Ask Ancestry Anne: Is the Family Civil War Story True?

Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on September 30, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne

Question: My great grandfather Henry Melrose was with the 1st West Virginia Cavalry in the Civil War and was in the 1889 Oklahoma land run. What a life! I think he was at Gettysburg. At some point he was shot and left for dead but survived. Where and when was he injured? Was he a POW? Where are the muster rolls?

Answer: When researching Civil War soldiers, I start with two Ancestry data collections: U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 and U.S., Civil War Solider Records and Profiles, 1861-1865, which in this case tell us the same basic information: Henry was a private in Company C, 1st West Virginia Cavalry.

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Next, the Compiled Military Service Records can be viewed on Fold3. Drill down to Civil War -> Civil War Service Records -> Union Records -> West Virginia -> First Cavalry and then look for Henry.

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Henry has 30 Compiled Military Service Record cards for us to look through. Compiled Military Service Records were created as abstracts of original military records. Each card tells us some new detail about the soldier’s service.

It appears that Henry had an interesting experience in the War. He enlisted on August 30, 1861 for 3 years in what was then the 1st Virginia Cavalry, Union in Wirt County; Wirt County became part of West Virginia in 1863. He mustered into service in October at the age of 23.

Sometime in spring of 1862 he was detached from his usual service and sent on patrol. On May 7, 1862 he was wounded in the head and thigh and left behind by his patrol. He was later picked up by southern troops and released on “parole of honor,” promising to never bear arms against southern troops.

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Henry was sent to Camp Chase, Ohio, a prisoner of war camp for Confederate prisoners and Union “parolees.” There he was to serve his “parole of honor;” he stayed there from May of 1862 until at least February of 1863.

April 1863 finds him back on duty and he was promoted to Corporal on July 1, 1863. He stayed with Company C until December 23, 1863; then on that date he enlisted as a Veteran Volunteer under General Order 191.305 and 324.

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So why would someone reenlist before their current service was finished? A Complete Digest of Laws in Relation to Bounty has more information. From Order 191.305:

“General Orders No. 191….relative to recruiting veteran volunteers, is hereby amended…volunteers serving in three-years organizations, who may re-enlist for three years or the war, in the companies or regiments to which they now belong…shall be entitled to the aforesaid bounty and premium of $402…”

So it appears that Henry re-enlisted for another three years or the rest of the war for $402. When he mustered out on July 8, 1865 he had received $210 of his bounty and was due another $190. He also owed the US $30.10 for clothing.

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So, Henry was shot. Whether he was left for dead or put into someone’s capable hands is up for interpretation. He was captured by southern troops, but his POW experience was at a northern Prisoner of War camp on “parole of honor,” which was no doubt not as severe as being in a Confederate prison camp. The 1st West Virginia Cavalry did fight at Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863 and since Henry was on active duty as of April 1863 it is reasonable to assume he was there.

It appears that the family legends are true.

Happy searching!

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