William W. Tedrow is not one of my direct ancestors, but my great-great-granduncle: my father's mother's father's mother's oldest brother. I wouldn't normally spend too much time on him, but I noticed that the death date I had for him had no associated source. I'm in the process of cleaning up my family tree, and unsourced facts—whether accidental or put in deliberately as part of ongoing research—must go. Generally, I'll spend a little time trying to find a source for the fact—more if the person is in my direct line, less if not—then either add the source or delete the fact.

Frankly, my gut reaction was to delete William W. Tedrow's death date and move on. Up until recently I was eager to learn as much as possible about anyone and everyone connected with my family—and even non-relatives if the puzzle was interesting enough. But I have just shy of 15,000 people in my database, and am no longer under the illusion that I can learn everything I want to about all of them.

Be that as it may, there was something about William's supposed death date that intrigued me.

I knew that he had served in the Union army, as a musician, from August 1861 until he was discharged in February 1863. Discharged alive and well, apparently. But the (unsourced) information I had was that he had died in 1863. He had survived his Civil War service but died soon thereafter? This warranted at least a quick look.

That's when it became interesting.

William W. Tedrow was born in Illinois, about 1840, the firstborn child of Asa W. and Sarah Elizabeth (Davis) Tedrow—my great-great-great-grandparents. I had already found his Civil War record, or so I thought. He had joined the Union army on August 1, 1861, served as a musician—an official rank between private and corporal in the Civil War army—in Company I, 33rd Illinois Infantry, with distinction, and was discharged February 7, 1863. But it turns out that a lot more data has become available online since I discovered that back in 2004. Here's the next thing I found:


The name's right; the age is right; the birthplace is right. But now he's in Company B, 5th Regiment, U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which he joined as a 1st Sergeant on October 6, 1863, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I've found no hint in census or other records that the family is of mixed race. I know that units of black soldiers were commanded by white officers, but as you can see from this list of officers of the 9th Louisiana Infantry, African Descent (the original name of this unit), Tedrow is not among them.  He was not a commissioned officer. According to the article, the enlisted men were black, and the rank of sergeant is an enlisted rank.

But there is no doubt that this is my great-great-granduncle.


There he is, as described in this record from the Illinois State Archives; his description is exactly the same as in the previous image, except that his complexion is listed as "dark" instead of as "fair." And down at the bottom is the notation, "Discharged Feb 7, 1863 at St. Louis MO enlisted in Miss[issippi] Marine Brigade." That is the key.

Here's what the website for the current 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band has to say about its history:

Mustered at State Normal University August 15, 1861 Charles E. Hovey, President of State Normal University, became the first Colonel of the 33rd Illinois Volunteers when the unit was organized in McLean County, Illinois. The regiment at once became known as the "Normal" or Teachers' Regiment and attracted both teachers and students to its ranks. Because it was stated that the regiment would not obey orders unless they were absolutely correct in syntax and orthography, the regiment was at times called the "Brain Regiment." The 33rd fought throughout the Mississippi Valley and distinguished themselves at Vicksburg, having lost 11 of 32 men, all the rest wounded save one.

The Regimental Band, led by Augustus Woodward of Lexington, Illinois and C.S. Elder also of Lexington, Illinois was made up of 17 bandsmen. The band was mustered on August 15, 1861 and mustered out on August 16, 1862 "... by order as to musicians." Due to financial issues within the military, bandsmen were a financial liability and the government could no longer afford the higher wage paid to the musician. The band provided enjoyment to the regiment and many bands continued service without authorization and the officers and men of the unit paid the added expense.

The Regimental Band was a major part of the soldier's life while fighting against many odds. The band played music that reminded them of home, kept their spirits high, and added to their emotional well-being. The Regimental Band led soldiers into battle and to their death as well.

No doubt William Tedrow was one of those musicians who stayed on, since he was not officially mustered out of the unit till half a year after the band was mustered out. But there he was, having distinguished himself at Vicksburg, Mississippi, with the Army not wanting to pay musicians. So he joined the Mississippi Marine Brigade. According to Wikipedia,

The Mississippi Marine Brigade was a Union Army unit raised during the American Civil War as part of the United States Ram Fleet. These soldiers acted as marines aboard United States Army rams patrolling the Mississippi River. The unit was ... organized as part of the Regular Army instead of a State unit. [It] was an army command operating under the direction of the U.S. Navy consisting of artillery, cavalry and infantry and a fleet of boats for transportation and was commanded by Brig. Gen. Alfred W. Ellett. ... The unit was organized in early 1863 and consisted of about 350 officers and men, including boat crews which used nine small light-armored boats fitted as rams.

The Siege of Vicksburg ended in July 1863. What was next for William W. Tedrow? Clearly, his assignment on October 6, 1863 to Company B of the 5th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery, as shown above. That he truly served in all these units is shown by the pension application below.


Was my great-great-granduncle white, black, or in between? Given the rest of my family history, as well as my DNA results, I'd have to say he was white, although I don't actually know his ancestors on either his mother's or his father's side, so it's still an open question. But perhaps looking "fair" among black troops and "dark" among white troops was an asset for a young (23 years old) teacher-cum-army sergeant in the Civil War. Sadly, William W. Tedrow did not survive to leave a record of how he managed in his new role: He died on December 31, 1863, "by accidental shooting."

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 23, 2018 at 11:51 am | Edit
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Really interesting and I think well worth the time to research.

Posted by dstb on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 7:43 am
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