Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Civil War Ancestors - Elijah Thomas Comstock

Elijah "Tom" Comstock was another of my great, great grandfather's to serve in the Civil War. 

Tom was born in Perry County, Tennessee.  He was the seventh of eight children - their father died when Tom was about age nine.  His father, a forger and bigamist, would have entitled me to belong to the Black Sheep Society, but he disappeared and could not be jailed to serve his sentence - but that's another story.  Soon after 1850, Tom's entire family to include married older siblings and their mother, moved to southwest Missouri, very near Arkansas and Indian Territory (Oklahoma). 

Let me set the scene around Tom's home in Missouri.  During the Civil War this area was the scene of constant and violent querilla warfare.  Soldiers from both sides, and local bandits as well, committed numerous atrocities on ordinary citizens.  Many homes were burned, old men were hung in the yards, all foodstuffs and livestock carried away.  The Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri on 10 Aug 1861 and the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas, March 6-8, 1862, were two of the bloodiest battles of the war - at Wilson's Creek, the combined losses were over 2300; at Pea Ridge, 26,000 soldiers took part and 3,000 died.  Near the end of the war, the Western Confederate Army would make one final push up from their headquarters in Bonham, Texas, to attempt to retake Missouri and those battles also took place in this southwest corner of the state.  Quarrels and killings in this region began in the late 1850's before the official War began and skirmishes continued in the area until the end of the War; many revenge killings took place for years afterward.  Truly this was neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother.

Tom Comstock married a local beauty, Miranda Brown, in 1859.  Her brother William Brown was shot off his horse and killed in 1860 because of his political leanings.  In 1863, her father, Murphy, and fifteen-year-old brother, Ezekiel, were shot in the back as they drove their wagon to the blacksmith shop.  A neighbor, Lt. Robert Christian of the Union Army, admitted responsibility for the murders and allowed Miranda's mother to bury her dead [they rest in a common grave] - he then burned her out giving her passport to Texas.  Two of Miranda's sisters would die of disease, probably typhoid, during the next few years the family was in Texas.  Tom would lose two of his brothers during the War - his brother William Decatur Comstock came home for the birth of a child in January of 1864 and was shot in the back and killed, on the way to the corn mill to get supplies for his family.  His daughter was born three weeks later and named William Josephine in his honor. Another brother, Warren Harris Comstock, died the next month, February of 1864, but whether in battle or of disease I have never been able to discover.

Tom, not surprisingly given his background, was a complicated character.  There are stories, after the War, about his wild Saturday trips into town brandishing his old handgun and creating havoc.  There are stories of him, in his old age, sitting on his front porch spinning yarns about his War days, including escapades with Indian troops from what is now Oklahoma and riding with the infamous Quantrill.  He claimed to have been one of those local boys that were in that last desparate push with General Sterling Price into Missouri - they found Lt. Robert Christian and killed him, mutilating his body.  [This killing is confirmed by local newspaper reports - Christian had commited atrocities against several of their families.  The local boys were never identified by name.]  Records are scant and the truth obscured.  Tom did enlist and was soon reported as "deserted" from his regular unit.  In later years, Tom was also convicted and fined in the federal court in Ft. Smith of selling liquor to Indians - the view across the river from his hilltop homestead was Indian Territory, Oklhoma - and the Indians did much of their shopping at Uniontown on the Arkansas side of the border.

Tom was also a hardworking and productive farmer and raised a family of fine upstanding citizens. Tom was a charter member and first Master of the Uniontown, Arkansas, Masonic Lodge.  He served his community as a postmaster for a time and represented his county in the Arkansas Legislature. 

Tom is the only Civil War Ancestor for whom I have photos.  Here are three faces of Tom Comstock.

This is a picture of Tom Comstock and his wife Miranda made during the War years.  It's a copy of a copy of what must have been a tintype - I apologize for the quality, but it's all I have.  We have the "Indian blood" story handed down in the family.  It isn't true, but it may have begun with Tom.  I have an old letter written by Miranda's cousin saying that Miranda had married a man who was part Indian.  However, most of the family has believed it was Miranda who carried Indian blood because of this picture.  Not only could I not find any family member that I could trace back to possible Indian connections, but I had my own DNA tested for ethnic background and have not a single drop of anything but European heritage.  I suspect Tom may have been as wild as an Indian in his youth.

Here is Tom Comstock, the family man, seated on the far right.  The picture was taken possibly around 1900.  Standing in back, left to right, sons Hardy, called "Tack", Clinden known as "Den", James Monroe "Mon" - my great grandfather, and the only daughter still living, Minnie.  Seated next to his mother is Randolph and then there is Miranda and Tom.  It is thought that Tack and Dolph had recently been ill - shaving heads was done for high fevers.

Then here is Tom, now an old man.  He died in 1917 at age 78; his wife Miranda had passed on in 1912.   I started to crop this picture but I love the shadow and the inscriptions written in two different hands.  I believe my grandmother wrote "Mon's father".  The citizens of Uniontown, the village near Tom's homestead, did indeed call him "Uncle Tom".  He was uncle to some, but to most it was apparently an endearment.