Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Marianna High - Class of 1860

I’ve mentioned to a few readers that I’ve been compiling a database derived from the 1860 and 1870 Jackson County censuses.  So far, I’ve included every adult white male as well as female property owners and some prominent African Americans.  Along with each name, I’m tracking a number of categories: profession, property valuations, acreage owned, slaves owned, etc.  My first goal is to get a sense of the impact of the War on this community which, I think, is in many ways representative of a cotton belt Southern county. 

To show the war's impact on this small community, let’s examine one group: white 18 year olds males in 1860, or what I think of as Marianna H.S. Class of 1860.  (I’m not including African Americans because only the two dozen or so free black or “mulatto” males living in Jackson Co. were listed by name in the 1860 census.)  Now, of course, most of these young men didn’t attend the local academy or any school for that matter.  The sad truth is that public education barely existed in the ante-bellum South and many whites, perhaps most from poor families, grew up illiterate, even unable to sign their own names.   For the sake of trying to make sense of the War, let’s suspend our skepticism and imagine the all the young, white men the census taker recorded as 18 years old when he knocked on their parents’ doors in the summer of 1860 as a high school seniors about to go out to begin their lives, working on daddy’s farm, venturing out West or even for a select few, going to college.    Marianna High “graduated” about 66 men that last peaceful spring before the cataclysm.  I say “about” because I don’t entirely trust the census takers’ reliability, and, truthfully, many poor homesteaders weren’t completely sure about their own ages as evidenced by variations from census to census.

What became of these 66 boys?   Well, for 12 (18%), I’m not sure what happened. Several of these 12 served in the Confederate Armies, so there is the possibility that some never returned.  Of the remaining 54 young men, 17 (26% of the total; or 31% of the 54 verified names) died in the war.  Like most Civil War soldiers, most died in hospitals from disease. Several, however, died in battles, including Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. Of the remaining 37? Only 11 show up in the 1870 Jackson Co. census.  Another boy died in 1869 and one more moved to Brazil with his family.  The remaining 26 can be verified through ancestry or other databases or genealogy lists as suriving the war.  Interestingly, as many as 4 young men served in the Union army.

So we know that at least 26% of the male 1860 18 year olds died in the Civil War. The percentage is probably higher as it is not a stretch to assume that an even greater rate of the unaccounted for died in the war.  For example, if we guess that half of the unknown 12 died in the war, which is certainly plausible, that would bring the death rate up to an astounding 35%. Of course, I'm not even listing those survivors whose lives were marred by war wounds, physical or mental. This is just intended to give a sense of my preliminary findings from the database. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pre-judging a book by its cover

The Jackson County War book won't be out for a few more months, but here's the cover. I worked on the concept with Mira who designed the image. Isn't she a talented artist?  Univ. of Alabama pretty much recreated her work.  This is one situation where I hope the book proves worthy of its cover. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Jews of Jackson County: Part VII - Simon Straus's War

During the taking of the 1860 census in the summer of 1860, the only Jewish residents established in Jackson Co. were the Fleishman family. Five young German-born men of likely Jewish backgrounds also lived in the county, but these salesmen and merchants were probably peddlers temporarily settling in Marianna which served as a base for their routes into the countryside. Consistent with their peripatetic lives most of these men had moved on from the Panhandle by the time war broke out in the spring of 1861. Samuel Fleishman was in his early forties at the war’s beginning and not required to serve in the military. When the age for compulsory service was extended in 1863 to 45 which included Fleishman’s age, he left for New York to work with his in-laws. Prussian native Aaron Davis joined Company E of the 5th Florida Cavalry Regiment late in the war when he was 22 years old but he soon departed and was reported in his service file as deserting in Dec. 1864. Simon Straus, listed in the 1860 census as a 23 year old German-born watchmaker also stayed in the Jackson County area but had a very different war-time experience.

Described as having a “fresh complexion” with auburn hair and grey eyes, Simon stood five foot five and a half inches. He joined Capt. Lawrence Attaway’s Company F of the 6th Florida Regiment at the Apalachicola Arsenal on May 21, 1862 (Attaway, a Jackson County native, would be dead of illness within two months at Columbus, Georgia – his widow Catherine operated Marianna’s hotel where Maggie McClellan was murdered in 1869). The 6th Florida operated in the Tennessee theater and in December Straus was detailed to the Knoxville, TN police force. By May 1863, Straus returned to his unit, but in July was listed as sick in an Atlanta hospital. Unlike many of his comrades, Straus did not succumb to illness and he returned to police and jail guard duty in Knoxville in August. Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner, however, shortly abandoned Knoxville which was taken in September by Union troops under General Ambrose Burnside. Straus’s war ended soon afterwards when he was wounded and captured on Nov. 25, 1863 during the battle at Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga.

Upon being taken prisoner by Union forces, Straus was initially placed in a military hospital at Chattanooga. In early January he was dispatched to the military prison at Louisville KY, but a few days later was forwarded to the prison at Rock Island, Illinois where he arrived on January 17, 1864 and where he spent the rest of the war. At some point during his captivity, Straus contemplated taking an oath of allegiance to the Union as a route to get out of prison. His service file notes that his home was in the North and that he was the “only support of [his] widowed mother.” (I particularly like Straus getting his mother involved!). But for whatever reason, Straus remained in prison at Rock Island and was released only after taking the oath of allegiance after the close of the war on May 9, 1865. Straus, then 28 years old, apparently remained in the North and took up residence in Chicago.