Research begins with a question; in genealogy, this question concerns a person. But! The question is more than just “when was my great-grandfather born?” and “what was the maiden name of my 3rd great-grandmother?” These research questions are bounded by dates and names and lack a critical element of genealogical research: context. In fact, if the researcher restricts her questions to the ancestor alone, answers will be elusive. The research questions must concern a person connected to a particular place at a particular time. Indeed, it is the context - the land, the events, the culture - that creates compelling stories of our past.
For that reason, I’d like to share some of the questions that guided my meandering research of Anthony’s life and take you on the journey of discovering the answers.
Finding the answers to these questions (and others) was not easy; and as of yet, I’ve not been able to conclusively answer them all. However, by consulting multiple and varied historical records, I have pieced together the historic (and emotional) events of Anthony’s life.
Anthony is born
Anthony Hensler was born in Missouri in 1843 - or perhaps 1844. Actually, maybe 1846. Let’s look at the evidence:
Anthony appears in the 1860 U.S. Census, at the age of 14.
According to his enlistment papers in the U.S. Army, he was 21 years of age on January 5, 1864.
And, in an affidavit in his wife’s pension records, it is stated that he was 18 years old when he enlisted (in 1861).
His parents were married in 1850.
1850?! Now I’m confused. Which is correct - Anthony was born between 1843 and 1846 (before his parents were married) or was he born later? Or perhaps the date of his parent’s marriage is incorrect. Let’s explore each possibility separately.
The marriage of Valentine Hensler and Theresa Fay is recorded in both the pension records for Valentine, as well as in the church records in St. Louis, where the marriage took place. The date, January 22, 1850, is the same in both documents. One is an indirect record and the other a direct one, filed one month after the event. Given these pieces of evidence, there is little doubt of the accuracy of this date.
Next, let’s consider the possibility that Anthony was born later than 1846, after his parents were married. To explore this, we look to his enlistment papers in 1861. If he was born after the marriage of Valentine and Theresa in 1850, he would have been barely 11 years old at the time of enlistment. While there were certainly young men who entered the Army during the Civil War, 11 is exceptionally young. What is more, his younger brother, Valentine, appears to have been born in 1850.
This leaves us to conclude that Anthony was born out of wedlock to Valentine and Theresa. (Heaven’s no!) But wait, there is another possibility. Anthony’s alias is Arthur Fay, the maiden name of Theresa. With this information, perhaps we should consider the notion that Anthony (or Arthur) is not the son of Valentine Hensler. Dun dun dun.
Let’s leave the question of his birthdate for a moment and examine his military record. Was he truly a prisoner at Andersonville, one of the most infamous prisons in U.S. history?
A prisoner of war
According to his military record, Anthony Hensler enlisted with the 53rd Regiment of Army Volunteers in Ottawa, Illinois on December 15, 1861. With the exception of a thirty-day furlough in October of 1863, he was consistently present for muster rolls every month for two years. During this time, his regiment traveled hundreds of miles from Illinois to Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia, and fought in numerous campaigns. In October of 1862, Anthony was wounded at the Battle of Hatchie in Hardeman County and McNairy County, Tennessee. In January of 1864, he reenlisted while in Mississippi. Again, Anthony is continuously present in the muster rolls, until July of that year, when:
Anthony Hensler is listed as "missing" from July 22, 1864 through February, 1865 - that is nearly 7 months. Then, in the March/April 1865 muster roll, the record notation is revised to show that he was “taken prisoner” at Atlanta, Georgia.
And finally, in the last pages of his military record, there is a Memorandum From Prisoner of War Records. This document confirms his capture and imprisonment at Andersonville. What is more, earlier this year, I visited the National Historic Site, and discovered his name among the records there. A chilling discovery.
In fact, Anthony Hensler was a prisoner at Andersonville Prison for at least 9 months - an abhorrent experience that I cannot put into words. Rather, I will share an excerpt from the memoirs of another survivor of that wretched place (warning: this is a graphic depiction):
"...a surgeon reports that in August and September there were more than 3000 sick lying on the bare ground partially naked; some had broken limbs, some were gangrened, some suffering with scurvy, some with chronic diarrhea...Lice, fleas, and incredible clouds of mosquitoes deprived them of sleep, and drove them mad...Many voluntarily crossed the dead line in order to be shot. Attracted by the smell of this living carrion, flocks of vultures, the "turkey buzzard" of the South, soared high in the air over this den of human putridity...If your readers are shocked...let me assure them that I have not told half of the reality."
Despite this troublesome discovery about my great-great grand uncle, the research continued. There were still more questions to be answered, particularly regarding his wife, Cinderella and his life after the war. I will share the answers to these remaining questions in the next and final post on Anthony's life.
Lisa Medina, here to share the history of families - one story at a time. .
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