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American Civil War: The Battle of Hanover Courthouse
Family Ties To A Historic Battle
While pursuing my hobby of family history research, I came across an ancestor who had been in the American Civil War, specifically in the Battle of Hanover Courthouse. This is why I do family history research: it makes otherwise boring historical facts and dates come alive and have some degree of personal meaning.
I have physical proof of this particular ancestor’s involvement in the form of his uniform buttons, belt buckle and hat cockade from his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic. These items have been handed down in the family. The G.A.R. was an post-war membership group for men who had fought in the Civil War. He was my Great-great grandfather, born in 1830, making him a man of about 30 years of age when hostilities broke out.
A Physical Connection to History
Thanks to a cousin who lives on the east coast and is a professional genealogist, I was able to gain information on exactly what that involvement was. My cousin tracked down the actual service records, the application for a pension, and a disability claim based on an injury suffered in the service of the Union Army. It was not a battlefield injury, per se, but was suffered in a retreat from the Battle of Hanover Courthouse when a gun carriage rolled over his foot.
I had never heard of this battle, and decided to do some further investigation.
The Battle of Hanover Courthouse
Overshadowed by the more famous and well-known Gettysburg battlefield, the Battle of Hanover Courthouse was one of a series of battles known as The Peninsular Campaign fought between March and July of 1862. These battles took place in Virginia.
The Hanover Courthouse Battle was fought on May 27th, 1862, and was the second of three battles in the opening push of this campaign, the first being Hampton Roads (more popularly known as the Battle of the Ironclads); the third and final battle in this set was called Seven Pines.
Hanover Courthouse, (also variously referred to as Slash Church, Lebanon Church or Kinney’s Farm), immediately preceded the next advance referred to as the Seven Days’ Battles: Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines’ Mill, Glendale, and Malvern Hill.
Who Was the Victor?
If, indeed, anyone can be considered victorious with all the horrible casualties of any war, the opening three in this series of battles was a crushing defeat for the Union Army. They found themselves in full retreat from every engagement. This was humiliating, as back in those days, the Union side thought they were assured of a quick victory, and a good number of senators and other officials from Washington D.C. had come out to watch, as if this was some kind of spectator sport.
Naturally, as is still true today, “spin” was placed on any reports, to make the reporting side look its best. But from the historical perspective, things could have turned out very differently if the course of these particular battles had remained for the duration of the conflict.
As it turned out, both sides claimed victory, but casualties were heavy, and neither side gained a clear overall advantage at this point in the war.
Civil War battle reenactments are quite the popular thing these days, spanning the range from various skirmishes to major engagements such as Gettysburg. These are true spectator events, learning opportunities and function as temporary living history museums.
Tickets can be purchased to watch, or people can get further involved by becoming part of the show. It might make good theater nowadays, but nonetheless it is serious business, demonstrating the not-so-fun, ugly business of war, and how our nation came to be what it is today.
- GAR Museum and Library
Official site of the G.A.R. Museum and Library
The Grand Army of the Republic now exists only as a historical museum. The group used to hold annual "encampments," that today we would probably classify as reunions, retreats, or possibly reenactments.
The last such gathering was held in back in 1949, and the last surviving member, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 at the age of 109.
© 2011 Liz Elias