Texas History: The internet helps answer a gravestone riddle
An ancestor’s gravestone in the Rio Grande Valley distressed one of our Think, Texas readers. Other readers, however, quickly came to her rescue, not only with helpful history but also with a guide to finding out more about veterans buried around the state and the country.
“My ancestors on both sides of my family came to Texas from Mexico as soon as they could,” writes Fannie Cavasos Hewgley of Leander. “I am a third-generation American and have always enjoyed Texas history and our genealogy. But I recently discovered that one of my maternal ancestors, Fernando Farias Garcia, fought on the side of the Confederacy, and that a marker was recently placed on his grave in Garciasville Cemetery.”
Hewgley spoke of a gravesite in the town of Garciasville, up the Rio Grande from McAllen and Mission.
“I would like to think that he fought because he needed the money rather than because he supported slavery,” she writes. “I do have so many interesting stories about my family, but I would like to find out … why the Confederate marker was placed on my uncle’s grave (and by who).”
I reassured her that the military usually keeps scrupulous records, although I was unsure if the physical resources would be available during the pandemic. I need not have worried. The internet solves so much these days.
But first, two readers wrote to reassure Hewgley that service in the Confederate military did not necessarily equate with support for slavery.
“My great-grandfather, Dario Gonzalez of Laredo, Texas, served under Col. Santos Benavides in a cavalry unit that acted as a home guard patrolling the South Texas area and dealing with bandits, federal troops and preserving the trade routes,” writes Alex Moreno Jr. of Buda. “They had little to do with slavery as there were very few slaves south of San Antonio.”
Moreno recommends “Vaqueros in Blue and Gray” by Jerry Thompson, which lists the 4,000-plus Tejanos in Civil War units and the unit in which each served.
Furthermore, Moreno reminds us that the Texas State Library and Archives just east of the State Capitol keeps an index-card file on all of the Confederate troops with info on dates of service and the unit. The U.S. Government also maintains a website for locating all of the soldiers of the Civil War and their service records.
One more resource: the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has put together an archive and website, “Rio Grande Civil War Trail,” which gathers together various events and sites related to the Civil War in South Texas.
Carleen R. Laurentz of Houston reminds us that many Confederate soldiers were conscripted no matter their views on slavery or secession.
“Like my great-grandfather, Valentin Riemenschneider, an immigrant cabinetmaker from Germany,” Laurentz writes. “He had no slaves. It was either join the army or be shot.”
Riemenschneider was forced to leave his business, his wife and his three children. He returned home in poor health and died at the age of 41. He is buried in the Hallettsville Cemetery.
“His grave has a Confederate marker,” Laurentz writes. “He had no political connection to the rebels, but he served honorably. … He did not support the cause for secession. I want people to know that many Confederate soldiers did not want to fight against their country. They were forced to sign up. Some young men in the South went into hiding. Others fled to Mexico.”
Reader Hugh N. Woodward of Austin generously provided us with much more information on war records, military headstones and Hewgley’s ancestor. As someone who has ordered free military headstones for his family from Veterans Affairs, he explained the process:
1. Document that your person served honorably in the military. Does not matter if he was Confederate or Union. He will receive the headstone that is appropriate for his service. Most Civil War documentation can be found at fold3.com.
2. Document that your person has no headstone currently. If he has any headstone, the VA will not provide one.
3. Document that you know where your person is buried.
“I was able to order a headstone for one of my ancestors because he had no headstone,” Woodward writes. “I found all his military documentation, and his obituary that stated where he was buried.”
Woodward linked to a site that every history buff knows, findagrave.com, where he instantly found a picture of Garcia’s grave
“He has the traditional Confederate marker — pointed on top — that is provided by the VA. It is a headstone, not just any marker. Also looks like he is well documented on ancestry.com and lived in Starr County from 1860 till his death. Died from a rattlesnake bite according to his death certificate. Will see if I find any military records.”
Naturally, Woodward did discover those papers.
“The military record mentions that he deserted,” he writes, “but that does not mean anything. If you study these enough, those soldiers appear and disappear all the time and show up later in other units.”
Hewgley also wanted to know who put the headstone there. Woodward answers that, too.
“Go to the findagrave.com link I sent you,” he writes. “Find the guy — Blas Loya — on that page who created that memorial and go to his page. Looks like he has a project to recognize all the South Texas Civil War vets. Looks like he may be the one that ordered the headstone. Looks like he knows how to research if you look at all the memorials he has created.”