Tracing your Civil War roots - The work is worth the time and effort

September 11, 1997

Tracing your Civil War roots

The work is worth the time and effort


Staff Writer

John Hare was thrilled to discover the similarities between himself and his great-grandfather, who served in the Civil War.

The Springfield, Va., resident is an English professor at Montgomery College's campus in Germantown, Md., and he likes to sing.

James Hare, an infantryman with Company B of the 14th South Carolina, had been a schoolteacher and a singer.

Learning about an ancestor's accomplishments is very rewarding, said JaNeen M. Smith, a Thurmont, Md., resident who found that her great-grandfather, Benjamin J. Townsend, served with the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company B.

"It gives you a sense of pride," Smith said.

Townsend entered the Union Army as a quartermaster sergeant, responsible for payroll and keeping daily battle journals. He was a farmer, but he was well educated and got a higher rank because he could read and write, Smith said.


In 1863, Townsend was injured in battle in Winchester, Va., when a horse fell on him. He had a broken leg and ribs and was taken to a hospital in Hagerstown. In camp in 1864, he was tending to some horses when a team of horses ran over him.

"As soon as his bones healed, he went right back," Smith said.

She also learned that Townsend was 5-feet-6 inches tall and had gray eyes.

Smith, 54, said she has been interested in the Civil War since she was a child, and she used to follow her grandmother around and ask her questions.

"She was a wonderful keeper of family stories," Smith said.

Smith also learned that a great-great uncle on her father's side was arrested in Wisconsin for inciting a riot during the Civil War. People with more money were paying young farmers to take their place in the war, and he was angry because he felt they should be made to serve, said Smith, who is executive director of National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.

John Hare, 47, said he had been hearing about James Hare since he was a boy, and he was the first ancestor he began researching.

He learned that James Hare was 5 feet, 5 inches tall and had sandy hair, but he said what made him real was seeing his signature.

James Hare was captured April 2, 1865, as the Confederate Army was leaving Petersburg, Va. He was taken to Point Lookout Prison Camp, where he stayed until his release on June 27 of that year.

"For me it brought home the fact that the war didn't have a nice tidy end for everyone on April 9, 1865," Hare said.

Hare also had four other ancestors in the war.

His great-great-great uncle, Sherard Callaham, served in the 7th South Carolina Infantry, Company B. Callaham's nephew, Levi Callaham, and his brother, William Callaham, served in the same company at Sharpsburg during the Battle of Antietam, which took place Sept. 17, 1862. William Callaham was disabled during the battle, and Levi Callaham was reported as missing in action, and his body never was found.

Sherard Callaham was mortally wounded at Gettysburg and taken to a prison camp in New Jersey, where he died and was buried.

Hare's great-great-grandfather, Jackson Griffin, also served with the 7th South Carolina. He died in a Richmond hospital Dec. 3, 1861, exactly 55 years before Hare's father was born.

All were privates except for Sherard Callaham, who became a lieutenant before Gettysburg.

While Hare's research on his Confederate ancestors uncovered military information, it also gave a personal glimpse into the soldiers' lives.

Sherard Callaham and Griffin both had young children at the time of their deaths, Hare said.

"I've thought about how it must have affected the families when the news arrived," he said.

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