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John Hilyard Family ca. 1909

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

52.11: Lucky; Harrison Reck

This post is part of a project called "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" created by Amy Johnson Crow.

The prompt for this week is Lucky; for next week it is Misfortune. I'll use these two prompts to tell you more about my great-great grandparents, William and Catharine (Murphy) Reck.

I blogged about William before; first about his Civil War service, and then some about his life after the war.

William (also called Harrison) Reck was 24 years old when he enlisted in 1861. He had married Catharine Murphy in 1859. At the time he enlisted, they had a son David, not quite two years old, and Catharine had just given birth to their son John less than one month before. He joined the 69th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. My earlier blog post highlighted some activities of this unit.
William Harrison and Catharine Murphy Reck
Last week, in March of 2018, I visited the Stones River National Battlefield near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Harrison Reck and his unit were in the thick of the fighting there. I read about the battle when writing my original post, but actually being there added a whole new dimension to my understanding of what these men went through.

The battle took place over three days. The men were encamped at the end of December 1862, knowing a battle was about to take place. They were ordered to have no campfires during this time. On New Year's Eve, though, the men were allowed to make fires in the morning, and enjoyed warming their hands and having some hot coffee. It was exactly at this time the Rebels attacked.

The men struggled to grab their weapons and form up. The fighting that day was incredible.  I studied the maps of where the different units were, and Harrison's Ohio 69th was very close to what became known as the Slaughter Pen. This was a rocky area with some deep crevicees where the Union soldiers hid and fired from.
The Slaughter Pen; my daughter is standing in one of the rocky cracks for scale
They became surrounded by Confederates and were ordered to retreat. As they came out of the rocks, it was easy for them to be picked off by the rebels. The rocks became slippery with blood, and bodies piled up. I am not sure Harrison was in this exact area but he was certainly near enough to know and see what was going on.

The Slaughter Pen was only a part of the horrors that day.  The Union was beaten down. New Year's Day finally dawned, though many men never slept that night. Both sides tended to their wounded and collected their dead. The Confederates felt certain they had won the day. However, due to the bravery of some units holding strong, reinforcements were able to arrive. The battle resumed the next day and led to a Union victory. Stones River was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

Harrison Reck's unit went on to other battles.  Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Missionary Ridge. Sherman's March to the Sea. Harrison, in spite of all the horrors he had to witness, was in some aspects a lucky man. First, he was a survivor. The second thing I learned at the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield.
Outside the Visitors Center at Kennesaw Mountain
Visiting Kennesaw Mountain wasn't even on my travel radar that day. We were driving home from Florida to Indiana, and Kennesaw happened to be shortly past the halfway point, so that's where we stayed. I thought we might stop by the park so my daughter could earn a Junior Ranger badge. A little research the night before showed I had two ancestors who had fought there: Thomas Hilyard and Ansel Wilson; and a third whose unit was there: William Harrison Reck. However, Harrison had been placed in the Veteran's Reserve Corps a few months earlier.

The person working the desk in the visitors center was most helpful. I gave her my ancestors' units, and she looked up where they would have been camped and fought. She marked them on a map for me and photocopied some other pages of information.  When we got to Harrison Reck's unit, she looked up at me and confirmed that he wasn't actually there.  I said correct, he was taken out of active combat duty already. "He was really lucky," was her reply.  She said his unit was located at Cheatham Hill, where the heaviest losses were during this battle. "He probably wouldn't have survived this."
Harrison Reck, blind in his old age, with his cane
If you ever get a chance to visit sites like this in person, take advantage of it.  The staff is eager to share their knowledge. Walk the fields, look at the museums. Think about what your ancestor saw. It had to be a life-changing experience.

Stones River National Cemetery

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