Oral history may not be particularly trustworthy.
My father was four years old when his paternal grandfather died, so any direct memories he would have had were likely dim. He told me the story, passed down by his father, that his grandfather Samuel Young had fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy, had found himself stranded somewhere in the east when the war ended in 1865, and made his way home primarily by walking. My father said “the Youngs were a family of shopkeepers,” and had lived and worked around Brookhaven in northern Pike Country, and they had owned no slaves. (Pike was a large county; during Reconstruction it was split into two counties, Pike and Lincoln.)
When his grandfather reached home near Brookhaven, Mississippi, my father said, he discovered the family was gone. Neighbors said the entire family had fled to East Texas to escape the devastation of war and Union control. He continued his trek across Louisiana and eventually found his family. At some point, the family returned to Mississippi. My father also told me, again passing down the family story from his father, that Samuel had been too young to enlist, and so became a messenger boy.
The only possible reference I’ve been able to find in Confederate war records to a Samuel Franklin Young is a listing for S.F. Young – but it’s a man from a far northern country in Mississippi, whereas my ancestor would have been listed for Pike County, which was in southern Mississippi on the Louisiana line.
That’s as much as I knew about my great-grandfather. It turns out that much of it is likely wrong.
The first question involves Samuel’s age. His tombstone in a cemetery near Alexandria, Louisiana, says he was born Jan. 22, 1845. The 1850 U.S. census lists his age as 7 years, 7 months, which would make his birth year 1843. The records in the family Bible, which I have, and which were written by Samuel himself, say his birth year was 1846. Another record says 1847.
All of those possible dates, except possibly the last one, are problematic for the “too young to enlist” in the war statement from my father. By 1863, the conscription age for the Confederate Army was 16.
Then I discovered this on one of the popular genealogy sites – another bit of family oral history from a grandson of Samuel through another descendant’s line.
The grandson remembered his grandfather telling stories about his life. Samuel had been born on the Lake Plantation east of Johnston Station in Pike County. His father Franklin owned the plantation and 17 slaves (Franklin is listed as “farmer” on the 1850 census). His father was also involved in building the fill or rail bed for the Illinois Central Railroad from Johnston Station to Summit, Mississippi (the station and line were constructed in 1857).
Samuel, “as was the custom in the family,” was called James Samuel, Clarence Samuel, Samuel Franklin, and simply Samuel.
Then there’s this: Samuel was drafted during the Civil War, but his father paid a substitute $500 and a horse and saddle to take his son’s place. Later, Samuel was drafted anyway, enlisted in the cavalry, and “fought the Indians west of the Mississippi River.” After the war, Franklin supposedly lost his plantation “to the carpetbaggers,” and the family settled elsewhere in Pike County and worked as sharecropper farmers. Samuel later went to work in a sawmill.
There are a lot of problems with those statements. It’s unlikely Samuel would have been called “James Samuel;” he had an older brother named James who died in 1860. His name is listed as “Samuel Franklin Young” in the Bible, and his signature (also in the Bible) is Samuel F. Young. I’m not sure where Clarence came from. And for the Civil War service “fighting the Indians,” Samuel’s other older brother Wylie served in the Confederate military and died in Texas in 1863.
I suspect either Samuel or his grandson combined some stories, or the grandson’s memory combined the stories. But most of this runs counter to my own father’s memory, or at least his recall of what he understood about his grandfather. And a reader recently pointed out that his great-grandfather had also been too young to enlist and served as a messenger boy for the Confederate post office.
And who knows what name Samuel served in the army under? His own? Clarence? James? And perhaps my father, and I by extension, misunderstood the meaning of “messenger boy” and assumed it was military. And here I thought I had all the facts.
What I know for certain about my great-grandfather: he was born in 1845 or 1846 in Johnston Station, Mississippi. He served somewhere in the Confederate Army. At his death in 1920, he was living with an unmarried daughter named Myrtle Young outside Alexandria, La., and he is buried in a cemetery there. He and his wife Octavia had nine children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. Octavia died in 1887, and Samuel never remarried.
It’s back to the records to see what other facts I can find or corroborate.
Top photograph: Samuel and Octavia Young about 1880.