1850-1880 — New York and Virginia
In another Story Page we discussed the Siege of Petersburg, VA, between June 1864 and April 1865 (Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and Petersburg, VA). In this Story Page we will look at a Northern family who migrated from Laurens, Otsego County, NY, to Petersburg, Dinwiddie County, Va, and ended up living in enemy territory during the Civil War.
Ashbel Armstrong, born about 1796 in New York state, was the patriarch of a fairly large family which included Ezeriah, age 18 and deaf and dumb according to the 1850 census, Erastus age 17, Elisha J age 15, and a daughter Waity (probably short for Waitstill) who was age 9. A William Armstrong and his wife Caroline also lived in Laurens with their daughter, Helen, who was born in 1849. Because William and his family also moved to Petersburg, it is assumed at this point that he was an older son of Ashbel who, with his wife Amy, had other older children but they do not play into the story later on.
According to their application for reparations after the Civil War, they moved to Petersburg, VA, in 1853. By 1860, William's wife had apparently died, leaving him with 2 young daughters - Helen, age 11, and Francella, age 9. Next door lived father Ashbel, age 57, and two brothers, Erastus and Elisha J. All the men were farmers as they had been in New York. Their finances had improved. The value of William's real estate had increased from $1600 in 1850 to $10,000. The value of Ashbel's estate is not given in 1860, but that of his two sons, Erastus and Elisha, was greater than that of Ashbel's in 1850.
Petersburg saw the longest siege in the history of the Civil War, and life was horrifying for the Armstrong family. Reading the testimonies of neighbors in their claims (Southern Claims Commission) on Footnote gives quite a picture of the hardships they suffered. By the time of the 1870 census, both Ashbel and Ezeriah were living back in Otsego County, NY, with the family of a John Armstrong. Elisha appears living with his brother Erastus, who has married and had a child, in Petersburg. Also living with this family are Helen Armstrong, age 19, and Francelia, age 15, daughters of William who was killed for refusing to tell Confederate forces where his 2 brothers were. Read this account on page 3, attached.
On 29 August 1871, Erastus applied to the Southern Claims Commission for $6084 to compensate him for goods taken by the Union Army during the war. On the same day, "E. J." (likely Elisha J.) Armstrong applied for $2750, and William G. Pearse applied on behalf of Helen and Francelia Armstrong, minor children, for $5060. They would not have had any problem proving that they were Union supporters during the war, as they were from the North. The letters and affadavits testifying of their losses give us a very clear picture of life at that time. Apparently, however, their claims were disallowed.
Most of the family were still in Dinwiddie County in 1880. Elisha J. had married a young woman 14 years his junior, and his father, now age 82, was back living with them in Petersburg. Ezeriah (the son who was deaf and dumb) was living with his sister, Waity, who married some 20 years before and who had returned to New York to have a child in 1865 (their other children were born in Virginia). They were in Namozine District.