Tuesday, September 29, 2009
A Civil War Tragedy
Benjamin Gratz (1792-1884), Rebecca's youngest brother, settled in 1819 in his bride's hometown, Lexington, Kentucky. He and his wife Maria (nee Gist) had six sons, four of whom lived to adulthood. After Maria's death he married her niece Anna Boswell Shelby, a widow with a son around the same age as Ben's youngest.
The stepbrother-cousins came to Pennsylvania for prep school, and their Aunt Becky welcomed them to her house on Chestnut Street for those academic vacations too short to make a trip home feasible. During these years she wrote glowingly to Kentucky about her nephews.
The boys seem to have gotten along well but as they came to manhood in the 1840's and 1850's, they were divided by the issues of slavery and secession. Benjamin Gratz, though a slaveholder, was a strong Unionist; his sons Bernard, Hyman and Cary stood with him. However, another son Howard and Jo Shelby, Ben's stepson, who had gone into business together in Missouri, were with the South.
The family rift was played out tragically on August 10, 1861, at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri: Capt. Cary Gratz on the Union side, Jo Shelby across the lines from him. Cary was killed, devastating his father. Rebecca wrote that she wished that by sharing Ben's grief she could somehow lessen it. But in her many letters to Kentucky, seeking to console Ben, she also was solicitous of the continuing anxieties of her sister-in-law, Jo's mother, telling her, "I hope [Jo] will escape unhurt from this desperate conflict."
Cary's body was brought home and interred, the first Civil War soldier to be buried in Lexington Cemetery. Jo Shelby rose to the rank of general in the Confederate army, and is today considered one of the South's most brilliant cavalry officers. At the beginning of the War, he had left his wife and children in Missouri. When as southern sympathizers they were expelled from their land in 1863, Benjamin Gratz escorted them to Lexington, Kentucky, where they lived for the rest of the war. Jo Shelby and his wife named their first son born after the end of the conflict Benjamin Gratz Shelby.
(Much of the information in this post is drawn from The Letters of Rebecca Gratz, which is available on the internet. The letter quoted is from the Henrietta Clay Collection, Transylvania University, Lexington, KY.)