Sunday, April 12, 2015

Going to Augusta

Going to Augusta
By Mark Wright
I have never been to the Master’s. The venerable golf tournament, arguably the most significant on the Professional Golf Association Tour, is what the Georgia city of Augusta is most known for.
I have taken part in a less heralded occurrence in that city. I was born in Augusta on December 3, 1979 to a nurse mother and an Army doctor father from Texas. I was only there for about a year before my family returned to Texas. I was only around those parts for one Master’s. Sadly, I did not witness Seve Ballesteros’ first green jacket, in April 1980. Although, given that I was four months old at the time, I could have been at the bottom of a dusty red crater on Mars for all I know. I, of course, remember nothing of those sleeping, crying, self-wetting early days.
George W. Wright was also not in town for golf. Long before there was a Master’s, George was in Augusta for about a month in the spring and early summer of 1865. My third great-grandfather was there to occupy a Confederate arsenal in the months following Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and President Lincoln’s assassination. In late June, George and his fellow members of the 28th Iowa Infantry Regiment moved on to Savannah, Georgia, where they were mustered out of the Union Army at the end of July after nearly three years’ volunteer service[1].
George, born in Ohio to a westward-moving pioneer mother and father, enlisted as a private in August 1862 at the listed age of 26 – I believe he may actually have been 25, four days after older brother Enos signed up[2]. Their regiment served with distinction, especially during the pivotal Vicksburg campaign in the spring of 1863. Enos D. Wright, two years George’s senior, would be discharged due to disability at the end of the Vicksburg campaign[3]. The campaign was a rousing success for the North. The Federals forced the Confederates inside the walls of Vicksburg in a decisively disadvantaged position and helped Gen. Ulysses S. Grant boost a sagging reputation[4].
Grant would go on to become the scandal-marred 18th president of the United States. George, meanwhile, would serve out the duration of the war, including that brief assignment in Augusta, and return home in August 1865 to the humble farmlands of Benton County, Iowa, where his wife, Sarah E. Curl Wright, an Indiana-born descendant of Scots-Irish Quakers, and their three children beckoned. A year later, in July 1866, my second Great-Grandfather Harrison “Harry” Henry Wright was born.
Somewhere along the way, the story of my third great-grandfather, a man who supplied me with my surname and my Y DNA, was forgotten to Wright family lore. My dad had never heard the name George W. Wright. I discovered George and many other ancestors and relatives when I began undertaking a study of the history of my father’s side of the family in early 2014. Even now, after many hours of research, I know precious little about George W. Wright, except what the documents reveal. I have seen his pension file[5] and the record of his headstone at the cemetery of the Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Iowa.[6] But many mysteries remain about this veteran of the Battle of Champion’s Hill, this brief visitor to Augusta.
I wonder why he died in his early fifties. I wonder how he felt about his service in the Union Army and what led him and Enos to enlist rather than wait for the eventual advent of a draft. Hardly a military lifer, George, like many of his contemporaries, was, at his core, a simple farmer. But for a little while, in his country’s time of need, he was a foot soldier.
Gen. Alvin P. Hovey offered this lofty assessment of Wright’s 28th Infantry Regiment in a May 23, 1863 report on the Battle of Champion’s Hill: “Of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-eighth Iowa, in what words of praise shall I speak? Not more than six months in the service, their record will compare with the oldest and best tried regiments in the field.”[7]
Generally, I am loathe to cast mortal men and women into the role of hero, nor do I assume that war a person's service, however honorable, is done purely out of virtue. But I find a lot of valor in Pvt. George W. Wright’s war record. I do think he was a hero in his own small way. He certainly risked his life and endured many hardships. I wish I could shake his hand and thank him or at least see a picture of the man who gave me my family name. It is just too bad I got to Augusta some 114 years too late.

[1] Logan, Guy E. Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion, Together With Historical Sketches of Volunteer Organizations, 1861-1866, Vol. 3, 17th-31st Regiments – Infantry, pp.1240-1241. Des Moines: Emory H. English, state printer, 1910.
[2] Ibid, p. 1334.
[3] Ibid, p. 1334.
[4] Civil War Trust. Champion Hill – Champion’s Hill, Bakers Creek – Hinds County, Mississippi, May 16, 1863. Accessed 14 April 2015.
[5] Fold3. Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index - Wright, George W. Accessed 14 April 2015.
[6] Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-ca. 1903; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1845, 22 rolls); Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[7] Reports of Brig. Gen. Alvin P. Hovey, U.S. Army, commanding Twelfth Division, including operations May 2-20. MAY 16, 1863, Battle of Champion's Hill, or Baker's Creek, Miss. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIV/2 [S# 37]. Accessed 14 April 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment