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Monday, May 30, 2016

In Memory of My Fallen Ancestors

I post this every year and I'll never stop because it bears repeating.

Memorial Day isn't just about a day off from work and enjoying barbecues. It is a day to remember those who gave their lives in military service to our nation.

Whatever your plans are today, please remember to honor the sacrifices of America's fallen military heroes. 

The photo above is of my fourth great-grandfather, Major John Bennett Dickson (1793-1876), who served in the War of 1812 under General Andrew Jacksonfirst in the 1814 Creek War and then at the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815, the final battle of the War of 1812, where he was wounded and nearly lost one of his legs. Had he been killed, I wouldn't be here.

This 1890 painting of the Battle of New Orleans was created for the lithograph firm Kurz & Allison and is now in the Library of Congress.

Born in North Carolina, Major Dickson moved to Bentonville, Ark., as a young man and became a prominent businessman. He later moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and helped establish the square in what is now that city's historic downtown district, where he owned a successful mercantile business. A widower, he raised several of his 12 children in Fort Worth.

Two of his sons, my third great-granduncles Dempsey Powell Dickson (1843-1862) and Ephraim Albert Dickson (1840-1862), followed in their father's footsteps and volunteered for military service. They enlisted with the Texas Confederate Cavalry during the Civil War.

Dempsey, having enlisted upon leaving college in 1861, was killed in the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in March 1862. 

This 1994 painting depicting the battle is by Andy Thomas.

I have visited this battlefield twice in my life. I can't adequately explain the emotional feeling of standing on such hallowed ground.

When John Bennett Dickson learned that Texans slain on the battlefield had been rolled in their blankets and buried apart from other soldiers, he sent a relative to have Dempsey's body exhumed and moved to the Dickson family cemetery near Bentonville, Ark. 

On July 8, 1862, Ephraim, who was his father's business partner, was shot through the head during the Skirmish at Paroquet Bluffs in Arkansas, which was also part of the Pea Ridge campaign.

He was buried at Paroquet Bluffs with other Texan soldiers, and later his father had his body moved to the Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

Crippled by grief due to the loss of his two youngest sons, John Bennett Dickson closed his mercantile store and spent the rest of his life as a recluse on a farm near Fort Worth.

* * *
This photo is of Elizabeth Gaines Easley (1818-1894), my second great-grandmother, who was married to my second great-grandfather Joseph Easley Jr. (1805-1883). (Easley is my maiden name.)
It is difficult to imagine their reaction and subsequent grief upon receiving word that two of their beloved sons, my great-granduncles Hamilton Easley (1837-1862) and William Easley (1841-1862), had been killed while serving side by side on the same day during the Battle of Perryville -- Oct. 8, 1862.

This sketch of the Battle of Perryville by Henry Mosler appeared in Harper's Weekly on Nov. 1, 1862.

Hamilton and William had enlisted in the Union Army together in August 1862. They served as privates in the 15th Regiment, Company B of the Kentucky Volunteer Infantry.

Hamilton's military records state that he stood 6 feet tall, had a light complexion, blue eyes and dark hair. There are no records of his burial; he is presumed to be buried somewhere at the Perryville Battlefield. [5/30/16 update: I will visit that battlefield in mid-June.]

According to William's military records, he stood 6 feet, 1 inch tall and also had a light complexion, blue eyes and dark hair. He is buried in the Easley family cemetery near Harrisonville in Shelby County, Kentucky.
Hamiton's and William's brother, my great-grandfather Edward Merritt Easley (1846-1903), survived the Civil War, which is why I am here. He served in the Union Army's 20th Regiment, Company B and as a corporal in the 30th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, Company G.



He fought in several Civil War battles and skirmishes, including the Battle of Lebanon and the Battle of Shiloh.

This drawing of the Battle of Shiloh appeared in Harper's Weekly:


Before the Civil War Edward Merritt Easley was a successful real estate agent.
After the war, he began showing signs of what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder and could not do much more than manual labor.

These kinds of disorders were misunderstood back then, and no treatment was offered by the U.S. government. He was still exhibiting behavioral issues, sometimes believing suddenly that he was back on a battlefield, when he married my great-grandmother, Ellen May Crouch Easley, in 1881 in Linn Creek, Missouri (they settled in his hometown of Lebanon, Mo.). She was only 16 and he was 34. She and their children simply had to put up with these ongoing issues, which became worse over time.

Finally, in 1902, he was admitted by court order to the Federal Soldiers Home in St. James, Missouri.


From there he was admitted to State Lunatic Asylum #3 (a horrible name) in Nevada, Missouri, where he died in 1903.

May Easley became a widow at age 39 with five children to raise, including my beloved paternal grandfather Jess Harper Easley (1891-1983) at the front right in the photo below and as a young man in the photo below that after enlisting for military service during World War I.


He served in France during World War I on the Western Front at Ch√Ęteau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. Of the 310,000 Americans who fought in France during World War I, 67,000 were killed in action. Thankfully my grandfather survived -- another reason why I'm here. He passed away in 1983 and I miss him dearly to this day.

This photo of American troops at Hill 24 at Belleau Wood is in the National World War I Museum:

There are many other stories of people in my family line who served in wartime, from the American Revolution to World War II.

I won't tell all the stories now, but I'm glad to have an opportunity to honor a few of them today.



Photo credits: Easley/Elliott family collection (in my possession), Library of Congress, Andy Thomas, Ann Erdman, Kentucky Kindred Genealogy, FindAGrave, Missouri Digital Heritage, Lyndon Irwin, National World War I Museum.

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