Even though I studied geography in school like any other kid, and even though I have a quilted map of the United States of America hanging on the wall above my sewing machine (doesn’t everyone?)… I always thought of Indiana as a way, way, way, north state.
It felt odd to leave Kentucky (to me, a way, way, way south state), cross the Ohio River and suddenly be in Indiana.
But the oddest thing was how excited I felt as we entered Harrison County. Why should I care about Harrison County?
When I saw the highway exit to Palmyra, that’s when I grabbed my phone and logged into my ancestry account.
My dad’s grandfather, Lewis Jamison, was born in Palmyra in 1856. He married and settled in Marion, Illinois, where my grandfather was born. At some point he moved to Seattle, Washington, where he lived out his final days with my grandparents, Albert and Vera. He died in 1927, just before my dad’s 2nd birthday. My dad wouldn’t have had any memory of his grandfather, but undoubtedly Lewis held my infant dad in his arms and contemplated the unfolding of his legacy… which was something his father, Jesse, didn’t get to do.
Jesse Jamison was also born in Palmyra, Indiana, in 1827. He was the oldest of eight brothers and several sisters. All eight brothers enlisted in the union army during the Civil War. Why would all these brothers, from a way, way, way north state, risk their lives and volunteer? I didn’t think Indiana was touched by the war.
I was about to learn different.
Doug exited the highway shortly after that Palmyra sign, in the town of Corydon. We didn’t even bother to look for an RV park… just pulled into Super 8, checked in, then walked to the local Cracker Barrel for dinner. Wind and rain had taken their toll on that leg of our journey.
There was a magazine in our room, which may or may not have fallen into my tote bag, published by the local chamber of commerce. Filled with area highlights, I learned there was a memorial park commemorating the Battle of Corydon. It was the one and only battle to take place in the state and sadly for Corydon, the confederates won the day.
After driving so many miles this summer, seeing how interconnected these states are by water ways and topography, knowing how the intensity of politics in our day was just as intense in their’s… I understood a little better why eight brothers would feel compelled to enlist in the army.
Jesse was a blacksmith, a couple were carpenters and the rest of the brothers were farmers. I imagined their familiarity with these farms, rivers and creeks that I was seeing for the first time. I could grasp their concern for family, land and livelihood.
I pictured Jesse saying goodbye to his wife, daughters, and son Lewis. He likely believed he’d return. They would pick up where they left off.
But he didn’t come back.
Lewis was 7 years old when Jesse died in Mississippi of a massive infection. An infection that could easily be treated today. That same year, 1863, Jesse’s younger brother Lewis, died on the first day of battle at the Siege of Vicksburg. He and Jesse are both buried in Mississippi. And since Jesse named his only son ‘Lewis’, I am guessing he and this particular brother must have been close. But that’s just me… guessing.
There’s a record of Lewis’ mother receiving a widow’s pension. And as compensation for the loss of their father, Lewis and his sisters each received $2 per month until age 16… a sad replacement.
Lewis grew up to be a farmer like many of his uncles. Perhaps they told him stories about his dad. Perhaps they tried to fill the gap. I like to think they did.
The next morning Doug and I drove passed farms and trees that existed way back then. It felt comfortable and comforting. I liked thinking about these people I came from. Bits and pieces of their lives flowed forward to future generations. Just like bits and pieces of me flow on to grandchildren I’ve yet to meet.
And I wonder, what will they see when they look back?