One of the writers I am working with on a new book (more on that later) said something profound a while back: “You do not know who you are until you know who your grandparents were.”
I’d actually expand on that a bit. I would say, “You do not know who you are until you know who your great-grandparents were.”
I’ve spent some time off and on over the past ten years doing some genealogical research on my ancestors. It’s been fun and has helped to personalize history. I enjoy telling the stories to my kids. Among other things, I’ve discovered that we’re descended from two of the Mayflower passengers (John Howland & Elizabeth Tilley), as well as from Robert the Bruce and Edward I.
I’ve had the benefit of an active set of Clarkson relatives who’ve done lots of research on the Clarkson clan in SC – Georgetown, Charleston, & Columbia. One of my great-grandfathers has held special interest for me – Henry Mazyck Clarkson. Born in 1835, a med school graduate, he served in the CSA from Dec 1860 through the end of the war – most notably as a surgeon at the battle of Gettysburg. After the war, he practiced medicine, wrote poetry, and was, for a time, superintendent of schools in Prince William Co., VA.
Today, I discovered that another of my great-grandfathers was also an officer in the CSA during the civil war and was a veteran of many of the important battles of 1861 & 1862. I found this out sorting through some of my mother’s genealogical notes. At one point, she had transcribed the grave markers in West View Cemetery in Atlanta GA. I knew the birth & death dates for my great-grandfather, but I was startled to see, in my mothers handwriting, a third line from the tombstone:
Robert H. Atkinson
Oct 16, 1838 – July 17, 1886
Capt. Co. C First Ga. Regulars CSA
I spent some time online researching the First Ga. Regulars and my great-grandfather. Turns out, he was a graduate of the Georgia Military Academy of Marietta, GA in 1862. I’ve written off for his CSA service records, but Co. C was organized in April of 1861. They fought in the Seven Days Battles in Virginia in 1862 (including at Malvern Hill), and then at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.
After Fredericksburg, it seems they were sent home on leave, to recoup, refit, and recruit replacements back in Georgia. In 1863, my great-grandfather married a young lady from Charleston, SC named Cordelia Dessau. He was 25 and she was 20. Of great interest to me is the fact that her family were German Jews. Her father, Abraham Dessau, born in 1802, had emigrated from Hamburg, Germany some time before 1843. I have remembered seeing a faded picture of a couple being married under a Jewish canopy, and I feel sure this must have been Robert Holt Atkinson and Cordelia Dessau – married in the middle of the Civil War.
My other two great-grandfathers (everybody has four!) were too young to have fought. Malcolm Graham Waitt (1854-1932) was only seven when the war broke out. William Hardin Watts (1861-1940) was born just a month before Fort Sumter.
Henry Mazyck Clarkson (1835-1915) <- Surgeon with the Army of No. VA, CSA
William Hardin Watts (1861-1940)
Malcolm Graham Waitt (1854-1932)
Robert Holt Atkinson (1838-1886) <- Captain, Co. C First Ga Regulars, CSA