THE UNFOLDING JOURNEY is a new blog written in association with Legacy Genealogy.

This blog is a blend of disciplines that reveal the rich texture of culture and history that surrounded your ancestors' lives, as well as your own. We will take you beyond just the names, dates, and places to give you the "back story" for the reasons your ancestors thought what they thought and did what they did. We invite you to also visit us at the Legacy Genealogy facebook page at http://facebook.com/legacygenealogy

Monday, March 11, 2013


According to Old West fiction, she was a beautiful female “Robin Hood” who led a band of desperate men fighting for their personal independence and against the oppression of the law. But her true story is somewhat less romantic.
She was born Myra Maybelle Shirley in Carthage, Missouri, in 1848. Her parents were well off, owning an inn and livery business. During the Civil War, Missouri was a dangerous place. The Union Army attacked the town, and her older brother Bud, a Confederate, was killed when the house he was hiding in was surrounded by soldiers. From that time on, she loathed the Union soldiers and reported their movements to southern leaders. To avoid more bloodshed, her family made arrangements to move to Texas.

Before leaving Missouri, however, Belle Shirley had made a lifelong friendship with Cole Younger (and his three brothers) and Jesse James and Frank James. After the war, these men turned to lawlessness - robbing banks, trains, stagecoaches, and people across the west. They sometimes hid out at the Shirley farm in Texas, and Belle became very close with their gangs. Their influence was the major reason why Belle herself would turn to a life of crime. Belle was less than five feet tall and weighed about 90 pounds. She had a narrow, pinched face, an oversize nose, and a recessed chin. She was no beauty as fictionalized later.

In 1866, Belle married Jim Reed, a former Confederate guerilla she knew in Missouri. Their daughter, Pearl, was born two years later, although many believe the girl’s father was really Cole Younger. Two years after that, her son Ed, was born. Her husband just couldn’t cope with the bland farm life and fell in with bad company in the form of the Starr Clan. They were a Cherokee Indian family infamous for cattle and horse thievery in Oklahoma, as well as good friends of the Younger and James gangs. Later, Jim Reed shot a man in cold blood and fled with Belle and the two children to California. While there, he was accused of passing counterfeit money, and fled once more back to Texas.

A few years later, Jim Reed robbed a wealthy man of $30,000 in gold coins, and a reward was posted for his capture. The law caught up with him, and he was shot to death while trying to escape from custody. Belle was named an accomplice but there was no evidence to prosecute her. She went off to Dallas and allegedly lived off the stolen money. She wore buckskins and moccasins, black velvet skirts, high topped boots, a man’s Stetson hat with an ostrich plume, and a pair of holstered pistols. Belle spent most of her time in saloons, drinking and gambling. At times she would ride her horse through the streets shooting off her pistols. But truth and fiction may have been blurred by this time.

In 1880, Belle left her children with relatives and joined the Starr Clan in Arkansas. With them, she dedicated herself to crime. She organized, planned, and fenced for gangs of rustlers and bootleggers; and also hid them from the law. During this time, she married Sam Starr, a member of the clan - hence her most well known name “Belle Starr.” Belle and Sam were charged with horse theft, and a Ft. Smith judge, Isaac Parker (The Hanging Judge), was obsessed with bringing them to justice. The pair was caught and sentenced to a year in prison, but were released after nine months. They immediately returned to a life of crime. Sam was gunned down by an old enemy; and Belle held up a post office while dressed as a man. Belle reportedly said, “I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw.”

In order to remain on Indian land, which gave her some protection, Belle married a relative of Sam Starr, named Jim July Starr. In her later years, Belle Starr displayed severe mental problems. She was well known around Ft. Smith, Arkansas. With a long-barrel Colt strapped to her side, she strutted through the streets, proclaiming to all who would listen that she was the leader of an outlaw band.

In 1889, her lawless life came to a violent end; she was just forty years old. While riding home from the general store, Belle was killed by a shotgun blast. She was hit twice in the back. Her assailant, trying to make sure, shot her again at close range in the shoulder and face. The prime suspect was her own grown son who was so mentally deranged that he sometimes had to be chained like an animal. The identity of the murderer was never determined and no charges were ever issued.

A down-on-his-luck writer named Alton Meyers happened to read Belle’s four line obituary. He asked people on the street about her and was told that she was just some nutty old woman who thought she was a famous outlaw. That was good enough for Meyers. He promptly contacted the publishers of the National Police Gazette who hired him to write her story. He wrote, “Of all the women of the Cleopatra type since the days of the Egyptian Queen herself, none are more remarkable than Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen. She was more amorous than Antony’s mistress, more relentless than Pharaoh’s daughter, braver than Joan of Arc.”

The rest is history. Belle Starr became a legend through the yellow journalism and dime novels of her day. Her fictionalized image was strengthened by Hollywood when several feature films were released, beginning with 1941’s “Belle Starr” which had little connection to history. Belle has been portrayed by Gene Tierney and Elizabeth Montgomery among other actresses. Today, her legend and her real life have become fused, prohibiting separation.

The epitaph on her headstone does little to challenge the legend, it reads:  

“Shed not for her the bitter tear,
Nor give the heart to vain regret;
‘Tis but a casket that lies here,
The gem that filled it sparkles yet.”

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Civil War History of the 57th Indiana (#18)

The Chattanooga Campaign
“For some time Gen. Rosecrans had occupied Winchester as his headquarters, while the main body of his troops were stationed near Bridgeport. A forward movement commenced about the middle of August, with Chattanooga as the objective. On Sunday, the 16th (of August), Wagner’s brigade received orders to march immediately, and as soon as the usual bustle and uproar of the hasty preparation could be executed, we were under way.

“We came across one of the most fertile regions of the sunny South shut in by two mountain barriers. Richly cultivated fields; orchards filled with fruit dotted the entire valley. Descending by the rough mountain road, we entered the valley, and camped close by the foot of the mountain. Apples, peaches, corn, beans, potatoes, etc. were easily found; and there were few messes that did not enjoy the rich products of the valley that night. On Thursday the 20th, our brigade, leaving all the baggage and part of the battery, moved across the valley toward Chattanooga.

“The following Saturday morning Gen. Wagner advanced with the remaining regiments to the summit overlooking the Tennessee Valley. Seven miles down the river lay the mountain-walled city of Chattanooga. Beyond and to the right, Lookout Mountain rose abruptly from the river to an altitude of two thousand feet. Immediately on the left rises Missionary Ridge, to less than half the height of Lookout Mountain, and extends from the river far down Chickamauga Valley.

“We could see the smoke of the rebel camps south of the river, and occasionally a train of cars might be seen gliding along beneath the white steam as it approached the great center of rebel military operations. Liby’s battery, moved down the valley to a ridge opposite Chattanooga, and commenced shelling the place. In a few moments the smoke was seen to rise from a fort beyond the river, and we could see the shells explode before we heard the report caused by the discharge of the rebel guns.

“On Saturday, the 29th (of August), Gen. Wagner, with Cox’s battery, the 40th (Indiana), and the 57th, descended the mountain and approached the town. The main body of the army crossed the Tennessee at Bridgeport. Heavy cannonading could now be heard every day at some point on the river.

“At midnight on Saturday, September 6th, our regiment was ordered down into the valley. Railroad engines were almost constantly running, and it was supposed that the enemy were evacuating Chattanooga. Our artillery shelled almost continually during the day, and on the 8th it was reported that our forces had possession of Lookout Mountain. Movements then in progress by Mc Cook’s Corps, endangered their rear and caused the rebel withdrawal, which gave us possession of the long wished-for stronghold, Chattanooga.

“On the following morning the soldiers engaged in a general stroll through the town. Many of the citizens had gone away, but there were some loyal people, and these remained in their homes. As soon as I finished my breakfast, I started in search of the office where a noted rebel sheet, called the “Chattanooga Rebel,” had recently been published. I was directed to the place, and found the vacated apartments of the late rebel quill-driver, in the second story of a building on the west side of Main Street. Upon entering, I found the press still standing, Ink, type, books, manuscripts, etc. lay scattered about the floor. Copies of rebel sheets, from various parts of the south were to be found in large numbers.

“Some of the boys made their way to the express office and found a quantity of tobacco, together with hundreds of letters. In one bundle, containing sixteen letters, was a correspondence between a doctor and a young lady of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with whom he seemed to have been on the most intimate terms until the breaking out of the war, when she informed him that as he ‘defended southern interests,’ she claimed the privilege of defending the interests of the north; and that they must then and ‘forever be strangers and enemies.’

“Wagner’s brigade, being small in numbers, was assigned to garrison duty in Chattanooga. Col. Lennard was appointed provost-marshal; and the 57th was assigned to duty as provost-guards (e.g. military police), and the other regiments to picket duty. Order was restored soon after we took possession of the town. Prisoners and deserters arrived almost daily from the front, who invariably concurred in the opinion that the rebel army would continue their retreat as far south as Rome, Georgia. As our regiment was now small in number, guards were roused every morning and marched to the depot, from which they were distributed to the various posts throughout the town.

“On Saturday, September 19th, the news was received that a battle was going on in front, but the rumors were so conflicting that it was a difficult matter to obtain the position of our army, or any definite information concerning the engagement.

“The next day at 12 o’clock the order was given for all every man to report to the depot. Prisoners were arriving in large numbers, and required all of our available force to guard them. Many of the prisoners were from Longstreet’s Corps, late of the rebel army in Virginia. These men were better clothed than the soldiers of Bragg’s army. They had always, till now, been used to victory, and were loud in their abuse of our men who had them in charge. Some of them openly declared that before the sun set on Monday, Bragg would be in Chattanooga. Many rumors had reached us to the effect that our army had been overpowered by the arrival of heavy re-enforcements from Lee’s army, but until we saw them, all had dared to hope that the story would prove untrue. Now there was no uncertainty, for the rebel authorities had detached Longstreet’s Corps and transported them westward by rail and thrown them against our lines with the intention to regaining possession of Chattanooga.

“(At the same time) an almost constant stream of ambulances and baggage wagons were coming from the front. A large brick residence on a hill south-east of our quarters was now nearly filled with wounded. The sidewalks were filled with the wounded and stragglers.

“Our troops under Thomas, Garfield, Granger, Wood, and others had succeeded in holding the enemy in check beyond the hamlet of Rossville, which gave time for the withdrawal of our army and the occupation of the new line. Sunday night was a time of fearful suspense to our little garrison in Chattanooga. Rumors were everywhere that we would be compelled to evacuate, and leave our wounded in the hands of the enemy. The next morning, the booming of artillery in the direction of Rossville Gap announced that the enemy was continuing the pursuit of our forces; and before noon we could see the lines of battle as our troops took up their final position near the town.

“As soon as our men were in position, the work of building entrenchments commenced. All citizens and straggling soldiers found on the streets without passes were arrested and sent to the front under guard, where they were compelled to work on the entrenchments. There was no cessation of labor until the line was in readiness to meet any advance of the foe. Heavy cannonading continued all day on Monday and was recommenced on Tuesday; when the enemy drew their lines closely around Chattanooga. During that afternoon and evening, the enemy gained entire possession of Missionary Ridge, and at night their campfires could be distinctly seen from our own camp.

“Wednesday morning dawned dark and foggy, and it was expected the enemy would seize the opportunity and make an attack. A battle was expected every minute. Our brigade marched out and took position as a reserve on the left of our lines. No attack was made however. On Thursday, the rebels gained possession of Lookout Mountain, and made preparations to shell the town. So many stories had been in circulation since the defeat (at Chickamauga) that we began to conclude that the Army of the Cumberland was to be left alone to battle with the concentrated forces of the enemy until complete destruction ensued.

“But at last a ray of hope dawned. Fully alive to the importance of holding Chattanooga, the Government, immediately after the disastrous battle of Chickamauga, commenced the movement of troops in our direction. The 11th and 12th Corps, commanded by Gen. Hooker, were on the Tennessee River. Their timely arrival caused a trill of joy among the anxious men of our beleaguered army in Chattanooga.

“On the 20th of October, Gen. Rosecrans took leave of the army and started north, he having been relieved by Gen. Thomas. No little dissatisfaction was expressed at his removal. This disappointment was in a measure relieved by the announcement that Gen. Grant had been assigned to command and would personally superintend operations in the field. On the 28th, Gen. Grant arrived at Chattanooga; and the presence of so successful and popular a general inspired the troops with new courage.”

(Tennessee, August to October, 1863)
Excerpts taken from “Annals of the Fifty-Seventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry: Marches, Battles, and Incidents of Army Life” written by Asbury L. Kerwood immediately after the war.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


If you have ever been to Thomas Jefferson’s stately home Monticello which sits on top of a small hill, you have seen the beautiful dome that rises over the center portion of the main house. Few people know the story of how this dome, Jefferson’s years in Paris, and his unfulfilled love affair with an Italian painter are connected. 
In 1768, Jefferson began to design the dream mansion he would build in the neoclassical style. He chose a remote site outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, and called it Monticello (which is Italian for “little mountain”). It would become the home for himself and his new bride, Martha, during the American Revolution. But Martha died in 1781 with the house still unfinished.
Several years later, the still grieving Jefferson was asked by George Washington to be the country’s Foreign Minister to France. While in Paris, his friend, artist John Trumbull, took Jefferson to visit the newly constructed Grain Exchange building. It was topped with a beautiful 130-foot iron dome which Jefferson loved. That day Trumbull also introduced Jefferson to a fellow painter and friend of his, Richard Cosway, and his wife, Maria. The Italian-English Maria Cosway was also a painter of some note.
Maria and Thomas shared an interest in art and architecture. They began to see each other on a daily basis, attending exhibits throughout the city. Over the course of a few months, Jefferson fell in love with the 27 year old Maria. In some ways the two of them were opposites. Maria was more artistic and Thomas was more rational. It isn’t known if anything further developed in their affair as Jefferson was very discreet.

Maria’s husband, Richard, insisted that he and Maria leave France and return home. Jefferson was heart-broken. Historians believe that Jefferson was somewhat emotionally vulnerable at that time. His wife had died a few years earlier, and he had just learned of the death of his youngest daughter. Not long after, Jefferson returned to Monticello but not before writing to Maria, “I am going to America and you are going to Italy. One of us is going the wrong way, for the way will ever be wrong that leads us further apart.”

After his return, Jefferson wrote of his feelings for Maria in what has become to be known as “A Dialogue of the Head and Heart.” It is a conversation between his rational head who says, “The art of life is the art of avoiding pain,” while his romantic heart says, “What more sublime delight than to mingle tears with one whom the hand of Heaven has smitten.” Between the lines, one can see that his heart blames his head for taking them both to see the Grain Exchange that day in Paris and meeting Maria. His heart was only interested in Maria, but his head was obsessed by the architectural triumph of the building’s great dome.
Jefferson never saw Maria again. But he tore apart the old Monticello and created a new design with the central focus being a great dome - like the one he saw in Paris the day he met Maria Cosway. The two continued to exchange letters for the rest of Jefferson’s life. He had an engraving of Maria hung at Monticello, and she had John Trumbull create a portrait of Jefferson that she kept. Her portrait of Jefferson now hangs in the White House in Washington.

The next time you pull a nickel out of your pocket, look at the image of Monticello on it and remember the story of Jefferson’s Head and Heart.

(historical note: the liaison between Jefferson and Maria Cosway took place after the death of his wife, Martha, and prior to his later relationship with Sally Hemings)