18 February 2006

Confederate Fathers

I recently made two fascinating discoveries. For years, I believed I had yet another Confederate ancestor on my father’s side of the family. My father’s maternal grandfather, Charles “Mr. Charlie” McGann originally hailed from Nelson County, Virginia (http://www.nelsoncounty.com/) and was too young to have fought in the War Between the States. However, I suspected his father would be about the right age. After spending some time searching Confederate pension records at the Virginia State Library’s website (http://www.lva.lib.va.us/index.htm), I did come across a John McGann that would have been about the right age and who was from the right area. Recently, after a gentleman read an article I wrote for Confederate Veteran Magazine in 2004, where I mentioned John McGann’s name; Mr. David Dodd, a Nelson County apple broker, contacted me and informed me he knew where John McGann was buried. After exchanging some emails and chatting on the telephone, I confirmed that John W. McGann was indeed Charlie McGann’s father and my great-great grandfather. So on a Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I drove the 15 miles from my home over Reed’s Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains, past Wintergreen Resort and down a remote back road to a hollow to meet Mr. Dodd. We parked at his family homeplace where several generations of Dodd’s have farmed and walked across the road to the old McGann farm. The mountains and hollows that surround the old homestead still look much as they did 150 years ago. Near the top of a ridge Mr. Dodd showed me a crude family cemetery where there were about a dozen graves marked only with mountain stones stood on their ends (See image above). In one of those graves slept the dust of John W. McGann who fought with the 51st Virginia Infantry, Company E, alongside Mr. Dodd’s great-grandfather. We continued our hike up an adjacent ridge, past a bold mountain spring, to the top of that ridge. There the ground was level and at one edge of this area, in a large pile, were the remains of the chimney and hearth of the original home of John McGann. From this vantage point, one could look into two different Virginia valleys and the view was breath-taking. Providentially, John McGann would fight at the Battle of Waynesboro over the exact same land along the South River (South branch of the Shenandoah) that his son, Charles McGann, would one day come to own and where my father, and later I, would spend many youthful days playing and roaming—strangely aware that there was something special about that land.

During this same time, I was researching my mother’s side of the family and discovered that her father’s paternal grandfather, Morris Coffey, (Misspelled Maurice by Confederate officials) had also fought with the 51st Virginia Infantry, Company E! He, along with his wife, is buried at Love, Virginia, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, (Just above my home) in another old family cemetery. The cemetery is on land that still belongs to some of Morris Coffey’s descendants. Morris Coffey is also my wife’s great-great grandfather. Ok, I’ll pause here for the jokes! Seriously, the Scots-Irish heritage of Western Virginia is so prominent, that if your family has been here as long as mine and my wife’s, chances are you are related—in some way—to all the other families that have been here as long: since the 18th century. This region is still haunted by the heritage of its ancestors, hanging in the air like a stubborn morning fog, refusing to lift and, though at times elusive, it still clings tenaciously to the area's customs and lifestyles. This heritage perfumes the area traditions like the mountain laurel in spring that still grows wild in the hollows which cradle the dust of our fathers. May we all remember the sublime words of Chief Joseph: "A man that would not love his father's grave is worse than a wild animal."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

My name is James K. McGann and John was my great great grandfather. I know Mr. Dodd too. I live in Alaska now, but was born and raised in Nelson County Virginia. I have some documentation to back his claim of service and a picture of the gravesite if you didn't take any. Please feel free to contact me at james.mcgann@us.army.mil

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Cousin - great to hear from you! I've got some pension application papers filed by Mary. BTW, the group photo on my blog header is a photo of John and Mary and 2 unidentified persons. Can you send me the pic you have? I have some too, but not sure which one is John's. I'd like to have a V.A. marker installed.

Anonymous said...

I have the same copy of this photo from my grandmother along with the names on the back. As I'm trying to decifer the handwriting it looks like: Elvie Lee McGann Echolas(?), Mary Johnson McGann, Julia Dameron McGann, and John William McGann. The photo was taken in 1886.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Anon. Feel free to contact me for more info.