The Fairbanks BrothersBy Grant and Lee Fairbanks
of Bethel and Royalton
1876; Windom Twp., Mower Co., MN
Sons of Lorenzo Dow Fairbanks,
all Soldiers of the Civil War.
Alfred, "Alf", never recovered from the war, and died at 55 after prolonged suffering.
Alonzo moved out west before the war, and served as a Lieutenant in the Minnesota Home Guards.
Charles joined the Sharp-shooters at 16 after having threatened to run away to another jurisdiction if his father didn't sign the permission slip.
Henry, drafted from Woodstock in 1864, but discharged because of a heart defect, buried all five of his children and his first wife before he succumbed at age 50.
John, 3rd Infantry, was seriously wounded in the shoulder and neck at Marye's Heights in 1863.
Luke, with Capt. Pingree in the 3rd Infantry, was wounded at the battle of Lee's Mills.
HOW DID I GET INTO THIS, ANYWAY?
When my father died 34 years ago I inherited a shabby sword in a rusted scabbard, a brass belt buckle cast with an eagle in relief, three faded photographs of men in uniform, and a waterstained, broken copy of Lorenzo Sayles Fairbanks' Genealogy of the Fairbanks Family in America, 1633-1897, published in 1897.
I believe that my highly educated parents knew astonishingly little about our Civil War, arguably the most monumental event in the lives of their grandparents (at least for those born in this country). On a few occasions my father displayed the sword and buckle, and said that they had been used in the Civil War by my great-grandfather, Luke Bowen Fairbanks. Both my parents enjoyed telling me that Luke had been an "aide" to "General Grant," and that that was why my father was given the name, "Grant," which he passed down to me. I cannot claim to have been educated any better than my parents: To me, Gettysburg meant mainly the Gettysburg Address. When I read about my ancestors in the genealogy, none of the Civil War references--3rd Vt. Vol. Inf., Berdan's Sharpshooters, Lee's Mills, Fredericksburg, May 3, 1863, Libby Prison, Belle Isle--carried any meaning for me.
Then Ken Burns' The Civil War was broadcast by PBS. I watched and learned and was amazed and moved. I suspect many of the contributors to this site would tell a similar story, and so I won't belabor mine. The important points are that I now have emotional connections to the details and that I have an inherent curiosity about the hidden and unknowable. Above all else, I love to be surprised! "Aide" to "General Grant"--what a joke, I thought, when I learned of the redoubtable Lewis Grant! How satisfying to deduce 1876 as the date of the "Six Brothers" photograph (above) based on details from two unrelated sources. (In Charles' pension file is an affidavit by Brattleboro druggist George E. Greene, who stated in abt 1880 that Charles "had his home here all the time. was away a few months at one time went west. I think on a visit." In the Charles Fairbanks Collection in Bethel is a list entitled "Picnic, Austin, Minn., Aug-17th 1876." The note taker pencilled in all the names--six brothers and their sister, Addie; their spouses; their parents; and 20 children--meticulously allocating children to parents, and listing the age of each picnicker.) How memorable the sudden realization that the grim-faced VI Corps Sergeant in one of the old photographs is my great-grandfather, Luke, in late 1863 or early 1864! What a pleasure to discover why Luke's first-born son was named "Samuel Pingree Fairbanks"!
I wanted very much to know how the family felt about the war--how they coped and why all the brothers were involved--but I believed that I would never be able to touch the most revealing moments in the past. Then, amazingly, a stranger contacted me on the Internet and sent me a copy of a 28-page memoir written by Charles. Without even turning a page I read that patriotic fervor and resolve had already been expressed in the family. And that, when the news of the fall of Fort Sumter reached the farm, John, who was milking the cows, just quit his chores; that he and Luke walked directly to town to enlist and were gone by nightfall. I can feel it--what a thrill! (Thrill, indeed. But Charles' memory of that time must have been condensed: Chores may have been abandoned when they learned, on abt April 14, 1861, that Fort Sumter had fallen; but Luke and John enlisted on May 10, 1861, just after the legislature endorsed President Lincoln's first call for three-year men.)
Grant Fairbanks, Camarillo, CA
[Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Shirley DeYoung, Secretary of the Mower County Historical Society, Austin, Minn., for indispensable assistance in retrieving some of these records from the Society's files. GF]