Sunday, May 13, 2012

Back to the future

Something interesting happened to me earlier this week that has an outside shot of putting me in possession of a few Civil War artifacts from a distant relative.

But first, a little background info:

Occasionally, I participate in a couple of online Civil War forums because I enjoy the discussions. My username is "PvtClewell", the name of a descendant on my mother's side who was in Company A of the 153rd Pennsylvania Regiment for a nine-month enlistment in the 11th Corps of the Union Army. I chose his name because I thought it would be a nice way to honor him. After all, he volunteered for duty when he was 18 years old and he participated in two battles before he was mustered out: Chancellorsville and Gettybsurg.

Oh my God.

Here's how I can draw my lineage to Private William Clewell:

My mother's sister, Bea (Aunt Bea, if you must) married Ed Clewell back in the 1930s. Bea is still alive and kicking at age 98, but when she married Ed, he was nearly 20 years older than she. Ed, in fact, died in 1985 at the age of 89. Longevity seems to be everywhere in my family, except for my own parents. Dad died when he was only 58, and mom was 62 — I hope I didn't just jinx myself. (See here for a picture of William, Catherine and their children.  Uncle Ed, I think, is the young boy on the right on the front row).

Anyway, Ed was the second youngest child out of seven children from the marriage of William and Catherine Clewell. Yes, that William — he is my great uncle.

William's older brother, by 10 years, was Sylvester Clewell. He, too, enlisted in the Union Army and fought in Co. A of the 153rd PA with his brother. Sooo, I actually have two great uncles who fought in the Civil War. 

Think about that for a moment. The Civil War was 150 years ago, but through luck and circumstance, I can go back just two generations to find a connection to that remarkable history. It seems that 150 years can be a very long time ago, or it can be just the blink of an eye.

I don't know that much about Sly — he did get married to Ann Maria Bauer, but that's about all I have discovered about him at this point in my research.

On the other hand, William was a musician who ended up playing the tuba in the regimental band. I don't know yet if regimental musicians actually fought, but I can't imagine that William picked up his tuba instead of a rifle when Stonewall Jackson outflanked the 11th Corps at Chancellorsville. Or that he blew his horn while running through the streets of Gettysburg when Jubal Early chased the 11th Corps off Blocher's Knoll two months later.

Both Clewells survived the war. William went on to become a saddler in peacetime and raised a passel of kids with Catherine.

Fast forward to now.

Catherine Hoffmann, my next door neighbor and curator of the Davidson County Museum, passed on an email to me she received earlier this week, giving me the salutation that "This should knock your socks off." It seems somebody remembered "PvtClewell" from the Civil War forums he read and connected that with a story about a pawn broker in northeastern Pennsylvania who had come into possession of a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) kepi, a GAR medallion and the discharge papers of an Albert A. Clewell. The pawn broker also learned about "PvtClewell" and felt moved to reunite the mementos he had with the family, if he could. (See the story, with photos, here).


But here's where the story gets a little dicey. Suddenly, we have another Clewell in the picture — Albert.

I don't know who Albert is. Indeed, he is one of three Clewells in Co. A, but I know he is not the brother of William and Sylvester, and thus, not an immediate relative. Since the 153rd was recruited out of Northampton County, I feel reasonably certain that Albert is somehow related. But if indeed he is, I don't know how. I called my cousin, Joann (Bea's daughter, who is 77 and sharp as a tack), but she doesn't remember any family history that included an Albert.

It seems that in the Clewell genealogy, Albert gets short shrift. I do know he is buried in Easton, PA, which is the seat for Northampton County. He was born in Nazareth, PA (as were Sylvester and William) and he enlisted when he was 17 years old. Geez, what is it with Clewells anyway? He, too, survived the war and married Amelia. But that's all I know. It seems that's about all the Clewell's know about this Clewell. A great cousin, maybe?

I did get in touch with the pawn broker, who was as excited as he could be to finally find a Clewell relative, or at least, to find "PvtClewell." He's even thinking about having another newspaper story done about this connection. (In fact, this story seems to have been published all across the northeast, even reaching the Pittsburgh paper). I get the feeling, at this point, that he is willing to let me have the mementos even though I am a little shaky on the connection with Albert.

It's still exciting, though.

If I should come into possession of these items, this is what I'll do: First, I'll hold a show-and-tell with them at the Davidson County Civil War Round Table, of which I am a member. The boys would be impressed, even if they are Yankee artifacts. Then I think I'll let Catherine take them on loan for about a year to display them at the Davidson County Museum. And finally, I'd donate them to the Northampton County Historical Society for perpetual posterity, since I think they are actually a part of the public domain.

Plus, it would be another great way to honor the Clewells.

1 comment:

  1. Bruce,
    My grandmother, Ione Branch Bain, who lived here, was the daughter of Thaddeus Branch, drafted out of Northampton County, NC into the 43rd NC Infantry, which was opposite your people in those same battles. I always thought he was her grandfather until she died and I came into possession of his muster rolls. Moved me one generation closer also. 150 years isn't that long ago when the next generation was such a big part of one's life for 35 years.

    "Ride to sound of the guns"

    J Nance