Monday, October 20, 2008

On Finding Charles

I was a 12-year-old tomboy, too skinny and too tall, all bony knees and pony-tails, when I first developed an interest in the Civil War ... after my Dad read to me "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce. (Yes, this was as a bedtime story, along with his usual repertoire of Edgar Allan Poe tales and "Nightmares and Geezenstacks", but that is another blog!)

I can still remember how that story sparked my imagination and, several of my own tree-top readings of "The Red Badge of Courage" later, it finally dawned on me to ask my Dad if we had any ancestors that fought in the Civil War.

With the help of my dear Aunt Faye, we uncovered a forgotten family tale that would change my life. My Great Great Grandfather, Abner Delos Austin, was a Union soldier and was wounded at Gettysburg when he was just a boy! My Civil War interest turned into what would be a lifelong fascination.

Soon, my fascination would be fueled by my high school American History teacher, George Sparrow. He was one of those "love him or hate him" kind of teachers because he had little patience with kids that didn't want to learn but genuinely lived for those kids whose faces lit up with excitement over his lectures. I was one of the latter. I will never forget Mr. Sparrow ... when he spoke, he did so with such passion that history came alive right before my eyes. I will always be grateful that he took such a personal interest in my studies and in my heritage.

During those years, my Aunt and I began researching our genealogy in earnest and discovered that Abner wasn't our family's only Civil War hero. He had an older brother that volunteered as well. Charles W. Austin, my Great Great Grand Uncle, enlisted at the age of 19 and served as a Private in Company A of the Fifth Michigan Cavalry from 1862 through 1865. But because the Austin boys were orphaned and separated after my Great (3x) Grandparents died in the 1851 Detroit cholera epidemic, we were unable to find out much about Charles. While I have visited my Great Great Grandfather's grave every Memorial Day for as long as I can remember, I have never known where his brother was buried. For nearly 30 years, I have longed for that bit of affirmation that Charles really did exist.

On October 7, 2008, I got an email from Don Harvey of, telling me that Charles W. Austin's grave had been found in Avondale Cemetery in Flint, Michigan. I was obviously thrilled but, with guarded optimism, my husband and I packed a lunch into our SUV and set out for the 1.5 hour drive to Flint to see if we could find it.

GPS took us right to the cemetery (what did we ever do without that little gem of technology, I ask you?) but once there, we figured it would be like the needle in the proverbial haystack trying to fing the grave ... if indeed it really was there.

We were there but moments when, right outside my passenger window, there it was. A large headstone reading my last name and a series of smaller stones, the one on the farthest right reading "C.W. Austin, Co. A 5. Mich. Cav., Oct. 10, 1844 - June 1, 1908". There could be no mistaking it, this was my Charles.

At long last, the puzzle of my family's Civil War heritage was coming together. If it weren't for another gem of technology -- the Internet -- I might never have been able to find this piece of that puzzle; a piece that is priceless to me. My sincerest thanks to Don and Lois Harvey, Ed and Lois Russell, and Len Thomas for making this possible.

If you're interested in reading more about my Great Great Grand Uncle Charles W. Austin and his service with George Armstrong Custer's Michigan Cavalry Brigade, please click on the link to the right and read my Great Great Grandfather's story. His brother's information is included.

I have registered Charles's grave with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, so never again will he be lost or forgotten!

Wolcott Mill Civil War Skirmish

Today, after battling a nasty cold for the better part of two weeks, I felt well enough to drag my equally sick husband out to Ray, Michigan for the Civil War skirmish at Wolcott Mill. We were so glad we went ... it was a gloriously warm and sunny Indian summer day and the colors were spectacular. I do so love Michigan in autumn!

Even more spectacular was the reenactment of the action near Shepherd's Town, Virginia (now Shepherdstown, West Virginia), which took place after the Battle of Antietam. Fabulous show!! Here is a small sampling of the photos I took.

I love this one ... Johnny Reb lending a hand to Billy Yank. :-)

A few shots of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, my Great Great Grand Uncle Charles W. Austin's Unit

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Civil War Novels

A friend of mine, Michael J. Deeb, is the author of the Civil War-era novel "Duty and Honor," which is available for purchase through his website as well as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The sequel, "Duty Accomplished" is scheduled to be released any day! Please stop by his site and check it out! Best of luck, Michael!

Michael J. Deeb's

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Music to Love - "Gettysburg" by the Brandos

Check out this incredible 1987 release from the Brandos titled, "Gettysburg". I LOVE this song!!

David Kincaid, lead singer and guitarist of the Brandos and the song's co-writer, visited Gettysburg as a young man and discovered that his ancestor, James McCormack Kincaid of the 63rd Pennsylvania, fought and died there. He was so moved that he says this song nearly wrote itself on the spot.

Today, David Kincaid is an active Civil War reenactor and records and performs Civil War-era music, particularly anthems cherished by his Irish ancestors. I recently discovered a series of his performances on the 2001 DVD collection "Civil War Minutes" ... he is fabulous. A visit to his website is a must.

I have to tell you, this song takes me right back to my first ever walk through that haunted field this past July. And, most definitely ... I saw the years stripped away.