Long before beginning work on Hattie’s War, I spent considerable time digging for information about Hannibal Howell, my gr gr gr grandfather. There are tidbits of information about him, but not much. If Hannibal hadn’t served in the Civil War, even less would be known, perhaps only US Census data. The US Census is remarkably helpful in family history research. The census has been going on since 1790, it is a recurring marker of the location of residence, family members and their ages, and occupation of the head of the household or other family members. Often, this information can confirm an ancestor’s legitimacy in your family tree and lead to other useful resources.
Hannibal’s military records still exist as official government documents. I was able to obtain copies of the documents through the website: Fold3.com. These include an application by Charlotte, his wife, for a widow’s pension ( $5/mo). This turned out to be an involved process since there was no legal proof of their marriage in 1849. Bryon, Hannibal’s brother, who also served with him helped Charlotte obtain evidence of their marriage through affidavits of friends and neighbors. Those are part of the record too. After the war, Byron worked as an agent helping other widows apply for pensions. Later he would become a contractor in major projects associated with post-war Reconstruction.
Hannibal’s regiment, the NY 76th, is well-documented, there is a website devoted to the NY 76th and a history of the regiment written shortly after the war by AP Smith. who served in the 76th The NY 76th fought in almost all the major battles of the war. Here is what I know: Hannibal died at Gettysburg on the first day of the three-day battle, probably in the first 30 minutes of fighting. He saw action in the epic battles of Antietam, South Mountian, Fredricksburg among others. His youngest brother Tappan, who enlisted along with Hannibal and brother Byron, died at the Battle of South Mountain almost a year before Gettysburg. Tappan is buried at Antietam National Cemetery Plot 460.
In short, I know where Hannibal and his brothers were and what they did between Sept 1861 and July 1863 because I know what the NY 76th did. Bryon contracted Typhus and pneumonia in the first six months and was discharged. What Hannibal and Tappan did as soldiers during their service is beyond comprehension. They endured unimaginable hardships and witnessed death and destruction on a massive scale. Incredibly the Howell brothers, like thousands of other men at the time, voluntarily agreed to three years of service.
What I don’t know is the circumstance of Hannibal’s death and where his body lies. Was he killed instantly or lay mortally wounded on the battlefield? Many of those wounded in battle could not be retrieved. One of the nightmarish things soldiers had to endure was hearing the desperate cries of wounded comrades long into the night after the fighting was over. Records indicate that Hannibal is buried someplace at Gettysburg, most likely in the “Unknown” section of the cemetery there. In Hector, NY where his wife Charlotte is buried there is a gravestone with both of their names on it. It is unlikely that he is buried there but that is not certain. It is possible that a body is buried next to Charlotte but it is not Hannibal. Wouldn’t that be something?
I also don’t know what life was like for Charlotte and her five children. How did they manage to survive? The widow’s pension eventually increased to $8/mo with $2 each for children under 16…that’s $16/mo… roughly $300 today. Daughter, Jennie, died in 1869 of an unknown cause. Charlotte died in 1902. She lived with her oldest daughter Martha’s family, the Browns, in her final years according to the 1900 census. Martha died in 1901 at age 49. Charlotte outlived all be two of her children: Dewitt and Harriet (Hattie).
As noted in my first post, there were several breakthroughs in my hunt for information. One was finding two online articles about Hannibal and his brothers: The Howell Brothers: A Costly Sacrifice on the Altar of Freedom and Hannibal Howell, 76th New York. The second was finding a descendant of Byron Howell who provided me with details about Byron and his life post-war.
I sat on all of the above for a number of years. I was involved in another large project about my brother David who died of AIDS in 1992 called The David Serko Project and had little bandwidth for taking this on in any meaningful way. And besides, how was I going to tell the story of Hannibal and Charlotte? I knew it was a worthwhile story but, with so little information I couldn’t see a path forward.