Monday, 26 November 2012

North Staffs and the American Civil War

John Clews was born in Burslem in 1839 and left as an 8 year old with his father to be part of the scheme to set up a community in Wisconsin supported by the Potters Union after recession hit the industry in the 1840s. This decade was known as the hungry 40s as many suffered poverty and hardship emigrating to the New World seemed the only way to escape unemployment. A number of families from the area arrived in New York on the ship the Clifton in May 1847 and journeyed north to establish a settlement in Columbia County, Wisconsin..
Unfortunately the community did not thrive and quickly collapsed. The settlers stayed in the States amongst them John Clews who was working as a farm labourer in the 1860 US Census. He married in March 1863 and joined up the following year. Clews enlisted in E Company 38th Infantry Regiment which saw heavy fighting before the key Virginian town of Petersburg. In many ways this battle seemed to prefigure the terrible battles of the First World War as Union and Confederates fought in trenches in heavily fortified positions. Clews was killed on the 21st August 1864 at the Battle of Weldon Railroad. As the official history of the 38th Regiment details the regiment threw up a barricade across the railroad track
" These works were scarcely completed, before the enemy made a fierce assault at 9am determined to gain this important line of supply. They were repulsed with great slaughter. Again and again they returned to the assault and each time they were repulsed. After two hours hard fighting the Union forces drove the enemy from the field and fortified their position".

Another veteran of this particular battle was Clews near neighbour Henry Sawyer who was born in Burslem in 1840. Unlike Clews he survived the war and became a prosperous dairy farmer. Sawyer died in the 1920s
Tracing a North Staffs connection with the Confederate forces is however is problematic as the South was a more settled agrarian community. One family that settled in Virginia in the 17th century were the Bagnalls. John Bagnall received land in the area for dealing in slaves in 1654. Some years later the area became known as Stafford County, the Bagnall family honouring their ancestral home. During the Civil war several Bagnalls fought for the South including Richard D Bagnall who joined the 6th Virginian Infantry Regiment who fought at Petersburg close to where John Clews of Burslem, fighting for the other side, lost his life