The Impact of the Civil War on the 21st Century
On May 2, 1862, my life changed forever. Yes, I said May 2, 1862, not 1962. It was a rather quiet day around Yorktown, Virginia, where just eight decades before the Revolutionary War was about to spiral to its climax. Confederate forces were fanning outward from Richmond in a series of defensive positions across the peninsula of Virginia. Union forces were engaging in their final troop movements to make what was believed to be the first, and hoped by Union generals to be the last, offensive action of the Civil War.
Just how did that day change my life? First let me point out that my story is personal, the subject of my story was my third great-grandfather. His importance beyond his local community and family was of no consequence to the greater world. I tell this story to illustrate that during the Civil War, our lives and the lives of all generations to come were forever altered during the fifteen hundred day war in which more Americans were killed than in any other war in the history of our nation.
I first saw his name written in my grandmother Thompson’s tablet. She had carried her pencil with her when she visited the grave of her great-grandfather. It simply read, Asa Gordon Braswell, born January 13, 1827, died May 2, 1862. Carefully written along the notations of the span of his life were the words, “Remember me as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, soon you will be. Prepare for death, and follow me." I was still a young teenager, far from the time I would become enveloped into the quest for determining where I came from. His name fascinated me. Who was this man? What did he look like? What happened in the mere thirty-five years that he was alive. My grandmother’s notes didn’t reveal who his parents were. I only knew that his son John Arthur Braswell came to the area around Kea’s Church east of Adrian sometime after the war. Through the genes of his son, his namesake grandson Asa Gordon Braswell, II, great granddaughter Claudie B. Thompson and great-great grandson H. Dale Thompson, I am here now writing what you are reading.
More than a quarter of a century ago I set out to discover the lives of the Braswell family, a name which I carry along with two other surnames of my heritage. Asa was born in Washington County to Arthur and Patience Pearce Braswell. The Braswells weren’t particularly wealthy, though they did have a moderately sized farm adjoining Piney Mount Methodist Church below Tennille along the Old Savannah Road.
Like many boys of his day he worked on the farm. At the age of sixteen, he married Jane Ellen Bridges. Many of the families in this area had migrated along a trek from eastern North Carolina to Georgia during the early 1800s. Asa and Jane were founding members of Piney Mount Church when it was established in 1847. When he was about to come of age, the Braswells and many other families in the community set out to go to Texas, where the lands were said to have been fertile and jack rabbits were as big as dogs. After an arduous journey of several months, the caravan reached the Mississippi River. Asa’s mother had become seriously ill. She could go no further. A few days later, she died and was buried. The family, without the guidance and care of the mother, moved on. Asa and Jane’s two-year-old son George died as well. The family made it to Texas, only to find it wasn’t the paradise they had been led to believe. With the heart of their family stolen away by the angel of death, Arthur and Asa decided to return home to Washington County.
In the 1850's Asa began to serve his community. Because of the lack of court records there is no direct evidence to prove that Asa was a lawyer. His children always said that he did practice law. In the days before certification by the state, a man could practice law by studying the law, apprenticing under a lawyer or judge, and appearing before three lawyers to prove his ability to practice law. During the years 1853 through 1855 and possibly before that time, Asa G. Braswell operated a general store near his home. He sold all types of dry goods and merchandise to Mary Peacock, Guardian of the minor children of Asa P. Peacock. The goods were clothing, candles, postage stamps, eggs, fish hooks, hardware, pencils, cake, and pills. Some of the more unusual items furnished for minor children were whiskey, tobacco, cigars, and snuff. In 1856 his brother, William M. Braswell, took over the operation of the store.
In 1855 Asa G. Braswell was elected Tax Commissioner of Washington County. The following year Asa was elected to represent the people of Washington County in the Georgia Legislature and was appointed to the House Committees on Public Education, the State Penitentiary and the Committee on New Counties. He also served as a trustee of Indian Hill School which was located on the hill at the intersection of Highway 15 and Indian Hill Road and Road Commissioner of Washington County.
Asa and Jane Braswell lived on a 600-acre farm , a fourth of which was cultivated, place on the Old Savannah Road. The farm implements and equipment were worth $200.00. Asa's livestock, valued at $600.00, consisted of 15 cows, two horses, six mules, two milk cows, and 50 hogs. During the 1859-60 crop year Asa produced 40 bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of corn, 4800 pounds of ginned cotton, 10 bushels of peas and beans, 100 bushels of sweet potatoes, 50 pounds of butter, and 2 tons of hay. To help him work his farm, Asa used a 48-year-old male slave, a 24-year male and a woman, who was probably his wife. A ten-year-old boy was the family’s only other slave. His father employed a young slave couple and their child. The low number of slaves was common among most farmers, who primarily used slaves to farm on a small scale and to help with household chores.
All of our lives began to change on April 12, 1861 with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, S.C.. Though Washington Countians had favored remaining in the Union and seeking cooperation on the issue of slavery in the western states, the county produced more volunteers per capita than any other county in Georgia. On April 29, 1861, Asa was appointed ensign of the Irwin Volunteers of the Georgia Militia, which was formed in defense of the state and named for of Gov. Jared Irwin of Washington County. The Company prepared for battle at their muster grounds at Langmade's Mill one mile south of Sandersville on July 17, 1861. They also trained at Camp Stephens near Griffin before going on to Richmond, Virginia.
2nd Lt. Asa Braswell served as the Recruiting Officer and Assistant Quarter Master. Asa Gordon Braswell died of disease in a military hospital on May 2, 1862 in the vicinity of Yorktown. More of the deaths in Confederate ranks in the first year of the war came as a result of disease and not battlefield wounds. Unlike many who died during the war, Asa’s body was returned by train and interred in the Peacock Cemetery near Peacock’s Cross Roads with full military and Masonic honors. My family would never be the same again. John Arthur was held out of service by his mother until he reached eighteen. He joined the reserves and saw action in the defense of Macon. He accompanied the retreating Confederate army after Gen. Sherman’s 60,000 man right wing marched ravaged through the heart of his homeland. He stole a horse in South Carolina and returned home when he became sick of washing undigested grains of corns out of horse manure just to get something to eat.
What would have happened had Asa Gordon Braswell lived? Who knows? No one ever will. Though slightly different, whether you were a descendant of a soldier, a noncombatant or a slave, the story of 2nd Lt. Asa Gordon Braswell, C.S.A. and your stories are all the same. They are all inextricably linked to those times more than fourteen decades ago when the deaths of more than a half million others and well as the lives and fates of tens of millions of other Americans were forever altered as they were funneled through the vortex of the Civil War.