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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Do You Want to Know a Secret?


* * *

When I was a kid we played the telephone game, AKA Chinese whispers: whisper a little story in someone's ear, then that person whispers it to the next in line, and so on, until the last person tells the story out loud for all to hear, but by then it has changed a little or a lot.

Apparently it's the same with family lore: a real event happens to a real person, who tells it to the grandchildren, who tell it to the next generation, and so on, until each retelling changes a little or a lot.

Such was the case of the story I had been told about one of my ancestors that I reported at the end of my Sept. 26 blog post:
"I'm going to try to find time to visit nearby Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park before I return home.  
"One of the family stories I grew up with was that my third great grandfather Andrew Jackson (no relation to the president), a captain in the Confederate Army, was captured during the Battle of Prairie Grove, taken as a prisoner of war to a Union prison camp in Springfield, Illinois, where he was transferred to the prison at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore. He escaped from Ft. McHenry somehow and walked home from Baltimore, Maryland, to his hometown of Cane Hill, Arkansas, where he lived a long and productive life."   
Here he is in his elder years -- the only photo I have of him. He lost his right eye during a Civil War battle (I don't know which one):

Last week my sister Charlou and I went to Prairie Grove to see if there were any records there about Andrew.

Turns out he was never at Prairie Grove!

Alan Thompson, the Arkansas state historian and registrar who works at the battlefield's interpretive center, was very helpful in hunting down the actual story, using Confederate and Union records.

Here he is showing Charlou where Roseville, Arkansas, is on a historic map (Roseville is no longer a town).

So here's the real story:

Andrew Jackson (1831-1913) was a first lieutenant, not a captain. He was attached to Company H of the 1st Regiment, Arkansas Confederate Cavalry.

The reason he was not at the Battle of Prairie Grove was that he was leading a decoy unit a few miles away at Roseville, Arkansas, with the intention of keeping the Union army away from Prairie Grove after they crossed the border from Missouri (it didn't work).

Confederate pay records show that he went five months without being paid. Here's one of his pay receipts:

Five months is a long time. So he deserted.

Before he made it home he was found by Union soldiers, taken as a prisoner of war and transported to a Union prison at Springfield, Missouri. He was 32 years old at the time, a widower with a young daughter.

From there he was taken to St. Louis and then transported all the way to City Point, Virginia, where he was taken to Fortress Monroe as part of a prisoner exchange.

From Fortress Monroe, Virginia, he was put on the steamboat Maple Leaf for transfer via the Delaware River to Fort Delaware.

When he and some other prisoners found their opportunity, they overpowered the Maple Leaf and escaped. (I found an interesting history of the Maple Leaf.)

And my great-great-great grandfather Andrew Jackson walked all the way home to Arkansas.

And now I have the full story, including historic records, to pass on to future generations.

Telephone game, anyone?


  1. Love this. Sounds like a story by Mark Twain.

  2. Oh yes. And the truth is finally out, thank goodness for efficient record-keeping. It beats the family Chinese Whispers. What a long way to walk!

  3. Interesting, so as a confederate soldier, he was able to walk across a whole lot of enemy territory without incident and yet got caught a few miles from home in the first round. I want to hear more

    1. Funny how life works out sometimes. When he was taken as a prisoner of war cliae to home, he had become complacent and a bit brazen. Later, walking home to Arkansas, he only traveled at night. He hid out and slept during the day. There's even more to the story. Perhaps I'll write the book.

  4. That's quite a mystery history you've made much less mysterious!

    Did Andrew Jackson keep a journal of his Walk to Arkansas?

    Our histories, personal, or for a city like Pasadena, are also a history of much unanswered questions or mysteries. Glad you have some time off from your job to do some research! ;)

  5. That's a great story. A book with all the details would definitely be what we need. :-)