Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Heritage

As a young man, Miles P. Clark moved to Van Wert, Ohio from his home in New York to make a life for himself in the west.  There, he met his wife Mary and became one of the managers of the St. Charles Hotel, hosting Cotillon Parties until the 1850s.

Around 1857, he was given the opportunity to take lead over his own life, instead of just being another employee, and moved his family and two sons to the frontier in Scott County of the Minnesota Territory, where he helped with the formation of the village of St. Lawerence, becoming the hotel keeper and postmaster when the village officially formed in 1858, the same year Minnesota became a state.

When war broke out in 1861, he had well established his home, having added a set of fraternal twins--a boy and a girl, now two years old, to join his nine and ten year-old sons.  In September 1861, himself now of age 33, he left the hotel to the care of his wife and volunteered to join the 4th Minnesota Company A, mustering in at Ft Snelling, near St. Paul, about a day's ride from his home.  Since he had a talent for music, he was enlisted as a musician.

Over the winter the regiment trained and drilled.  Uniforms arrived three weeks after their training started.  On March 18, 1862, the regiment received orders to proceed to St. Louis, Missouri, which was delayed until April 20th, since the river from Ft. Snelling was still not navigable until then.  Passing by St. Paul on the way out, Miles played, "The Girl I Left Behind Me" with the rest of the regiment's band as people lined the bluffs with the men cheering as the steamboat sailed away.  The regiment arrived at Benton Barracks in St. Louis on April 24th.

At the barracks, an innovative sutler had a supply of steel vests for sale.  The vests consisted of two 1/16th inch plates bent to fit the chest.  They were designed to slip into the lining of each side of an ordinary vest and intended to protect one from the hazards of the enemy.  Also known as ironclads, the sutler sold them for between $7.50 and $20, depending on the quality and sophistication.  Although there was a certain temptation to owning one of these, Miles was more interested in saving his hard-earned money for his family back home.  As musician, he was not in quite the same danger as the rest of the regiment, so thought better of it.  The vests became quite popular as the first few purchases regularly saw use as targets for revolvers and appeared to provide good protection.

The sutler gained a significant profit until, joining the regiment on the steamboat to Cairo, he tried to sell to one particular private.  The private was skeptical, but agreed to purchase a set if it would stand the test against the minie ball of a Springfield.  Borrowing a Springfield from the colonel's orderlies (the only ones in the regiment to have Springfields), they placed the vests against a sack of oats.  It was with much amusement that the onlookers watched the bullet fire right through the plates and the oats, and skip up the river out of sight.  Needless to say, the sutler made no more money off the regiment after that.

By May 14, 1862, the regiment arrived at Hamburgh Landing, Tennessee and began the march to Corinth, Mississippi.  The march was hot.  They were used to the weather of Minnesota, and these days in May were far worse than the August of the north.  By May 30th, they reached the edges of the city of Corinth, joining up with most of the rest of the Union forces, a dense smoke enveloping the city.

Over the next month, the regiment moved to various locations around Corinth, looking for a good place to camp and scouting for the graybacks, seeing none but one around five miles southeast of Corinth.

But they had a severe attack from another source.  The water of the Mississippi country was intolerant of the Yankee invaders and struck many down with severe bouts of dysentery.  Sick call was of no help to those that suffered, as the men were accused of playing off and told to use a red-hot poker to seal themselves up.  Change with sick call only occurred when death came, sending the message that the situation was dire.

The sickness continued through the end of June, and Miles Clark was not spared.  He survived, but was not able to continue with the regiment, so was discharged for disability in July 1862.

Returning home, he soon found insufficient business to keep his hotel running, so by 1870 he relocated his family to Cairo, Minnesota, deep in the heart of the state to try his hand at farming with his brother Robert.  His eldest son, now 19, still lived at home, but worked at the local store as a clerk.

Farming did not work well for Miles, and by 1880 he moved his family again to Hector, Minnesota, taking back his life as a hotel keeper.  His eldest son moved on, but the rest of the children still lived in the hotel with their parents, with Willis working as a real-estate agent, and Harry, one of the twins, working as a telegraph operator.  Hattie, the other twin, met George Ashby, one of the boarders of the hotel, that year, married him, and gave birth to a son, Harry in 1881.

By 1900, the Ashbys and the Clarks moved to Superior, Wisconsin on Lake Superior.  Miles became an honorary member of G.A.R. and played his fife at every encampment until his death in 1907 at 81.

Harry Ashby grew to become the captain of the William P. Palmer, an ore ship known as a Tin Stacker--one of the largest ships in the world, and flagship for the Pittsburgh Steamship Company.  Harry married Lulu Willerd, who died giving birth to G. Howard Ashby in 1910.  Hattie, who had changed to going by Harriet, raised Howard since Harry was away on the Lakes for months at a time and could not care for him.

By the Great Depression of 1929, work was scarce, but Harry helped his son to get a job with the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, and before long, G. H. Ashby was the captain of his own ship.

During World War II, both men served in the Coast Guard.

G. H. Ashby married Doris Morrison and had two daughters, Barbara and Ellen.

Ellen is my mother.

On Christmas Day, 2016, my mother stumbled onto an old scrapbook.  She didn't even know who had created it or where it came from.  Most of what was in it were news clippings and letters covering the life of Harry Ashby, my great grandfather.  But then I stumbled across an obiturary for a Civil War veteran, one Miles Clark, and suddenly I had a moment of shock. I had no knowledge of ties to the Civil War, and suddenly, staring at me, was a solid connection.  The article referred to him being survived by a daughter, one "Mrs. Ashby", confirming some kind of connection.

The scrapbook also had certificates for Miles becoming an auctioneer and postmaster in Minnesota, and had a Cotillon Party invitation for the St. Charles Hotel for March 23, 1854, with Miles Clark listed as a manager.  There was even a certificate, dated 1912, from the Adjutant General's Office of the State of Minnesota certifying Miles Clark's honorable discharge for disability on July 12, 1862.

Based on the focus of the scrapbook being Harry Ashby, and with the addition of pieces of the life of Miles Clark, along with an article about Mary Clark, I imagine it was Harriet Ashby, daughter of Miles Clark and mother of Harry Ashby, who compiled the scrapbook.

With online research I found Miles was enlisted as Musician for the 4th Minnesota, and I found the book "History of the Fourth Regiment of Minnesota Infantry Volunteers During the Great Rebellion" by Alonzo L. Brown to fill in the gaps of his story with the 4th Minnesota.  The U.S. Census records of 1860 through 1910 confirmed all the rest.

Sometimes surprises can come in unusual ways.  Although it looks like he saw no combat, he was a part of that history, and a direct tie for me to that history.

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