Monday, December 24, 2012

The Old Stories

Several times in the blog I have said that old family stories that are handed down aren't always the whole truth. What I neglected to say is that you should be writing down all of the stories you hear exactly as they are told so that these stories aren't lost. True or not they are still part of your family history. These old stories, even if they are greatly embellished, usually hold clues so they are valuable to the researcher.

Here is one from my family.

"John Clay McMichael walked from a POW camp in Northern Virginia back home to Alabama. His family thought he had died in the war. When John arrived at the first relative's house they sent runners to notify his wife." 1

John's daughter Caroline told this story to my cousin Mary in about 1950. Caroline died in 1952 at age 100. This is one of those stories (true or not) that could have easily been lost.

I can confirm John's Confederate service. Unfortunately, his service record paints an unpleasant picture. He enlisted in Company B, 3rd Battalion, Alabama Volunteers on 07 Apr 1862 in Clay Hill, Pike County, Alabama. He is listed as present in Jan-Feb 1863, Mar-Apr 1863, May-Jun 1863 and Jul-Aug 1863. We next pick John up on the Jul-Aug 1864 muster roll for Company A, 60th Alabama Infantry (several units had combined, including John's original unit, into this new unit). He is listed as "absent without leave for 4 months" and he is charged as a rebel deserter. He was apparently later captured because he took an oath of allegiance (to the Union) and was given amnesty on 08 Dec 1864. 2 What happened after that is unclear but John most likely went home as described in the story though the circumstances of his return were different. According to Heidler and Heidler, "Many professed a willingness to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union and either to remain North or return home if the Union controlled the area where they lived." 3

There is a good chance that John's family didn't know he deserted so this story would be completely true in their eyes. I have BOTH versions recorded in my file.

So there are two points to be made. 1) Record all of the old family stories as told to preserve them and 2) Don't be surprised if the stories aren't exactly the complete truth.


1 Mary Taylor Guy (McComb, MS) oral interview by Michele Simmons Lewis, 04 June 2000.

2 Compiled service record, John C. McMichael, Pvt., Co. B, 3rd Battalion (Hilliard's Legion), Alabama Volunteers and Co. A, 60th Alabama Infantry, Carded records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917; Record Group 94.

3 David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, editors, Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2000), 982.


Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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