Tuesday, November 3, 2009


A direct descendant of Edward Milstead was my own Great GrandMother, whose husband spent three years away from home during the Civil War. He returned to the family farm in Mississippi, unscathed except in soul and psyche, I suppose, as are all soldiers who are daily witness to such harrowing events.

Our GG was a girl of fourteen when they were married, and he in his thirties---my Sis was a bit outraged when she found those records, thinking that perhaps the two Daddies got together and settled her off, for some such manly reason as to combine the land, or her own Dad and Great Grand sat down on the porch to smoke and spit a spell, and did the old Talk Amongst Men thing, after which the young innocent daughter was carted away to matrimony and years of housekeeping and child-raising, foisted too soon into the hard life of a farmer’s wife and the grim Facts of Life..

We’ve read further amongst the family Bibles and scribings, and they did have a long and happy marriage, by all accounts, with quite a few children, and her putting a lovely verse upon his tombstone---that surely Heaven must hold a special place for such a good, kind man.

One of the family treasures is a letter from Great Grand to some branch of his County Government, stating that he believed he was the oldest resident of the county, at 78. He also gave his own credentials---that he’d never been arrested nor paid a fine of any kind, that he owed no man one cent, and that he was a Christian. He gave an account of his War service, saying that a part of his moral character and his attempts to do what was right was kindled by his own gratitude and amazement that he had not been at all injured in the several fierce battles which raged around him, claiming hundreds and thousands on both sides.

He fought in the Battle of the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, at Gettysburg---all horrendous and memorable and decisive in their own ways, with uncountable casualties and untold suffering, with many killed, many injured, many left at home to grieve, and incalculable lives changed forever.

One sentence in his letter will always be burned into my mental Family Archives; he phrased it as a Southern man of his times, and the import shines out, clear and bold and tangible almost a century-and-a-half since he experienced it:

"I had seven holes shot in my clothing, but I never had the skin broke all during the war."

I try to imagine even one of those narrow escapes, with the crack of the rifle and the whissss of the shot passing through a sleeve, a battered hatbrim, a sweaty kerchief fluttering from his neck, and my mind just won't encompass the sheer improbability of that salvation, that escape. But SEVEN? That's vaster than a Hubblescope's view.

He felt that he’d been spared for SOMETHING, and he was going to do his best to fulfil his duty, whatever the task or quest might be. He lived his part, with no great heroics to speak of, I think, but in a quiet, steady way, with kindness to neighbors, great love for his family, and a good reputation as a solid citizen.

Sis says that some of us on down the chain must have something we’re meant to accomplish---that kind of preparation---the one forebear sent to this country on the meager strength of two nutmegs, and another whose walk through fire left him physically unscathed, but with memories which could never be voiced.

I would sooner run shouting "Yee-Haw!" through church, waving my hat over my head, as to make light of any part of these times of our family, but yesterday I was speaking of the two circumstances with Caro and DDIL, here in our quiet house with the chill of Winter approaching. Our GrandBaby Girl, just past two, was playing quietly as we sat chatting.

I told the two little stories, and we agreed that perhaps one of our own children or Grands was to make a mark on the World, perhaps even the little one here in the room with us.

Caro started laughing, and said, “You mean the one sitting in the dog bed with the potholder on her head?”


Tonja said...

I love it! And as you said, "we Southerners like to trot out our crazy kinfolk..."

Wonder why that is? Is it because we're secretly hoping our kin is not quite as crazy as the next? Or maybe, so folks can see that we're not the crazy one on the family! No matter!

I think it is so rich that you have so much info about your forebearers. How interesting!

Keetha said...

Oh my goodness. That gave me cold chills. Very thought-provoking. Thanks so much for sharing.

Indy Cookie said...

How wonderful that you know so much about your family history! Genealogy has always fascinated me!

Cape Coop said...

Your writing is always such a pleasure, and the history of your family is so rich and fascinating- please share more about your genealogy!

racheld said...

Oh, My!! I told WAY too much about the family back in January, beginning here:


and coming forward about 10 posts. We Southern folks do beat all for parading the laundry, don't we?

Southern Lady said...

I love hearing about your family, Rachel, and laughed out loud at the image of your little one "sitting in the dog bed with a pot holder on her head." How adorable!