Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Brothers and a War

Absorbing the sweeping panorama of the Taliaferro family history in rapid-fire succession of generations as I have been, I’ve fast-forwarded through quite a bit of family drama. Because I’m taking as methodical an approach as possible using an established genealogy, I’ve started with the siblings of my fifth great grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, reading forward through time in all the descendant branches.

Right now, I’m following the lines of Zachariah’s brother, Dr. John Taliaferro, born just three years after my ancestor’s 1730 arrival in colonial Virginia. Working through the descendants of John’s daughter Rose—no doubt named after his own mother, Rose Berryman—I have now been approaching the generation spanning the Civil War.

Reading through genealogies tends to subordinate major historical events to that dull—though constant—litany of name, date of birth, date of marriage to specified spouse, listed issue, and, eventually, date of death. The droning of that thrum, thrum, thrum through the ages almost obliterates the realization that those born in the 1840s were most certainly exposed to great upheaval in their young adult lives, twenty years later.

As I moved through the lines of Dr. John’s daughter Rose, the consecutive details on one page of the  genealogy shook me out of that hypnotic lethargy. Rose, who had married a man by name of Joseph Porter, had several children, though the task of documenting them had been challenging, as some from that generation of the family moved from Wilkinson County in Georgia to land in the southern region of Alabama.

Their (possibly) youngest child, Richard Porter, was one of the family who had left their home in Georgia. He and his wife, the former Mary Collins Paul, had at least eleven children.

As I reviewed the details from the genealogical record, I ran across three brothers, born consecutively around the early 1840s. James Henry Porter was born in 1839, followed by Julius Nicholas Porter in 1841 and John Ambrose Benjamin Porter in 1843.

In the book I was consulting—Willie Catherine Ivey’s Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. JohnTaliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro—each young man’s entry was followed by an extra comment: killed in Civil War.

Three sons in one family were lost in one war. I can hardly think of how a loss like that could have been borne. The news reached the family when the first one fell—Julius in January, 1862—and was followed later that same year with confirmation of Benjamin’s loss in August. Less than a year after that—in May, 1863—a third report carried news of the loss of the oldest of the three brothers, James.

I realize casualties like these were experienced by many other families as well—a combination of the prevalence of large families with lack of policy limiting any one family’s risk of losing several sons in military service. When you realize that over six hundred thousand soldiers lost their lives in this war—including an estimated thirty percent of all Southern white males between the ages of eighteen and forty—you gain an academic sense of the enormity of the carnage in those Southern states of my forebears.

What is not as easy to grasp, though, is the impact such tragedy must have had on the individual families living through those times. Reviewing the vital statistics as we in genealogy are wont to do—the litany of name, birth, marriage, death—seems to pass us through such details unscathed. It dulls our senses to the pain of life experiences.

Sometimes, though, despite the repetition, a glitch in the rhythm of life knocks us out of step. Three young sons in a row with names pinned next to premature dates of death can do that. Though this era was also a time filled with childhood deaths and deaths of young mothers, you know this kind of loss must have been received with a great deal of pain by their family, no matter how large it may have been.   


  1. It's easy to miss all they lived through unless you stop and look at what was happening around them isn't it? Then it's like a light going on. I wish I had known my family's history in the early colonies while I was still in high school!

    1. Ellie, for those who did learn about their ancestors while still in school, I know it augmented their interest in history lessons! Now, I find all sorts of happenings I hadn't considered--or even known about--surrounding the circumstances of my ancestors. It certainly provides an added incentive to absorb all this information. Sometimes, I come away from a history discovery with an entirely different viewpoint about a particular ancestor.

  2. So sad, think of the poor Mother learning her sons were dead:(

    1. Just the thought of it is too overwhelming for me!

  3. I am reminded of the five Sullivan brothers of WWII.

    No family should need to sacrifice this much for their country.

    1. I've always thought that was such a tragic story. Thanks for sending the link, by the way--I hadn't realized the brothers were subsequently used as poster boys for the war effort. Painful reminder. I wonder if that was with or without the family's consent...


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