- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

Almost every man who survived the Civil War came back with an endless supply of interesting, exciting, hu-

morous and sad stories about his time in the service. For my money, however, few men had experiences to top those of my wife’s great-grandfather Henderson Goad.

Hen, as he was called, joined the 24th Virginia Infantry Regiment of the Confederate army as a private in May 1861 in Lynchburg a month after the war started. Although some records say he was in Company G, I suspect that someone misread the handwritten rosters and he actually was in Company C, known as the “Carroll Boys” for Carroll County, Va., where he lived.

I do not know what prompted him to join, but he must have been strongly motivated because he had to travel more than 100 miles from his home in Hillsville to get to Lynchburg, and at 37, he was a little old to be going off to war as a private.

‘Over the hill’

Whatever Hen’s feelings at the start of the war, by September 1862, he apparently had lost his taste for army life because he went “over the hill.” I am not sure why he deserted. He might have gotten word that his wife was ill (she died in 1864), or he simply might have decided after several battles that war was not as much fun as he had expected it to be. If the latter was his reason, it is understandable because the 24th Virginia was heavily involved in the war from the beginning.

Among the many battles the regiment fought before Hen left were First Manassas (Bull Run), Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Frayser’s Farm, Malvern Hill, Seven Days and Second Manassas. During those battles, the 24th Infantry suffered 405 casualties (79 killed, 210 wounded, and 116 captured).

Williamsburg was especially bloody and disheartening. Fighting as part of a brigade under Gen. Jubal Early, the 24th distinguished itself by making a valiant charge against a much larger Northern force, but because of Early’s bungling, the regiment’s efforts were wasted. I can easily understand how Hen might have been discouraged after seeing so much fighting and dying with so little success.

While he was gone, the 24th Virginia Infantry fought at South Mountain, Sharpsburg (Antietam) and Fredericksburg, but it suffered few casualties in those battles.

By February 1863, Hen was back with the Confederate army. I do not know if he was caught or if he returned voluntarily. All I know for sure is that he was under arrest.

However, the odds are that he came back on his own, because after his court-martial in June 1863, he was “released from arrest” without further punishment. Of course, his lenient treatment could have been because the Confederate army needed soldiers and would rather have Hen in the ranks than in the stockade.

Pickett’s Charge

In any event, Hen was returned to duty just in time for the Gettysburg campaign. Once again, the 24th Infantry was honored to play an important part. It was included in Gen. George Pickett’s division and took part in that unit’s famous and disastrous attack on the center of the Union line.

The 24th was one of five regiments in Gen. James Kemper’s brigade, which was at the southern end of Pickett’s line during the charge. In spite of fierce Federal resistance and heavy losses, the 24th managed to breach the enemy’s defenses at the famous stone wall and to push the Union troops back in vicious hand-to-hand fighting. However, when the Union soldiers counterattacked, the Southern forces had to retreat.

During the battle, the 24th Infantry suffered heavy casualties. One source puts the total at 202 (39 killed, 90 wounded and 73 captured). One of those captured probably was Hen. (I say probably because although I know he was taken prisoner at Gettysburg, I do not know the circumstances.)

After Gettysburg, and Hen’s capture, the 24th Infantry continued to see action, but it never fully recovered from its losses at Gettysburg. It suffered especially heavy casualties (50 killed and 90 wounded) at the battle of Drewry’s Bluff in May 1864. It also was still with Gen. Robert E. Lee on his retreat to Appomattox. A regimental history, “24th Virginia Infantry,” was written by Ralph White Gunn and published by H.E. Howard of Lynchburg in 1987.

Changing sides

After his capture, Hen was sent first to Fort Delaware, a notoriously unhealthy and overcrowded prisoner-of-war camp on an island in the Delaware River. Then, in late October 1863, he was transferred to the POW camp at Point Lookout, Md.

In January 1864, with few prospects of being exchanged and apparently having lost his fervor for the Southern cause, he accepted an offer to join the Union Army. He took an oath of allegiance to the Federal government and was mustered into the 1st U.S. Volunteer Regiment.

Eventually, the Union would have six regiments of former Rebels, which, if the regiments were full strength, means that about 6,000 Southerners changed sides. Those regiments were designated U.S. volunteer regiments because the members did not come from Union states. Other Union soldiers called their new brothers in arms “galvanized Yankees,” a derogatory term suggesting a lack of faith in the former Rebels’ depth of loyalty.

Hen’s new regiment was sent initially to Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va., for provost duties, but Gen. Ulysses S. Grant thought it was a bad idea having a regiment of former Rebels so close to the front, so in August 1864, the regiment was transferred to the West. Six companies, including Hen’s, went to Fort Rice on the Missouri River in the Dakota Territory to keep the Indians under control. They arrived in October 1864 and stayed a year. While there, Hen — like many other soldiers — got scurvy. Also during that time, his wife, Rebecca, died back in Hillsville.

Forgive and forget

After being mustered out of the Army in November 1865, Hen returned to Hillsville, where, in 1868, he married Julia Ann Goad, the widow of his cousin Robin, who had died in 1863 of illness (either a heart attack or fever) while serving in the Confederate Army. For the rest of their lives, Hen and Julia lived on the farm Julia had inherited from Robin. Julia had four children from her marriage to Robin, and she and Hen had seven more. I do not know who raised the daughter Hen had with his first wife.

One issue that intrigued me was whether Hen suffered any harassment or ostracism when he returned to his home in Virginia after changing sides during the war. I had assumed that, as a turncoat, he would have gotten a chilly reception. After all, many men from the region had died serving the Confederacy, including his cousin (his new wife’s first husband) and two of his brothers, who perished on the same day at Resaca, Ga.

However, according to his granddaughter, who still lives in Hillsville, he had no serious trouble. Apparently, his friends and relatives were willing to forgive and forget. He probably benefited by being from the mountains because people from the mountainous regions of the South tended to be far less committed to the Rebel cause than lowlanders.

This was partly because mountain people generally didn’t own slaves. Even to this day, there are few black people in those areas. Hen also was helped, his granddaughter says, by having a friendly personality and being very kind and deeply religious. It is difficult to stay angry at a genuinely nice person.

Federal pension

In 1883, Hen applied for and was given a pension of $8 a month by the federal government for his service in the U.S. Army. His pension was suspended for a couple of years in the 1890s when Congress decided it did not like the idea of giving money to former Rebels, but the pension was restored when Congress decided that even former Rebels deserved a pension if they had served honorably in the U.S. Army.

In 1896, Hen applied for a larger pension on the grounds that he was disabled because of the scurvy he had contracted while stationed at Fort Rice.

As bureaucracies everywhere tend to do, the pension bureau conducted a long and careful investigation of his application. His statement was taken, doctors examined him, and depositions were taken from people who had served with him. (An inch-thick folder on his case can still be found in the National Archives, and it makes fascinating reading; some of Hen’s old comrades obviously had forgotten him, but that did not deter them from talking at length about their adventures together.)

In the end, his application was denied. The doctors concluded that although Hen had many medical problems, they were not caused by scurvy. The fact that he lived another 20-plus years — he died in 1919 at 94 — suggests that he was not in too bad shape. Furthermore, his granddaughter reports that he walked everywhere right up to the end of his life.

An amazing life

Reviewing the life of Henderson Goad makes me feel humble and weak but fortunate. He was an ordinary man, a private soldier who encountered and dealt with more great difficulties in a few years during and immediately after the Civil War than most of us see in a lifetime.

He fought in several bloody battles; spent five months on the run from the authorities; spent another six months as a POW; turned his back on his comrades and joined the Union Army; spent a year at a remote outpost, during which time he got scurvy and lost his wife; and returned home to marry his cousin’s widow and try to put his life back together.

He must have been a tough old bird, but apparently he also was a very nice man. I wish I had met him. Tom Brokaw has called the people who fought and won World War II the “greatest generation.” I think the men who fought the Civil War could lay equal claim to that title.

Henry Borger lives in Laurel. He is a retired engineer who worked at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington for most of his career. After his retirement, he wrote and published “The Corporate Prince,” a business-oriented adaptation of Machiavelli’s famous handbook on statecraft, “The Prince.”

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