According to its Wikipedia article, the origins of Memorial Day are complex. There is debate as to whether Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as it has been called) begin in the Confederate South during the American Civil War or was started by the Federal veterans organization the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in 1868. Knowing about this controversy, I am reminded each year at this time about my ancestors who were living during the period of the American Civil War. Note that although I am a son of the South, I refuse to refer to that war by any other name. In my opinion the actions of the Confederate States of America, were nothing more than an illegal act of rebellion against United States of America. It is one of the most shameful periods in the history of this great nation. The attempts at glorification of that war peaked about one hundred years ago when during the great war (WWI), Hollywood produced one of the greatest silent films ever made, Birth of a Nation – a movie that glorified the KKK, and in cities and towns all across the South, organizations dedicated to the preservation of the so-called Lost Cause begin erecting statues of mainly high-ranking officers who had led their armies in rebellion against the United States. Just as Memorial Day has a complex origin, my family history in connection with the Civil War is also complicated.
Although I have ancestors who were slaveholders in the South, none of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy. David Dobbs (great-grandfather of my maternal grandfather, James Monroe Dobbs Jr.) was the largest slaveholder in Cobb County in 1860 and was one of the founders of Georgia Military Institute (GMI). He was in his 60s during the Civil War and although he was retired, he had been a high-ranking member of the Georgia Militia having joined when he was a teenager at the start of the War of 1812. He had fought in the Creek War of 1814 and the Seminole wars of the 1820s. His son David Judson Dobbs (the one who married a Prothro) was a graduate of the first class at GMI in 1856; however, he was exempted from the Confederate military draft by order of the governor of Georgia who had exempted all plantation owners and their overseers from military service. Although he was leading secessionist in 1861, Joseph Brown, governor of Georgia, resisted the military draft, believing that local troops should be used only for the defense of Georgia; and denounced Confederate President Jefferson Davis as an incipient tyrant.
My great, great-grandfather, David Judson Dobbs was a member of the state guards of Georgia and did not see active service against United States until Sherman’s army entered northern Georgia in the summer of 1864. This was on my maternal grandfather’s side (Dobbs/Prothro).
Like many people in the south, David Judson Dobbs was devastated by the destruction caused by the war. Note from his tombstone that he died in 1877 of unknown causes at age 42. I suspect that he may have taken his own life, as the family’s loss from the war was huge and led to a rift between him and his Prothro in-laws – an argument over inheritance owed to his wife, Martha Josephine Prothro. The school that David graduated from, GMI, the West Point of the deep south, was burned to the ground by Sherman’s Army. The family’s plantation outside of Marietta was destroyed. Many slaves who had been freed at the end of the war took the surname of Dobbs and many of them went to Atlanta. They found work there rebuilding the city and the railroad. David Dobbs’ brother, Josiah Dobbs, fathered a child by one of his slaves. When Josiah died in 1855, his slaves became the property of my great, great, great-grandfather. The child of Josiah Dobbs, a girl, went on the become the great grandmother of Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of Atlanta. Mayor Jackson’s grandfather was named John Dobbs and he had been a prominent civil rights leader in Atlanta during 1930s. Mayor Jackson and I were fifth cousins once-removed.
On my maternal grandmother’s side, her Irish grandfather, Richard Bannon, was a Democratic Party operative (ward heeler) living in Covington, Kentucky across the river from Cincinnati when the war started. Richard was also a Confederate sympathizer (copperhead) and when things got a little too hot for him, he went back to Ireland where he stayed until the end of the war. He returned to Kentucky in 1865.
My maternal grandmother’s German ancestors (Joseph Kollros and sons) were living in Louisville during the war and I have yet to find a record of their having served on either side. Both my great, great-grandfather Constantine and his brother Dominick were of military age when Lincoln ordered the draft in 1862. Ironically, after the war, Constantine became the leader of a popular band that performed up and down the Ohio river valley and we have photos of him wearing a military-style uniform popular with marching bands of the late 19th century.
My DeBacker ancestors did not arrive from Belgium until the 1880s.
However, one of my father’s ancestors, Francis Gaume (my great, great-grandfather), a second-generation Franco-American joined the 19th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) at the age of 19 in October 1862. With very little in the way of basic training he saw action from Kentucky down to Tennessee and was wounded at the battle of Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863). Due to injuries he received in battle – an injury to one of his arms and deafness in one of his ears – he was unable to continue to work farming in Ohio. Like many wounded veterans of the day, he headed out west and attempted for a while to mine in southeastern Colorado. After that endeavor failed, he operated a saloon in St. Mary’s Kansas until he could work no more. He entered the Old Soldiers Home at Fort Leavenworth Kansas in 1912. After years of fighting the bureaucracy in Washington he finally began receiving a pension from the government in 1915. He had first applied for a pension in 1890. He died on October 9, 1917 in National Home (Fort Leavenworth), Kansas, at age 74.
Frank was what was known as a “repeater”. He volunteered for service not once but twice. After serving in Co. I of the 19th OVI in 1862/63, in 1864 he joined Co. B of the 162nd OVI and did guard duty at the POW prison at Camp Chase, Ohio. I think of Frank Gaume as my only ancestor who deserves to be called a Civil War hero.