Thursday, October 15, 2015

Stories Told on the Porch by my 170 Year Old Grandfather

Now that I have your attention.

This story was Inspired by Diana White's great post about listening to her 104 year old Uncle Bob spin tales on Summer evenings on their screen porch.

Admittedly, the headline may be a little misleading, but it's all true!


Except it's not about my grandfather, he didn't tell stories on the porch, and he wasn't 170 years old.

Sidney Davis was my wife's great, great, etc grandfather. I never heard him tell any stories, but he wrote a lot of them, all of which were about his adventures as a Cavalry man in the Yankee Army during the Civil War...which occurred 150 years ago at which time he was about 20 years old.
That's how I came up with the 170.

I've passed on several of his adventures before on this site, for example the time he was sent out to forage  for meat for some of his fellow soldiers.....

"By and by, I came upon a flock of sheep, to which I gave chase. I was rather fleet of foot and kept close to them and driving them into fence corners and over all sorts of obstructions.
Finally, one of them, made an effort to jump through a fence but became fastened, and I caught it.

Out came my knife and I felt for its throat; while thus engaged, however, I felt its heart beat wildly against my leg. “Poor old fellow,” thought I, “how hard it must be for even an animal to yield up its innocent life!”

I hesitated, I put down my hand and stroked its head; and then, returning my knife to my pocket, dismissed the sheep with my blessing."

The foraging expedition was a failure that night.

The last I saw of that sheep was after I had crossed the fence out of the field. I looked back after I had traveled about two rods, and there he was, mounted on his hind feet, and with his fore feet upon the upper rail, and his white head up in the air, and his eyes peering after me.

And then there was the time, after the battle of Gettysburg that he was captured prisoner by the Confederates and being driven by "car" (the train) to Belle Isle prison near Richmond.

The ride from Gordonsville to Richmond was devoid of interest. I remember that it grew dark soon after we left the former town, and that there seemed to be an endless monotony of pine forests and lonely fields.

But few words were spoken that night. I managed to secure a seat on the end of a car beside one of the guards...a tall, lean, lank man, forty-five or fifty years of age, with long reddish hair and whiskers...and as comfortable as circumstances would permit. 

About midnight I felt the guard lean heavily upon me, and from his hand slipped the dreaded musket.  As it fell I seized it, and thus prevented its loss. The man was sound asleep.

My first impulse, now that I had an enemy in my power, was to push him off suddenly between the cars, and have him crushed to death; but it occurred to me that such an act would simply constitute a cowardly murder; then the vision of a family in tears rose vividly before me.

I awakened him, gave him his gun, and cautioned him playfully as to his duty as a soldier.

He seemed very grateful, and said he was completely worn out from fatigue.  For a few moments he sat up, and then settled back again...sound asleep, and I once more caught the gun as it fell.

I allowed him to sleep until we reached Richmond, just before dawn, when I aroused him."

Sidney Davis was a good man that the Civil War caused some bad
Sidney Davis
things to happen to. He saw a lot of death and came close himself on a number of occasions.  Even the one time he was issued a two week "leave" and returned home for a short rest, was not without shock.

Davis was a Motherless child who lived with an "off and on" alcoholic father who worked for a man named Levi Bentley. They also lived on his property. Davis' childhood was pretty much normal for children of that era. In addition to the farm, Bentley owned a printing business at which both father and son worked. A Mrs. Samuel's worked as a housekeeper for Mr. Bentley and was like a "mother" to Sidney.

While relaxing on leave at his home, Davis accidentally discovered a document that he never knew existed;

 Allegheny city, September 20 1845

This article of agreement between Levi Bentley of Washington, County, State of Pennsylvania, of the one part, and Nancy Davis of Allegheny City of the other part witnesseth:

     That the said Nancy agrees to give her son Sidney to the said Levi Bentley to raise until he shall be fit to go for a trade. He also agrees to feed and clothe the boy during the above period.  Mr. Levi Bentley also agrees to give the mother Nancy Thirty-five dollars in cash this day, which she receipts for.  It is distinctly understood by the parties that the said Levi shall have the sole control of the boy, without the interference of his mother Nancy, in consideration of the above thirty five dollars.

He had been an "indentured servant!"

Davis writes only that in hindsight, his father never exercised any claim over him as a parent and "Levi spared my feelings in the matter, for I did not know of the existence of the document."

Davis Manuscript

Davis wrote his memories hoping to have them published and launch his career as a "writer."
Privately published book

But he had no luck.  Instead, his hand written manuscript traveled  unread,  from year to year in descendant's attics until my wife's uncle, John Davis read it....and published it.

Sales were mostly to family members...about half of whom took the trouble to read it, and the other half tucked it away in their attics.

Sorry Sid, but reading is not what many Americans do these days.

Plus, the current generation of youngsters consider the Civil War to be "old" news.  "Something that happened a long, long time ago....probably just after WW2."

It's "so...yesterday."