"The trouble with Jeff is that he lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech."

Tracing My Roots: The Files of Walker County, Alabama

Information, research, and data are wonderful things. They are, however, utterly meaningless unless they are interpreted and shared– just words on a page with no context, no meaning, no relevance. To that end, I’m beginning to undertake an endeavor to share the fruits of as much of my genealogical research as I can state plainly I am confident in its accuracy.

That’s a big point: Accuracy.
Anyone who’s bopped around a genealogy site for long can surely tell you about the haphazard research done by many (most?) of the amateur genealogists on there; haphazardness and errors magnified by copying of each others’ work with no verification or cross-referencing. Simply: The signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculous.  Because of this, I’ve been painstakingly careful to vet my references and sources as much as I rationally can. This naturally leaves a number of unpleasant gaps in my lineage that I’m still working on; and probably will, perhaps forever. Such is the nature of ill-documented times.

In any case, the first things I’ll be sharing are more of the sweeping, broad movements of my direct lineage than the smaller, personal stories I’ve uncovered. Context, and all. The first is from a leg of my pedigree that was very much in my thoughts last night, as I watched the horrible destruction in Oklahoma. I have descent from Oklahoma, you see, though they originated in Alabama…

Full Circle

NOTE: This post is purely personal, and has nothing at all to do with the normal history-based topics I share here.

In late March and early April of 2010 I spent a good amount of time chatting with my friend Faith about her veganism. Unlike some I’d known, Faith was never preachy, arrogant or condescending about her choice. She was simultaneously not quiet about it; squirreling away her lifestyle like Anne Frank in an attic. Her core argument for going vegan herself was that she sat down and looked long and hard at why she continued to eat milk, and cheese, and eggs– and the conclusion she told me she’d come to was inescapable– that she did it because she liked the flavor, and the taste. She also could not rationalize, qualify, or justify that decision, solely for her gustatory benefit. As a result she decided to become vegan.

Her argument made a lot of sense to me. I’d seen a video earlier that year on YouTube about chicken farming; and the handling, mutilation, and de facto torture of just-hatched chicks– all in the interest of industrial farming, food, and profit. I couldn’t reconcile my own horror with this practice (and it is a graphic piece) with my own beliefs and ethics. Torture and death for my stomach? No. Like Faith did before me, I decided to cut out as much of that lifestyle– of that industry– from my life as I could. I became vegetarian.


“One Woman in a Thousand Years”

(Editor’s Note: The is the fourth in an ongoing grouping of posts dealing with my research on 22nd MVI veteran, draftee and Springfield resident Orrin Cook. See the series of posts under the “Orrin Cook” category here.)

Orrin Cook, late of the 22nd Massachusetts, was a well-lettered man. His war diary belies his literacy and his education in public schools starting in 1853, Cold River Union Academy in Paper Mill Village, New Hampshire in 1858, and Westmoreland Valley Seminary in Westmoreland, New Hampshire in 1859. Aside from his diary and obsessive financial record-keeping, Cook wrote a tremendous number of letters to the editor of local papers throughout his life. Some were treatises on economics– written under the pseudonym “Hasseky Marsh”– presumably after the marshland that defined the eastern border of his town of Springfield Massachusetts throughout its early development.  Others were more personal in nature.

As explored in earlier posts, Cook had serious post-war issues with his wife and daughters, possibly springing from his nascent PTSD. Whether his opinion on women in general led to his increasingly emotionally abusive treatment of his wife and daughters, or vice-versa, Orrin left  a record of his misogyny. Cook’s letters to the editor under the pseudonym of “He-Man Wilkins”, derived from his own middle name and an obvious machismo-driven reference, decried all things female. One such letter, reproduced below from the New York Times Saturday Review, published 4 May 1901 is an example of this.


The Common Soldier

Yesterday at the living history at Cambridge, one of the selections read in the poetry program was one I discovered in a period book– Anecdotes, Poetry and Incidents of the War, North and South 1861-1865, edited by Frank Moore in 1882. So many stories told of this war– and of all wars– deal with the perceived glory of war, the deeds of the generals and their staff, and wreath them in a jingoistic, machismo-driven bravado.  General William Tecumseh Sherman saw more clearly than many of his contemporaries when he stated:

I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation.

The poem shared below, and read to perfection by Patrick Browne, skewers the other side of the myth– the perception that the war is fought by generals on horseback, moving their armies like pieces on the chessboard, until one is finally held in checkmate. The truth of the matter is very different. The American Civil War was fought by hundreds of thousands of men from the farms and the cities who rose to the call in the first flush of volunteers, or for pay when bounties were offered. Others still were pressed into service when they were drafted and– unlike the wealthy that usually formed the officer class– were unable to pay the $300 to exempt themselves, or purchase a replacement in their stead. These hundreds of thousands today are largely nothing more than anonymous faces in a crowd; a mere statistic in the footnotes of the generals’ war.

As we approach Veteran’s Day this November 11, I feel it is absolutely critical to honor the memories of those people– for that is what they truly were– people, with families, friends and loved ones, all left behind as some gave that last full measure. Each and every one of them was a unique, distinct individual; with an equally unique, distinct life and story that should be told. Theirs is the true story of the war, written in legion. The memoirs of politicians and generals, along with the analysis of historians are merely their footnotes, in the truth.


America’s Other Civil War: The Battle for the Heart of Baseball

22nd MVI Game Ball

The United States was born in blood at the tail end of the eighteenth century, with a violent revolution against the king of England. The birth of this new nation saw a new form of government take shape, driven by new approaches to self-government and representative democracy, borrowed in part from classical Greece and Rome. At the same time, a uniquely American version of an amorphous game– “Rounders”– was also being molded into the game of baseball. This is evinced by many references in the historical record. George Ewing, a soldier under the command of George Washington at Valley Forge wrote of playing ‘Base’ in his diary (Millen 73). A 1791 town ordnance was discovered in Pittsfield Massachusetts that cited the game by the modern name of ‘baseball’ (Cole 68). There were a plethora of other varieties of the game played as well in towns across America. Generally these ‘safe haven’ games went by names such as “town ball”, “old cat”, “Rounders” and others (Morris 11-25). Regional in nature, these similar games had coalesced into two primary variants in the years leading up to the Civil War. One form was centered geographically in Massachusetts, referred to as ‘roundball,’ ‘base’ or the eponymous “Massachusetts Game” (“Bats, Balls, and Bullets”, Kirsch 31). The other, based in New York was known as “The Knickerbocker Game” for those that originated it (“Baseball in Blue and Grey”, Kirsch 6; “Bats, Balls and Bullets, Kirsch 32). As the Civil War gripped the nation in the middle of the nineteenth century, another more modest conflict was fought in tandem between these two forms of baseball for primacy.



Hattie Butterfield Cook

(Note: The is the third in an ongoing grouping of posts dealing with my research on 22nd MVI veteran, draftee and Springfield resident Orrin Cook. See the first post here and the second here.)

After much time researching– genealogically, looking in family histories, local records, reaching out to cemetery directors and the like– I finally found her. Yesterday, I visited her. She rests in a central location just over the crest of a small hill in Oak Grove Cemetery just outside the Hill McKnight section of Springfield.  She lies in a family plot with her youngest daughter Mary, Mary’s husband Lincoln C. Haynes, and Mary’s two children Walter and Frances. It’s a quiet location– the urban blight that corrupts Hill McKnight appears to have swept around Oak Grove to date, and the center of the cemetery, more so. It is quiet and clean. To the right of the Haynes family headstone, a large stone angel stands sentinel, watching over the souls buried beneath.  It is well that someone watch over “Una” — Harriet ‘Hattie’ Butterfield Cook– for she had to watch over herself for much of her life.


“My Acquaintances Who Have Kild Themselves”

(Note: The is the second in an ongoing grouping of posts dealing with my research on 22nd MVI veteran, draftee and Springfield resident Orrin Cook. See the first post here.)

Orrin Cook wrote a great many things in his personal diaries. He accounted for every dime he spent, every trip he took and every ounce of oats he bought to feed his beloved horses. One of the bleaker things he took note of was a list of his suicidal friends– who numbered painfully high. It is of no surprise when looking at the mass of the list that he was an embittered fellow. Surely, the drag of mortality and loss must have weighed heavy on Mister Cook. One of them– A. M. Butterfield– carried the maiden name of his wife.

Submitted without further comment, that diary page in its entirety.

“My Acquaintances Who Have Kild Themselves”

William Brown, machinist
Clark W. Bryan, publisher
A. M. Butterfield, manufacturer
Asakel Kelton, farmer
Albert Kemp, soldier
William Metcalf, printer
Edward M. Perkins, salesman
Orrin Perkins, clergyman
Mrs. Emma Rogers
Joseph M. Ross, lawyer
A. B. Skinner, merchant
Royal Harrington, builder
Philip H. Smith, farmer
Geo. W. Hubbard, bank officer
J. C. Colony, manufacturer


Orrin Cook and the Fairy Tale Lost

One of the things that some of us who would prefer to lean towards the “living history” side of the reenacting hobby tend to do is adopt a first-person persona. In essence, we try to become like actors, pretending to be a person from the period we are attempting to recreate. Some make their persona up from whole cloth; others base it on a historical figure. The latter is the case with me. I have two people whose historical identities I attempt to pay homage to– the first being Edwin H. C. Wentworth; a veteran of the 6th Massachusetts Militia, who later served with the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The other, more recently discovered by me, is one Orrin Wilkins Cook.

I first became aware of Orrin Cook when researching the arms of the 22nd Massachusetts. Craig Barry was kind enough to point me at an interesting entry in the catalog of the Springfield Armory (search for “SPAR 100” here), where there was a quote (reputedly from one Orrin W. Cook) that stated:

“Some of our boys got Austrian rifles, some Enfield, and others Springfield. I got the Enfield, and Bob got the finest arm of the whole lot, a fine United States Springfield rifle. Training in the use of these weapons was startlingly belated and haphazard.”

This piqued my interest. The quote indicated a letter or journal entry by a member of the 22nd Massachusetts that was not an officer, but a private. That’s some serious meat to hang on the bones of a first-person impression, should it be findable. So I set off on a quest for Private Cook that led me around the internet and finally into the archives of the Connecticut River Valley Historical Society. There, I was able to lay my hands on the war diary of Private Orrin Cook of the 22nd Massachusetts, Company B.

For me, this was as close to a religious experience as I could come.  Here in my very own hands, was the journal of a citizen-soldier who had fought in the Civil War. Some pages were still crusted with battlefield dirt. Another had deep ruddy stains. As Cook had been wounded at the Wilderness– and still found time to write in his diary after the wounding– that was likely the blood he shed.


Reading through the diary, I was amazed at how erudite this ‘common man’ was. His entries were full of wit and wisdom. Others were deeply sarcastic. Still others had the audacity to criticize the mighty and revered. I saw in him a man that I felt I wanted to build my impression around; a man with whom I could see clear lines of sight to our commonalities. I was fascinated with Cook.

I dug deeper into the Museum’s archives. Cook had left behind a massive amount of paper and documentation of his life; most of which was post-war. He’d married his childhood sweetheart, but the marriage had not gone well. A separation, an acrimonious relationship with his daughters and wife, an ugly divorce: All had left scars on Cook, and tainted his legacy. While this made him all the more fascinating, it also marked him as a more somber figure.

Without a doubt: This man would form the basis of my first-person impression. It’s easy to play the hero. Everyone wants to. I find more truth in the embittered, damaged antihero. In my opinion, those damaged by the war– by War itself– deserve perhaps more attention. After all, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

Below the break is a brief narrative of the life of Orrin Cook, complete with the bright spots and the bleak. I pray that readers find him as interesting as I do.