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Of course it would have to be in the middle of the busiest weekend in my year that I discover that my 3rd Great-Grandpa on my dad’s side, John Priestly (J. P.) Gravitt (1836-1921), was a POW during the Civil War.

This all came about when I discovered that another collateral ancestor’s Civil War Pension application was available on Ancestry.com. Since I had just learned that J. P. Gravitt was also a Civil War vet, I thought I would do a quick search and see if his was there, too. Of course – as when you’re in a hurry with anything – it was there and it was fascinating and I didn’t have time to give it the proper attention it deserved.

His application starts out with a rejection. The handwritten notes on the first page of his application are hard to make out, but it includes “this man fails to answer for” illegible blah blah blah “was absent from his command” and wah wah “is not intitled [sic] to a pension.” (I’ll pore over this with a magnifying glass and handwriting samples later but this bureaucrat truly had atrocious handwriting.)

Image Courtesy of the Georgia Archives, accessed on Ancestry.com. *YOU* try to read this handwriting.

Image Courtesy of the Georgia Archives, accessed on Ancestry.com. *YOU* try to read this handwriting.

Fortunately, the pension eventually came through. Keep in mind that this was 1910 – almost 50 years after the events these bureaucratic forms are asking people to describe. Apparently one of J. P.’s witnesses had gotten things wrong. I need to examine the application much more closely, but here’s what I think happened on first glance:

J. P. Gravitt enlisted in the 43rd Georgia Infantry, Company B, on March 16th, 1862, at age 25, around the same time that he married his first wife Frances Tyler (not my ancestor). He headed over toward Vicksburg, MS and was taken prisoner after the the Battle of Champion Hill (AKA Baker’s Creek, as he called it on his pension application) on May 16th, 1863. As a prisoner, he was apparently housed at Fort Delaware until July 7, 1863 where he was exchanged. He pops up on a list of Confederate Prisoners captured at Champion’s Hill. All of the prisoners’ names are crossed out, maybe confirming that they’d been exchanged?

Accessed on Ancestry.com

Accessed on Ancestry.com (he’s 3rd from the bottom)

After this, things get a little fuzzy. When we find him next it’s August 1864 and he is supposed to be with Hunnicutt’s Command, Wofford’s Brigade in Atlanta. But he was cut off from them by the enemy, who had taken the railroad. Was he on furlough visiting home in Cherokee County (about 40 miles north of Atlanta)? I hope he was because his oldest daughter Mary Gravitt, was born in 1864. If not, scandal!

J. P. goes on to say in his pension application that his company was dissolved on May 10, 1865 in Greensborough [sic], NC, but he wasn’t with them. I have a feeling that he was at home in Cherokee County at this point. After being on the losing end of a big battle, getting carted up to Delaware then exchanged wouldn’t you rather be at home with your new bride? I don’t have a single hard feeling toward prisoners who went AWOL during that senseless war.

Whatever the real story is, the pension was granted and his widow, my 3rd Great Grandmother, Myra E. Brookshire, was also able to receive his pension after he died. I’ve always resisted committing Civil War generals and battles and prisons to memory, but now it looks like I have a LOT more research to do.

A final note… reportedly the names of confederate prisoners are scratched into the cells at Fort Delaware. Sadly, J.P. Gravitt was always reported as illiterate and this pension application only includes J. P. Gravitt’s mark, so I suppose there’s no trace of him left on that island prison.

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