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The soldiers of the 1st Arkansas Calvary had evolved from a reckless, ragtag grouping of men, to become a well-regarded unit of the Union Army. Stationed at Fayetteville, Arkansas, they positioned their strong force and secured the city within their tightly held grasp. But as a corps of Calvary soldiers, a strikingly important piece of military equipment was missing: horses.

The horses of the Union Cavalries of the Civil War were the heartbreaking victims of gun battle, disease and starvation, leaving many of the soldiers without their most precious military partners. The US government fell far short of keeping the Calvary stocked with sturdy horses; many soldiers taking their personal horses into battle, only to loose them to death.

During the summer of 1863, Wesley Lewis and others from the 1st Arkansas Calvary, were detached from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Rolla, Missouri with a mission to replenish their unit with fresh horses. Proceeding by foot, the band of Calvary soldiers marched their way through the Arkansas territory toward Missouri; most certainly depleted of sleep and food.

The men, many a mere skeleton of their former selves, held their faith but the 250-mile journey would be a hell-bound trial of survival. Their brutal enemy was not Confederate rebels but the cruel elements of  nature. For twelve days, Wesley Lewis and his crew of steadfast brothers endured pounding, torrential rains.

Without shelter or dry clothes, the horseless Calvary soldiers marched day and night. The rain was relentless; bearing down so hard that many became disoriented to the direction of their journey. Step-by-step the men forged into Missouri, weighted with wet clothes cemented onto their bone-thin bodies by thickened mud. And my ancestor, Wesley Lewis, felt a cold shiver pierce his core. Leaving his ravaged body weakened and disabled until his death.

Military records have become a vital element of genealogical research. Recognizing the richness of their information; military indexes, draft records and pension files are spilling forth on websites. But studying your ancestor's words within the files can open your eyes to not only their records, but also their experiences.

War is miserable and glory is fleeting. And it is easy for those of us conducting genealogical research to spare little time in pausing to grasp the reality of war for our ancestors.

As we pass by this Veterans Day, become better acquainted with your ancestors who fought wars. Each war was harsh and many of our ancestors were pooly equiped and exposed to elements most of us could not survive. My ancestor, Wesley Lewis, remained frail from his mud-soaked march to Missouri until his death, 26 years later. His experience retold by fellow soldiers in letters within his pension file.

Revisit your ancestor's military records and study his war experience. And make every day, Veterans Day, in your genealogical journey.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 


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