Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Long Lost Uncle

I recently purchased a genealogical book that traces my family's history (through my maternal grandmother) back to colonial New England. I already knew a great deal of information, but I wanted this book since it provided sources to validate the various family trees. It was apparently written by one of my distant cousins in the late 1960s after spending nearly twenty years doing research, and traveling throughout New England and England itself.

Anyways, I was excited to get validation for what I already knew, but was even more excited to learn some new things about my family history. One major surprise centers on my seventh great-granduncle, Jonathan Curtis (1708-?) of Roxbury, Massachusetts. He was a twin brother of my seventh great-grandfather, John Curtis. In 1740, Jonathan likely enlisted in the 43rd Regiment of Foot to fight in what was later called the War of Jenkin's Ear, which lasted from 1739 to 1748 - though the major operations largely ended by 1742. The war pitted the British against the Spanish in the Caribbean and was essentially caused by trade disputes and accusations of piracy. New England men like Jonathan Curtis were recruited to serve in the 43rd Regiment based on appeals to their patriotism and promises of extracting great wealth from the Spanish. A drawing of a soldier from the 43rd Regiment of Foot is shown here. Jonathan (who was unmarried) was known to have drawn up his will around 1740 before leaving with the rest of the regiment for the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, according to this genealogy book, Jonathan was never heard from again. He was later declared legally dead on November 25, 1747. I can only imagine how traumatic the experience must have been for his family. After doing some research, my (educated) guess is that Jonathan went with his regiment to modern-day Columbia where a large battle was fought against the Spanish, known as the Battle of Cartagena de Indias between March and May 1741. The battle ended in absolute disaster for the British, and many of their soldiers (including several from the 43rd Regiment of Foot) also died from disease. Therefore, I suspect that Jonathan was either killed in battle or died from yellow fever while he was in Columbia.

Like I wrote earlier, I knew nothing of this before reading it in the genealogy book. I feel fortunate to know at least this much about Jonathan, but wish I knew even more. Anyway, I felt that it was fitting to honor him here with this posting. I look forward to learning more about this conflict, as well as the 43rd Regiment of Foot in the near future!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ulysses S. Grant's Last Great-Grandson Passes Away

I just saw a reference to this Kansas City Star article that was posted online earlier today by J. David Petruzzi. The last great-grandson of Ulysses. S. Grant (Ulysses S. Grant V) has passed away. I have spent a lot of time researching the namesake descendants of prominent Civil War figures, so to me this is quite significant news.......

Last Great-Grandson of Ulysses S. Grant Dies

The last surviving great-grandson of Ulysses S. Grant has died in a southwest Missouri home brimming with artifacts from the nation's 18th president and commander of the Union forces in the Civil War.

Ulysses S. Grant V spent part of his youth in the home of his grandfather, Jesse Grant, who was the late president's youngest son. Jesse Grant's wife, Elizabeth, is credited with helping to save the artifacts.

As an adult, Grant V became a custodian to the items — including his famous relative's letters, his will, his China and even the flag said to have flown over the Appomattox Court House when Robert E. Lee surrendered. Some of the items have been sold in recent years.

"It was everywhere growing up," said Grant V's grandson, Ulysses S. Grant VI. "It was an everyday part of our life."

Grant VI said his grandfather died Wednesday at age 90 at his home near the Springfield-area town of Battlefield, which received its name for its proximity to a Civil War clash. He had suffered a stroke previously.

Grant VI said Grant V was "proud of his heritage" and "the smartest man I ever met." He said they had a special relationship because he was born on his grandfather's 50th birthday.

Grant V called him Sam — a nickname the late president's West Point classmates gave him because his initials, "U.S.," reminded them of "Uncle Sam." In reality, the general was actually born Hiram Ulysses Grant, but the congressman who submitted his name to West Point mixed it up. Grant adopted the new name.

His great-grandson, Grant V, followed in his great-grandfather's footsteps, serving in World War II and Korea. He later owned an avocado-growing operation in California and designed buildings before moving to Missouri to be closer to family.

Keya Morgan, who collects Grant memorabilia and is writing a book and making a film about the general, struck up a friendship with Grant V. Morgan called his death "the end of an era."

"He was a historian," said Morgan, who also is serving as a spokesman for the family. "He kept his family's history intact."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Amber Room Update

Regular readers of this blog will know that along with covering my primary interests of the American Revolution and U.S. Civil War, I like to occasionally post items that cover other periods of history in which I am also interested.

With an interest in World War II, I have long been fascinated by the story of the Amber Room. I posted a news story on it back in October, and it is still the MOST widely read post in the history of this blog.

Below is a second news article by the United Kingdom's Daily Mail on the Amber Room from January 2010 - absolutely fascinating stuff. In it, a historian claimed that he found the Amber Room somewhere in Kaliningrad, Russia, which used to be German East Prussia. I will see if I find an update on this article as well as more current news articles on the Amber Room. Stay tuned!

'Priceless' Amber Room of the Tsars, looted and hidden by the Nazis, is 'found' by Russian treasure hunter

By Allan Hall

The Amber Room of the Tsars - one of the greatest missing treasures of WW2 that was looted by the Nazis during their invasion of the Soviet Union - may have been found.A Russian treasure hunter is currently excavating in the enclave of Kaliningrad where he has discovered a World War II era bunker that the local German high command used in the battle for the city in 1945.If Sergei Trifonov is correct then he has solved one of the greatest riddles left over from the war - and will make himself into a multi-millionaire. He anticipates that he will break into the bunker by the end of the month to find the treasure.

Crafted entirely out of amber, gold and precious stones, the room made of numerous panels was a masterpiece of baroque art and widely regarded as the world's most important art treasure. When its 565 candles were lit the Amber Room was said to 'glow a fiery gold'. It is estimated to be worth around £150million, but many consider it priceless. It was presented to Peter the Great in 1716 by the King of Prussia. Later, Catherine the Great commissioned a new generation of craftsmen to embellish the room and moved it from the Winter Palace in St Petersburg to her new summer abode in Tsarskoye Selo, outside the city.

The room was seized by the marauding Germans during their onslaught on Russia in 1941. Prussian count Sommes Laubach, the Germans' 'art protection officer' and holder of a degree in art history, supervised the room's transport to Koenigsberg Castle in what was then East Prussia.

In January 1945, after air raids and a savage ground assault on the city, the room was lost. Ever since the Amber Room has become the new El Dorado, a quest that enthralled the wealthy and the poor alike. The Maigret author Georges Simenon founded the Amber Room Club to track it down once and for all. Everyone had a different theory of what might have befallen the work. The German official in charge of the amber shipment said the crates were in a castle that burned down in an air raid.

Others think the room sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea in a torpedoed steamer used by the Nazis, or that it was hacked up by Red Army troops and sent home like sticks of rock as souvenirs of their conquest. Historian Trifonov, however, believes he has solved the riddle and that the treasure lies in the bunker 40 feet down in the soil of Koenigsberg. 'Believe me or not, it's there, 12 metres down in the sub-soil,' he said, pointing to the entrance of a bunker that sheltered the Nazi high command in the last hours of the Battle of Koenigsberg.

'This place was built in February 1945 with two aims: accommodating the headquarters of General Otto Lasch and storing the treasures of Konigsberg, a city under siege.'Königsberg, in what was then German East Prussia, is now Kaliningrad, the capital of Russia's westernmost region of the same name.

To test his theory, Trifonov has begun to probe the soil under the bunker using a ground-penetrating radar and has started to pump out water. He has already unearthed a brick-lined room. The bunker is 1,000 yards from the site of the castle that demolished in 1967. He says he has 'information' from archives that this is the repository of the fabled room, but he isn't saying where his sources are. The governor of Kaliningrad appears convinced and has provided financing for the dig. But many remain sceptical.

'He's a good storyteller but he can't prove anything,' said Vladimir Kulakov, an expert at Russia's Institute of Archaeology, who has also dug in the soil under the bunker in the search for the Amber Room. Anatoly Valuyev, deputy director of Kaliningrad's History and Art Museum, which takes in the bunker, was more hopeful. 'It's good that people think that the treasure is there. They have energy and the museum gains from this,' he said. 'We still hope that the Amber Room is somewhere in Kaliningrad,' he said. 'There are plenty of underground sites left to explore. If they don't find it here, they'll look elsewhere.'

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Paul Revere's Grandson - Union Army General

Lately, I have been doing a bit of research on Joseph Warren Revere (1813-1880) who was a brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War. A grandson of Revolutionary War patriot Paul Revere, General Revere led a colorful life with service in the antebellum U.S. Navy as well as the Mexican Army. Amazingly enough, he was also knighted by the Queen of Spain (Isabella II) for his part in rescuing some distressed Spanish citizens.

However, his Civil War career was less stellar - particularly during the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Here is some background information on General Revere via the website:

Civil War Union Brigadier General. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he was the grandson of Revolutionary War Patriot Paul Revere. In 1828 at age sixteen, he joined the US Navy, fought in the Mexican American War and achieved the rank of Lieutenant. He resigned from the Navy in 1850, joined the Mexican Army at the rank of Colonel and was honored by the Spanish Government for rescuing of 13 citizens by being Knighted by Queen Isabella II in 1851. At the start of the Civil War, he was commissioned Colonel of the 7th New Jersey Infantry, fought in the Peninsula Campaign and led the 3rd Corps during the Seven Days Battle. For his actions at the Second Bull Run, he was promoted Brigadier General in October, 1862. During the Battle of the Chancellorsville in May 1863, after Major General Hiram Berry was mortally wounded, the command was left to Revere. Revere quickly ordered his men to go rearward to regroup in a three-mile march back off the line, which resulted in he being reviewed for a court martial. President Abraham Lincoln gave him the option of resignation and he took the offer. After his resignation he traveled the world and wrote books.

I look forward to learning more about this court martial process. From what I have read thus far, General Revere (a lifelong Democrat) got the best "deal" possible from a Republican administration concerning the request for his resignation. At any rate, General Revere represents an interesting example of how a family known for its illustrious service in the American Revolution carried on that service through the Civil War.