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Posts Tagged ‘Battle of Wyse Fork’

Before I became more than casually interested in my family’s history, William Lewis Rogers had been a shadowy figure in our past. I knew two of his sons, Uncle Will and Grandad, who were old men when I was a child.  Family lore proclaimed W.L. was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and spent the night hiding in a corn crib where he had to fend off rats. We knew this about him because he kept a journal. But no one knew what became of the journal. It has been lost.

One summer, my sister Sue, our family genealogist, and I visited the county in Pennsylvania where W.L. had lived as a child. I helped her search records at their historical society for information on his family. We visited his mother’s grave.

Threads from diverse sources gather to weave a tale.

My daughter lived in Virginia Beach for a time. Traveling to or from her home, I took back ways to break the monotony of the usual route. Once I noticed a large bear by the road. It was a sign for a park, but later I could not recall where I was, or indeed what highway I’d traveled. On a later trip, back roads again, I spotted the bear and this time I stopped. Neuseway Nature Park in Kinston, NC has become one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the neighborhood. There is no admission charge and the camping fee is almost indecently low.

Then my son moved to West Virginia. Well, we had ancestors in that state, too. Once Sue learned about my plans to visit there, she set me on the quest. Given a list of ancestor’s names and the location of the Hampshire County Library, which has a genealogical section, I reported, like a dutiful sister, intending to spend two hours in research. After three hours, I had to make myself stop. Not only did I need fresh air, I had to digest the volume of information I had acquired. I was hooked on genealogy.

W.L. Rogers had been born in Connecticut and died in West Virginia. Grandad always said, “Don’t go to West Virginia. They’ll kill you there.” Well, who killed William, and why? Unfortunately, my hours of research failed to solve the mystery. Could we find old newspaper stories or police reports that would answer the question? I would have to wait for another trip.

After West Virginia I proceeded to Virginia Beach. On my way home, I drove through Kinston. This visit was bittersweet because my daughter was moving from Virginia Beach and I thought I would have no reason to come through here again.

The following year, on my return to West Virginia, I searched through death records and learned the identity of my ancestor’s murderer–cancer! Cancer? So why did Grandad say he had been killed? Who knows! Grandad was more than a little paranoid. Knowing where W.L. was buried, I visited his grave. Below his name and the dates of birth and death was engraved, “Co. A 85th Regt. NY Vol.”

One mystery solved, another reared its head. Sue obtained W.L.’s military records. Guess what – Gettysburg was fought in 1863 and he did not enlist until the following year. So much for family lore! What about the corncrib and the rats? Was that part true or did the family once have possession of some other soldier’s journal? We will not know until it surfaces.

But we did learn that W.L.’s regiment had fought in the Battle of Wyse Fork which took place near Kinston, NC. Was that what kept drawing me to the place? Now I had an excuse to go back.

Wherever I go seeking historical information, I find people who are not only proud of their history, but willing to share what they know. This was no exception. I had a nice visit with Shirley at the Kinston/Lenoir County Visitor’s Center and left with a wealth of information, including a driving tour of the Battle of Wyse Fork. Armed with the pamphlet and my camera, I set out to trace the footsteps of my ancestor.

W. L. may be forever nameless in the history books, but what a thrill it was to drive around the battle area thinking, I am in the footsteps of my ancestor. I could not help imagining what this young man, only 21 at the time, was thinking and feeling amid the noise and terror of the guns, death, and suffering. No, W.L. did not fight through three sweaty days in July, but through three cold days in March, in rain and mud and snow. I followed his path from Wyse Fork, through Kinston, and as far as Goldsboro but I lacked the time to visit everywhere his regiment went.

My quest is far from complete. We have documentation that after the war W.L. married Nancy Turk who, we believe, was part Cherokee. He taught school in Pepin, Wisconsin, then homesteaded in Kansas. Family lore has stories of the family’s experiences in Kansas. How much is true? I hope to find out.

Why did they leave Kansas? What adventures took him to West Virginia? I am still on the quest for this ancestor.

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