Sunday, August 10, 2008

Slavery & The Civil War . . . A Personal Connection . . .

This past Saturday afternoon, instead of turning on The Best of Soul Train and spending an hour reliving the '70s, I tuned into a segment of CSPAN'S BOOKTV and allowed myself to be taken even further back in history. How far? Well, the US Civil War period, to be exact.

The program I made a point of watching this past Saturday on CSPAN's BookTV featured a segment on Andrew Ward and the material in his new book. Mr. Ward is an author & scholar who has researched the US Civil War recollections of former slaves and compiled some of his findings in a book entitled The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves (Houghton Mifflin).

Mr. Ward's research is right down my alley. I love read, studying and listening to oral histories and only wish I had more time in which to immerse myself in such pursuits. One of the best things I ever did (years ago, before I got so darned busy and my story-telling grandmother got seriously ill) was sit down with my M'Deah and record her recollections of our family's history in an area of South Memphis (Whitehaven) known as Johnson Subdivision (Johnson Sub, for short). Without those cassette tape recordings, which I later transcribed, I may have never known about my own family's involvement in the Civil War.

As luck or fate would have it, my grandmother had lived in close proximity to her grandparents, interacted with them on a regular basis and knew a number of details about Margaret and Charlie Cannon, whom she affectionally referred to as "Grandma and Grandpa."

Charles Cannon (or Charlie Cannon as my grandmother called him), was a name I'd stumbled aross years later, long after my grandmother had passed and while I was in the public library one day, trying to find information on another one of my ancestors, the man and former slave said to have founded Johnson Sub, Prince Johnson. One of my great aunts had told me that Prince, who was her grandfather (and my great-great grandfather) had served in the Civil War. So, I'd been researching pension records trying to document Prince's service in the Union Army when I came across the pension record of a one Charles Cannon.

All of the details in the Colored Man's Application for Pension, which had been filed on April 11, 1927 (approximately sixty-two years after the Civil War) made me think he just might be the "Grandpa" or "Charlie Cannon" of whom my M'Deah had spoken so fondly, but I KNEW he was "my" Charlie when I saw his wife's name "Margaret."

But most shocking to me was that the five page document--witnessed, notarized and signed with his "X" contains extensive details of Charlie's service alongside his owner James (Jim) Cannon in the 154th Tennessee Infantry Regiment Company B of the Confederate Army.

Yes, y'all, my great-great grandfather, a former slave by the name of Charles Cannon served in the Confederate Army and two years before his death in 1929, drew a pension for his service. Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction sometimes, ain't it?! (LOL).

What do I make of Charlie Cannon's service in the Confederate Army? Well, he was a SLAVE owned by a one James Cannon. To be honest, I don't really think poor Charlie had a choice in the matter, one way or the other. In any case, I do know his application for a pension in 1927 was based on absolute need. The application records his and Margaret's combined yearly gross income as one hundred dollars and their two room box house, which was situtated on a half acre of land had an assessed value of two hundred dollars.

So, are there any other weekend genealogist out there? If so, how far back can you trace your ancestors? Have you collected any oral histories? If not, what are you waiting for? (smile)

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