31 March 2009

Home Again: Whose father was he? Part 2

Don't miss part 2 of Errol Morris's "Whose Father Was He?"

This installment includes an extensive interview with Mark Dunkelman, who wrote the book on Amos Humiston. There are extensive graphics, photographs, maps, letters and more.

How did Dunkelman, who has one of the largest collections of Civil War letters of a single army regiment, become aware of the story?

During my high school years, I became good friends with a neighbor, Christopher L. Ford, who had Confederate ancestors. We both shared this interest in the Civil War. So we would discuss the Civil War often. As a matter of fact, we used to hold sort of trivia contests to see who could stump each other on our Civil War knowledge. And at one point, Chris gave me a book that he had had for a while. It’s called “Gettysburg: What They Did Here,” by L.W. Minnigh.

In the back is a collection of human-interest stories relating to the battle of Gettysburg. The very first one is about John Burns, the elderly Gettysburg resident who took his War of 1812 musket and joined the battle when the armies arrived at his hometown. And the very second story is about the Humiston children. And it included a post-war photo of the three kids, a very brief description of the story and a copy of James Clark’s poem/song, “The Children of the Battlefield.” That was my first exposure to the Humiston story.
Among other resource, Dunkelman used Humiston's pension records, which held more material on his wife and children.

This story became notable because a Philadelphia doctor obtained a photograph from a tavern-keeper. It also illustrates the power of media - a story copied in many newspapers reached the right family.

The story is one of chance - and filled with "ifs." If the wagon had not broken down, if the tavern-keeper had refused to give the photo to the doctor, if the wife had not read the story in the paper ...
Dr. Bourns did not travel directly from Philadelphia to Gettysburg. Instead, he first went to Chambersburg, a designated rendezvous for civilian physicians heading to the battlefield. Had he gone direct from Philadelphia to Gettysburg, he would not have passed through Graeffenburg, as he did by approaching Gettysburg from the west. And he would not have stopped at Schriver’s tavern and would not have seen the ambrotype.
Dunkelman found a Humiston decendant -David Humiston Kelley - from whom he learned about what happened to Philinda and her three children. Says Dunkelman,
Now, David, in addition to his archaeoastronomy work, is a very avid genealogist. He’s traced branches of his family back to King David in the Bible.
Note please that I didn't say that, but Dunkelman says it about Kelley.

He found many letters in the possession of various family families. Several are imaged in the article.
Soldiers’ families saved their letters. They were writing letters all the time back then, but these were letters chronicling the most momentous events in their lives. Often they didn’t save the letters that the wife sent the husband. They saved the letters that were sent from the husband or son describing these great adventures.
Dunkelman also discovered that Humiston sailed on a whaler from New Bedford in 1850, with the help of a neighbor who was a librarian at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

There's more to come in the next three installments. Read the complete post at the link above and view the images.

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