WWilliam Graham's War Between the States

Shrouded Past Revealed

Following the death of Libbie Graham in 1910, family knowledge of the ancestral life in Ireland seemed to have faded from memory. Up until the 21st Century, descendants of William Graham only knew that he immigrated from County Tyrone, Ireland and had served in the American Civil War. There was also a vague idea that he been captured and imprisoned in Libby Prison sometime during that service.

Previously Unknown Letters

Notre Dame University

In August 2008, while searching the Internet, a cousin made a discovery which began filling this memory vacuum. During a web search using the name 'William Graham' he came upon a website maintained by Notre Dame University. This site indicated that Notre Dame held in its library 16 letters written by William Graham during the Civil War. A quick perusal of the accompanying description supported the conclusion that these letters were written by my great grandfather. An additional letter was discovered at the Schuyler County Historical Society. Attempts to follow up on the original source for these letters were unsuccessful.

Letters sent by William GrahamThe letters provided three key pieces of new information;

  • William's sister, cousin and father lived in Schuyler County, New York,
  • the name of his sister was Libbie, and
  • the name of his cousin was Dr. Robert Bell.

A search of the Schuyler County genealogy site using the Bell name brought up a 1903 "Biographical Record of Schuyler County, NY" with a lengthy entry for Dr. Robert Bell, including his family and life prior to settling in the county. His father was William Bell and mother was Elizabeth Graham, who had died in 1846.

Using the 1855 New York Census, I was able to discover that a man named James Graham (age 67), who I assumed was William's father, was living with William Bell. William Bell was James' brother-in-law. At the time of the 1860 Census, James Graham (age 70) was living next door to William Bell.

Given the relative commonality of the names, the fact that Schuyler County was one of the smallest in population in the State of New York helped tremendously in this search endeavor. Interestingly, Schuyler County's population today is less than what it was in 1860 at the start of the Civil War.

With the digital letter images (kindly sent to me by Notre Dame University) and the additional information I was able to discover on the web, the first version of this website was created.

Incidentally, William Graham's official war record says nothing about him being captured by Confederacy forces or being made a prisoner at Libby Prison or elsewhere. I suspect that in the family telling over time a confusion arose between the names 'Libbie' and 'Libby' and William's hospitalization for some nine months during the war.

Luck and a Bureaucrat's List

In early 2011 a new source of information on Civil War soldiers compiled just after the end of the war came online. This was the New York, Town Clerks' Registers of Men Who Served in the Civil War, ca 1861-1865. The New York Laws of 1865 required each town clerk, upon receiving "suitable blanks" from the chief of the State's Bureau of Military Record, "to make out a full and complete record of the names of all the soldiers and officers who composed his town's quotas of the troops furnished to the United States."

In a search for 'William Graham' I came upon an entry for Chemung County. Chemung County is adjacent and southeast of Schuyler. The entry was for the only William Graham who served with Company B of the 107th NY Regiment. William was then a farmer resident of Horseheads, with a postal address in Weston, Schuyler County. Other than confirming that his father's name was James, no other information regarding his heritage was provided. Although the form asked for his time and place of birth, only 'Ireland' had been entered. The place for his mother's name was blank. It was another frustration in my search for information on my great grandfather's origins.

Steuben County farm scene.

In November of 2011 (and late at night) I was searching again, as I had periodically, for information on William Graham. This time the Town Clerk's Register showed another entry that looked promising. The residence here was in Wayne, Steuben County, adjacent on the west to both Chemung and Schuyler Counties. A quick check confirmed that this entry also was for the correct William Graham. Seemed like he had worked on two farms in two adjacent counties during the period when the register was compiled. He thus turned up in two places. My luck was that the compiler in Steuben County was more thorough than the one from Chemung.

The entry for Steuben County indicated William was born in County Down, Ireland, thus narrowing it down a bit. A birth date was given - August 18, 1836 - although it was off by three years as had become William's custom. His mother's name was not blank, but actually named Jane Shaw. I was ecstatic, maybe I finally had enough information to delve into William's Irish heritage.

Searching the Irish Records

I had previously tried searching Irish records for information on William and his family. I had found birth records for various William Grahams around the right year, but not knowing the mother's name nor the county of birth, a definite determination was impossible. As things turned out, none of the prior potential records were correct. Emerald Isle Roots presents the findings regarding William's Irish origin and ship passage to America enabled by the new birth and mother information from the New York Civil War soldier list discussed above.

Seven New letters

DFuke UniversityIn November 2011, I searched another possible location for documents relating to William Graham in the Civil War. This was the World Catalog or Worldcat, the world's largest catalog. There I found this entry for Duke University - "Papers, 1862-1863. by Libbia Graham; William Graham".

I decided to contact Duke's Rubenstein Library on the chance that the name 'Libbia' was a typographic error, and that these were more of the letters from William Graham to his sister Libbie. My hunch was quickly confirmed. The library possessed seven letters from my great grandfather written between November 20, 1862 and March 26, 1863. The letters were purchased in the 1960s from an antique shop in Charleston, South Carolina which no longer exists. Those Duke University letters, where they provide new information, are now incorporated into this website.

H Graem © 2011