Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“We are all officers now!”

Posted in Education, Memory by Andy Hall on August 16, 2010

Almost a hundred years ago, an old Texas veteran with the improbable name of Valerius Cincinnatus Giles passed away, leaving a sprawling, fragmentary memoir of his Civil War service. A half-century and a lot of editing later, it was finally compiled and published as Rags and Hope, a volume that has since become a classic among Civil War enlisted soldiers’ autobiographies. In closing Giles wrote:

It is over, and we are all officers now!
It’s General That and Colonel This
And Captain So and So.
There’s not a private in the list
No matter where you go.

The men who fought the battles then,
Who burned the powder and lead,
And lived on hardtack made of beans
Are promoted now—or dead.

I suspect that, in writing these lines, Giles may have been thinking of a relative of mine, Lawrence Daffan. They must have known each other well. Both served in the Fourth Texas Infantry (Giles in Co. B; Daffan in Co. G), both were captured within a few weeks of each other in late 1863 during the Chattanooga Campaign, and both were active in veterans’ organizations after the war.  Lawrence’s daughter Katie, who was prominent in UDC activities and served at the time as superintendent of the Confederate Woman’s Home in Austin, made a big show at Giles’ funeral of placing a small Confederate flag in the dead man’s hands. Cou’n Katie always did have a flair for dramatic gestures.

But beyond Giles’ amusing (and somewhat poignant) rhyme, Daffan is a perfect example of the pitfalls that await the modern researcher, and it underscores the importance of searching out contemporary records. In Lawrence Daffan’s case, everyone in the family “knew” that he had served as an officer, and even his obituary gave his name as “Col. L. A. Daffan.”

But he was never actually an officer. In fact, he wasn’t even a non-com. He was a buck private from the day he enlisted in March 1862 to the day he was released from the PoW camp at Rock Island, Illinois in 1865. He came to be known as “Colonel” Daffan because he was active in veterans’ groups after the war, and the UDC  gave him that as an honorary title. He apparently liked it, and used it, to the extent that by the time he died in 1907, everyone in town as well as his family “knew” that he’d served as an officer. Lots of contemporary publications repeat the title. That was accepted as a given for over a century until, just recently, I bothered to look up his actual service record and discovered it wasn’t true.

This is important to would-be researchers because in Daffan’s case, because family oral tradition, Daffan’s obituary and other postwar sources all confirm one another, that he was a former officer. But he wasn’t, and one has to go back to the original records to determine that.

So genealogists and would-be historians, perform due diligence. Don’t assume you “know” something about your ancestor unless you can document it, because there’s a good chance you’re wrong. Do the research. Your work will be better for it when you do.

Image: Veterans of the Philadelphia Brigade Association and the Pickett’s Division Association shake hands across the stone wall over which they’d fought fifty years before, July 3, 1913. Pennsylvania State Archives.