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Friday, March 5, 2010

Captain Thomas Hart Benton Correll

I had reason to go through some of the historical family heirlooms that have been entrusted to me by my grandmother and her sisters the other day. The most interesting piece is a Union Army Captains uniform worn by my Gr Gr Gr Grandfather Thomas Hart Benton Correll.

Thomas enlisted as a private in Co B 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Camp Massillon Ohio on August 30, 1862. That very day, the Battle of 2nd Bull Run (or Manassas) was taking place in Virginia. It would be a great Confederate victory, Robert E Lee leading the rebels over the Army of the Potomac commanded by General John Pope. It was part of a series of Federal disasters on the eastern front of the war, finally stopping in July of the following year (1863) at a the little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.

Of courser Thomas would have no idea this was happening as he enlisted, news traveled very slowly in those days. He was just a patriotic farmer, stood 5'11" tall and he was doing his duty. He stayed with the 104th Ohio until March of 1864 seeing action at Cumberland Gap, Knoxville and Stones River.

On March 30, 1864 he mustered out of the 104th and accepted a commission as a 1 Lt (later a captain) in the 1st US Heavy Artillery as commander of Company H. He served out the war in various assignments with the 1st US Heavy Artillery.

He was one of four known relatives that served the Union in the Civil War. Looking over that uniform today, it just blows my mind that he wore that heavy wool suit of clothing in the field during the war. The craftsmanship is remarkable and it is in wonderful condition, considering it is almost 150 yrs old. Of course they would not have worn the epaulets on the shoulders during combat, that was for formal occasions but would have worn the sash and in addition he would have carried a sword as well.

Thomas was married during a leave from the front in late 1864 and spent the years  after the war back in Ohio where he lived until 1908.

I have always been facinated with history. My journey in history began as a young boy, sitting upstairs at my grandmothers home In West Lafayette Indiana  reading The American Heritage Civil War book she had with many other books in an antique bookcase. I couldn't put those books down and with that began a life long love of books, history and an appreciation for what happened in our past and why that past is so important in understanding what is happening in the world today. My Grandma just adored the fact that I was interested and it was at her insistence that I became the keeper of the uniform that belonged to her Great Grandfather Correll who she vaguely remembered being only 8 years old when he died.

I feel as strongly today as I ever have of the importance of remembering that many people sacrificed a lot, many giving their lives so I could live in a country like ours. It is not perfect, but it is an amazing Democracy that guarantees freedom for it's citizens and that freedom was paid for in blood and sacrifice.

I think of the Civil War, it is incredible to think that we were once at war with each other. I can't imagine what those young men and boys must have thought as they signed up that August day in 1862. Thomas was 21 years old at the time and had never been away from the farm or his family. At the time he enlisted the so-called romance of war was gone, Battles like Shiloh. Bull Run and The Seven Days Campaign had been fought with horrific casualties on both sides. He knew he might never come home...the same feeling our service men and woman have felt as they were heading to France in 1917, to Europe and the Pacific in the 1940's, to Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Balkans and now the Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet they go. It blows my mind...and I for one am grateful.

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