Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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52 Ancestors #21 – James L. Keel, Galvanized Yankee

Most of the Confederate soldiers captured at Gettysburg were taken to Fort Delaware; my great-great-grandfather Private James L. Keel was one of them. We call him Grandpappy Jim.

KEEL James L - Captured at Gettysburg - July 1863Keel was born in Martin County, North Carolina on 18 March 1846 and was 15 years old when he enlisted in Company H, North Carolina 1st Regiment on 24 June 1861 in Williamston, North Carolina. He made extra money working as a teamster and was paid bimonthly from 1861 through April 1863.

The 1st North Carolina served everywhere during those years, fighting with the Army of Northern Virginia in Mechanicsville, Sharpsburg, and Chancellorsville, and marched with General Robert E. Lee to Gettysburg in July 1863, where Keel was captured. He was marched with 11,000 other prisoners to Fort Delaware, a Union fortress on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. Within 10 days, he swore the Oath of Allegiance to the Union and became a prison guard in Ahl’s Independent Battery as an alternative to being a prisoner of war in an overcrowded, disease-ridden prison.

Seven companies of “Galvanized Yankees” were recruited from the prison pen at Fort Delaware in the summer of 1863. They got their name from the color of galvanized steel, which is gray steel coated by blue-tinted zinc, much like a rebel soldier wearing a blue Union uniform.

 

Jim Keel was 18 years old and described as having a light complexion, light hair, grey eyes and standing 6 feet and ½ inch tall.   At some point between August 1863 and March 1864, he married a local Delaware City girl and was granted a short leave of absence at the end of March 1864 to visit Philadelphia with his wife. Due back at Fort Delaware on 4 April 1864, he failed to report and was listed as a deserter on 1 May 1864.  His wife, which the North Carolina family did not know he had, said he was drunk when she put him on board the ferry to return to duty.

He was apprehended on 16 June 1864 on board the oyster schooner  Rainbow in Chesapeake Bay at or near Delaware City and was tried for desertion by a General Court-Martial convened at Fort Delaware on 12 July 1864.  Keel was sentenced to forfeit all pay and allowances from 8 April 1864 and to serve the unexpired term of his enlistment at hard labor at the Dry Tortugas, Florida. While a harsh sentence, he could have been sentenced to death.

Keel Court Martial Sentence

Except he didn’t.  Instead, he returned to company duty with all pay and allowances due from the date of his desertion, as directed by “Special Order No. 324 dated September 7, 1864, Headquarters, Fort Delaware.”  He went back to being a prison guard and mustered out with Ahl’s Battery at Wilmington, Delaware on 25 July 1865 receiving all due pay and allowances.

So what on earth happened?  Why was this deserter (or traitor, if you looked at him from the perspective of his former Confederate comrades in arms) suddenly returned to duty with rank and back pay? Who was this mysterious “wife” that we knew nothing about and what happened to her? So many questions and no one had answers!

After wondering for 40 years, we now have his court martial file from the National Archive. While it doesn’t really explain the wife at all, we know that Keel pleaded “Not Guilty” to desertion but did not present any evidence in his own defense. But there was a bigger legal issue going on than whether he was a deserter: in the opinion of Joseph Holt, the Judge Advocate General of the Union Army, Fort Delaware’s commander Gen. Shoepf did not have the authority to call a general court martial, so the sentence was overturned.

Keel’s file includes a 4-page letter from Joseph Holt to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, laying out his argument that the prison did not constitute a Brigade and therefore was not legally able to convene a general court martial. It bounced around to other officers for their review and input, ultimately leading Stanton to agree with Holt’s original opinion. This decision was telegraphed to Gen. Shoepf at Fort Delaware

Telegram From Sec of War

And just like that, Keel was released back to his service.

Revocation of Keel Court Martial

James Keel disappeared for a few years after the war ended. I wouldn’t have wanted to return to North Carolina, either, after changing sides – but he was not the only one in his county. He may have been with this first family during these years, though to date I have found no record of a marriage in the Delaware City area. But at least the mystery of why he was not sent to Dry Tortugas, Florida, has been solved – and was the subject of a legal decision to boot.

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Obituary for My Dad

My father died peacefully on Friday, 25 May 2018, after a very brief illness following a fall. Here is his obituary, which will appear in the Tyler Morning Telegraph on 8 June 2018:

2016 MYERS, BillA memorial service for William Cleopheus “Bill” Myers will be held at Emerald Bay Community Church on Saturday, June 9, 2018, at 2:00 p.m., with Dr. Darryle Dunks officiating, under the direction of Stewart Family Funeral Home.

Mr. Myers, age 90, died Friday, May 25, 2018, in Tyler. He was born on February 18, 1928, to William Marvin and Susie (Keel) Myers in Williamston, N.C. He went to Duke University on a football scholarship, where he majored in business and joined the Kappa Alpha Order. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aerial photographer and graduated from Duke in 1950. He also studied at New York University Graduate School of Business.

Bill met the love of his life, Margaret “Peg” Flanders, on a college double date and married her on December 15, 1951, in Newark, N.J. They were together 62 years, living in New Jersey, Kentucky, and Dallas before moving to Emerald Bay in 1985. He was a life member of the American Water Works Association and spent over 40 years in the water meter industry before retiring in 1990 as Vice President of Master Meter, Inc.

He was a member of Emerald Bay Community Church and a member and past president of the Emerald Bay Club, where he resided for 33 years. He loved children and read to first graders at Hazel Owens School for over 20 years after retirement. His favorite book to read to them was Pickle Chiffon Pie. He enjoyed playing golf, travel, ice cream, picking up pecans and golf balls (not at the same time), learning new things, and spending time with family.

Bill was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Peg and is survived by daughter, Anne Myers of Emerald Bay; son, Thomas Myers and wife Cecelia of Wheelock, TX; grandsons, William Myers and wife Claudia of McKinney, TX, and Robert Myers and wife Ellen of Houston; granddaughters, Elizabeth Applegate and husband Josh of Fort Collins, CO, and Lauren Barrandey and husband JohnPaul of Arvada, CO; and great-grandchildren, Gianna, Noah, and Eli Applegate, and Liam and Samuel Myers.

In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to make a contribution to Emerald Bay Community Church, 160 LaSalle Rd., Bullard, TX 75757 or to The Hospice of East Texas Foundation, 4111 University Blvd., Tyler, TX 75701.


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52 Ancestors – #20 Medical Language

I had a plan for writing this week’s theme of Other Language. But then life intervened.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-veMy 90 year old father fell on May 1st and hit his head on a low brick retaining wall. It was a bloody mess. We went to the ER and he got staples to close the wound, fluids, and a CT scan which was negative. No one mentioned concussion and the list of things to watch for was, in retrospect, woefully limited. After a few days he was sleeping more, eating less, and having more verbal confusion. When we brought him in to get his staples out, the doctor  decided a brain MRI was in order to see if there was something going on to explain the changes we were seeing.

Last Saturday, Dad was able to drive his golf cart and had dinner at the club with my brother. Sunday he wasn’t feeling well. Monday, the day of the MRI, he was unable to stand and dress himself. The MRI showed a subdural hematoma, bleeding or fluids on the brain, pressing on the areas that control speech and motor functions.

So now we entered a new world of neurology. Terms like “confusion” that mean one thing to lay people mean something else to doctors. The hospital is crowded, busy, and really loud, the worst possible environment for elderly neuro patients. Surgery to drill a hole in his head to drain the fluid was quickly deemed unrealistic for Dad, given his age and condition. When a neurosurgeon says “no surgery” when their job is to operate, that says a lot. Not operating brings its own risks, as we have no idea what happens next. We don’t know if the bleeding will continue or subside and reabsorb on its own. It will be 6-8 weeks from the fall to assess the full long-term changes.

We scrambled to find a care facility in a matter of 30 hours. Thankfully my brother was here and we could do it together. The first place, while certainly competent, dropped my heart and my head screamed, “No, no, not that for my Dad.”  The doctors mentioned skilled nursing hospice – another word that threw us for a loop. I know about hospice, of course, but almost always in the context of life-ending cancer. I know hospice care happens at home, in a care facility, or in their own facility. But did that mean Daddy was dying?  What were we planning for?  Why weren’t they being more precise or at least explain? And why weren’t they saying the same things when we asked?

All the places we looked at have their own vocabulary that conforms with Medicare terms. No matter what, we were basically told Dad would transfer in as a rehab patient because Medicare pays everything for the first 100 days. How did this relate to “skilled nursing hospice”?  I don’t know. I got more confused with almost every person we talked to.

SerenityPrayerDad is indeed in a rehab section of a facility that offers levels of care including rehab, skilled nursing, and memory care – and he doesn’t want to be there. We don’t know how he will respond to rehab but any recovery is dependent on working hard. He hates being in “one of those places” and my heart hurts to see him there, lost and confused. We may have him for a short time or for years.

In a heartbeat, my life changed. After two and a half years as live-in caregiver, I need to find a new normal, and learn to just let go what I cannot change, which is pretty much everything relating to Dad. My nephew reminded me of the Serenity Prayer and the power of accepting things we cannot change, even if we don’t like them.

Please say a prayer for my daddy, for comfort and strength and patience. I need some, too.


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52 Ancestors – #19 Grandmother Susie Keel Myers

Everyone in town called her “Miss Susie.” I called her Grandmama.

KEEL Susie - c1940 - NC

Susie Keel Myers, c1940 – Norfolk, VA

Susie Lanier Keel was born 31 August 1906 in the rural community of Everetts in Martin County, North Carolina. She was named for her aunt Susie (Sudie) Peal Lanier and her middle name became a family tradition, passed down to daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter.  Susie was the seventh child born to farmer William Jesse Keel and his wife, Sarah Annis Peal. Of their eleven children, only four survived infancy, and she and her older sister Mary Magdalene (Maglene) Keel were particularly close.

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Susie and Maglene Keel, c1909 – Martin County, NC 

SCAN0013 (2)She wanted to be a teacher when she grew up and history was her favorite subject in school, she told my father.  According to the 1940 census, Susie completed four years of high school, two years more than her husband, William Marvin Myers. They met in Robersonville, NC, at the movies and something sparked between the social farmer’s daughter and the quiet man from Hertford. They were married at the Baptist preacher’s home in Williamston on 23 July 1926.  Grandmama told me that what she remembered most about her wedding was that her parents didn’t come. I believe that was because she was pregnant; her first child (my dad) was born seven months later.

Bill and SusieSusie spent her life in Martin County, raising sons William and James and daughter Jeanette, and burying a fourth child (Joseph) who died at seven months. When first married, she and her little family lived with her parents, Bill and Sarah (Sade) Keel. By the 1940 census, though, the head of the household was her husband, not her father. Both parents continued to live with her until their deaths in 1948 and 1952.  This was not unusual for the generation or the community.

But money was tight.  Bill Myers worked for the local tobacco company and Bill Keel hunted and fished, providing food. Susie also worked most of her life, sitting in the window of the local dry cleaners doing sewing alterations. She also brought work home, doing piecework for a local dressmaker.  Once when I was feeling guilty about hiring someone to alter my own clothes, I realized that she made a living because people hired her, and that she would probably approve of my helping someone else survive.

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Susie Myers at Alpha Cleaners, Williamston – c1980

Grandmama not only raised her own children, she also raised two of her grandchildren after her daughter remarried in 1960. She and my grandfather opened their home to a new generation, as they had opened it to an older one years before. I was jealous of them because they spent so much time with her and I only saw her about once a year; trips from New Jersey to North Carolina didn’t come easy.

Susie Keel Myers loved her God, her family, and her friends. She cooked wonderful Southern meals and drank gallons of sweet tea on the porch, visiting with friends and family. She grew up in the Primative Baptist Church but spent her adult years as a member of the Williamston Presbyterian Church. She loved to sing, especially hymns, and was a good and supportive friend, respected and loved by her family and community.

MYERS Susie, William, Tom, Bill and Rob - 1985 - Emerald Bay

William Myers, Tom Myers, Bill Myers, Susie Myers, Rob Myers – Emerald Bay, TX – 1985

Grandmama died on 10 December 1987 at age eighty one and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Williamston next to her husband and sons and close to her parents. My life is richer for having had her in it.


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52 Ancestors – #18 Closeup on Aunt Jinx

My Aunt Jinx was family in every way but blood. She was my mom’s oldest and closest friend, although actually she was my aunt’s friend first; Mom was the youngest of the trio. Still, the three of them were thick as thieves and stayed close all their lives. Here they are about 1944 and again forty years later at my brother’s wedding:

JaneAnnFlanders, VirginiaWhite, PegFlanders

Jane Ann Flanders, Virginia Wight, Peg Flanders – Manasquan, NJ – c1944

Jane Anne, Peg, Jinny - August 15 1983

Jane Ann Helms, Peg Myers, Virginia King – Houston, August 1981

Virginia Wight King was passionate about her family, her faith, and her friends. She and my mom cleverly managed to live very close to each other as young married couples raising families in 1950’s New Jersey.  I grew up thinking that her daughters were blood relatives and was so happy to have girl cousins to play with. I still consider them to be family.

MYERS Anne Keel Baptismal Certificate 1954Aunt Jinx was my godmother, a responsibility she took seriously all her life. I was baptized in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Newark, the same church where my parents were married and my mom was both baptized and confirmed. Aunt Jinx pledged to see me make my confirmation before a bishop and never felt that my Presbyterian confirmation counted in quite the same way, so she was thrilled when I decided to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church during my senior year in college. She sent me a prayerbook and a long, thoughtful letter about how much her faith meant to her during hard times. I’ve kept it for 40 years because it really spoke to me about who she was as a spiritual person and my godmother, about what her faith meant to her and how she lived out her life.

AuntJinxConfirmationLetterSnip1976
She was passionate about education and taught English at Monmouth College for years.  Sometimes I would worry about grammar and punctuation when I wrote her, but being in touch was more important than being completely correct – I hoped.  She would remind all of us to “Be a Lady” or “Be a Gentleman” whenever she closed a conversation, especially in her wonderful letters. We still say it with a smile and remember her when we do.

Aunt Jinx also had a wicked sense of humor and a rich, wonderful, smoky laugh. I can picture her with my mom sitting over endless cups of coffee and cigarettes, talking and laughing for hours. Her daughter Carol and I did the same in England years later over cups of tea (and minus the cigarettes, at least for me).  We are a second generation of shared history and memories. I will remember her always, though, at Manasquan.

The last time I saw her was, at my grandfather’s funeral in 1983. She was local to him and proudly introduced me to her parish priest, who conducted the service, as the newly elected vestry member of my church. She had a wicked smile as she did so, knowing that Fr. Hulbert didn’t think women should have such a role. But she did. She was proud of me for just being me and she always let me know I was loved and supported.

Virginia King died in 1994 after a hard-fought battle with emphysema, a lady to the end. Her funeral brought family and friends together, including my parents who drove from Texas. We would not have missed this chance to support the family or say our goodbyes to someone who lives in our hearts.

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon her.

May her soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


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My Life is So Different Now

Three years ago this week I made the decision to retire from Yale and move to Texas to live with and care for my dad. I don’t regret the decision but my life is so totally different; sometimes I feel disconnected, because there is no one here who has any connection to the professional life I led for so many years. Married people, people with children, usually have at least someone who has shared those experiences with them. I don’t even have my cat anymore.

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Yale Law Library Reading Room

I worked on college campuses for almost 40 years and there is an energy there that keeps things hopping. I started working in general university libraries right after getting my M.L.S. and moved to law school libraries three years later, never looking back. My career was in Technical Services, which started out as cataloging and evolved into management of all of the specialties under the Tech Services banner: acquisitions, serials, binding, cataloging, electronic resources, integrated library systems. I worked long hours at challenging work – You want a book from Singapore that was published today? And you want it when?  Okay, let me see what I can do. I lived in Virginia, in Maine, in Boston, and Connecticut, sometimes moving without knowing anyone else in the state. Moving was hard but I did it – and by myself.

My organizations allowed me time to be active in my profession, going to national and specialty conference such as the Innovative Users Group for users of the system I worked with for almost 30 years. Of course, that meant working late and on weekends to get my regular work accomplished, but it was a good trade off for keeping my brain stretched and making wonderful contacts across the country and around the world.  I spent five years on the IUG Steering Committee, including being education chair for a national conference, followed immediately by three years on the Executive Board of the American Association of Law Libraries. And three years later, I was education chair for the AALL conference, too. Exhilarating, challenging, hard, creative, fun.

I loved working out the bibliographic puzzles that went with my job. Figuring out what happened to serial publications that stopped coming or morphed into other titles without warning. Finding books requested by colleagues and faculty that came with incomplete or wrong titles. Resolving systems problems. Dreaming up new ways to explain old things to staff.

Ah, staff. I hated supervising. That was the only really hard thing about my job to me. I want to work in a collegial relationship with people who act like adults and pull their weight. Supervising people, and especially those in a tough union shop, made that difficult at times. And it was exhausting. I do not miss that one bit, though I do miss some of the people. Okay, not many of them, but some.

12108756_10208073611423764_1885628941810349569_n (1)I thoughtfully planned my departure from Yale, working to transition tasks and responsibilites to new people and writing endless documentation to explain how to do it. One week after I retired from Yale, I got in the car with the cat and my sister-in-law and drove to Texas. There was no time to process or grieve because new things were coming. I almost never hear from the people I worked with and it’s as though who I was and what I did there doesn’t matter to anyone except me. I’m forgotten and left behind. Which is appropriate; I don’t want them mourning me, either, but people I thought were friends apparently were just passing in the hallways instead. And that’s hard.

So I have a new life now. Instead of being an experienced, senior person, I’m a youngster in a retirement community. I work part-time as a church secretary, making bulletins, writing documentation, maintaining the website. I sing in the choir, play Mah Jongg, and have friends. I’m also primary caregiver for my 90 year old father, who is increasingly fragile and forgetful. Never having had children, I have one now in many ways, and it’s difficult. It’s hard to know how to take time away when I have to be at the church at 8:00 a.m. six days a week, plus care for my dad. I don’t regret being here but I haven’t adjusted.

I miss my friends and am grateful to Facebook, with all its problems, for helping me stay in touch with people who knew me in my other life. I miss my cat, who died last May. I need a hug.