Friday, May 24, 2013

Ira Whitaker Grant, 1842 - 1864

For Memorial Day, this post is honoring one of my ancestors who died in battle during the Civil War.Although I have many ancestors who fought in all of this country's wars, I only know of two who died while in service. I wrote about Clifford E. Stalls, who died during World War II here. Clifford was known as "Buddy" and he was my mother's cousin or my first cousin, once removed. In this post, I honor the memory of another first cousin, three times (3 generations) removed, Ira Whitaker Grant, who died during the Civil War.

Ira was the son of Sylvester Grant, Jr and his wife Susan L Boomer. He was born 28 January 1844 possibly in Fall River, Massachusetts. His family moved soon after to Valley Falls, Rhode Island, where his father was a shoe-maker. Ira had nine known brothers and sisters - he was the fifth child as well as fifth son, and had six brothers and three sisters who lived to adulthood. In the 1860 census for Valley Falls, Ira's occupation is that of jeweler, and he is living with his parents, his next older brother George, and five younger siblings.

Ira enlisted for service in Company E, 7th Infantry Regiment of the Rhode Island Volunteers on 11 August 1862 when he was 18 years old. He mustered into service on 6 September, on the same day his older brothers, Samuel and George mustered into service in the same company. Ira died during the battle at Cold Harbor, Virginia on 3 June 1864 - his two brothers had been previously discharged on surgeon's certificates - George in December 1862 and Samuel in March 1863. George died a month after he was discharged, of consumption, and is buried in the Grant family plot at Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Samuel died in 1915 at age 82 of pneumonia and also is buried in Moshassuck Cemetery in a different plot with no headstone.

From "The Seventh Regiment of RI Volunteers in the Civil War, 1862-1865" by William P. Hopkins, Snow & Farmham Printers, Providence, RI, 1903: p 386-387, copy found in Google Books:

 Ira Whitaker Grant, fifth child of Sylvester and Susan Boomer Grant, was born at Valley Falls, Cumberland, April 12, 1842. [ I think this might be the birth-date of brother George, not Ira, and birth location of his younger siblings]. There were three daughters and ten sons in the family of whom only three sons are now living (November, 1902). Ira received a common school education and was employed as a clerk at the time of his enlistment. Two brothers, George S. and Samuel, accompanied him to the field. He was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor, June 3, 1864. Joseph Taylor was ordered to assist him to the rear and see him well started toward a field hospital. Now Grant was a small man so his comrade could readily handle him. They had reached the border of the swamp to the rear of the line of battle when he became exhausted from loss of blood. Taylor laid him down and he fainted. Just then a rebel shell knocked a large limb from an overhanging tree which fell and covered them both. Taylor finally succeeded in throwing off the limb, but Grant still remained in his faint. The former had never seen a person in that condition and had not the slightest idea what should be done. None were near to call. Shells and bullets filled the atmosphere above them. He feared his comrade was dead and that he would be obliged to leave him. Just then he noticed Grant's head was settling in the swampy water to his face and lips, and began to move. He then seized him by the shoulders and dragged him through the swamp where in places both sank knee deep in the soft mud. Beyond they found some men with stretchers, on one of which the wounded soldier was placed and hastily borne to the field hospital. A surgeon examined him and found that while one bullet had gone through his left thigh, another had entered his breast just below his heart. The former was supposed to be his only injury until the search revealed the other. He lived but half an hour longer.

According to family papers, Ira had a headstone on the family plot at Moshassuck Cemetery but it is no longer there. In the same family papers, he is listed as "left on battlefield". I called Richmond National Battlefield Park headquarters around 10 years ago and was told by the Park historian that many bodies were lost in temporary graves before they were repatriated back to home cemeteries. There is no record for Ira's body - presumably his is one of those that was never found, or if found was never identified.

The battle at Cold Harbor was a major defeat and disaster for the Union Army. Under the direction of General Grant (no relationship) the Union Army tried a frontal assault on the Confederate Army in the hopes of breaking thru the rebel lines and taking the Confederate capitol at Richmond. Instead, the Union Army lost around 7000 men in less than an hour to the well-entrenched rebel soldiers. It is not clear exactly how the Union Command miscalculated the battle so badly, except that it appears there was conflict between Generals Grant and Meade. And it was the common soldiers, including Ira Grant, who paid the price.
"Grant at City Point  [i.e. Cold Harbor], Va., June 1864
Library of Congress image 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My Mom - 1953

In honor of Mother's Day, here is a photo of my mom, Dorothy Veith Grant.
Dorothy Veith Grant
Atlantic City, NJ
August 1953 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Zophar Skinner and the 2nd RI Infantry at Gettysburg

Last summer I wrote in this post about a visit I made to Gettysburg and the Civil War battlefield monuments for the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry.  My 2nd great-grandfather, Zophar Skinner, was in Company C of the 2nd RIV (Rhode Island Volunteers). He enlisted in the unit on 5 June 1861 and mustered out on 17 June 1864. Zophar was not yet 18 when he enlisted. His 20 year old brother, Joseph Godfrey Skinner enlisted on the same day and mustered into Co. H of the 2nd RIV. Youngest brother, Henry Skinner, was only eleven years old and  he might have envied his older brothers marching off to war.
Zophar Skinner
My father's cousin is Zophar's grandson and knew him when he was a young boy. He has the powder horns that Zophar used during the war, and also a small diary that Zophar kept for the year 1863. The diary is a small leather-bound book not much larger than a pack of cards, around 5" x 3".  Each page covers 3 days, with 6 short lines for journaling. The diary is in quite good condition but the ink on many pages has faded too much to be read.
Zophar Skinner's diary for the year 1863
inside cover of diary
"Zophar Skinner
Co. C. 2nd reg. R.I. Vols.
Valley Falls,  Rhode Island
Enlisted June 5th, 1861.
2nd Brigade 3rd Division 6th Corps"
Zophar recorded the weather every day and briefly detailed his activities.  He mentions writing and receiving letters, drawing rations, drills, inspections, dress parades, and marches among the daily occurrences.


The decisive battle at Gettysburg, PA occurred over the 3-day period of July 1-3, 1863. The battle began before Zophar's unit arrived in mid-afternoon on the 2nd day after marching all night with only brief stops for breakfast and dinner. When they arrived at Gettysburg, they were held in reserve near Little Round Top and probably fell asleep in exhaustion. Zophar, in his diary, claimed they had marched 42 miles in the last day and a half, and they marched 140 miles in the six days since they left Centreville, VA on June 26th.

Below is a transcription from the diary for July 1 - July 5. I have tried to retain original spelling, spacing, and punctuation.

Wednesday, July 1
"Showery all day. drawed one days rait-
ons. packed up at six this evening and took
the road to Gettysburg and marched all
night. Gen. Wheaton took command of ou-
e Division this Evening"

Thursday, July 2
"Plesant all day stopt one hour for bre-
akfast and one for dinner. passed tho-
rgh Middletown and arrived at Gettys-
burg at three this afternoon. distance
was 42 miles."

Friday, July 3
"Cloudy all day. got up at two this mo-
rning and got breakfast. Our brigade was
detached to the 12 Armee cops. went to
the right of the line of battle and back
again. sharp shelling by the rebels.Charles
Powers was killed this afternoon by a shell".

Saturday, July 4
"Showery all day. got up this morning at
7 and went to the front reserve for pickets
the rest of our Brigade was digging rif-
le pits. relieved at half past seven th-
evening by the 10 regiment Mass Vols".

Sunday, July 5
"Showerly all day. got up early this m-
orning and joined our Corps. rested a sho-
rt time and started after the rebs they ha-
ving left during the night. halted at d-
ark. Distance five miles. my Company was
detailed as rear guard".

The Union Army, under General Meade's command pursued the Confederate Army as they moved south back into Maryland and then across the Potomac River and into Virginia in the days following. Zophar's unit crossed the Potomac on July 19th. It is hard for me to imagine what this young man saw and experienced during the Gettysburg battle and throughout the War. The diary does not reveal Zophar's emotions or state of mind but is very straightforward. What a time he lived through.... And in the end, I wonder if his little brother Henry was grateful or envious that he was too young to go to war like his older brothers, Zophar and Joseph.