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Saturday, September 29, 2012


The American Civil War was largely characterized by the saying “brother against brother.” Both North and South were fighting for what they believed in; and what was once a whole country was now divided. The term was used both symbolically and literally. Family members, friends, neighbors, and former classmates found themselves on opposite sides of the great issues of the day.

Divisions within families and between friends were a regular occurrence along the larger border states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri where allegiances were strongly divided. Each of these states supplied regiments to both sides. Brother against brother was frequently a literal fact. At the Battle of Front Royal in 1862, the 1st Maryland Infantry of the Confederate Army was commanded by Capt. William Goldsborough. The 1st Maryland Infantry of the Union Army was commanded by Captain Charles Goldsborough, William’s brother. Not only were both regiments from the same place, during the conflict William actually captured his brother Charles.

George Crittenden, a Confederate, and his brother Thomas Crittenden, a Federal, were both Major Generals in their respective armies (the photograph at right is of these brothers). After the war they never resolved their differences. Brothers James Terrill, a Confederate, and William Terrill, a Federal, were both Brigadier Generals and both died in combat. The son of Union General Philip Cooke, John Cooke, was a general in the Confederate Army. And Philip’s son-in-law was Lt. General J.E.B. Stuart, commander of Southern cavalry.

Enlisted brothers Frederick and Henry Hubbard chose different sides too. Both were wounded at the Battle of Bun Run and both ended up in adjacent beds in the same field hospital. Laura Jackson (pictured), the sister of Stonewall Jackson, was devoted to the Union and once said, “I’ll take care of the wounded Federals as fast as my brother Thomas could wound them.”

Even among the nation’s leaders, there was discord. Lincoln’s wife, the former Mary Todd, had close relatives who aligned themselves with the Confederacy; her sisters all married Confederate officers, and four brothers served in the Confederate Army, three died in battle. Beyond blood relatives, most of the higher ranking officers of both sides were either classmates at West Point or served together in the earlier Mexican War. They were on a first name basis and usually knew each other’s families.

Maybe the saddest of all divided family stories follows here. It was part of the memoirs of Union Captain D. P. Conyngham recorded in his book, “The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns” (pages 237-238). The incident took place during the Battle of Malvern Hill in 1862.

“I had a sergeant Driscoll, a brave man, and one of the best shots in the Brigade. When charging at Malvern Hill, a company was posted in a clump of trees, and kept up a fierce fire on us, and actually charged out on our advance. Their officer seemed to be a daring, reckless boy, and I said to Driscoll, ‘if that officer is not taken down, many of us will fall before we pass that clump.’

‘Leave that to me,’ said Driscoll; so he raised his rifle, and the moment the officer exposed himself again, bang went Driscoll, and over went the officer, his company at once breaking away.

“As we passed the place, I said, “Driscoll, see if that officer is dead - he was a brave fellow.’ I stood looking on. Driscoll turned him over on his back. He opened his eyes for a moment, and faintly murmured ‘Father,’ and closed them forever.

“I will forever recollect the frantic grief of Driscoll; it was harrowing to witness. The man was his son, who had gone South before the war.

“And what became of Driscoll afterwards? Well, we were ordered to charge, and I left him there; but, as we were closing in on the enemy, he rushed up, with his coat off, and, clutching his musket, charged right up at the enemy, calling on the men to follow him. He soon fell, but jumped up again. We knew he was wounded. On he dashed, but he soon rolled over like a top. When we came up he was dead, riddled with bullets.”

If you want to read some letters telling of families divided by the Civil War, Kentucky Educational Television has made several available at this link:

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