Working on one’s family history, even for decades, can still yield some thrilling and revealing new information. Yet, the key to such a new discovery can lie in reviewing documents one has had in hand for years.
I recently had such an exciting find which I just happened to stumble on. A fellow researcher had requested some direct quotes from an ancestor’s Civil War letters he had written his father in 1863 while serving in the Union Army. These letters, along with several other letters to the father, John George Wagoner of Hanover, Pennsylvania, had been handed down over the generations and in recent years even saved at the last moment from another relative throwing the letters in the trash. They came into my possession a few years ago and I have gone over them several times.
It was when I was checking for fine details in the words written of these letters and not just the ones written by the Union soldier, but from other family members that a light bulb went on. What I already knew was that the soldier had been captured in July 1863 by the Confederacy and taken to Belle Isle Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Also known was that the young man died of disease at the prison on November 15, 1863.
However, while going word for word of a letter to John George Wagoner of Hanover from his sister in Westminster, Maryland, did I make a fascinating discovery. The sister, Maggie Wagoner, in the letter dated November 26, 1863, stated;“Sorry to learn of Wesley’s death.” A few lines down she then writes; “Mother was sorry she did not get to speak to you in Gettysburg. She seen you on the stand but could not get near enough to speak to you. She thought you would call around at Uncle David’s where she could see you.”
The dedication of the new Gettysburg Cemetery to those who died there from July 1 to 3, 1863 in the Battle of Gettysburg was held Thursday, November 19, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln delivered his now famous Gettysburg Address speech that day. Gettysburg is fourteen miles due west of the town of Hanover. Many people from surrounding communities attended that ceremony. The Hanover Road was one of the main routes traveled to reach Gettysburg.
John George Wagoner was an eminent merchant in Hanover and with the very recent news of his only son’s death at Belle Isle Prison he may have felt compelled or even was requested to attend the dedication. The letter does not state the November 19th date that the mother and John Wagoner were both in Gettysburg, but with reference to ‘she seen you on the stand’ and not able to get ‘near enough to speak to you’ can provide an very interesting and strong possibility that John George Wagoner had gone to Gettysburg and did hear Lincoln present the Gettysburg Address.
As fate would have it, John G. Wagoner had been so heart broken over his son’s death, that John died on March 18, 1865 in Hanover at the age of 43 years old. This was approximately one month before Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. If John had lived to a ripe old age, his descendants may have had additional writings and stories about his visit that historical day in Gettysburg. The next step is to search the Hanover newspapers of November 1863 to see if there is any mention of John’s trip to Gettysburg, so confirming the event. By going over those few writings in detail from letters handed down has opened up a new element on the life of this ancestor.< Return To Blog My great,great grandfather attened the Gettysburg adress in 1863.His name was Potter. I have pictures of him and several letters written by him addressed to my dad's dad George Lowery. I wonder of what value they are?