Friday, July 18, 2008

On the Trail of Sam France, 1982

[Only a few entries left from my sister Linda's notes, written during our trans-American tour, Summer 1982. September:]

Around Fort Donelson battlefield. Inn, batteries, and the best preserved trenches I've ever seen. Warm, sunny day. Screwy near French's [Confederate] battery position. On 49 toward Nashville.

Thickets, steep ravines, deep natural hole in middle of fort.

Saved a huge turtle at Bushrod Johnson's position.

[Our great great grandfather, Sam France, fought with the 31st Indiana Volunteers in Cruft's brigade, right side of the map in blue -- facing the attempted Confederate breakout, February 15, 1862.]

Bear Spring Furnace about five miles east of Fort Donelson [Originally built in 1830, destroyed by Union forces in 1862, another one built after the war]. Two standing "woods" on 49.

Flooding along the Cumberland, muddy red/brown river. Lucky stars we must have timed this one just right.

Erin, Tennessee. Furnace to south (two shots). [Another one, Cumberland Furnace, supplied the cannon shot for Andrew Jackson's artillery at the Battle of New Orleans/Chalmette in 1815].

Skirting Nashville [which I'd see in more detail years later], on to Murfreesboro.

Quick stop at a Burger King, $5 -- we had it our way and now "are caught in a living nightmare in Murfreesboro, Tennessee."

Stones River National Battlefield. Nicely kept, lots of graves, museum and tour. Off 41. [December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863. 24,000 casualties on both sides. Sam France, Company E, 31st Indiana, Cruft's brigade, Palmer's Division -- wounded three times (we've since gotten copies of the paperwork from the National Archives)].

Leaving. Strange excitements at the Exxon. James Dean (age 45) was fearful of the lightning that knocked out his pumps one hour prior to our arrival. Storm also caused big fire we passed.

Heading for Chattanooga. . .

Misty baby Idaho getting here, passed [into] Georgia like a ghost in the night for ten long minutes . . .

[To be continued . . .]

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.


Charles Gramlich said...

I know some of my ancestors fought for the North in the Civil War but I haven't followed up on that. I want to get more information about it, and maybe find out what battlefields they were at.

the walking man said...

More detail on Sam? Looks like a major battle of the war happened there.

Erik Donald France said...

Charles, if you know the full names and states, you can track them pretty quickly -- especially if you know their regiments.

Mark/WM -- what I know about Sam France is pretty sketchy besides his war records. Born ca. 1840 in Berlin, Ohio, died in Darwin, Ill., 1900. Lived in Clay County, Indiana, with fam', and worked as laborer and farmer. Younger brother Jeremiah died of disease in the same war, 1865. Sam ended service as a veteran volunteer corporal, mustered out in Victoria, Texas in 1865. Wounded four times according to records so far, including at Shiloh. Came home from Texas and married a widow whose husband (Ira Slack, Co. C, 85th Indiana) was killed at Resaca Georgia in May, 1864, with two orphan kids. She (Ruthann Priscilla Wheeler Slack) had two kids and died ca. 1870 as a result of pregnancy complications. Married Rebecca Steiner and they divorced because of her "cruelty to the children." Son Joe worked in the coal mines and died at 57. Daughter had a son who was later murdered in Indianapolis. . . . .

the walking man said...

Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia? Maybe it was his DNA that caused this meandering trip eh?

Durfee middle school is named after on of my ancestors who lost his arm at Gettysburg. He originally was from Belleville, went to war, relocated in Detroit where he became a judge. Glad he wasn't on the 36th district bench.

Erik Donald France said...

Mark, WM, found this by looking up "Gettysburg" "Durfee" and "lost arm":

On October 28, 1842, Edgar Oren Durfee was born to Reuben Stark and Besty Kingsley (Noble) Durfee on a farm in Livonia, Michigan. As a boy he attended the old logcabin schoolhouse at Newburgh Road with his brother, Charles. It was not recorded exactly how long he attended, but in 1856, his father, Reuben purchased a stock farm on Territorial Road in Plymouth, and the family than moved there.

When the 24th Michigan Regiment was being formed, Edgar, and his brother, Charles enlisted together, with many other neighborhood boys from Livonia and Plymouth. One of his fellow tentmates, was Alfred Ryder.
It was at the Battle of Gettysburg when Edgar's right arm was shattered by a minnie ball. As he was attempting to get behind the lines to a hospital, when he was wounded in the calf of his leg, also. Eventually he found his way to a field hospital, that was set up in a church about three miles from were he had been wounded, in McPherson's Woods. The people in charge of the hospital, afraid they may be captured by the oncoming Confederate Army, moved their patients to the court house on the other side of the city. There, Durfee was placed on a desk, which served as an operating table, and his arm was amputated at the shoulder. Many years later, in a moment of jest, Durfee told a young newspaper reporter, fresh from the the farmlands of Washtenaw County that he had lost the arm in a threshing machine accident. The story was published, somehow getting past the city editor, who already knew the real history. Friends of Durfee, and his staff, were angered by this apparent attempt at slander, seized the boy and locked him in the court vault for a whole day without food or water.
Durfee, feeling badly, granted the innocent reporter the only personal interview he ever permitted, on condition it would not be printed, as he did not wish to appear a hero or capitalize on his war record.
Eventually the story did appear in the Detroit Free Press about four years after Durfee's death, which occured on April 28, 1927.
The article stated in part:
"I was a Private in the Twenty-Fourth Michigan Infantry, which was a part of the first division, first corps, of the so-called Iron Brigade. On the first day of the three-day battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, a weak Union force which included my regiment, commanded by General McPherson, was sent three miles north of Gettysburg, beyond Seminary Ridge, to intercept Confedate skirmishers. We ran into trouble at the edge of a 40-acre patch of woods where General McPherson and his staff were ambushed and the general was shot from his horse and killed. The infantry charged into the woods and cleaned up, driving the Johnnies back to capturing an entire regiment.... If any army was ever thrashed, our army was in the first days's fight, and that's why I say I did lose my arm in a threshing machine."
Following his discharge from the army Edgar worked in the office of the Treasury Department for a year before returning home. Then for two years he attended the Normal School at Ypsilanti. He then went to work in an abstract office in Detroit followed by a short employ with the Corporation Council. In 1873, he became registrar of the Probate Court. Four years later he was elected Judge of Probate on the Republican ticket for a four year term. He held his spot as Probate Judge for a record 12 more four year terms, and became a legend in his time. He was highly respected as a fair, honest, and devoted civil servant.
Durfee is also credited with being one of the men responsible for getting a baseball franchise in Detroit, for the National League in 1886. The following year, Detroit was named league champion.
Another of Durfee's hobbies was duck-hunting. Although he had only one arm, he was a member of the North Channel Club in St Clair Flats. He was also ranked one of the area's leading flower raisers, paying particular attention to roses.

Shortly before his death in 1927, the Detroit Board of Education approved the naming of a future school after him. A noteworthy honor to a remarkable man, whose life work was centered around the legal protection of countless children in the probate court.

Erik Donald France said...

From "Michigan Survivors of the Iron Brigade, 1923," Library of Michigan:

Edgar enlisted in Company C on August 8, 1862 at Plymouth. He was 19. His older brother Charles enlisted in Company C on the following day. Company C was mustered into service on August 15, 1862. By all accounts Edgar and Charles were both excellent soldiers. Edgar was quickly promoted to Sergeant.

Edgar's service with the Regiment came to an end at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. He was on detached duty that morning, along with John Ryder and two other members of the Regiment. All four hurried forward so as not to miss the battle. John Ryder was killed, while Edgar lost is arm. Edgar's right arm was struck by a mine ball, and as he stumbled to the rear, he was struck a second time in the leg. A surgeon removed his arm at the shoulder, and the leg wound eventually healed. Edgar would never again be able to carry a rifle with the rest of his comrades. He was discharged because of his wounds on December 28, 1863.