Recently I’ve been looking into the military service of two of my great-great-great grandfathers, both of whom fought for the Union in the Civil War. Newel King, from Gallia County, served in Company B of the 91st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. John Steele, a Virginian by birth but transplanted to Meigs County, served in Company K of the 18th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
I don’t believe the two men ever met in their lifetimes. But nearly three decades after the war, Newel’s daughter married John’s son. And here I am today, pouring over the paperwork that gives a glimpse into their lives. From their compiled service records and military pension files, I can get a sense of their hardships, their sacrifices, and their frustrations, both during the war and afterward as they made their cases for compensation. It wasn’t pretty. Although both men survived the war, neither emerged as healthy and productive as before.
I find myself thinking of them as if I knew them. What was it like to be carted off to a field hospital after being stricken with measles? To march through a pelting sleet with frozen feet and hands? To come home at war’s end, only to be stricken with epileptic seizures, like Newel? Or to lack the strength to walk to work, like John? I think of their wives, whose own stories emerge in the widows’ pension applications. I think of their children. There are layer upon layer of stories tucked in these files.
Veteran’s Day takes on a new light when you get up close and personal. To all the veterans out there, and to those from long ago whose stories are waiting to be heard, thank you.