This blog is a reprint of my internet journal from 2001 to 2002 in which I documented my "vagabond" solo journey in a Chevy Conversion Van tracing my roots. I not only traced their paths and found their homes and final resting places, but I did extensive genealogical research in court houses, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, cemeteries, and talked to the local people. I traveled with a laptop to upload my notes and photos, and use e-mail. It was a fantastic journey which lasted two years. I had no other home except my van to sleep in...just a bed and video player. My household goods were put into storage for two years. My mail was delivered to me at general delivery when I phoned "MailBox, etc." and told them where to send it. At night I stayed in campgrounds, motels, friends' backyards, friends' homes, and those of the few living relations I've tracked down. As I traveled I collected so much genealogy information, that I had to get rid of items that I had originally thought essential to my travels (like a microwave oven). Between ancestral sites, I visited any tourist sites I could find and got to know alot about the USA. This was a trip of a lifetime and I'm still sorting through all the wonderful memories, photos and invaluable genealogical data I found. I will post to this blog as I can - one or a few days at a time of that journey from 2001 to 2002

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ancestor Tracking - Richmond VA - 27 May 2001

I ventured into Richmond since it was Sunday and there wasn't much traffic.  I might have to change my opinion of Richmond, now that I am able to drive through it not be scared to death of the traffic.  I went to the Richmond Civil War  Visitor's Center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park System.  It was downtown near Robert E. Lee's home.  It was in what used to be the Tredegar Iron Works, an important factory producing iron products for the Civil War and railroads.  It was interesting in that I think there is a Tredegar Mines or Iron Works in Wales, land of my Rees ancestors.  It was also interesting because it has been carefully restored to be the home of the Visitor's  Center.   

Tredegar Iron Works
The visitor's center is located on the James River (the same that I walked over in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are locks there and an impressive canal that was once 200 miles long. Now it provides a pleasant River trail - or even an opportunity to rent little motor boats for a fun ride.

James River canal at Richmond VA
I visited the Chimborazo Medical Museum where the main visitor's center used to be. The models showed it was a cantonment type hospital, much like Landstuhl Army Medical Center (whereI served  in Germany a few years ago), and many other of the Army Hospitals of only 20 years ago. That is, it was composed of radiating or staggered wards….the hospital was not one great big building, so as not to be totally damaged in a shelling, etc

Then I followed the route of the Seven Days' Battles of General McClellan's attempt to invade Richmond in 1862. These included the battles of Beaver Dam Creek, Cold Harbor, Gaines Mill, Glendale, Malvern Hill, none of which I had heard of before, but nonetheless very bloody and important battles. The confusing part was Cold Harbor which saw fighting both in 1862 and 1864. The battle I was interested in occurred in 1864 on Grant's march to Petersburg:

    The Akin connection to Cold Harbor--
136 years ago, a relative, Marshall Akins had been at Cold Harbor. According to the history: "The 36th Wis, one of Fox's fighting regiments, was organized at Madison,Wisconsin, from March 1 to 22, 1864, and mustered out July 12, 1865. It was commanded by Col. Frank A. Haskell, who was killed in action at Cold Harbor June 3, 1864, [after the Brigade Commander, Col McKeene, was killed]. Haskell was succeeded by LTC John A. Savage, who died of wounds received in action before Petersburg July 4, 1864.  LTC Clement E. Warner then took command, till mustered-out. The 36th was under fire for the first time at Spotsylvania, May 19, 1864, and became, during its service so reduced by death, wounds and disease, that it carried only 11 officers and 170 men into the fight at Ream's Station in which action it lost 134 men taken prisoners. It belonged to Gibbon's Division, Second Corps, and lost 157 killed, and 185 from disease, etc."      I found the above description of his regiment's history on an internet site, and at the Cold Harbor Visitor's Center I bought the battle maps that showed exactly where his Brigade was placed on each day of the Cold Harbor battle.
I knew Union soldier, Marshall Akin's son, Howard Akins, when I was a child.  He was my mother's cousin.  When he died in 1954 I received a box of his papers (see below), I guess, because I was the only one interested in them.  They were his father's Civil War papers, among other things.  His father, Marshall Akins was in the 36th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry when he was 19 years old. I wanted to see where he had fought at Cold Harbor and Petersburg.  I had read that he had been there from his application for pension written years after the war.    None of the photos were identified.  I can only assume that one of them was Marshall Akins.  The treasure box is below:

 These two tin-types were later found in a photo album of Marshall Akins

 On June 3rd 1864 in just one hour 6,000 Union men died.  In the two weeks of the Cold Harbor battle there were 16,000 casualties.  This battle changed the course of the War in the east from a war of maneuver to one of siege.  This was actually Marshall Akin's second enlistment.  In 1861 he enlisted with the 86th Pennsylvania  Volunteers at age 16.  He lasted only four months due to illness.   After that he moved to Wisconsin with his family and later enlisted there.   I saw the Cold Harbor battle ground today.   The Cold Harbor land is so different now, but the trenches are still there.  It must have been a terrible place to be in 1864. I walked the trails at Cold Harbor Battleground and viewed the same trenches. 
The trenches at Cold Harbor
As Grant went south to Petersburg there were various battles along the way as Lee tried to stop him.   I followed this trail in the van.  Finally at the James River there is a series of fortifications - earthworks - that are well preserved and offer interesting walks around them. I found another black snake.  This one was crawling around on the top of one of the Earthworks. 

I see on a map there is a monument to the 36th Wis on a road just north near the battle of Bethesda Church, I'll have to check that out tomorrow.   By now it was almost 7 pm and my thoughts were turning to the Western Sizzlin’ Restaurant.  So I headed back to eat and to call it a day.  It had been an exhausting day of beautiful weather and poignant thoughts.

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