Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"The world is a book...

...and those who don't travel read only a page."
~ St. Augustine

I've been busy on a wonderful family trip to a place with lots of rich heritage and beautiful weather. I'm looking forward to getting back to blogging now that I'm back from traveling.

Check back soon for some new posts!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A baby girl in the family

Ninety-three years ago in 1914 baby Anne Elizabeth Cowhey was born to Charles & Agnes (Donnelly) Cowhey. She was their first-born child. She was baptized at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Pottsville with the name Anna, and would be called Annie as a child (per the 1920 U.S. census), but later revert back to the more formal Anne.


This beautiful baby portrait is the only picture that I have seen of her as a child, with the exception of a group photo at her First Communion that was kindly sent to me a couple of years ago.

Fifteen years after this baby portrait was taken, Anne married her husband George Roger McCue, a young businessman from Quincy, Massachusetts. She became a mother and grandmother and was affectionately known as Nana.

I couldn't pass up the chance to share this beautiful baby photo of Anne on what would have been her 93rd birthday.

She never liked others to know her age. Hopefully now that she has passed to the next life , it doesn't bother her anymore. May she rest in peace - even though I told her birthdate!

Monday, July 16, 2007

...or railroad men or miners...


"The Irish - be they kings, or poets, or farmers,

They're a people of great worth,

They keep company with the angels,

And bring a bit of heaven here to earth."


~ Irish Saying


Thursday, July 12, 2007

GAR episode on PBS' History Detectives

An episode of PBS' History Detectives show being broadcast this month features the Grand Army of the Republic. The story, describing a search for answers about this Civil War veteran's group photo depicting black and white men together, turns out to be a New York post of the GAR.
History Detectives' search for answers determines that the GAR was one of the first national groups to allow integration in the nation. They explain this occurrence to be a result of the comradeship developed between veterans of the war that transcended current racial attitudes. See the transcript of the show at this site.

The Grand Army of the Republic

William Cowhey's obituary mentions that he was "a soldier on the Union side in the late rebellion, and a prominent member of Gowen Post No. 23, G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic]." The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was an organization of Civil War Union veterans. It was formed as a fraternal organization to further the interests of the men who had served the Union. This Library of Congress webpage explains what the G.A.R. was all about:
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) quickly became the preeminent veterans' organization formed at the close of the Civil War. Membership reached its peak in 1890, when over 400,000 members were reported. By then the GAR had well over seven thousand posts, ranging in size from fewer than two dozen members in small towns, to more than a thousand in some cities. Almost every prominent veteran was enrolled, including five presidents: Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley.

The GAR uniform was a double-breasted, dark blue coat with bronze buttons, and a black wide-brimmed slouch felt hat, with golden wreath insignia and cord. A bronze star badge hung from a small chiffon flag. The star in relief depicted
a soldier and sailor clasping hands in front of a figure of Liberty. Members wore these insignia in their lapels, so they could be easily identified. This led to them being sarcastically termed "bronze button heroes." They referred to each other as "comrade."
I'd like to find a photo of the Gowen Post members all dressed up in their finery, if one exists. The photo at left is George B. Kiehl, another prominent member of G.A.R. Gowen Post #23 at Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Now for some more explanation of what types of activities in which the G.A.R. was active:

The organization of the GAR was based upon three objectives: fraternity, charity, and loyalty. The first ideal was encouraged through regular, locally scheduled meetings and joint gatherings with members from other posts. Their "camp-fire" was the most popular activity. Here, a group of comrades sat in their hall or around dinner tables, singing old war songs, recounting wartime experiences, and swapping accounts of their deeds. The annual state and national meetings, called encampments, attracted thousands of members. Cities in twenty-two states from Maine to Oregon hosted the veterans. Railroads offered special discounted rates and scheduled special trains. Many members who wished to relive their war years found quarters in tents.

To promote its second objective, charity, the veterans set up a fund for the relief of needy veterans, widows, and orphans. This fund was used for medical, burial and housing expenses, and for purchases of food and household goods. Loans were arranged, and sometimes the veterans found work for the needy. The GAR was active in promoting soldiers' and orphans' homes; through its efforts soldiers' homes were established in sixteen states and orphanages in seven states by 1890. [Including the home where Thomas Cowey lived in Dayton, Ohio.] The soldiers' homes were later transferred to the federal government.

The GAR also had a number of auxiliaries: the Woman's Relief Corps (organized on a national basis in 1883); the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic (1896); and the Sons Of Union Veterans of the Civil War (1881). These three organizations along with the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War still carry on the work begun by the GAR in establishing and improving veterans facilities.

I am currently in the process of applying for membership to the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War (DUVCW). It has been an interesting process to gather all the applicable records in order to prove my relationship to my great-great-grandfather.

More on the activities of the Grand Army of the Republic:

Loyalty, the third ideal, was fostered through constant reminders to those who had not lived through the war of the significance of the GAR in reuniting a divided nation. The organization spent much of its time soliciting funds for monuments and memorials, busts and equestrian statues of Union soldiers and heroes, granite shafts, tablets, urns, and mounted cannon. The GAR also encouraged the preservation of Civil War sites, relics, and historic documents. Cannons and field-pieces were placed in many towns or courthouse squares and parks. The members also gave battle-stained flags, mementos, and documents to local museums.

In its early days, the GAR limited its activities merely to fraternal activities. But soon, members began discussing politics in local gatherings. A growing interest in pensions signaled the beginning of open GAR participation in national politics. The rank and file soon realized the value of presenting a solid front to make demands upon legislators and congressmen. The GAR became so powerful that the wrath of the entire body could be called down upon any man in public life who objected to GAR-sponsored legislation. In 1862 President Lincoln approved a bill granting pensions for soldiers who received permanent disability as a result of their military service. An 1879 act was liberalized to include conditions of payment. After that, the GAR became a recognized pressure group. The fate of some presidential elections was dependent upon the candidate's support of GAR-sponsored pension bills. President Grover Cleveland was defeated for re-election in 1888 in large part because of his veto of a Dependent Pension Bill. President Benjamin Harrison was elected because of his definite commitment to support pension legislation. The Disability Pension Act of 1890, insured a pension to every veteran who had ninety days of military service and some type of disability, not necessarily incurred during or as a result of the War. Since most ex-soldiers were at least middle aged, the act
became an almost universal entitlement for every veteran. For many decades the federal Government paid claims to all Union veterans of the Civil War and their survivors.
[Including a pension to Thomas Cowhey. I have not been able to find any records of pensions paid to William Cowhey or either of his wives, however. April 2008 update: William Cowhey's pension file found October 2007!]

The GAR's principal legacy to the nation, however, is the annual observance of May 30 as Decoration Day, or more recently, Memorial Day. General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the GAR, requested members of all posts to decorate the graves of their fallen comrades with flowers on May 30, 1868. This idea came from his wife, who had seen Confederate graves decorated by Southern women in Virginia. By the next year the observance became well established. Members of local posts in communities throughout the nation visited veterans' graves and decorated them with flowers, and honored the dead with eulogies. The pattern thus set is still followed to the present day. It was only after the first World War, when the aged veterans could no longer conduct observances, that the Civil War character of Decoration Day was replaced by ceremonies for the more recent war dead.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A tribute to all who served

All soldiers who served Pennsylvania in the Civil War have their names listed on this monument at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Called simply the Pennsylvania State Monument, it is dedicated to all troops of Pennsylvania that fought on the battlefield, including my ancestors William Cowey and his brother Thomas Cowey, I believe. (I have not yet visited the monument and seen their names.) The bronze plaques around the base of the monument contain the names of all the Pennsylvanians who fought in battle.

If you are ever in the area, the monument is located on Cemetery Ridge, about half way between the town of Gettysburg and Little Round Top.

Go to this webpage to see a map of the area that saw action on day 3 of the Battle of Gettysburg (including the location of the Pennsylvania Monument). Here's a small version of the same map below. Notice the Pennsylvania Monument's image on the bottom right.

Friday, July 6, 2007

More on the Union soldiers of Schuylkill County

If you'd like to learn more, take a look at Penn State's Digital Library Collections online. The site provides access to the Memorial of the Patriotism of Schuylkill County in the American Slaveholder's Rebellion. Long title, but well worth reading if you're interested in the contributions of the Cowey brothers and their friends and neighbors during this crucial time in American history.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An old soldier

As you know (if you've been reading this blog) William Cowey and his brother Thomas Cowey served as Union volunteers in the Civil War for 3 months in 1861. (See Thomas' clickable military record of service above.)

If William and Thomas were here they would probably correct me. They did not call it the Civil War, instead it was known as The Rebellion. Even as late as William's obituary in 1892, the phrase The Rebellion is used instead of Civil War.

Reading textbook descriptions of the Civil War (or The Rebellion, if you prefer) just can't compare to the experience of my 11-year-old and I at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. a few years ago. After doing a little research I had learned that Thomas Cowey had applied for and received a military pension for his service.

While on our family vacation to Washington, D.C. we took a little detour from the traditional tourist attractions. In between our trips to the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, and just after standing in line to view the Declaration of Independence in the other section of the National Archives building, my daughter and I walked in and applied for research I.D. cards in order to take a look at Thomas' pension file.
We were able to see the real heart of the archives building. We checked out Thomas' pension application file. (One page of many is shown above. Click on it for a larger view.) We found ourselves transported back in time as we carefully leafed through brittle, yellowing pages - an amazing historical treasure. Here before us, probably hardly touched since they were last filed in the 1890's, were records including descriptions about his health, his occupation, his Civil War service for the Union, and more.

The file indicated that Thomas received $10 a month in pension for "partial inability to earn a support by manual labor". Probably the most unexpected surprise of this experience was the discovery that one of his three predominant medical reasons for applying for military pension was the same trouble that many Cowhey descendants of later generations still suffer from: circulation problems. Yup, he was a relative for sure.

Thomas' file indicated that he was raised in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. He never married or had children. His application indicates that he was an iron worker, and was injured on the job one day in Pottsville in December of 1882 (or May 1884 or December 1878, depending on which date indicated in the file is accurate, if any). As a laborer in the coal and iron yards working for the Philadelphia Reading Coal & Iron Company, he had gotten his "foot smashed while at work". A more detailed description is listed on another page of his file:

He was working in a machine shop at Pottsville Pa. called the eading Coal and Iron shops and was engaged in assisting to carry a screen shaft. Then the carrying stick broke and the shaft fell upon his right foot, inflicting the injury for which he claims pension.
Thomas' file also indicated rheumatism and varicose veins as cause for pension, and is careful to explain that "they are not due to vicious habits, but to heavy lifting and straining and being continuously on his feet while working in the yards, which he did continuously for about 10 years."

In 1892 Thomas moved to the National Military Home in Dayton, Ohio. In 1895, at the time of his application for pension, he lived in Ward 6 of the hospital. The soldiers' home was the largest of three such institutions in the country designed for the retirement of men injured during military service.


The 627 acres of the Dayton facility (seen above in an image from 1898) is described as follows by Henry Howe in his Historical Collections of Ohio:

It is a unique place; a small city mainly of graybearded men, few women, and no children, excepting those of the families of the officers. It is a spot of great beauty, from its location, its fine buildings, its green-houses, flower beds, and for the display of the triumphs of landscape gardening. These features render it a great place of attraction in summer for visitors, who come by thousands in excursion trains from all parts of Ohio and the adjacent States of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, etc.

The Soldiers' Home (an 1885 aerial view of its gardens and lake is seen above) was ahead of its time, giving the soldiers opportunity for exercise, reading, music, healthcare, and occupational training so that some might be able re-enter society. The Dayton facility, originally called an asylum but changed because of negative connotations, was a beautiful environment designed to improve the health and wellbeing of the veterans under its care. It even had steam heat, indoor plumbing and elevators. Nice place.
A photo of the dining room in 1902 (seen above) had the following description of life at the Dayton facility printed on the back:
Old Soldiers at Dinner, National Home, Dayton, Ohio, 1902

Nearly seven thousand men were members of this big family last year, including over one hundred who fought in the Mexican war. Less than three hundred were regulars – almost the whole number were volunteers in the great struggle of the sixties, and almost every state in the union is on record among the places of their original enlistment…

The bill of fare here is simple, wholesome and homey; the establishment includes a farm that furnishes abundance of milk and eggs. Some of the men busy themselves in the tin shop, carpenter-shop and other departments, helping provide necessaries for the running of the Home itself, others lend a hand in the details of the daily housekeeping; still others have infirmities that force them altogether into leisure. There are frequent dramatic entertainments here, and band concerts galore. The men play billiards and pool; cards, chess and checkers have their devotees. Last year the library records show the reading of over forty thousand books, besides larger numbers of papers and magazines. The Home receives in one year over 275, 000 letters and postal cards. The boys in Blue are not being forgotten either by their old friends or by the younger people who have taken their places in the busy ranks of civil life.
Interesting reading about the Dayton Soldiers' Home can be found within this 1891 guide to the facility, this NPS study guide and this genealogy site.

Thomas Cowey died on March 25, 1899 and was buried in the Dayton National Cemetery near the Soldiers' Home. He was interred at plot L, 15, 23, in case you are interested in visiting his grave, if you ever make it to Dayton. Having no descendants of his own, I don't think he gets many visitors or is remembered by many people. My daughter and I will certainly remember him. We know relatively little about him, but had a glimpse into his life and the times in which he lived thanks to our day as researchers at the National Archives. We had touched a bit of history - our country's history and our own family's history.

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