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Civil War

Cousin Against Cousin
An Article by Phil Harris
May 31, 2004
Update June 4, 2005:  New Headstone for Lt. Isaac Branson
Obituary of Isaac Branson

Ever since the guns fell silent in the spring of 1865 there have been many stories told about the Civil War or the “War of the Rebellion”. The nation was not only split between north and south it was also split between individual families and friends. There are many examples where families found themselves on opposing sides of the war. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln had two half brothers killed fighting for the Confederacy and her half sister Emilie was married to Confederate General Benjamin Harding Helm. General Philip Cooke of the Union cavalry had two sons in the southern army and one son-in-law, the famous General J.E.B. Stuart who commanded Robert E. Lee’s cavalry. Like many families that came to America in the pre-Revolutionary days the Branson family had populated many states both north and south by the time of the Civil War.

The Branson’s could be found in northern states such as Connecticut., New York, Indiana and Ohio. They also were found in southern states such as North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. Even the border states of Kentucky and Missouri had their share of Branson’s living there. It would only stand to reason that the Branson’s of the Civil War generation would find themselves on opposite sides of this great struggle. Such was the case with Isaac Branson of Indiana and the brothers Eli and William Branson of North Carolina. These three individuals all descended from Thomas L. Branson who was born in England in the 1670’s and died in New Jersey in 1744.

In 1833 Isaac Branson was born in Delaware County Indiana to John and Mary (Chipman) Branson. In his early 20’s he was employed as a farm laborer on the David Miller farm. Mr. Miller said that Isaac was “in good health and able bodied” while working for him. Soon after war broke out in April 1861 Isaac made the decision to join the army and help put down the rebellion. A politician named Solomon Meredith from Wayne County Indiana was given authority to raise a regiment of solders in June of that year. Solomon had campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and visited with the president on more than one occasion. Ten companies were raised for the new regiment that was designated as the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

Two of the ten companies were from Delaware County, Companies E and K. Isaac joined Company E that was led by Captain Luther B. Wilson. On July 2nd the “Delaware Greys” as they were called arrived at Camp Morton in Indianapolis. Isaac was officially mustered in on July 29th as Sergeant of Company E. On Aug. 5th the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry boarded trains and started their journey to the nations capital Washington D.C. arriving on Aug. 8th. Eventually the Hoosiers became part of the only all western brigade in the east that consisted of the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin regiments in addition to the 19th Indiana. They spent most of the fall of 1861 and winter of 1862 in and around the capital. They didn’t see their first major battle until the summer of 1862.

Chatham County North Carolina is located just west of Wake County and the capital of the state Raleigh. Most of the inhabitants of Chatham County were farmers at the time of the Civil War. Thomas M. P. Branson was one of those farmers who was raising a family with his wife Sarah. Two of their son’s Eli and William also joined the army in the spring of 1861 like their distant cousin Isaac of Indiana. Eli was born about 1843 and his brother William was born about 1837. No doubt they were also caught up in the excitement in April of 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumpter in South Carolina. Two months after this attack on the Federal fort both Eli and William enlisted in Company G of the 26th North Carolina. Company G was know as the “Chatham Boys” and they were officially mustered into the service as privates on August 27th 1861 while at Camp Carolina just north of Raleigh. Fearful of a possible Union attack on forts located on the Carolina coastline troops were moved to the east in the fall of 1861. On Sept. 2nd the 26th North Carolina boarded trains and were sent to Bogue Island located near Fort Macon. The troops spent the fall of 1861 and winter of 1862 in this area doing the same thing their cousin Isaac was doing in the Washington D.C. area. Learning the ways of the army. The raw untrained volunteer soldiers needed to be schooled in military matters and were drilled 6 hours a day. Although the men disliked the constant drilling it would pay off in the years to come when the regiment was needed in battle. Quick accurate movement of the troops while under fire could be the difference between victory or defeat.

During the first year of service the 19th Indiana suffered from sickness and disease. For every soldier that died as a result of combat during the Civil War two solders died from disease. At this time Isaac endured his fair share of sickness. In a statement after the war Robert Patterson, a soldier that served with Isaac, said that during the winter of 1862 he had, “seen him when afflicted with the chronic diarrhea. He was laying on his bed in his tent. He was also suffering with the same trouble during the campaign under General Pope in the summer of 1862 in Virginia.” Another soldier that served with Isaac was Oliver Carmichael who after the war became a minister. Oliver said, “I distinctly remember that Isaac was very sick with diarrhea for several months and as I remember was in the hospital for some time. I also remember that Dr. Haines our Surgeon came to our tent to treat him. He was often unable for duty a week or two at a time.” At one point hospital records show that Isaac was treated for bronchitis and returned to duty on July 14th 1862.

During the spring of 1862 Eli, William and the other boys of Company G, 26th North Carolina saw their first action against the enemy. On March 13th General Burnside had landed around 10,000 UNION troops on the Carolina coast near New Bern N.C.

The battle for New Bern started in the early hours of March 14th. The Confederates were outnumbered almost 3 to 1 but were able to put up a good fight for about 4 hours. They eventually were forced to give up the city and retreat. The Union troops took the city and it remained in their hands for the duration of the war. The 26th North Carolina retreated to Kinston North Carolina arriving there on March 16th. Total losses for the Confederates at the Battle of New Bern were 68 killed, 116 wounded and 400 captured or missing. William was slightly wounded in this first battle.

By the first of April Union General George McClellan had moved his army of over 120,000 troops to the Virginia peninsula south of Richmond. The idea was to take Richmond from the south using the James and York rivers as protection on the flanks of the army. Because of this movement the 26th North Carolina was moved north into Virginia to help fight off the invader. The Tarheels did there part in fighting the Union invaders by participating in the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1st. The union army soon after evacuated and gave up on it’s attempt to take Richmond from the south. The 19th Indiana and Sergeant Isaac Branson didn’t take part in the “Peninsula Campaign” but were stationed in Fredricksburg Virginia.

The first major battle that Isaac took part in was on Aug. 28th 1862 near a town called Groveton Virginia. The brigade was under the command of Brigadier General John Gibbon a regular army officer who graduated from West Point in 1847. The troops were up before the sun that day and started their march. By late afternoon the brigade was march-ing east on Warrenton Turnpike when suddenly artillery shells came crashing in the trees not far from the regiment. Colonel Meredith formed the Hoosiers into a line of battle and marched them off to the left at the double quick around the John Brawner farm. As they came within about 75 yards of a fence a rebel regiment fired a volley into their ranks. The Confederates that they were facing were from the famous “Stonewall Brigade” commanded by General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The Hoosier returned fire and the battle raged into the evening after the sun had gone down. Soldiers no longer could see their foes but fired at the muzzle flashes that were in their front. Finally the brigade was ordered to fall back and the battle ceased. The Hoosiers went into the battle with approximately 450 men and had about 200 killed and wounded. One of the wounded was Sergeant Isaac Branson. Referring to the bullet that stuck him one doctor stated he was “wounded top of the head grazing the bone”. Isaac had come within inches of losing his life.

A little over two weeks later the 19th Indiana found itself in another major battle with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This time at a place called South Mountain Maryland. The National Road crossed over South Mountain at Turners Gap where part of the confederate army was defending the pass. Again the battle started in the early evening hours of Sept. 14th. The Hoosiers and the rest of General Gibbon’s brigade fought their way up the mountain in a fierce battle that was witnessed at one point by the Union commander of the Army of the Potomac General George B. McClellan. Isaac was again wounded that day. He was struck one inch behind his right ear by a round ball that knocked him senseless. Isaac soon regained consciousness and tried to walk back down the mountain, but he had little control over his limbs and constantly stumbled and fell. At one point, the disabled sergeant “introduced his little finger into the wound for more than an inch, and could feel the brain substance.” The surgeons were unable to remove the bullet and it remained in his skull the rest of his life. While the 19th Indiana moved on to fight in the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17th, Isaac started on his road to recovery from his grievous head wound . By October 5th he was admitted to St. Luke’s hospital in New York City.

The 26th North Carolina didn’t take part in the battles of Brawner Farm, South Mountain or Antietam but instead were stationed in and around Petersburg VA. The Tarheels would end up back in North Carolina where they spent most the winter of 1862 - 1863.

Not long after the Battle of Antietam the phrase “Iron Brigade” was being used to describe General Gibbon’s troops. By the time Isaac returned to the regiment on Jan. 13th 1863 that term was firmly in place. Joining the “Iron Brigade” not long after the battle of Antietam was the 24th Michigan regiment. The Michigan troops were green and untested in battle but by the end of 1863 they would more than earn their place next to the seasoned veterans.

On April 9th President Lincoln came down from Washington to review the army that was now under the command of General Joseph Hooker. Col. Solomon Meredith had been promoted to general and was commanding the Iron Brigade. General Gibbon was given command of a army division. The Iron Brigade was the last brigade to pass the presidential reviewing stand. Seeing the President and Mrs. Lincoln on that spring day in 1863 was something that Hoosiers would forever remember.

On May 1st 1863 the 26th North Carolina left the Tarheel state heading north into Virginia arriving at Hanover Junction about 25 miles north of Richmond a couple days later. It was during this time that they officially became part of the Army of Northern Virginia.

On May 10th Isaac Branson was promoted to 2nd Lt. of Company E taking the place of Isaac W. Witermyer who was promoted to 1st. Lt.

By the early summer of 1863 General Robert E. Lee again moved his Army of Northern Virginia into northern soil. He wanted to take his army out of war torn Virginia and to gather much needed supplies for his army. The Confederacy also wanted to achieve a major victory against the northern army on their own soil. They hoped this would impress the European powers enough for them formally recognize the southern Confederacy and maybe help aid it in the war. By late June Lee had his army well into Pennsylvania. Following it from the south was the 19th Indiana and the Army of the Potomac. On June 30th the Hoosiers were the first infantry regiment to cross over into Pennsylvania in pursuit of Lee stopping for the evening at a small village named Greenmount, just south of Gettysburg. Four days earlier the 26th North Carolina had crossed the Antietam creek into Pennsylvania on their northward movement. The regiment marched north through the towns of Waynesboro, Fayetteville and eventually ending up within 4 miles of Gettysburg on the night of June 30th.

On the morning of July 1st confederate troops under the command of Gen. A.P.Hill were just west of Gettysburg. Facing them were the dismounted Calvary troops commanded by union General John Buford. Although the union soldiers were out numbered they were putting up a stiff resistance and were holding back the confederate forces. Isaac and the 19th Indiana were marching north on the Emmitsburg road south of Gettysburg when they heard the battle raging to the north and west. The Iron Brigade made their way towards the fighting and eventually formed a battle line just west of the Lutheran Theological Seminary. The Hoosiers marched towards McPherson’s ridge and meet the confederates who were advancing because Buford’s Calvary had fallen back. After firing a devastating volley into the rebel ranks the confederates fell back The 19th Indiana, 7th Wisconsin and the 24th Michigan troops all made a charge on the enemy and swept them from the field advancing down the ridge and over a stream name Willoughby Run. During this charge the 19th Indiana captured hundreds of rebels that belonged to the 1st Tennessee Regiment. After sending their prisoners to the rear the Hoosiers fell back to the ridge overlooking the Willoughby Run and reformed their battle line with the 24th Michigan. They remained in this position until about 3:00pm. By this time the rebels had regrouped and were advancing with fresh troops that included the 26th North Carolina. As the rebels approached Willoughby Run the Iron Brigade began to fire stopping the advance. The Indiana and Michigan troops fought a fierce battle with the Tarheals inflicting heavy losses. The Iron Brigade was heavily outnumbered in this fight resulting in an orderly withdrawal from the field all the way back to the Seminary ridge area.

For the third time in less than a year Isaac Branson was wounded. This time he received a serious wound behind the right knee. Capt. George W. Green stated that he “was wounded by gunshot, the ball entering his leg, back of knee, severing the muscles and tendons of the leg causing a very serious injury”. Isaac received this wound while fighting on the Willoughby Run defensive position. More than likely he either made his way off the field under his own power or was helped off the field. Many Hoosiers that were wounded at this time were captured when the rebels made their advance over McPherson’s ridge. Isaac was not captured and probably ended up in one of the temporary Union field hospitals. By the end of July he was back home in Indiana recovering from his wounds. It was reported that the 19th Indiana went into the fight with 27 officers and 271 enlisted men but by the end of the day could only count 9 officers and 69 men. The regiment lost in killed, wounded and missing 73 percent of it’s force.

In the early morning hours while when the Iron Brigade was engaged in the fighting around Willoughby Run the 26th North Carolina was being held in reserve in the rear. The Tarheels could hear the fierce battle being fought on their front and waited anxiously for their turn to fight. Finally the command “attention” was heard and the troops fell into line for the attack. Along with the 26th North Carolina the 11th, 47th and 52nd North Carolina soldiers fell into line for the advance. No sooner had they started their march the bullets started flying into their ranks. By the time they reached the Willoughby Run heavy casualties were being taken. The banks of the creek were full of thick brush making the crossing difficult and slow. This allowed the 19th Indiana and the 24th Michigan troops to inflect a murderous fire into the attacking troops. The North Carolinians pushed forward despite the loses and pushed the Iron Brigade off McPherson’s ridge.

Like the 19th Indiana the 26th North Carolina took heavy losses on that first day of July at Gettysburg. They had started the day with about 800 troops but were only able to muster fewer than 250 men the next day. Fourteen soldiers were either killed or wounded carrying the flag for the 26th North Carolina that day. The last to be shot was Col. John Lane who was hit in the back of the neck through the jaw and mouth. The person who shot him was Sergeant Chas. McConnell of the 24th Michigan. Both men survived the war and on the 40th anniversary of the battle they shook hands on the very spot where Mr. Lane was wounded.

Neither regiment saw any heavy fighting on July 2nd. The 19th Indiana ended up on Culp’s Hill just to the southeast of Gettysburg and the 26th North Carolina remained in the area of the first days fight.

On July 3rd one of the most written about charges took place between Seminary Hill and Cemetery Hill just south of Gettsburg. Confederate soldiers commanded by George Pickett attacked the Union’s center at Cemetery Hill. At around 1:00pm over 150 cannons opened fire on each other from the two hills continuing for about two hours. The 26th North Carolina was on left part of the attacking line in the charge when the artillery fire ended. Marching across open fields for about a mile before reaching the Union lines the men again took heavy casualties from shot, shell, grape and canister. By the time they were within 40 yards of the stone wall the regiment was not much bigger than a skirmish line. A few troops made it to the wall but were either captured or killed. The remaining survivors retreated back to Seminary Ridge once they realized it was a hopeless attempt to break the Union lines. Between 200 - 250 men took part in the charge with fewer than a 100 men coming back to the safety of Seminary Ridge.

After the battle of Gettysburg the 26th North Carolina returned to Virginia with the retreating Army of Northern Virginia. Making their way south they reached the town of Orange Court House the first week of August. No major fighting occurred between the two armies until the middle of October. General Lee decided to attack the Union army on it’s flanks. The Battle of Bristoe Station took place on October 14th 1863. The 26th North Carolina was with two confederate brigades that made an attack on the union lines that were behind a railroad embankment. The confederates were unable to break the union line and took heavy losses in the attempt. The order was given to fall back and retreat off the field but a number of soldiers decided not to and remained in the temporary safety of the railroad embankment. It was probably at this time that Eli Branson was captured. The 26th had 71 troops captured and close to 100 troops killed or wounded in the fight.

After his capture Eli Branson was taken to the “Old Capitol” prison located in Washington D.C.
The building was built in 1800 and was vacant at the start of the war. The building was converted into a prison for the war and today the U.S. Supreme Court Building now stands on the land that once was the prison. On October 30th Eli was transferred to Point Lookout located on a barren peninsula in Maryland. This was to be one of the largest Union prison camps during the war. The camp was in operation for two years, July 1863 to June 1865. During this time approximately 3000 prisoners died because of inadequate food, clothing, fuel for heating, housing and medical care. Here Eli would remain for over a year.

In November 1863 Isaac Branson was on “special duty” as acting Regimental Quartermaster for the 19th Indiana. Towards the end of the year the Iron Brigade was faced with the question of whether or not to re-enlist after their term of service expired in the summer of 1864. Isaac was one of the many Hoosiers that signed up for three more years of service. These soldiers were given a furlough home during the month of January 1864. Soon after returning from Indiana Isaac was promoted for a second time in less than a year in March. He was now the 1st Lt. of Company E.

On May 5th the Iron Brigade took part in the Battle of the Wilderness where the fighting was done in a very densely, overgrown area of Virginia. The mature timber at this place had been long ago cut down resulting in the sprouting of younger trees and foliage over the years. In most places one could only see as far as 50 yards or less making it difficult to maintain order in the battle lines. By the end of the day the 19th Indiana had lost 12 killed, 40 seriously wounded, 31 less seriously wounded and 13 missing out of a total of 332 officers and men. Isaac came out of the fight unhurt.

Isaac remained with the 19th Indiana the rest of May and June fighting ongoing battles against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in places like Laurel Hill, Spottsylvania Court House, North Anna River and Totopotomoy Creek. During the months of July and August Lt. Branson was absent from the regiment being, “Detached to Division Ambulance Corps by order of General Warren”. During these two months the Iron Brigade saw action at Cold Harbor and participated in the siege and battle for Petersburg. By October the ranks of the 19th Indiana had been so depleted from over 3 years of fighting that the surviving members were permanently transferred to the 20th Indiana Infantry on the 18th of October. Many officers of the old 19th Indiana took advantage of this consolidation to leave the service. On October 22, 1864 1st Lt. Isaac Branson was discharged from the service in front of Petersburgh VA. ending his army career forever.

After being a prisoner at Point Lookout Maryland for over a year Eli Branson was sent to Venus Point, Savannah River Georgia where he was part of a large prisoner of war exchange on November 15th 1864. Eli is finally listed as “Absent without leave” on December 20th 1864 and is not mentioned again in the official records.

William Branson was present or accounted for through December 1863 and by February 1864 was promoted to Corporal. Soon after his promotion William deserted the army on March 2nd. The last official record on William states that he was “Reduced to ranks prior to July 1, 1864”. During the winter of 1863 - 1864 there were many desertions in the brigade. At one point a soldier remembered seven men executed for desertion between January and April 1864. Because of the threat of execution many deserters returned to the regiment and again became good soldiers. It is possible that William returned and was reduced back to the rank of private serving until the end of the war.

Isaac returned home to Muncie Indiana and got married to Amanda Hughes on April 16 1865 exactly one week after the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox Court House VA. On December 13th 1865 he filed a “Declaration for Invalid Army Pension” and was granted a pension of $10.00 per month on May 29th 1866. Over the next 32 years Isaac physically deteriorated to the point where he was unable to work. The “round ball” that he was shot with on Sept. 14th 1862 remained in his skull until his death on November 2nd 1897. This wound caused him the most grief during his life. He developed paralysis on his right side and had dizzy spells often. At one point in 1882 he was “unconscious for three or four days” and “has on an average several attacks of dizzy spells every week.”

Isaac Branson joined the army to help put down the rebellion in the summer of 1861 ending up in one of the most famous units of that war, the Iron Brigade. He also took part in many of their battles including the great Battle of Gettysburg. Even thou the war had ended in the spring of 1865 the war never left Isaac until the day he died in 1897. His poor physical condition caused by his wounds were with him always.

Both Eli and William Branson settled back down in Chatham County North Carolina after the war. Both lived well into the 20th century. Eli filed for Soldiers Pension in 1914, 1915 and 1916. By April 1924 Eli had died and his widow, Catherine, filed for a Widows Pension in Chatham County. William filed for a Soldiers Pension as well on July 4th 1921 mentioning his wound from New Bern in 1862.

Two of the most famous regiments of the Civil War fought each other on the first days fight at Gettysburg in July of 1863. The 19th Indiana of the famed Iron Brigade and the 26th North Carolina. They meet face to face on McPhersons Ridge and Willoughby Run that hot summer day in Pennsylvania. The possibility of Bransons who were related and fighting in this battle is fascinating. These men could have been as close as 50 yards to each other during the intense battle not know they were family. During the research of Isaac, Eli and William Branson only one source could be found that mentions the presence of Eli and or William at this battle. Ancestry.com states that Eli was wounded on July 1st. but no other source mentions this. Eli filed for pension three times after the war but never mentions being wounded at any time in the war. There are far fewer Confederate records to research than there are Union records to help place a soldiers whereabouts at a given time. There was a payroll filled out for the 26th North Carolina the day before the Battle of Gettysburg. Between 800 - 900 officers and men were present at this time. As of yet this writer has been unable to find a transcript of this record. Until that or another record is found there will remain the possibility that Eli and or William was not with the unit at Gettysburg. On going research will continue on this subject.
 

Obituary of Isaac Branson

Bureau County, Illinois newspaper article dated Nov. 11, 1897.

" Our community was greatly shocked last week Wednesday to hear that Isaac Branson
had been kicked by a horse and was dead. The particulars as learned at the inquest are
as follows. On Tuesday at 4 o'clock Isaac and his son John returned from Bureau to their
home in Arispie. John went to the house to prepare supper and his father to the barn to
attend the horse which they had driven. When supper was ready John went to the barn to
call his father and found him lying near the horse motionless and thinking he had been kicked,
drew him away from the horse and ran up to J.W. Mavity's house and asked them to get the
doctor. Joseph Langtree immediately started to Bureau for the Doctor, and Mrs. Mavity and hired
men went to see the fallen man and found him dead, and by examination concluded
he must have fallen immediately upon entering the stable, as he was cold as one
who had been dead that length of time. As Mr. Branson had two paralytic strokes, prior to this
time, it is thought he was stricken with a third one on entering the stable and died instantly, as the
horse had not been fed. Isaac Branson was born in Muncie, Indiana on Sept. 19, 1833 and died
Nov. 2, 1897, aged 64 years. He served in the late war as lieutenant and received three balls
in his person, one of which was in his head which he carried to his grave. J.P. Spaulding
preached the funeral sermon, after which the G.A.R. boys accompanied the remains to the
Bureau cemetery, where they were buried from our site. About forty vehicles were in the
procession, which showed that the people had no ill will but rather love for the deceased."

 

 

Update June 4, 2005
New Headstone for Lt. Isaac Branson

An email was received from Phil Harris on June 4, 2005 with an update about the headstone of Isaac Branson.  Here is what Phil wrote:

If you remember I found his headstone about a year ago and it was in such poor condition it was almost unreadable. Since then I have had it replaced and there was a Memorial Day re-dedication service for the new headstone. A group of Civil War re-enactors did a graveside military service and a local preacher was on hand to preach at the site. I read a 20 minute speech on the life of Isaac Branson before, during and after the war. All in all it was a very good Memorial Day service. The next morning before I left for home I took the
attached photos of the new stone.

This gesture was very commendable and I answered Phil's email by thanking him for his efforts.  We all need to take time to remember the sacrifices made by those before us.  The new headstone is beautifully done and will serve as a tribute to Isaac and others who gave and/or risked their lives so that others could be free.  The efforts of Phil and those who participated in the Memorial Day Service are very much appreciated.
 

New Headstone For Isaac Branson
Click on an image for a larger view