Rediscovering the Travis Family in the Civil War

Family history facts get lost. Some things like war experiences may not be spoken of. Hard times that people experience may never be shared. Divorce and early deaths sever family history pipelines. Family history may be gilded over, forgotten or swept under the rug. Time and time again genealogy and family history discoveries are made that have an emotional impact.

I visited the Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield National Park as a child and later as an adult well before I began my journey into my family’s past. Because of a lack of knowledge of my family history I was unaware at the time of the visits to Gettysburg that some past family members were Union soldiers in the war and that one of them died at Gettysburg.

I recently wrote an article about Lewis Travis for this blog and about how my research into the Travis family was blown open by the Family History Library’s release from copyright protection of the book History of Ananias Travis’ Descendants by Theodore Norman Travis. That short book was packed with stories about Lewis Travis’ children including information about his sons and their participation in the Civil War. Using information in that book along with supporting information found through research on enlightened me as to family participation in the Civil War.

Lewis Travis’ first marriage with Laura Doane produced two sons, William and Joseph. William Travis died in the Civil War. Lewis Travis and his second wife Minerva Roberts Travis produced five sons – John, Steven, Elijah, Edwin and the book’s author Theodore.  Of those sons, Steven and John both fought in the Civil War.  John died fighting at Gettysburg a few months after his half-brother William died of dysentery in a Nashville hospital.

John L. Travis was born in 1833. He enlisted in 1862 in the 122nd New York Infantry, Company G. He died at about the age of 30 on 3 July 1863 at the battle of Gettysburg leaving a wife Susan and two small children, Ira and Clara. He was a member of an outfit known as the Onondagas that was named after the New York County from which they were drawn. 

Culp’s Hill Monument at Gettysburg

A bullet killed John L. Travis. His unit was defending the Union Army’s flank at a place known as Culp’s Hill. The Confederate army threw wave after wave of men against the Union force at Culp’s Hill in an unsuccessful attempt to take the position and flank the Union army.

Flag of the 122nd

Not all deaths in war are caused by battles. William H. Travis died 21 January 1863. He enlisted in the Union Army of the Tennessee in August 1862. He was in Company B, 4th Regiment of Michigan cavalry. While serving as a soldier in the Union Army he became ill with dysentery and died at the age of 40 years old in a Nashville Tennessee hospital. He left behind a wife named Waita and a young adopted child named Augustus. 

Flag of the Union Army of the Tennessee

Steven Roberts Travis, the third Travis family soldier in the war, enlisted in Company B, 2nd Regiment of Michigan cavalry in 1861. He survived the battles of Island No.10, Ft. Donaldson, and Corinth, and was discharged due to illness. He is buried in Canada where he went late in life to live with a son. His grave has a U.S. cavalry Civil War marker.

Flag of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry

Learning of Civil War deaths in the family brings new perspectives to my understanding of my family. For Lewis and Minerva Travis it was heart rending to lose two sons in so short a period to the war. Lewis Travis was 62 years old and his wife Minerva was 60 years old when they lost sons in the Civil War. 

The Civil War, once abstract, is now more personal. There is a visceral feeling of sadness for family members that suffered through such tragedy. There is also incomprehensibility in the fact that this family knowledge was not passed down. It is also perplexing that family history about the part the family played in such important events in the formation of U.S. is lost so quickly. These stories were lost and forgotten, save for Theodore Norman Travis’ book.

Resurrecting Theodore Norman Travis’ book from the Family History Library’s archives in combination with other research facilitated by the enormous troves of historical data available in the way of scanned books and various online archives brought these stories back from obscurity. Thankfully these events are now clear, certain and memorialized.  

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