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American Civil War: The Battle of Hanover Courthouse

Liz inherited the family history notes from an aunt and was hooked on genealogy. The hobby connects history to family for her.

Family Ties To A Historic Battle

While pursuing my hobby of family history research, I came across an ancestor who had been in the American Civil War, specifically in the Battle of Hanover Courthouse. This is why I do family history research: it makes otherwise boring historical facts and dates come alive and have some degree of personal meaning.

I have physical proof of this particular ancestor’s involvement in the form of his uniform buttons, belt buckle and hat cockade from his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic. These items have been handed down in the family. The G.A.R. was an post-war membership group for men who had fought in the Civil War. He was my Great-great grandfather, born in 1830, making him a man of about 30 years of age when hostilities broke out.

A Physical Connection to History

These uniform buttons, hat cockade and belt buckle have been handed down in my family

These uniform buttons, hat cockade and belt buckle have been handed down in my family

Thanks to a cousin who lives on the east coast and is a professional genealogist, I was able to gain information on exactly what that involvement was. My cousin tracked down the actual service records, the application for a pension, and a disability claim based on an injury suffered in the service of the Union Army. It was not a battlefield injury, per se, but was suffered in a retreat from the Battle of Hanover Courthouse when a gun carriage rolled over his foot.

I had never heard of this battle, and decided to do some further investigation.

The Battle of Hanover Courthouse

Overshadowed by the more famous and well-known Gettysburg battlefield, the Battle of Hanover Courthouse was one of a series of battles known as The Peninsular Campaign fought between March and July of 1862. These battles took place in Virginia.

The Hanover Courthouse Battle was fought on May 27th, 1862, and was the second of three battles in the opening push of this campaign, the first being Hampton Roads (more popularly known as the Battle of the Ironclads); the third and final battle in this set was called Seven Pines.

Hanover Courthouse, (also variously referred to as Slash Church, Lebanon Church or Kinney’s Farm), immediately preceded the next advance referred to as the Seven Days’ Battles: Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines’ Mill, Glendale, and Malvern Hill.


Who Was the Victor?

If, indeed, anyone can be considered victorious with all the horrible casualties of any war, the opening three in this series of battles was a crushing defeat for the Union Army. They found themselves in full retreat from every engagement. This was humiliating, as back in those days, the Union side thought they were assured of a quick victory, and a good number of senators and other officials from Washington D.C. had come out to watch, as if this was some kind of spectator sport.

Naturally, as is still true today, “spin” was placed on any reports, to make the reporting side look its best. But from the historical perspective, things could have turned out very differently if the course of these particular battles had remained for the duration of the conflict.

As it turned out, both sides claimed victory, but casualties were heavy, and neither side gained a clear overall advantage at this point in the war.


Civil War battle reenactments are quite the popular thing these days, spanning the range from various skirmishes to major engagements such as Gettysburg. These are true spectator events, learning opportunities and function as temporary living history museums.

Tickets can be purchased to watch, or people can get further involved by becoming part of the show. It might make good theater nowadays, but nonetheless it is serious business, demonstrating the not-so-fun, ugly business of war, and how our nation came to be what it is today.

Many different groups and organizations have regularly scheduled reenactments of various Civil War battles. The Civil War Reenactors are from many varied groups of people, and their committment to authenticity varies widely.

Gettysburg is probably the most famous and well-known battle of that infamous war, and the reenactments are put on in the summer every year.

Another site caters specifically to battles that occurred in Virginia.

In recent years, the popularity and attendance at these events has dropped off considerably. That is a shame, for it is living history.

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GAR uniform coats and hats shown

GAR uniform coats and hats shown

G.A.R. Postscript

The Grand Army of the Republic now exists only as a historical museum. The group used to hold annual "encampments," that today we would probably classify as reunions, retreats, or possibly reenactments.

The last such gathering was held in back in 1949, and the last surviving member, one Albert Woolson, died in 1956 at the age of 109.

© 2011 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 24, 2015:

Hello, Alun!

I imagine the Brits of the day were quite bemused with such a conflict, after our struggle to earn freedom.

You and I shared the same opinion of history during our school days: B-O-R-I-N-G!! And with me being a bit numerically challenged, those dates always got me.

It is interesting to have the ancestral souvenirs. Thanks so much for stopping by and your interesting comment.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on October 24, 2015:

Even as a Brit with no known connection to it, I find the American Civil War an interesting conflict. But you're absolutely right about the benefits of a personal connection or indeed knowledge of any individual human story associated with the conflict.

When I was at school, history was my least favourite subject - just a boring succession of dates and facts. It was only subsequently though the watching of television documentaries and the reading of articles such as this, that history came alive for me, and that was the result of hearing the stories of real life people who took part in the events that shaped the world. And to have mementos such as yours brings the connection to the past even closer. They are to be treasured! Alun

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on December 05, 2011:

Hi, wilderness!

Wow--how cool is that! Did you see any of the purported ghosts in the area? They say entire marching regiments are seen at Gettysburg....

Hmmm.. maybe I CAN talk to the ancestor... ;-) LOL

Thanks much for stopping by and adding that bit of fascinating first-person info!

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on December 05, 2011:

I've been there! We lived just outside Fredericksburg, Va for 20+ years and visited many of the civil war battle sites in the area, including this one.

Fascinating that you have someone that was actually there - don't you wish you could talk to him now?

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on November 02, 2011:

Thanks very much, PenMePretty! I'm glad you liked the article.

PenMePretty from Franklin on November 02, 2011:

Did your homework on this one. Great!

Jamie Brock from Texas on November 01, 2011:

@DzyMsLizzy and @triciajean: Thank you both..I've been inspired :0) Perhaps I will do some more research and write a hub about what happened to my grandfather. Many blessings to you both :)

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 31, 2011:

@ Jamie Brock-- It is, indeed fun to learn history through relative's exploits. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Your story is great; thanks for sharing it! Thanks so much also for the votes.

@triciajean--Yes, very curious indeed. thanks for the repeat visit. ;-) Jamie's story was indeed fascinating.

Patricia Lapidus from Bantam, CT on October 31, 2011:

Wow! A Quaker. Curiouser and curiouser. And I loved Jamie's story, too.

Jamie Brock from Texas on October 31, 2011:

Isn't it neat to hear about history and learn a relative was involved? I was told the story of my grandfather who was in a navy ship that was shot down and sunk. He and very few others survived. He stayed long time friends with one of those navy pals up until he died. Normally navy stuff would not interest me but this made it personal. I've done some research and this reminds me I need to get back on it. Thanks for sharing this! Very interesting and voted up!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 31, 2011:

Hi, triciajean--

Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed this little tidbit. It was fun learning about the ancestor. My next bit of research involves finding out WHY this particular ancestor was even involved, for he was a Quaker, and they were the original conscientious objectors; did not believe in, support or participate in war on any level. The plot thickens.

I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for stopping by and for the vote!

Patricia Lapidus from Bantam, CT on October 31, 2011:

Thanks, DzyMsLizzy. I do enjoy reading new pieces of history. You're Right. Gettysburg overshadowed a lot of other battles. I remember when my dad took us to Gettysburg. He had done some reading and could tell us all about that battle. Voted up.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 30, 2011:

Hello, Cobra--

Thanks very much. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Cobra on October 30, 2011:

good read, History is always a joy for me to read....

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 30, 2011:

Hi, ladypoet46--

Thank you so very much! I'm glad you liked the article.

ladypoet46 from madera, ca on October 30, 2011:

Hello, this was a great writing.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 30, 2011:

Hello, Alastar Packer--

Thanks so much for your additional input. That is a funny story about the fellow sampling the 'shine.

This was a bit of a puzzle to research, as there is actually quite a lot of information about it, but some is conflicting, and the overall outcome is questionable.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on October 30, 2011:

Hi there DzyMsLizzy! This is a rather unknown conflict, usually over-shadowed by Seven Pines. How about that with the great-great grand. Got several friends and relatives active in re-enactments. Your right, they do take it very seriously; but theres some fun too. One of them was telling me about a big boy who boasted of his capacity to hold liqueur so they let him drink some powerful 'shine and the big boy stood up after awhile and fell down on his back with a smile on his face; stayed down there for a good bit too. Interesting about the last man of the Grand Army passing in '56 at 109. The last one over-all was a Southern soldier who died in 1959. Thanks for the investigation & write!

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