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A Family Divided

We just celebrated Independence Day, and I began thinking about the patriotism of my own family.

The Reeds lived in the northern United States in the colonies of New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War. They moved south to Kentucky in the early 1790s. So, did their loyalties lie with the North or the South seventy years later during the Civil War? By then the family had continued to migrate, and branches of the family lived far apart from one another.

My own line of the Reed family was in southern Illinois. Thomas Reed (1783-1852) became a pioneer settler in Coles County in 1829. Illinois was a Union state, but many residents of the southern counties had come from Kentucky and were Southern sympathizers. The allegiance of these Reeds cannot be assumed.

Thomas’s next younger sister Abigail (1785-1854) moved to Texas with her second husband Joseph Shaw (1789-1865) around 1835. Texas became a Confederate state.

Before their moves, Thomas and Abigail had been close. His wife Ann Kirkham (1782-1869), and Abigail’s first husband John Kirkham (1779-1809) were also siblings. Their families did not relocate in opposite directions until the Reed siblings were in their mid-40s.

Yet they did separate with one going north and the other going south. Why? And what did that mean for the sides they chose in the Civil War?

Thomas’s middle son, Caleb, who was my ancestor, had been just eleven years old when the family parted. His cousins Josiah Shaw and Peter Van Dyke Shaw were about the same age as Caleb. They were all tweens, as we would say, when their families left Kentucky.

I do not know whether they ever saw one another again or if they kept in touch. There must have been some communication because Thomas and Abigail each received legacies in their father’s 1832 will, probated in Indiana.

But how much influence did their family ties have on the thinking of these cousins when the war broke out thirty years later? Longtime Kentucky residents Thomas and Abigail had died well before the conflict began in 1861. Their sons probably knew that their birth state of Kentucky never joined the Confederacy even though many in that state supported its cause. Which way should they turn?

Caleb Reed was 41 years old when the war began. He had lived in Illinois since childhood. As far as we know, he did not serve. Given his Kentucky roots and his location in southern Illinois, he could have supported either side. We do know that his brother-in-law, childhood friend, and neighbor Robert Boyd lost two sons to the Union cause. If Caleb’s family and the Boyds were alike in their politics, perhaps the Reeds were loyal to the Union, too.

On the other hand, Abigail’s Texas family made a different decision and became true Confederates. Josiah served as a Captain in the Texas state troops. Peter was a Lieutenant in Rabb’s Company, CSA.

So one sibling’s (Thomas) family likely stayed loyal to the Union while the other one’s (Abigail) family joined the Confederacy. The explanation lies in their roots.

The Reeds had come from the northern colonies of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Most returned to the north after their stint in Kentucky. Thomas went to Illinois while his sisters Rachel Elliott and Elizabeth Harris and his brother John Reed all migrated to Indiana, a Union state. Their older sister Sarah Johns’ family went to Missouri where three of her sons fought, and one died, for the Union.

Abigail, on the other hand, married Joseph Shaw who was born in Tennessee. He had a deep southern identity and always lived in the South. He spent two years in a Mexican prison while fighting for Texas independence. Abigail and her husband were in Texas when it became a republic. The South and Texas held the hearts of the Shaw family despite Abigail’s family ties.

Thus, the Reed descendants of the Revolutionary War generation had some divided loyalties during the war between the states. Most remained true to the Union. One branch, for understandable reasons, served on the other side.

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