|Surrender of General Lee
Library of Congress
Upon their release, each rebel prisoner of war faced the decision of whether or not he would sign a document declaring his allegiance to the United States Government. Would he maintain his allegiance to a Southern government that had failed, or align himself with the government he had fought against?
Initially, I was surprised to find an Oath of Allegiance in Burton W. Cook’s Civil War file. While it would be easy to assume a change of heart, as I have read about the Oath of Allegiance, I have learned that many, if not most Southern Confederates signed simply because they wanted to return home.
Included among Burton W. Cook’s Civil War file is a paper which reads:
“Name appears as signature to an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, subscribed and sworn to at Elmira, N.Y., June 19, 1965.”
It further indicates that he had enlisted in Georgia 53rd, Company C, that he resided in Atlanta, Georgia and includes a physical description and was signed upon his release from the prison, Elmira in New York. From this paper, I learned that Burton had a florid complexion, dark hair, gray eyes and stood 6 foot tall. Because Burton appeared successful in his acquisition of land and goods, I had previously assumed that he had at least some education, but this paper seems to suggest otherwise. Burton signed “by mark,” implying that he could not write his name. Had it been difficult for him to sign a paper he could not read, presented to him by people he did not trust?
Although there is relatively little information on the form, for me it is a gem because it provides information found no where else about Burton W. Cook, married to Mary Ganus, my second great grandfather’s sister. It underscores the value of finding every source pertaining to each ancestor. From this document, I learned what Burton W. Cook looked like, where he lived, that he was among the many that were not educated, and that after years of war and imprisonment, he signed his allegiance to the United States Government. For the details it provides for me and for Burton’s descendants, I am so glad that he signed.
Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014