But Grant had gone to Philadelphia, and was now destined to become the 18th President of the United States.

On a personal note, and as I shared in a column several years ago, I have the honor of having a relative who fought in the Civil War, being none other than General Ulysses S. Grant. To be brief, my great-grandmother was a Simpson, as was Grant’s Mother, Hannah Simpson. By lineage, Grant’s great-grandpa John Simpson is also my great-great-great-great grandpa, which makes Grant my distant cousin. Admittedly, this provides little more than nostalgic bragging rights, but it has caused me to have a deeper appreciation of the events that occurred in our Nation between April 1861 and 1865. I wish my Mom had carried me three days longer so I could share my birthday with this celebrated and legendary cousin.

The story of another Clermont County resident’s kinship to a veteran of the Civil War is also worth sharing. The Civil War veteran was Josiah James Cash. Born in Rockcastle County, Ky. on May 20, 1845, Josiah Cash mustered into the Union Army – Company B, 14th Regiment of the Kentucky Cavalry – on Nov. 6, 1862 in Mt Sterling, Ky. As a 17-year-old private, Josiah Cash was assigned to duty scouting in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and was engaged in several skirmishes against Confederate guerrillas (no doubt fellow Kentuckians) before he mustered out of the service on March 24, 1864.

The remarkable part of this story is what happened after the war. In 1912, at the ripe old age of 67, Josiah Cash married Flora Ellen Herrin, who was young enough to be his granddaughter. The next year Flora Ellen gave birth to a daughter, whom they named Estelle. In the course of time, Estelle married my wife Yvonne’s uncle, Leon Steele. Leon and Estelle had several sons during the early years of their marriage, then, quite unexpectedly, gave birth to a baby girl in 1949 who they named Mary Ellen. Today, folks in Clermont County know this granddaughter of a Civil War veteran as M.E. Steele-Pierce, an Assistant Superintendent at West Clermont Schools. Yvonne and I cherish our cousin-friendship with M.E., and I must defer to her as the one who truly deserves to claim bragging rights, for how many among us, besides M.E., can say that our grandpa fought in the Civil War?

George Brown is the executive director of Clermont Senior Services.