When Memory and History Collide
I got a kick out of this short editorial by Kevin Cullen in Danville, Illinois, who recently went looking for information about an ancestor that served in the Confederate army.
For years, I imagined Private Cullen riding a magnificent stallion, attacking the Yanks with his saber, carbine and Colt. In my mind’s eye, he wore gauntlets, a gray felt hat with a jaunty plume, and black boots that reached to the knee. He was, in every sense of the word, a fearless Southern cavalier.
But this week, well, reality struck. I had contacted The Confederate War Department, an online service that researches military records. I had hoped to get all sorts of thrilling information; instead, I discovered that my ancestor first went AWOL, then he deserted in June 1863 — and was never heard from again.
Regardless, he probably could have told some amazing tales. The Fourth Regiment, Kentucky Mounted Infantry, organized at Bowling Green, Ky., in September 1861, had 213 men disabled at the Battle of Shiloh, and then it fought at Baton Rouge and Jackson. As part of the Army of Tennessee, it fought at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta Campaign. It lost 21 percent of the 275 men engaged at Chickamauga…
All things considered, I’m glad Private Cullen deserted. If he had been killed at Chickamauga, I wouldn’t be here today.
For those of you who harbor such fanciful thoughts about an ancestor that you know nothing about I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Howard Bahr’s The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War. You have to admire Cullen’s honesty. Not everyone could have chatted with Robert E. Lee or charged fearlessly over the earthworks. And it’s reassuring to know that the Confederate War Department is still active.