George W. McLain (1845-1922)
Beneath a tall, robust, black marker a few dozen yards northwest of the south entrance of Hope Cemetery, buried in the red dirt of Stephens County, Oklahoma, lies the body of a man by the name of George McLain. Nothing on his marker gives any indication that there was anything particularly special about this man or that he was a Civil War veteran. However, if you were to draw conclusions from the absence of outwards signs, you would be mistaken.
It might interest you to know that George was the eighth of ten children, the fourth son, born (Dec. 9, 1845) to Issac & Elizabeth (Holloway) McLain. Perhaps you’d find it interesting to know that he was born in a place that would be heavily contested during the Civil War: Chattanooga, Tennessee (Hamilton County). If you were to research where he showed up in the various census records across the decades you would note that he moved just a few miles away to Georgia while he was still quite small and that he grew up to marry “Lucinda Jane Keith” (b. Feb. 27, 1848 in GA; d. July 22, 1909 in Jones County, TX) in Bradley County, TN just after (Aug. 1865) the Civil War’s conclusion. You’d likely notice that George and Lucinda were blessed with eleven children, the first half of their number being born in Georgia (Murray County) and the latter half in Texas (McLennan County). As you perused the records further, you’d observe that George and his family moved at some point in the late 1800’s to Indian Territory (the Chickasaw Nation) and that he would show up in the census there (Stephens County, OK) until his death at the age of 76 (May 13, 1922), spending the last twelve of his years as a lonesome dove, a widower.
But what you wouldn’t know if you limited your quest for knowledge of this man to searches in census, cemetery, and military records and didn’t range into genealogical study is that George was a man who surely knew better than most just how bitter and divisive was the anything-but-civil Civil War. You see, George’s own family was one of those that experienced divided allegiance over the war. You recall George had two older brothers: David (b. 1834) and Jonas A. (b. 1839) [a third, Issac, died in infancy]. However, what you don’t know is that while his two older brothers (and a cousin, Thomas) served as Privates in the Confederate Army (Co. E of the CSA, 60th Georgia Infantry Regiment), George served as a Private in the Union Army (Co. F of the USA, 5th Tennessee Mounted Infantry Regiment). The McLain family was a house divided against itself.
George’s service did not begin until the handwriting was well on the wall as to which way the war would go (Oct. 1864). Not so with his older brothers. David and Jonas had both sworn allegiance to the Confederacy just outside of the first year of that four-year long conflict (May 1862). The vast difference in the experiences of David and Jonas serving in the Confederacy and David in the Union are expressed well in the tight summaries of their regiment’s records – the former, horrific; the latter, mild by comparison.
For David and Jonas:
“The CSA, 60th Georgia Infantry Regiment was organized during the spring of 1862 at Savannah, Georgia, by adding four companies to Stiles’ 4th Georgia Battalion. This battalion had been formed during the summer of 1861 with six companies and served at Hilton Head. The men were recruited in the counties of Walker, Fannin, Whitfield, Bartow, Gilmer, and Dooly. Ordered to Virginia in May, it was placed under the command of Generals Lawton, John B. Gordon, and C.A. Evans. The 60th was active in the campaigns to the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days’ Battles to Cold Harbor, then was involved in Early’s Shenandoah Valley operations and the Appomattox Campaign. This regiment reported 42 casualties at Second Manassas, 59 at Sharpsburg [Antietam], 78 at Fredericksburg, and 35 at Chancellorsville. It lost 6 killed and 16 wounded at Second Winchester and about fifteen percent of the 299 at Gettysburg. On April 9, 1865, it surrendered with 5 officers and 85 men.” (Source: NPS Soliders & Sailors site)
“The USA, 5th Tennessee Mounted Infantry Regiment was organized at Cleveland, Nashville, Calhoun and Chattanooga, Tenn., on September 23, 1864. Attached to District of the Etowah, Dept. of the Cumberland, and garrison duty in that District and at Dalton and Marietta, Ga., till July, 1865. Skirmish at McLemore’s Cove, Ga., February 1, 1865. Expedition from Dalton to Coosawattie River and Spring Place, Ga., April 1-4. Mustered out July 17, 1865.” (Source: NPS Soliders & Sailors site)
None of the three brothers escaped from the war physically unscathed. George’s oldest brother, David, was wounded on the first day of Gettysburg, the bullet entering his right wrist and traveling up an arm bone, leaving him unable to have any grip in his right hand for the remainder of his life. A quick scroll through the muster roll of Co. E of the 60th Georgia will tell you that he was “one of the lucky ones.” He also spent a year and a half (Oct. 1863 – Feb. 1865) as a POW in a Union prison camp. Jonas was also wounded in action, on March 25, 1865 at Petersburg, just a few week’s before the war’s end. George would muster out of service in May 1865 on account of some unnamed “disability” (whether the disability was temporary or permanent is also not stated).
We can only imagine what sort of tension filled the air when George announced to his father, mother, brothers, and sisters that he would join the Union Army, an army at that time already responsible for the grievous wounding of the first born son in the family and who held that son in prison even at that moment. Try to grasp what it must have been like to serve on garrison duty for an occupying army just a few miles southeast of your home and all of your family while your brother is suffering all kinds of deprivation in your own army’s prison camp and while another brother is fighting siege warfare in the trenches with your army. Could it have been this tension and division that ultimately led to George’s move to the west (Texas, and ultimately, Oklahoma) while the rest of his siblings either remained in Georgia or apparently never moved further west than Arkansas? Or did their common suffering in wartime experiences help patch a breach in the family’s relationships and so, make for better times together in later years? With no further record, we’re left to wonder.
One more note. While there are several Civil War veterans buried in the Hope Cemetery, George McLain is the only Union veteran buried there that I know of at this point in my research, perhaps the only one buried there, period. As George swam against the tide in life in regard to his family during the war, he still swims against the tide, as it were, in death.
While it certainly takes great courage to put yourself physically in harm’s way for your beliefs, fighting for what you believe in the defense of your family, it is surely a far greater courage to not only put yourself in harm’s way for your beliefs, but to do so knowing all the while it will likely cost you your family relationships to do so. This latter courage was the courage George W. McLain apparently expressed.
War is hell, dividing and wounding families a thousand different ways. God deliver us from such.