Friday, August 13, 2010

The Double Life of a Confederate Soldier

Benjamin Martin Braxton,
Confederate or Union Soldier?
I've been dabbling a bit in genealogy lately, trying to solve some of the puzzling stories about my family history, and instead I've come up with even more puzzles. Along the way, I re-connected with my cousin Della, and then discovered another more distant cousin Della. So now the three of us dream of meeting in Southern Mississippi-Alabama to research together, with me introducing us: "Hi, I'm Delle, and this is my cousin Della, and this is my other cousin Della."

But that's just an aside. I really want to tell you about our mutual puzzling ancestor, Benjamin Braxton, a man who appears to have led two lives and gotten away with it.

Years ago I overheard a visitor-possibly a relative- tell my mom and grandmom a story about an ancestor , a Confederate Army officer with a wife and child, who had disappeared in the war and was presumed dead. Years later his son had found his father living in Florida with a wife and several children, but when confronted, the man denied  having any family in Alabama. After the "son" returned home, his mother told him to just let it go because there were children involved. I remember the visitor showing Mom and Grandmom pictures, but I was sort of on the sidelines and didn't get to see them. I do remember them debating with my aunt and grandfather about what the real truth might be. And I remember that somehow this was all related to my great-grandmother, who was deceased by this time.

Fairly recently we all came upon a rpadblock in our ancestral hunts, and it was at this time the three of us found each other. It was all over a man named Benjamin Braxton. Then I remembered the strange visitor with the photos who had come to my grandmother's house. It looked to me like the two stories might represent the same person.
Martha Lambert, Ben's "real" wife
My two cousins Delle and I all confessed confusion over this man because we had so little information on Benjamin. Was the story true, or a family myth? Did he have two wives or one? At the same time? Was there a divorce? Was one of the marriages not legal? Was my great-grandmother really his daughter, since she wasn't listed on any of the census records of his family?

Then we discovered there were stories about Ben being a Union soldier. But there were also stories about him being a  Confederate soldier. Was he both? A deserter? A traitor? And  if he was also a bigamist--what was he thinking?

Della Y came up with some pictures and information that said he was a Confederate private, along with two of his brothers, as well as the photo of Benjamin in CSA uniform. Della N found our great-grandmother's death certificate that confirmed she had gone by the maiden name Braxton (that, too, had been in question). But she had also used the last name Lambert at one time.

Then I read something about a Union fort, Fort Barrancas, near Pensacola. I hadn't realized that parts of Florida had remained strong in Union sympathies. So I checked Union Army records on the internet. Also looked up Fort Barrancas and Fort Pensacola. There I found Benjamin and his two brothers, complete with a physical description. But they had all joined the 1st Cavalry of Fort Pensacola on the same day, surprisingly late in the war, December 31, 1863.

Margaret Lambert Braxton
Norton,  my g-g-grandmother
Benjamin Braxton, at 5'8", was the middle brother, and also in between in height, between his 5' 10" older brother and 5'4" younger one. He was dark skinned, black hair and brown eyes, where the two brothers were fair skinned, one with dark hair and yes and one a blue-eyed blond. Their parents had lived in Alabama but moved to that very wild Florida Peninsula area around 1851 when they received a land grant, when Ben was around 10-11 years old. On the map, the distance is barely 15-20 miles from Geneva, Alabama, where Mary Crowder lived, so some connection with the area would be within reason. On the Florida census rolls, Ben and his wife Martha Lambert Braxton married in 1866 and didn't have children till 1867.

But supposedly he married, using the name John William Braxton, in 1861 to Mary Crowder, and a son was born within a year, before Ben went off to war. Suspicious, huh? And another question formed. Was my g-grannie, born in 1866, illegitimate, possibly raised by her maternal grandparents, the Lamberts, perhaps? She used that name too, and apparently had come from Florida, but I don't know where. Was she Martha's child, or Mary's? Or maybe some other woman's?

Mary Crowder, Ben's supposed first wife
And the instant I saw his photo, I was confronted with yet another puzzle. My instant thought was, This man is Cherokee. He just plain looked Cherokee to me. I had been looking for a Native American ancestor, but he was my great-great-great grandfather, a Choctaw named Mihatima (real spelling and White Man's Name unknown). Benjamin's parents originated in Cherokee country, not Choctaw country, so it wouldn't be surprising if he were Cherokee, and Della Y says people often comment that she looks Native American. She bears a strong resemblance to Benjamin, and also his wife Martha who has that same high cheekboned flat face. Choctaws tend to have a more rounded face, like my grandmother, who was the last member of my family to be a member of the Mississippi Choctaw Nation. So why, if the family admits to an older Choctaw connection, wouldn't there be any mention of a newer Cherokee connection? Then again, maybe he wasn't Cherokee, or Native American at all.

We will probably never have all the pieces. But we did find a piece of Florida history that is very eye-opening. It seems Ben and his brothers were Confederate deserters. But they weren't the only ones. An entire group of North Florida residents deserted around the same time. Dale Cox,
a very thorough researcher of Florida during the Civil War, presented an enlightening blog on the development of the 1st Cavalry at the Union Fort at Pensacola.

Settlement was pretty new there, and the people were quite independent, mostly subsistence farmers. In 1863 the Confederate general in charge of supply had over-reached his bounds in Florida and had stripped local farms bare, leaving families to starve. The soldiers from that area had mostly been conscripted, including Ben and his brothers. With the newly established Union Fort Barrancas at Pensacola being so close, a system developed to guide deserting Southern soldiers through the swamps to the fort. Ben and his brothers are known to have escaped, supposedly one captured, but he must have got away again because all three signed on to the fort's rosters together. The Union didn't know quite what to do with all these men, but ended up with the brand new 1st Cavalry of Pensacola, which officially was in business on the last day of 1863. A fourth brother joined them in 1864.

So Ben really was in two opposing armies. But his reason for deserting now appears much stronger. He didn't have children then, and hadn't married his official wife yet, but he had strong relationships with his family of origin. And he seemed to be in the same situation as a lot of others who lived in his area.

Ben's Pension - which wife got it?
But had he been married to an Alabama woman in the early 1860s and produced a child? We don't know. Perhaps that child was really illegitimate. He isn't on any census records we've found with the supposed first wife, Mary, and child, John William Braxton. We can't find any marriage records. And Mary claimed at one time to be widowed and another to be divorced. But that sort of thing isn't unusual in old census and other records. Further, after Ben died, she tried to claim his Union Army pension. We don't think she succeeded, but can't find that info either. Where was Ben between 1861 and 1863? Did he really use an alias of John William Braxton, as Mary claimed? Was Ben sneaky? Was Mary hornswoggled? Was Ben just a jerk? Or maligned? Or do we simply not know the real story?

But the big question still looms: What was that man thinking? If you've got any ideas, the Della-Della-Delles would sure like to know.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Paty Jager: Blog Tour Stop #5

Paty Jager is my guest today, telling us all about her exciting new book, SPIRIT OF THE MOUNTAIN. She has an interesting puzzle and contest, which she's mentioned beneath her excerpt. Be sure to check it out. She's doing a bit of journeying today, but be sure to leave a comment and she'll get back to you.

Delle, Thank you for having me here today to talk about Spirit of the Mountain, a historical paranormal releasing this Friday the 13th!

This is the first book of a trilogy set among the Nez Perce of the Wallowa Valley in NE Oregon. I have sibling spirits and each one has their own story and how they fall in love with a mortal. I kept the day to day life of the Nimiipuu factual and inserted all the fun spirit stuff, which is only a figment of my imagination. While the Nez Perce did believe in spirits and the Creator, I have made up my own sense of how the Creator and the spirits in my books influenced the band and my characters.

Nez Perce were animists; They believed that everything in creation- animals, birds, fish, rocks, trees, stars, plants and all natural phenomena- had spirits or a supernatural side that appeared to humans in visions and could influence them for good or harm. I took this notion and brought good and bad spirits to life in my book. With this ingrained belief in their society it was easy to make my heroine believe in the hero when she sees him for the first time as a man and realizes he is the wolf she has been talking to about her fears.

Blurb for Spirit of the Mountain
Wren, the daughter of a Nimiipuu chief, has been fated to save her people ever since her vision quest. When a warrior from the enemy Blackleg tribe asks for her hand in marriage to bring peace between the tribes, her world is torn apart.

Himiin is the spirit of the mountain, custodian to all creatures including the Nimiipuu. As a white wolf he listens to Wren’s secret fears and loses his heart to the mortal maiden. Respecting her people’s beliefs, he cannot prevent her leaving the mountain with the Blackleg warrior.

When an evil spirit threatens Wren’s life, Himiin must leave the mountain to save her. But to leave the mountain means he’ll turn to smoke…

She knew not of this man. He was not from any of the Nimiipuu tribes. He would not have gone unnoticed. She had heard stories of a band with flaxen hair who lived before the coming of the horse in the area far beyond the River of Many Bends.
Could he be of that band? If so, why was he here, on this mountain?
“Come, Wren,” he bid in a deep, soothing voice.
She started forward at his command then stopped. How did he know her name?
Wren moved a foot backward to step into the trees and run if necessary. “How do you know me?”
“Your friend called you that.” His gaze never left her face. She stared into his eyes, recognition flashed, warming her to her toes.
His presence didn’t threaten her. It puzzled her. Why did he stand in the clearing where she met the wolf? She took a step forward.
“You are called?”
“Himiin,” he said with a slight tip of his head.
Wolf. She stared in disbelief. Was he the wolf?
She gazed into his eyes. The recognition she saw within the depths set her heart racing. How could he be? It was not possible.
“You have received bad news?” His light blue eyes turned a deep blue, showing her he was the wolf she sought.
But how could this be?
She took a step back, unsure of this man and the turmoil within. Her mind grasped at all the tales told by the elders around the winter campfires.
Many stories told of shape shifters and how they showed themselves to only a few. Could her wolf be a shape shifter? If so, could this be a sign about her future? Her heart thudded in her chest. If he truly was the wolf, he knew everything about her, and she knew nothing of him.
“How do you come to be both man and wolf?” Her father always told her she asked too many questions, but this seemed a very good time to ask many.
“I am the spirit of the mountain.” He shrugged.
“The creator has given me the ability to take many forms.”
“How is it you have come to me?” She took a step forward. The warmth of his voice and unguarded stance drew her.
Fifth Puzzle Piece
“You came to me. I merely tended my wounds, when you came upon me.”
She gulped in air and choked.
He was truly the wolf.

This is the fifth day of my six day blog tour that includes a puzzle and a prize. Copy the puzzle piece in this post to a document and collect all the pieces at the blogs I visit. Then when you have them all, send them to me at and I'll put your name in the drawing for a copy of Spirit of the Mountain and other goodies.  I'll draw the name and post it on my blog on Monday, August 16th. If you want to go back and check out all the blogs to join the contest, hop over to my blog and find the places I've been.

If you'd like to read more about me and my books or enter my website contest go to:

Delle, Thanks for having me!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blog Tour Contest Winner!

Well, life does have a way of side-swiping, doesn't it? I feel like I've been on the losing side of a 100 to 1 snowball fight. But things are doing better and I'm catching up.

Brandlwyne   # 6997
The winner of the glass necklace and ebook from 1Romance Ebooks! Fortunately for me this time, I actually have her contact information so I don't have to go hunting for it.

And for the others who posted comments on the blog, I will arrange a 50% gift coupon for any of my books on 1Romance EBooks. I am right now setting up my contact page again in such a way that the spam monsters can't find either you or me, and all you'll have to do is send me contact info through that.

About Me

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I write write write. Sometimes I travel. Then I write some more. And I have a great family who understand that I write write write.