Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Civil War Ancestors - The Comstock Brothers

I have already told most of the story of Elijah Thomas Comstock, one of my great, great grandfathers.  Tom had six brothers, five living at the time the war began.  Other than Tom, three of them had at least brief Civil War records, two died in 1864.

Few Civil War records have survived from southwest Missouri; but at least the enlistment records of the Comstock brothers reside in the National Archives. “Deserted” often meant the soldier was just not at his expected post. Sometimes they went home for the winter or to check on their families and then rejoined their units. Sometimes they were sent home when food and shelter wasn't available.  Sometimes the men simply left and joined another band of soldiers roaming the countryside. The entire war scene was confused and poorly organized; many units kept no records or the records never survived to reach the War Department.

Let me say just another word about the area of southwest Missouri.  Only a handful of families owned a slave or two - most had never owned a slave, although many of them had come to Arkansas from slave states.  When I grew up in Arkansas, just below the Missouri state line, we would have called these families, and I use the phrase fondly because it includes my own families, "poor dirt farmers".   Most owned a 40-acre tract and grubbed out what can only be called a hard life.  The topography is hilly, the ground rocky, the land covered in forests when they arrived.  They were proud, independant people and those that supported the South believed strongly in state rights.  As the War dissolved into guerilla warfare, the question became one of defense of one's own home and property, and protection of one's wife and children.

On 27 August 1862, William Decatur, Warren Harris, and James Irving Comstock all enlisted in McDonald County, Missouri, in Capt. W. C. Clanton’s Company, Greene’s Regt., Missouri Volunteers. They enlisted for three years or the War and all received horses valued from $80 to $100 and horse equipment. Clanton’s Company was soon designated Company I, 3rd Regt Missouri Cavalry. William was 31 years of age, Warren 28, and James 26. All were married men with at least one child at home. The first Muster Roll card dated 30 October shows the location of the unit to be in Fulton County, Arkansas, just below the Missouri-Arkansas line and to the East of McDonald County. The next Muster Roll for October 30 to December 31, 1862, states that both Warren and James had deserted on 15 November 1862. I believe they returned and continued to fight, although perhaps not with the original unit. William was still present in Company I..

From descendants, we’ve been told that William did certainly continue to serve. In January of 1864 he came home to check on his pregnant wife (obviously there had been a visit home about May of 1863) and his children.  He was killed by a bushwhacker on the way to have corn ground for the family. A daughter named William Josephine, called Josie, was born three weeks after his death.  Josie was his fourth child. Warren Comstock died in February of 1864, a month after his brother, but the cause of his death is not known – very likely he met the same fate as William or died of one of the many diseases (measles, typhoid, small pox, tuberculosis) rampant during the War years.  Warren left a young widow and daughter to mourn him.

Two younger Comstock brothers, Elijah Tom and Harvey Alexander, enlisted with Capt McMahan at Newton County, Missouri on 12 September 1862 in Company D, 3rd Regt Missouri Cavalry. This unit became known by several names: Shelby’s Brigade, Smith’s Regt, Thompson’s Regt, and Hooper’s Regt. It was designated by the Confederate War Department as the 6th Regt Missouri Cavalry. Their ages and equipment issued, if any, were not recorded but they also enlisted for three years or the War.  Tom left a wife and son at home; Harvey was the youngest Comstock brother and did not marry until after the War.  Their Muster Roll cards state that they were never paid. Harvey was present at the end of December 1862, but the Muster Roll for January and February of 1863 stated that he was “missing on picket – Jan. 11, 1863”. Another note stated “absent without leave – left command Jan. 11, near Hartsville, Missouri.

Tom Comstock deserted on November 28, 1862, near Canehill, Arkansas, according to the only existing Muster Roll for him. Certainly we can tell from the various locations that this unit was moved around often. Gratis Comstock (a cousin) said in a newsletter article that Tom was a private in Shelby's Brigade of Missouri until the last year of the year and then served in an Indian special services regiment in Indian Territory. He was disbanded in the Chickasaw Nation, near Oichita [this is Gratis's spelling, I've not found any place of this name]. Gratis was 33 years old when Tom died and they both lived in Crawford County, Arkansas for all those 33 years; Gratis was fond of family history and has furnished us with many stories in a local genealogical society newsletter. He spent hours on Tom's porch listening to his yarns.  Some of his writings indicate that Gratis was capable of spinning a yarn or two himself.  Another story passed down through the family says that Tom rode with Quantrill; Quantrill was often under the command of General J. O. Shelby, particularly when the Confederacy tried to retake Missouri in 1864, so that too is possible.  Another possibility is that Tom could have ridden “with” Quantrill in some skirmish, but not necessarily under his command - certainly I've never found Tom Comstock's name in any of the many writings about William Clarke Quantrill or his infamous cohorts.

Tom Comstock's in-laws in Missouri also have a Civil War story, to be told in the next post.

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