AUTHOR: Linda H. Barnette
My great-great-grandfather, Hiram Hamilton Hartley, was a plantation owner in Davidson County, North Carolina, at the beginning of the Civil War. Obviously, he felt strongly about the Confederate cause and enlisted in Wake County on July 15, 1862, when he was just 23 years old. I feel certain that he had no idea what he was in for, but he was willing to leave behind his wife, Alice Wilson Hartley, and their first child Eliza Jane, who was born on March 5, 1861 and called “Jenny” by her family, to find out.
Two months after he enlisted he was captured in Maryland and confined at Fort Delaware, Delaware until he was sent to Virginia a few months later as part of a prisoner exchange. He was captured again during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. In May of 1864, he was held prisoner at Point Lookout until being transferred to Elmira, New York, where he remained until he was again part of a prisoner exchange to Virginia in February of 1965, just before the war was over.
I have read extensively about Elmira, the Union prison for Confederate soldiers. It was originally built as a training camp and a muster point for Union soldiers but was converted into a prison during the war. Prisoners were cold and constantly hungry, victims of various diseases, and totally miserable. During the winter of 1864 almost 3,000 prisoners out of the 12,000 held there died, mostly from starvation and the overcrowded conditions.
That Hiram survived the war itself was a miracle. When he returned home, he dedicated himself to a life of public service. During his life he was a county commissioner, a magistrate, a member of the North Carolina legislature, and held other positions of leadership. Alice and Hiram had 6 children altogether, then Alice died in childbirth as did so many women in those days. Hiram was married a total of 3 times and had 13 children. I have always wondered if his time in the war is what compelled him to a life of serving others.