Happy Memorial Day Weekend.
Brevet Captain Robert McKeag Lewis died 101 years ago Thursday. Not many men volunteered to fight for Queen Victoria and President Lincoln and were mustered out by President Johnson. Surely, a lot of luck was involved in his service. But he fought in Afghanistan, Virginia, and North Carolina. He sailed across the Atlantic, and probably around Cape Horn into the Indian Ocean. What a life. I wish he had written a memoir.
I will likely always wonder what his motivations for his life were. I will never know what his voice sounded like, what his laugh was like or what made him laugh. I certainly hope that Miner Cemetery in Middleton Connecticut will place the Stars and Stripes on his grave this weekend.
Robert McKeag Lewis, my grandfather’s grandfather. Born near Belfast in Ulster, he served first HRH Queen Victoria in the Anglo-Persian War then President Lincoln in the American Civil War. By March of 1865 he’d been promoted in the ranks from Private to 1st Lieutenant in the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery; on 25 March 1865 he played a small part in the Union victory in the Battle of Fort Stedman. Two of the men in his company won the Medal of Honor that day (they gave it out a lot more often in those days as it was the only medal for combat actions), and he was ‘brevet’ promoted to Captain for his action, and got to use that title for the rest of his life though he was officially mustered out as a 1Lt.
Read more here.
I really should have used the opposite names for these tumblrs. Oh well, I like this one.
The other one comes from the fact that with three of Robert’s sons as exceptions, men in my family from the 18th Century until now have three names: Peter, Robert, or John/Jon. My father’s (who looks EXACTLY like the Captain) middle name is John, his father and grandfathers’ first name. My middle name: Peter. My uncle and brother are named Robert, my cousin is Peter. We’re weird.
13000 pounds of rolling terror, Ted. Range: 2 miles. Payload: 200 lbs. Fucks given: ZERO.
They had a band.
Isn’t that the craziest thing? Here these guys were, going off to blow up the outside world with some massive mortars, guns, and cannon, but they had a guy on tuba to accompany them.
I only want the sword for its symbolic value.
It’s as dull as a butter knife. I think it might cut through an envelope. Maybe a ripe peach if swung with all one’s might. But anything stouter than a watermelon would probably prove tougher than the steel.
It might be fun to pull on a would be burglar…I would probably shit my pants if someone pulled a damn saber on me.
Got a reprint of the History of the First Connecticut Heavy Artillery by John Taylor and Samuel Proal Hatfield from 1893 today. It is glorious. Full of reprints of field reports, pictures, graphs and charts of what cannon, gun, mortar, and other field pieces were fired and how much ammunition spent.
It ends with a directory of all members of the unit as well as all the officers’ promotions.
My Brevet Captain is a minor player in this ‘play,’ but I’m mighty proud to have this record of his contribution to his adopted country.
The map dates from 1902 and in the little yellow section to the east of Lough Neagh is ‘Lower Masserenne’ and in the center of that is the parish of Killead.
My brevet captain was born near there in 1832 in a tiny village called Ballysculty.
I think this was $15 well spent.
My wife didn’t take my name. I didn’t care then, don’t care now. We both have fine Scotch-Irish names, and we both have careers where publishing counts big time, so your name is your career so to speak. And I love her name. Not enough to take it, I guess, but it suits her far better than my last name would.
The potential for a child does raise an issue. I’d like to have a son continue the brevet captain’s direct line and name, but that seems super selfish. The guy’s been dead 100 years. Who gives a rat’s ass? But I do, I suppose. I mean, my father looks JUST LIKE the captain, and I look JUST LIKE the captain’s son, so why not continue the name?
As an aside, my sister in law didn’t like her maiden name so she and my niece have the captain’s name. So there’s that.
If you haven’t seen this, here’s my Brevet Captain. Robert McKeag Lewis, born in Killead Parish, Ulster Nov. 19, 1832; died E. Berlin, Connecticut May 10, 1910.
Served in the British Army in the Anglo-Persian War 1857-1859, and then the Grand Army of the Republic, IX Corps, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, May 1861-August 1865.
My father could be his twin.
Photo courtesy of the Wesleyan University Special Collections
Favorite Site: Oh, Gettysburg by a country mile. The US National Park Service has done an amazing job with it. My father and I did a very quick driving tour the day we looked at Gettysburg College for me (we did a bunch of the PA small colleges: Franklin & Marshall, Lafayette, Bucknell, Dickinson), and it was not nearly long enough. We saw the High Water Mark, but didn’t walk Pickett’s Charge, and man, that field is HUGE. Those poor bastards never stood a change.
I would like to get to Fredricksburg, Ft. Fisher, Antietam, and Shiloh in that order because the Captain’s brother in law fought at Fredricksburg, the Captain fought at Fisher, and well, the other two are Antietam and Shiloh.
So this is my brevet captain, Robert McKeag Lewis.
He came to America somewhere between 1859 when he was honorably discharged from the Regular Army after having seen action in Afghanistan, and 1861 when he enlisted in the Federal Army, 4th Connecticut Infantry Regiment, later changed to the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery.
Would he still leave Britain for America today? Would he come fight for a country that still fights the War he came here to fight (and we don’t know why he came—maybe he just really liked war—maybe it was all he knew how to do—the Census reports after the War have him making saddler’s tools and farming in 1880, 1890, and 1900)?
Would he stay? He married an Irishwoman named Mary McCloskey who was a powerhouse according to family lore; they were made US citizens in the 1870s, but would they stay?
Or would they go to Glasgow like Robert’s sister who married a boat-builder there, where Robert’s father Hugh died and was buried? I don’t know.
And what about my Swedish great-grandparents, Luther and Agda? They left Göteborg around 1900 because being a carpenter and a seamstress there was pretty bleak. So they came to America like many of Luther’s uncles and grandfather and father had done, to make money, but they stayed.
Would they stay in 2013? A hundred years after they married in Chicago, would they stay? My Swedish cousins are engineers, nurses, professionals, and they like to visit the US, but they aren’t moving here. EVER. They love Sweden.
My grandparents were all born in Connecticut, within about 50 miles of each other in Berlin and Hartford and Waterbury. One fought in WW2 in Europe, and loved America with all his heart. He was a dyed in the wool Nutmeg Conservative who hated the Beatles and wouldn’t let my mother go to Shea even though she had a ticket. He would probably hate my politics. That’s ok. I’m not too pleased with his.
But I am really struggling with my legacy—my niece, e.g., what kind of country is she going to grow up in? What should she do with her life? If I have a child, where would I want her or him to go with his or her life? Would I want them to go to school in AMURICA? In Jawja? Not really, no.
But how the hell do I get out of here? My skills are pretty limited. The job list comes out once a year. I’m too old to learn to be an engineer, and the idea of an MBA program turns my blood to ice.
What would the Brevet Captain do, I wonder?
My Brevet Captain did watch his buddies die in the mud at Petersburg so I could live in a country that cares about another royal whelp.
How bad ass were these seacoast 13” mortars? The 1st Connecticut Heavies used these first on the ‘Peninsular Campaign’ going up the James River in 1862, and then again on the Petersburg Line. They could throw 200 pounds of shell and shot up to 2 miles from these monsters. At Petersburg, they mounted one on a railway car and moved it up and down the Line.
My Brevet Captain is almost certainly not in the picture, but it’s a good idea what the guys in his Regiment looked like.