It started with a shoebox full of old papers. My sister had found an old shoebox tucked away by my grandfather for safekeeping and long forgotten. These were my grandfather’s documents. He had passed away years ago, and no one knew he had saved these papers. Now, by a stroke of fortune, they were found again. The shoebox contained birth certificates, death certificates, and a testimonial from a funeral service. These fragile documents were a testament to my family history. And, it is a history worthy of a story.
Ezekiel and Daniel Caldwell– The shoebox contained several birth and death certificates. Using Ancestry.com, I have been able to use the certificates to track my family history and build out this fork of the family tree. Daniel Caldwell was my grandfather’s great-grandfather. He is my 3rd great grandfather. Ezekiel Caldwell was his brother. The two men hailed from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Civil War- When Daniel joined the Union forces to fight in the Civil War in 1862, Ezekiel, wanting to serve with him, enlisted on the 29th day of August, 1862. It was not uncommon for siblings to serve with one another during the Civil War. For the Caldwell’s, they signed up with Company H. of the 13th Pennsylvania Volunteer Calvary, a unit also known as the “Irish Dragoons,” and would serve for three years. During these three years, the two men would endure being wounded, captured and some of the worst fighting of the Civil War.
Testimonial- One of the documents in the shoebox was booklet. It is a testimonial about Ezekiel Caldwell dated August 16, 1919. This booklet testimonial provides a fascinating timeline of Ezekiel’s time in the Union Army and a listing of the many battles that their unit participated in. Starting in September 24, 1862 the Caldwell’s saw action on almost a monthly basis. Serving as cavalry soldiers, the two men were often charged with scouting, raiding and harassing the enemy where and when they could be found. Some of the interesting combat noted include:
- April 22, 1863- General Jones’ Raid on the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road. Confederate General Jones launched a strike on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad network in an effort to cripple the railroad and deprive the Union forces of its use.
- May 8, 1864- The Battle of Spotsylvania. An inconclusive battle of the Civil War, the death toll would climb to almost 32,000 from both sides of the conflict.
- June 6, 1864- The Battle of Cold Harbor. A very costly battle for the Union, which lost nearly 12,000 soldiers here as Grant ordered his men to assault the entrenched confederate forces. Grant would later regret his decision to assault the confederates.
- February 7, 1865- Gravelly Run. Not a very significant battle in the Civil War, it was however, one of many battles that would contribute to the confederates losing this protracted battle over several locations to include Hatchers Run, Boydton Plank Road, and Stony Creek Station. And, it was the site of something very significant for my family.
Medal of Honor- One of the documents in this shoebox was a faded, yellowing page. The lettering was written in pencil, and at first glance, would seem to be an old letter, something that in today’s world of emails is hard to find. When we examined this letter, the very first thing that jumps out at the reader is the date- February 14, 1865.
The document is a “Special Order” recognizing Sargent Daniel Caldwell for gallantry in combat. Daniel, in the skirmish of Gravelly Run, Virginia, charged into the confederate forces and captured the colors of the 33rd North Carolina Infantry and along with the colors, five soldiers. For this act of bravery, Daniel would later receive the Medal of Honor and a promotion to second lieutenant. The “Special Order” is signed by General George D. Ruggles, on behalf of General Meade.
My great-great-great-grandfather, Daniel Caldwell, a Medal of Honor winner in the Civil War; now, that is a fascinating piece of family history. And, to think, the letter that prompted that award was hidden away in a shoebox.