Researching genealogy can lead a person to so many fascinating things! My family has always known that my great grandfather on my mom's dad's side fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. It's with some pride that we speak of Isaiah Charles's willingness to join the Indiana volunteer army. He participated in some skirmishes and left the service after his 100 days was complete. Last week, however, a cousin posted a picture of my great-great-grandfather on my grandmother's side of the family with information that came as quite a shock. Lewis had been a farrier during the Civil War...for the Confederates!
Of course, being a history nerd and researcher, I had to read up on the Civil War, farriers, and such. I discovered some interesting things!
Photo of a hipposandal (Gallo-Roman horseshoe).
On display at the Musee d'Ermont, France.
Photo taken by NantonosAedui.
People have attempted to protect horse hooves for centuries. Early foot coverings were made from leather or rawhide, often shaped like a sort of boot. Some of these devices were referred to as hipposandals. In the writings of the Roman poet Catullus in the 1st century BC, he mentions a mule losing its shoe. This could mean something like a hipposandal, or it could possibly be a reference to the first type of horseshoe that we are familiar with today. Some historians don't believe it was made of iron, however, since that metal was not as plentiful as it is today. But whatever the "shoe" was made from, it was probably crafted as a single shoe by someone with farrier skills.
|Henry Burden; Public domain
As you can imagine, millions of horses were used by both sides during the war, requiring millions of horseshoes. It's been said that one of the South's downfalls was its lack of industry and its reliance on Northern and foreign imports, and that included horseshoes. When Union blockades prevented shipments from reaching southern troops, the Confederates grew desperate. They sent spies to New York in the hopes of obtaining the plans for Mr. Burden's horseshoe-making machine so it could be replicated in the south. The plot failed, forcing the Confederates to send raiding parties north in efforts to steal shipments of horseshoes from Yankee railroads and wagon trains. Many people believe Mr. Burden's horseshoes played a significant role in the Union's ultimate victory.
|Farrier at work; Public domain
I don't know any details of what my great-great grandfather experienced while he served as a farrier for the Confederacy. He died in El Paso, Texas in 1862, soon after the New Mexico campaign, leaving behind a wife and a nine-year old son, my great grandpa. While I wish he had chosen to fight for the other side, I'm glad to learn more about him.
Your turn: What surprising discoveries have you made about your ancestors? Tell me about them!
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Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, winner of the 2023 Christianity Today Book Award, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at www.MichelleShocklee.com
COUNT THE NIGHTS BY STARS
*2023 Christianity Today Book Award Winner*
1961. After a longtime resident at Nashville’s historic Maxwell House Hotel suffers a debilitating stroke, Audrey Whitfield is tasked with cleaning out the reclusive woman’s room. There, she discovers an elaborate scrapbook filled with memorabilia from the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Love notes on the backs of unmailed postcards inside capture Audrey’s imagination with hints of a forbidden romance . . . and troubling revelations about the disappearance of young women at the exposition. Audrey enlists the help of a handsome hotel guest as she tracks down clues and information about the mysterious “Peaches” and her regrets over one fateful day, nearly sixty-five years earlier.