Friday, November 2, 2007

Fiddler's Green: George P. Myers

I am deeply indebted to two descendants of George Myers, Kimberly Branagan and Ola Myers Eikrem, for sharing his pension records and other information that made this entry possible. This all too rare glimpse into the life of a regular cavalry enlisted man would not have been possible without their assistance. Hopefully I have done their diligent research work justice.

George P. Myers was born in Canada on May 9, 1835. His father, Phillip, was born in Ireland and his mother, Margaret Smith, was born in New Brunswick. The family immigrated to the United States in 1846, settling near Rochester, New York.

He enlisted as a private in Captain Irvin Gregg’s Company G, 6th US Cavalry on August 13, 1861 in Rochester, New York. His enlistment documents describe him as a 26 year old laborer, 5’6” tall, with light hair, gray eyes, and a fair complexion. He was not able to write, and made his mark on his enlistment documents.

George Myers served through the first two years of the war without incident. He was briefly listed as “missing on Stoneman’s Raid” on the April 1863 muster rolls, but was again present for duty the following month. It is quite likely that like many troopers on this raid, his horse went lame during the raid and he had to make his own way back to Union lines.

Such good fortune did not last through his regiment’s fateful engagement at Fairfield, Pennsylvania on July 3, 1863. Myers was captured during the engagement, and moved by foot and rail through the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond. He was confined at Belle Isle Prison in Richmond on July 21, 1863. Myers was paroled at City Point, Virginia on December 28, 1863, and moved by boat to Camp Parole, Maryland, near Annapolis. The regimental muster rolls list him as “joined from missing in action January 7, 1864.” He was so weakened by malnutrition at the time of his release that he was nearly blind and had to be physically led off of the steamboat, according to Patrick Cullen, who had enlisted with him in the same company in Rochester and met his boat at City Point. He remained at Camp Parole for several months recovering from his ordeal before he was sent to the Cavalry Corps’ “Dismounted Camp, Va” on May 13, 1864. The documents are vague, but this was probably the cavalry depot at Giesborough Point. He continued to serve until he was honorably discharged at the expiration of his enlistment on August 13, 1864.

Health issues from his imprisonment continued to plague Myers, though he was able to continue to serve in the Army. An account from a fellow private in Company G states that Myers had to be relieved from picket duty as soon as the sun went down because he couldn’t see in the dark. He described him as having bad eyesight, with eyes that were red and inflamed, “caused by moon-blindness.”

The term ‘moon-blind’ surfaces again and again in Myers’ pension records. The term generally refers to a horse disorder. It is an inflammation of the vascular structures of the eye. It is called moon blindness because of the recurring nature of the disease that was once thought to coincide with the phases of the moon. The actual medical term for the condition is Equine recurrent uveitis, or ERU. ERU is thought to be an immune-mediated disease process that can be triggered by many different causes. The weakening of Myers’ immunity system due to malnutrition would certainly have made him more vulnerable to the disease. Each episode is usually painful, and characterized by red and inflamed eyes with excessive tearing and sometimes light sensitivity or photophobia. Quiescent stages, when the eye seems normal and the disease in remission, may last from weeks to months before another episode occurs. Unfortunately, each attack of ERU leads to more damage to the eye and eventually blindness develops.

Like many soldiers of the Regular Army during the late summer of 1864, Myers was given the opportunity to return home and reenlist in the state of his choice. He returned home and reenlisted for three years in Rochester, New York. He changed companies, and was reenlisted by Second Lieutenant T.W. Simson into Company F, 6th US Cavalry on September 12, 1864. He again didn’t sign, but made his mark. His enlistment was credited to the town of Sweden, Monroe County, 28th Congressional District of New York. After a brief furlough, he rejoined his regiment by November.

Myers served with his regiment through the remainder of the war with little incident. He was promoted to corporal in Company F on February 21, 1865. He apparently didn’t desire to continue his service after the war ended and the regiment was dispatched to service in Texas. The regimental muster rolls list him as “Deserted Aug 8, ‘65, a private.” The date of his reduction from corporal to private has been lost. His records were later amended to read, “discharged May 17, 1890, to date August 8, 1865, by order of the Secretary of War, and by reason of desertion, a private.”

After leaving the army, Myers returned home to Brockport, New York where he lived the remainder of his life working alternately as a farmer and a street laborer, according to census records. He married Anna S. Woods on October 25, 1866 at Clarkson Corners, Monroe County, New York. She was born in County Cavan, Ireland on May 5, 1850, and had immigrated to the United States the year before.

George Myers’ health declined drastically after the war, most likely as a result of his wartime imprisonment. He petitioned for a pension on several occasions, with statements from fellow members of Company G who knew him before and after his time in prison. Joseph O’Connor described him as a “sound, healthy man” before he was taken prisoner, and called him “deaf and ‘moon blind’” afterwards. He initially had difficulties receiving a pension for disability, and was forced to provide numerous statements from relatives and former comrades in arms to verify his health problems and when they happened. One of the factors responsible for his difficulties was that Myers was apparently a hard worker who didn’t complain. Despite the difficulties with his eyes, he was far from a malingerer and didn’t show in any of the muster rolls as absent because of sickness. This lack of evidence of disability in his service records made it more difficult to obtain his pension.

George P. Myers died of tuberculosis in Brockport, New York on October 30, 1915. He was buried the next day in Brockport Cemetery, Sweden Township, Brockport, Monroe County, New York. He was survived by his wife and six children.

No comments: