Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Campbell Family’s Service

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator Collections

It never ceases to amaze me how some objects can be related to one another, but that relationship is unknown until you are bitten with the research-bug. As I was preparing to write this I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about, but then I came across a powder horn that had the same family name for two swords I have been researching, and sure enough, they all shared the same donor. And, since I was writing this around Veteran’s Day, I thought it might be nice to talk about this family’s service.
Samuel Campbell, born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 1738, served in the New York Militia during the American Revolution during a stay at Fort Schuyler. He had a son, James, in 1772, but by 1778 the “Cherry Valley Massacre” had separated Samuel from his family. His wife, Jane, and his children were taken captive and held for two years.

James went on to marry Sarah Elderkin and they had a son, William W., in 1806. William had a successful career as a lawyer and judge, but never served in the military. William married (though I couldn’t find the name of his wife) and two of his sons, Douglas and Cleveland served in the 121st New York Volunteer Regiment, as a Captain/Brevet Major and Colonel, respectively. Cleveland was transferred to the 23rd US Colored Infantry where he would serve until his death in 1865 from wounds he received during the battle at Petersburg. Another son, Lewis, served as a Captain for the 152nd New York Volunteers; he was captured and held as a prisoner of war for two years and finally died from his wounds.

Still with me? I know, that was a lot of detail for such a small space, but it leads me to my next part.

Though the powder horn and swords are separated by two generations, the family tradition of service is clear from the markings made on each. Though Cleveland’s sword has the decorative engraving, it is Douglas’s that shows the wear and tear. What you can’t see in the picture, Douglas scratched his service record into his leather scabbard and the blade and grip show evidence of wear over the years. A lot of Civil War soldiers used their blades and scabbards to record their battles and at least in this case, it provides a great source of information to learn where the brothers fought.

Do you know of a family member that served in the Civil War, or any war for that matter? The National Park Service hosts a site called the “Soldiers and Sailors System” and with a little bit of information provided by you, you could find basic information on a family members’ involvement in the Civil War. If your relative served in any other war, check out the National Archives and Records Administration where you can find a whole host of resources, some available online and some that you’ll have to mail in or call about, but all available to the public.

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