On an East Coast trip my husband and I called “the Ancestry Trail,” I was visiting a cemetery in New Haven, CT, about to give up, when I found the graves of my GGGM, Maria Miller Smith, and GGGGM, Pamelia Richards Smith, two widowed women who, without the benefit of menfolk, together raised Maria’s two young daughters during the tumultuous years surrounding the Civil War. Nestled together side by side, as they had lived their lives, their identical grave markers named their husbands, Charles Smith and Charles H Smith, father and son, the latter identified as having served as a Sergeant in Connecticut’s 20th Volunteer Regiment during the war. It was my first clue as to the male parentage in this line of my ancestry, and from there, I set about to find out how, when, and where the father of my GGM, Amelia Richards Smith Hotchkiss, had died.
I began by researching the Connecticut 20th Vol and learned that after being bivouacked outside of Washington, DC, to protect the capitol from the encroaching armies of General Lee in Virginia, the restless regiment was finally called to action in some of the bloodiest battles in Civil War history, including Chancellorsville—a devastating defeat for the Union owing to botched leadership that also featured the death of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson following “friendly fire”—and a few weeks later, Gettysburg. I searched and searched, but I was unable to find out anything about my ancestor’s death.
Some months later, while resuming my research of the 20th Vol, I stumbled upon an out-of-print book on the history of the regiment that featured a first-hand account by a soldier who had survived Chancellorsville, and then in an appendix, a list of the men who had been injured or killed. And there, on the page under Infantry Company E, was the name Charles H Smith, killed in action at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. He was 27 years old. I wept in gratitude for this discovery of his service, and of the sacrifice of his mother, his 22-year-old wife, and his two little girls, Mary, age 4, and Amelia, age 3. I could not believe how deep I had to go to find this piece of their story, and how fortunate I was to come across an out-of-print book online, and to read it to the very end, where the information I had sought was in an appendix.
The internet, God’s gift to genealogists.