James R. Jones ...now there's a name I'd never heard until becoming addicted to family research.
Jamie, me bucko, you're my 3rd great grand pop on my dad's side of the clan. It's been great to meet you .... even if only through paper documents. A terrible shame it is that not one of the Heiterts of the last generation knew your story. Then again .... perhaps they did but decided to take the better part of caution. Trust me, Jamie; I never heard your name.
Now my mother ...that's Rosemary ...you've never had the distinct pleasure of meeting her .... ironically was the one who had heard some fragments of whispered Heitert conversations. She always prefaced her comments to me with a "Katie, I don't even know if this is true" or "You know, I could easily have misunderstood." You'd love her, this woman who always gives people the benefit of the doubt. Supposedly, deeply planted somewhere among the Heitert/Jones line, lurked a horse thief.
Ah, ha!! My ears perked up when I heard the quintessential south St. Louis Heiterts harbored a possible scoundrel. You have to admit, Jamie ... such a tale would whet any family history hunter's appetite. It certainly did mine.
Sure and one of the first things I learned was that you were off-the boat Irish ...you and your wife Catherine Connelly came from County Leitrim to America in the 1850s. And, Jamie, being that I'm intensely proud of my Irish heritage on my maternal side, I couldn't have been more thrilled. You see, the Heiterts have strong German roots. My dear, you're the only Irisher who elbowed his way into the family. Understand that my da rather resented the fact that Patrick merited his own feast day and that we children became dithering eejits when it arrived.
You became a "railroader" ... no farming for you. I'm thinking you put in some long, long work days and been tired to the bone when you went home from layin' those historic tracks. And did ye follow those tracks, moving Catherine and the wee ones as you went? Perhaps that's how you wound your way to Virginia and West Virginia ....Wheeling was it? Ah, yes ....but then ye found yourself plumb in the middle of our Civil War. You'll be relieved to know that when I shared this information with some of the Heiterts, they breathed a collective sigh of relief. "For sure," I told my brother Dennis, he was a Union man." But even if you pledged your loyalty to the Confederacy, Jamie, I could na disown ye. Wisha, 'tis only a flahool who suffers the misfortune of turnin' his face away from kin.
I found scant mention of you in the data bases I searched..... one census record from 1860. Now mind ye, I'm not protesting. That tiny thing gave me a road to travel. Much to my dismay, though, I could not find your military records. Somewhere in that huge American archive they're hiding ... of that I sure. So don't think I'm puttin' ye down, Jamie. I swear by the black curses hurled by the great Finn. What I ferrited out was Catherine's widow's pension application file...and what a thick one it was.
Dearie, James, you couldn't have known because you had left this world by then, but your Catherine, her daughters, and finally her grandchildren struggled with the government to receive what they all firmly believed was her due. From 1862 to 1915 they fought, hiring lawyers, writing letters, pleading. All to no avail.
God help them .... those government types wrote back sayin' your widow deserved no compensation. I know this knowledge must grieve ye. Those men told Catherine you did not die honorably, bein' shot to pieces by an enemy infantryman. Nah ...not at all. They say, Jamie, a heart attack felled you while the Union held ye in a jail, waitin' to be trounced from the army. Worse yet, they offered no explanation of the forces that brought you there. Your family wept. 2nd Lieutenants, they believed, were heroes. One of your grandsons wrote that ye were planted in your grave with honors. Not so I'm thinking.
Much as I wish I could report no information remained that would reveal your secrets, I cannot. What did I find was a reference to your court martial. Jamie, after all these years, the file of your misdeeds still hangs about. I'm hoping when I receive those records, I'll have a proper accounting of your actions, though I cannot imagine now what they might be.
Very well, then ....there's the tale as I know it today. May the good Lord hold ye in the hollow of his hand. May ye rest well, dearest scoundrel.