Sunday, April 28, 2013

Albert McAfee, Soldier

On April 27, 2013, a memorial service was held at the Upper Cedar Creek Cemetery in Cedar Creek, Texas, to honor the memory of Confederate Army veterans buried in both the Upper and Lower Cemeteries.  The following is a biography of my great-great grandfather Albert McAfee, who is buried there and which I delivered as part of the memorial service.

The family members who have received my Family Reunion newsletter over the years may recognize this biography as taken from a longer article that appeared in the Summer 2000 issue.  

    When I think of the pioneers in my ancestry, one of the first names that comes to mind is Albert McAfee, my great-great grandfather, buried just over there.  His journey to this place of rest was a long and exciting one.  My grandmother could remember snatches of his stories involving Indian fighting and blizzards survived and tragedy endured, but as it turns out, she only knew the tip of the iceberg.  No one thought to record his stories  - after all the little grandchildren at his knee thought he was an old man living in the past.  So the clues were scarce as I began researching my McAfee lineage, and it proved exceedingly difficult to make a connection between the fragmented stories and the local history books. 

     But, when I finally turned the correct rock over and uncovered the story of Albert McAfee, I realized that this man had traveled far and seen much on his way to Bastrop County, Texas.

     I think it would be safe to say that it was a cold day in Linn County, Iowa, on December 11, 1849, when Albert was born to parents Jacob and Lavina McAfee.  He joined 3 older brothers William, Charles, and James.  Ultimately there would arrive four additional younger brothers:  Henry Clay, Jacob, Eugene and George.  Seven brothers in all.

    Sometime around 1860, the family pushed a bit further west and settled in Livingston County, Missouri, just before the outbreak of the War.  Shortly after the move, mother Lavina died of unknown causes (possibly childbirth) in July 1861.

    Local sentiment regarding the war was widely divided in Livingston County.  The Secessionists were in the majority and were the aggressive faction.  The Unionists were passive, but watchful of their opportunity to move.  In June of 1861, control of Livingston County was taken by Federal troops who realized the importance of protecting the railroad.  The southern troops, having received notice that the Federal troops were approaching, made their exit just in time.  By the fall, Livingston County men were being organized into official Federal regiments.  Father Jacob enlisted as a Union private in Company F of the 18th Missouri Volunteer Infantry on September 25, 1861.  Jacob was not to see any real time in service to his country, however, as he died a month after enlistment from measles.

   The McAfee brothers were now orphans, ranging in age from 16 to toddler.  Albert was 11.  And War was kicking into high gear.  I guess it was inevitable that the older boys of the family would elect to join the fighting.  Brother Charles chose to enlist as a Union soldier, joining their father’s unit.  The next eldest, James, became part of the Livingston County Home Guard, taking the Union side as well.

     But Albert decided to enlist in service to the Confederacy, signing up July 3, 1861, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  What was Albert doing so far away from his family and serving for the opposite side?  His granddaughter/my grandmother remembered a story about he and (an unidentified) “Uncle Jack” making several attempts to enlist but being turned down for their size.  Perhaps they just kept on moving down the road making try after try until Albert finally hit upon the idea of eating bananas and drinking water to bring his weight up to an acceptable level and “Uncle Jack”, whoever he was, overcame a height requirement by stuffing papers into over-sized boots.  I guess their determination finally overcame the obstacles and at the tender age of 11, Albert became a teamster in the Pointe Coupee Artillery.

    The younger McAfee brothers ended up being relocated to the homes of various relatives and neighbors in and near Livingston County and lived their lives out in Missouri.  Most of them died young.  Charles, James and Albert all survived the War and returned to northern Missouri when the War ended.  Charles and James would eventually migrate to northern California and live long, productive lives.

   But Albert again took a different path.  How Albert spent his time immediately following the end of the war is up for conjecture, but on October 17, 1868, he was in Iola, Kansas, where he signed up for a 6-month term of service with the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, a locally recruited unit raised by Kansas Governor Crawford to assist in the control of the Indians along the western borders of Kansas and Oklahoma.  Albert was 19 years old when he enlisted with the Kansas Volunteers. He is described as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with dark hair, fair skin and light blue eyes.  (By the way, the minimum age requirement was 21.  Albert seems to have pulled a fast one on the recruiters yet again.)  

     The 19th Kansas consisted of 1200 men, mustered into service in Topeka in October 1868.  They departed Topeka on November 5th, headed for Indian County, specifically to aid Gen. George Armstrong Custer who was engaged in fighting the Indians along the Washita River  in Oklahoma.

     Hostilities between the whites and Indians in Kansas had intensified in the post-civil war period leading up to 1868.  In 1864, Col. Chivington led an attack at Sand Creek, Colorado, resulting in the indiscriminate slaughter of Indian braves, women and children.  In return, the Cheyenne, Arapahoe ,Kiowa and some Pawnees and Omahas, committed many atrocities against the white settlers, including murder, rape and property destruction.  Governor Crawford, having made several pleas for help from the federal government, finally received authorization from Lt. General W. T. Sherman to call up a regiment of State volunteers to help protect the settlers.

     The 19th Kansas Volunteers headed south to join Custer, Albert as a member of Company C, and ran full-tilt into freezing cold and snowy conditions that made progress difficult.  Many of the men were on foot and marching through snow that at times was 20 inches deep.  Unable to find their way to Camp Supply on schedule, they missed out on Custer’s infamous raid at the Washita on November 27th.  The volunteers would return with Custer to the battlefield a few days later to search for a missing Capt.  Elliott and some of his men, whose bodies would be recovered along with the bodies of a white woman and child.   The bodies of the federal soldiers were enough to inspire the men of the 19th to thirst for a good fight with the Indians to avenge the deaths of their comrades.

     However, the men of the 19th never saw any real Indian fighting, try as they did to find some.  There were opportunities to observe Indians who were gathered up in prepara-tion of moving them to reservations, but no opportunity ever arose for the men to get their revenge.  There was, however, a lot of time spent marching in pursuit of Indians who for the most part managed to stay ahead of them.

      In addition to cold weather, the men of the 19th also endured bouts of hunger, at times bordering on starvation.  Sometimes there would be fresh venison or other wildlife available, but there was also the occasional need to resort to eating the horses who fell by the way side .

     The men of the 19th did get the opportunity for one major drive against the Indians.  Word had come that two white women were being held by a group of Indians that the troops were trailing.  When the Indian encampment was in sight, the men were ordered to stand and wait while Custer negotiated for the release of the women. The men stood their ground for several days, desperately hoping the orders would be issued to fight the Indians, but the orders never came.  Custer finally obtained the release of the two women by threatening to execute the Indian chiefs with whom he had been negotiating.   The 19th at least had the satisfaction of rescuing two of their own kind, though by much more peaceful means than they had hoped.

     The men were mustered out in Kansas City a couple of weeks after the rescue.  For all the cold, deprivation and starvation suffered for six months, not to mention never having the satisfaction of engaging the enemy, each man received about $100.

     I would love to know what Albert was up to during the next few years.  My vivid imagination conjures up visions of gold prospecting in California or silver mining in Colorado.  At this point, I have a hard time visualizing a young Albert content with life on the farm.  However, he seemed to be ready to settle down by 1878, when he obtained a homestead in Prairie County, Arkansas, and married Johnnie Elizabeth Underwood on July 25th.  Albert and Johnnie Elizabeth had one daughter, my great-grandmother Nettie.  When Nettie was 9 months old, Johnnie Elizabeth suffered a miscarriage.  Albert went for help, but Johnnie Elizabeth began hemorrhaging and died before he returned.     Albert is said to have gone away for awhile, leaving Nettie in the care of neighbors.  When he returned, he married Mary Brock, the young lady who had taken care of Nettie in his absence.  Mary’s sister Angelina was married to a Confederate veteran, Jacob Alexander Beck, and in 1882, the two couples pulled up stakes and moved to Travis County, Texas.  Jacob Beck would open a butcher shop close to downtown Austin and Albert worked there for a time.  Daughter Nettie would tell her children about watching the construction of the State Capitol building close by as she stood outside the butcher shop.

    Albert and Mary had 5 children together:  daughters Cora, Lillie and Pearl and sons Albert and Jesse.  For a time they lived in Del Valle.  Then in 1902, daughter Nettie was a young widow and married Burl Mason, himself a widower, and moved to Cedar Creek where Burl was foreman of the Trigg Ranch.  It must have been shortly after that when Albert and Mary followed them to Bastrop County and there they remained for the rest of their lives.  Mary McAfee died in Cedar Creek on February 3, 1917, and is buried next to Albert.  Son Jessie would go to Europe and fight in World War I, returning safely but succumbing to typhoid fever shortly after his return.  He is buried next to his parents, just over there.  Albert would begin splitting his time among his children, staying in their homes and regaling those grandchildren with the stories of his youthful adventures.  He always brought with him his trunk full of his belongings.  I would give my eye teeth to know what happened to that trunk, but no one seems to know where it went.

     At the time of his death, Albert was living in Cedar Creek, probably staying with daughter Nettie as he had done on several occasions.  (He did not enjoy living with Nettie, as she disapproved of his gambling habits and made sure to latch onto his pension payment when it arrived before he had a chance to lose it.)

     The official death certificate indicates the cause of death on October 17, 1926, to be old age and influenza.   A brief obituary was printed in the Bastrop Advertiser, short and to the point and totally omitting any details that would indicate what a full, adventurous life Albert had lived or how far he had traveled before he became a quiet farmer of Bastrop County.


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