This is a follow-up on a story we did on the discovery of a Civil War-era headstone in Johnson City. If you missed it, it can be found here.
By Dave Ongie, News Editor
When Dawn Peters and Teresa Mann Treadway saw a story in the Sept. 2 edition of the News & Neighbor on the discovery of a mysterious headstone, it piqued their collective interest.
“We both love a challenge to find historical and genealogical information about subjects such as this,” Peters said in an email to the News & Neighbor following the publication of the story. Little was known about Christian Daniels, a Union Soldier whose name was inscribed on a slab of marble that Eric Ward discovered in a South Johnson City home he had recently purchased. Through the help of local military historian Allen Jackson, Ward and his friend Rick Lewis learned that Daniels had died of an illness, which was common during the Civil War. Jackson’s research helped uncover the plot where Daniels was buried as well as a purchase order from Nov. 29, 1879 for the granite stone and other pertinent information.
But from there, the trail went cold. No family came forward to request the remains be exhumed and moved prior to the flooding of the cemetery when Watauga Lake was formed by the TVA in 1948. At some point before the land was flooded or during a brief drawdown of the lake in 1983, the stone was moved from its original location, leaving Daniels to rest beneath the water in an unmarked grave. Ward and Lewis turned the stone over to the proper authorities with many questions left unanswered. Upon reading the story, Peters and Treadway – both members of the Watauga Historical Association – rolled up their sleeves and got busy trying to find out everything they could about Christian Daniels. A trail of documents led them to the first of many interesting discoveries. Daniels was traveling with the 10th Ohio Battery, the unit inscribed on his headstone, but he was actually from Indiana.
A U.S. Census form from 1860 included Daniels’ signature and indicated that he had emigrated from Germany and made his living in America as a shoemaker. According to the document, Daniels lived in Polk County along with his wife Madeline and his 13-year-old son Frederick. A widow’s pension application filled out by Madeline following Christian’s death revealed more details about his military service and his death. Daniels married Madeline on May 24, 1861 and enlisted in the Union Army three weeks later as a volunteer with Wilder’s Battery out of Indiana. Daniels was a private in the light artillery unit, but at some point he hooked up with the 10th Ohio Battery that was listed on his tombstone.
Daniels’ cause of death in the pension paperwork was listed as “Congestion of the Brain,” a condition that was deemed to have been contracted in the line of duty, and thus entitling Madeline to a widow’s pension of $8 per month.
The identity of the person who purchased the headstone Ward found remains a mystery, and the documents gathered can only tell us so much about the life of a man who died 145 years ago. As it turned out, following the path of Frederick Daniels was the key to discovering a living descendent of Christian Daniels.
Peters was able to get in touch with Kathy Jensen, a descendent of Daniels who lives in Idaho, and Jensen was able to pass along some family history that shed more light on Daniels’ life. According to a passenger list, Christian Daniels brought his 4-year-old son Frederick over to the United States from Germany in 1851.
“It is our suspicion that Christian’s wife, Frederick’s mother, died and he then brought his son to America,” Jensen said via email.
Once Christian enlisted in the military, it didn’t take long for Frederick to follow in his father’s footsteps. According to the oral family history, Frederick did not get along with his stepmother and enlisted in the Union Army at 16 years old about a year after his father left Indiana.
After being captured by Confederate soldiers, Frederick spent the rest of the war in a series of prison camps, ending with a stint in Andersonville, Georgia, according to information Jensen found in a family Bible. Following the war, Fredrick returned home as an 18-year-old veteran who was very ill after his time in the prison camps with no knowledge of his father’s fate.
“He never had contact or knew what happened to his father, Christian, after he went off to war according to the family story,” Jensen said. “As he was so very young when he came to America, our suspicion is that he didn’t know anything much about his biological mother either. No information was passed on to his children.”
Jensen believes Fredrick’s lack of knowledge about what happened to his father is the reason no family came forward prior to the flooding of Watauga Lake in 1948 to claim the remains. By this point, nobody in the family would have known about Christian’s demise or the location of his final resting place.
Frederick got married and re-married within a year after returning from the war. His second marriage yielded a pair of daughters – Sarah and Mirilla – who both married young after Frederick died in a mining accident at the age of 40. Sarah went on to have 10 children, and Jensen is among her descendants.
When Jensen received word that her ancestor’s headstone had turned up in Tennessee, she said she was inspired to dig deeper into the family history and discover more about Christian’s 10 years in America prior to his death. The soldier laid to rest so far from home is forgotten no more.
Jensen was also hopeful Christian’s headstone would find a fitting home among others who fought so bravely in defense of their country.
“It is only fitting that he should be honored in such a profound way,” Jensen said. “Our family burial plot is in South Dakota, where most of his great-grandchildren are buried, and there is no connection for him there. It is our wish that he be honored on the site where he fought.”