Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Thomas and Judah Farrell DNA Project: James O'Farrell and the Civil War

Let's take a break from the DNA aspect of this project and talk about the people involved starting with James. For me, it always comes back to the people, my people: who they were in life. I want to know them as best I can. After all I do have some of their DNA.

Thomas and Judah Farrell's oldest son was James Farrell (or O'Farrell as he used his surname in daily adult life, 1842-1914) and the third born child falling in line after two sisters, Mary Elizabeth (Farrell) House (1835-1919) and Catherine (Farrell) Boxwell (1838-1910). The girls were born in Ireland and James was the first Farrell child born in Virginia, now West Virginia. His father Thomas died in 1851 and his mother in 1857 leaving the children to fend for themselves. They were of very modest means.

James' nineteenth birthday was on January 9th of 1861 and the American Civil War began three months later when Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter on April 12th. James heard the clarion call that young men through the ages hear, now sounded by his newly embraced county. He marched to war on behalf of the Union in a time and place where some of his neighbors joined the Confederacy. Even his two older sisters were at odds: Catherine's husband, James Edward Boxwell (1831-1910) served with the Union while Mary Elizabeth's husband, Samuel Albert House, enlisted in the Confederate army and that cause tremendous trouble in the family. It was in fact brother-in-law fighting brother-in-law. If Ireland had been a place of turmoil for the Farrells, this new county was quickly becoming another one. Was there to be no peace for the Farrell family?

It was pretty easy to find James O'Farrell in the 1890 Veteran's Schedule which was the starting point and gave information about his service record. With his unit designations in hand, it was off to Fold3.


1890 Veteran's Schedule.

I have to admit, I love looking at the service records on Fold3. Luckily, both the Maryland and West Virginia Union company records are 100% complete so I wasn't missing anything. Even though I had the company info from the 1890 Veteran's Schedule it was set aside and the search began fresh. I searched and then I browsed, first in Maryland and then in Virginia and West Virginia making certain to look for all the variations of Farrell and O'Farrell. As a safeguard, I did the same without a state preference, and finally without a preference for Union or Confederate just to cover all the bases. It took a while. By process of careful review and then elimination, all of the files but one were deemed not to be our James O'Farrell. He was found in the same unit listed in the 1890 schedule.

Let me tell you about the guy described by those service records, and both Cousin Rich and I are pretty sure he is our James O'Farrell. This is the kind of dramatic story you hope you'll find and when you do, you're really scared for him. He served in the Maryland Cavalry and was captured, imprisoned as a POW at Salisbury where conditions were a nightmare, and then... well let's get to the whole story and begin at the start of the war.

James enlisted in the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry on November 24, 1861 and joined Company B, Capt. Zeller's Co., in Williamsport, Virginia.  The unit had formed during the period when pro-Union citizens got together in April of 1861 right after the state had voted for secession and West Virginia became a state. By January of 1862 after serving three months active duty, his unit seems to have been incorporated somehow into a Maryland unit, but as of yet I'm not entirely certain how that came about. He was now a private in Company H of the 1st Regiment of the Maryland Cavalry. In July and August of 1862 his unit took leave and presumably he went home for a rest. In September he was back with his unit which spent a lot of time guarding a very important asset of the North, the railroad.

The Company Description Book gives us a picture of him. He was, at age 20, five feet seven and a half inches tall. His hair was light as was his complexion, and his eyes were blue. Just like Mom! He was a farmer.

By the end of 1863, James O'Farrell's term of service was up. He re-enlisted and received a $100 bonus and was now a Veteran Volunteer. He fought with his unit until September 29th, 1864 when, while out on maneuvers with his company, he just disappeared at Chapin Farms, Virginia, near Dutch Gap while a battle was raging. By the next day, October 30, he was deemed missing for sure and the records indicate that he was "Missing from picket lines near Newmarket Road - Oct 2nd 1864." "Nothing heard of him since."

It's only natural they'd have to entertain the thought he might have gone AWOL - he had just received his reenlistment bonus of $100 - but it turns out he was captured. He did not fare well at the hands of "the Rebels," as the reports call the enemy. He was initially at a prison camp at Richmond, Virginia on October 1st, but soon moved to the horrors that were the POW Camp at Salisbury, North Carolina.

The Salisbury facility, opened in October 1861, was originally intended as a place of incarceration for Confederate men who committed infractions. By December of the same year it's purpose was changed to holding captured Union troops. In the early years there were enough rations, shelter, water and sanitation for the imprisoned. But the captured kept on coming in increasing numbers such that by the fall of 1864, specifically on October 5th when my relative was likely moved in and 5,000 soldiers arrived from other facilities such as Richmond, things took a nasty turn. All shelters were full and over capacity and by the end of October the numbers of incarcerated had shockingly skyrocketed to about 10,000 in a facility designed to house about 2,000. As winter came, the men who were without shelter dug burrows to try and keep warm. Disease and starvation were everywhere. They were termed by the hospital staff as "outdoor patients."

Many died that winter and were buried in trenches without formal registration of their identities. Those poor souls just disappeared, unnamed. But James O'Farrell was not to be one of them. Fearing starvation he chose to enlist in the Confederate Army, particularly the 8th Confederate Infantry.

How did that work? I really don't understand. You fight for the Union, get captured, get treated brutally in prison, then are offered enlistment in the enemy's army as a way to save your life. Are you expected to then take up arms against the very men you fought along side of. I must be missing something or maybe my imagination is too limited by a life lived safe.

James was recaptured by the Union under the direction of General Stoneman. Maybe it was during Stoneman's raid on North Carolina in March of 1865. And here's where it gets confusing. The image below is of the MEMORANDUM FROM PRISONER OF WAR RECORDS. Maybe you can read some of it. In part it reads:
Enlisted in 8” CS. Inf. At Salisbury N.C. was recaptured by Genl Stoneman while
in arms against the U.S. Govt. at Salisbury N. C. he voluntarily made
known that he formerly belonged to the US. Army and claimed that
he deserted from Camp of Pris. of
war to escape starvation. Confined at Nashville Tenn. And was released
on taking the oath of allegiance July 5 / 65




The war was almost over for our James O'Farrell and on July 5, 1865 he took the Oat of Allegiance in a POW camp in Nashville. He returned to his original Union unit from Maryland on July 23, 1865 and mustered out on August 8. He was owed $290 for back pay and a bounty.

Where he went immediately from there is not known to us and it's not from lack of trying. He probably went back home because on 14 March 1867 he married a local girl in his home county of Morgan County, West Virginia. Her name was Miss Henrietta L. Michaels, called Hattie. Doesn't she sound sweet? I so wish we had a photo of the lovely couple.

For the 1880 census they are living in Flat Creek, Pettis County, Missouri and he's farming. They stay there, have four children, and farm until he dies on 12 March 1914 and is buried two days later in the Point Pleasant Cemetery, Green Ridge, Pettis County, Missouri. (Find A Grave Memorial # 19014002.) Hattie joined him on 29 May, 1927. (Find A Grave Memorial # 22158470.) He was 72 when he passed and she was 82 when she passed. I hope they had a good life together.


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