Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Joneses' Civil War

At left: Charles Matthew "Matt" Jones at age 19. You can't tell from this reproduction, but he is wearing four pistols.

When I started looking into my family history, all that I knew about our family and the Civil War was that Cal Jones's grandfathers in Arkansas had fought on opposite sides. The idea of a Union soldier from Arkansas sounded so unusual that I imagined he must have been very brave or quite contrary. But the more I've read both about our family's history and the nation's, the more I've learned that the Civil War was not simply a binary, black-and-white (or Blue-and-Gray) conflict. In the mountain regions that Cal's family came from—Appalachian Virginia, Alabama, and Kentucky, Ozark Arkansas—the locals tended to be caught in the middle: possessed of none of the abolitionist zeal of the North, and yet not culturally or economically invested in the institution of slavery. (Put more plainly: Cal's people did not for the most part have slaves, but that was mostly because they couldn't afford them.)

Sherman Calaway Jones was born in 1895 near Durham, a town in Washington County, Arkansas, near Fayetteville. The area began to be settled in the 1830s by white farmers from Tennessee and Kentucky. Cal had a large extended family in the area: his four grandparents, his eight great-grandparents, and 11 of his 16 great-great-grandparents had lived in Washington County or in an adjacent county. In the 1900 census for Durham, about a third of the 700 or so residents were apparently his relatives.

Though the national origin of Cal's ancestors was varied, including England, Ireland, The Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Germany, they had assimilated into the "Scotch-Irish" culture of 18th-century immigrants from Northern Ireland and Scotland. (Some people prefer the terms "Scots-Irish" or "Ulster Scots" to "Scotch-Irish," but I use the last just because it's the most common.) The Scotch-Irish had a long history of life on the border: they had lived on the frontier between the English and the Highland Scots for centuries, their homes frequently destroyed as borders moved according to the fortunes of conflict. They learned to work both sides to their advantage and became a violent warrior culture of family clans that shifted alliances and fought among themselves. (Family feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys weren't an American invention; the Scotch-Irish brought such behavior with them.)

So when the Civil War broke out, sentiment in these mountainous border regions was divided. Although slavery was not widespread in Washington County, we are told that Cal's great-grandfather, William Shumate, had slaves that worked his 300-acre farm. (The Shumates had come from Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1837; William’s father Balis came three years later, bringing slaves with him.) Not coincidentally, it was William's son Bennett Shumate who was Cal's Confederate grandfather: he served in a Confederate Cavalry unit from 1862 to 1865. Two of Bennett’s brothers, James and William Jr., died in the war.

Cal's other grandfather, Charles Matthew (Matt) Jones, fought for the Union as a Private in Company B of the First Arkansas Cavalry Volunteers, as we know from his Civil War pension file. He enlisted on October 1, 1862, near Springfield, Missouri. He was injured in August 1863,: his horse was shot out from under him, and he himself was shot in the right side, the arm, and the right leg, probably in action north of Fayetteville.

A family legend holds that when Matt was wounded, he was brought to the home of Ambrose Clark to recover. While there, he met Ambrose's raven-haired daughter Esther, whom he would later come back and marry in May 1865, a few months before his discharge. Ambrose Clark was a native of Ohio, and his parents came from Vermont. He later identified himself as a Republican, so it is likely that he was a Union supporter.

Matt’s own family appear to have been Union supporters. He and his parents had come from the hills of northern Alabama in the 1840s. Matt’s brother John, who also fought for the Union, was killed while trying to escape after having been captured in battle. Their father, William Jones, must have at least been a strong Union supporter after the fact: his second marriage, nearly 20 years after the war, broke up because his wife was a Confederate sympathizer.

But Matt may not have been as ideologically motivated as we’d like to think: Another family legend holds that he first signed on with the Confederates and then, when the tide of the war was turning in Arkansas, he switched sides.

The guerilla violence that swept through the border regions throughout the war did not just affect soldiers. One victim, Seth Mills, an 80-year-old Quaker great-great-grandfather of Cal's, was assaulted in his home by Southern "bushwhackers" who demanded his money. When he refused, they tortured him by burning and breaking his feet. (He survived the ordeal and lived to the age of 94.)

Bennett Shumate died in 1884; it has been said that he never fully recovered from war injuries. Matt Jones lived until 1922.

For years after the war, old resentments continued, and the Union-Confederacy dispute was played out in the political arena by Republicans and Democrats. So when Bennett Shumate's daughter Nancy (known as Nannie) married Matt Jones's son Silas in 1892, the Shumates, at least, were not happy about it. As Cal Jones would later write:

“Now picture if you can a family of robust young Republican boys (the Jones boys) growing up in a predominantly Democratic community where just about all the fathers had fought on the losing side, the Confederacy. . . . I can tell you now that Dad and his brother Will [Matt Jones’s sons], both excellent boxers and rough-and-tumble fighters, fought their way out back to back many a time. . . . To cap this all off, Dad went and married a girl out of a Democratic family, which spelled more trouble. . . . By that time Dad and his brother had pretty well established themselves and didn’t have to fight too much, but the old hatreds continued and the first year of married life he had to lick two of Mama’s brothers, Johnny and George. After that they more or less left him alone, but he was still quite a minority on the community.”

Those resentments would later lead to Silas and his family leaving Arkansas after a dispute with some of Nannie's relatives over a dead dog—but that's a subject for another post. [UPDATE, 8/30/07: The story of the dog and the exodus from Arkansas is told here, here, and here.]

A word on my sources: A history of Washington County published by the Shiloh Museum in 1989 has lots of details about people in Cal's extended family. The letter of Cal's that I quote above gave me the basics of the story. And a cousin who is related on both the Shumate and Jones sides has worked for decades on family history; her impressive work filled in a lot of details and color. Finally, I learned about the cultural history of the Scotch-Irish from a terrific book called "Albion's Seed" by David Hackett Fischer. Fischer breaks down the immigration from the British Isles to America into four distinct cultural groups and paints a detailed portrait of each group, providing a lens for understanding American history. It's helped me understand our family history better, too.