07 August 2014

#29-52ancestors: Capt. James Vanderpool

#29—52 ancestors

Capt. James R. Vanderpool (1831-1880)

 I have an ancestor, loved and hated, depending on one's political views of the Civil War. One Confederate historian described him as "mean, bull-headed and ruthless." Another historian, with a Union bent, refers to him as a "courageous, honorable, and beloved by his troops." They are talking about the same man!

Union Officer's
Civil War
James R. Vanderpool, born ca 1831 in Indiana, was a blacksmith, married (to Anna Henderson), and father of three living in Newton County, Arkansas, when he enlisted in the Union Army on 21 June 1862. He was assigned to Co. B, 1st Regiment, Arkansas Cavalry. He served in it until he was discharged on 27 February 1863 to become captain of Co. C, 1st Arkansas Infantry Volunteers in which he served until the war ended in 1865.

Newton County, Arkansas was an isolated area in the Ozarks and in the early years of the war it did not affect the local people much.  However, by 1864, every able-bodied man of military age was in some branch of the army. This left only women, children and old men at home and they soon became a prey of bushwhackers who robbed and plundered everyone. Families of men serving in the military lived in constant fear of both the roaming bands of Confederate guerrillas and the bushwhackers. It became so dangerous that Union soldiers were unable to return to their homes to visit family without great risk of being shot by guerrillas. The Civil War split many families in this county and some families resorted to living in caves.

Living conditions during the war became so terrible that Capt. John McCoy, of Newton County, secured permission from Major General Frederick Steele to escort a wagon train of Union families to Springfield, Missouri. McCoy had served as State Representative from Newton County in 1858; and later, in 1864, he would serve as an Arkansas Senator. He was a vigorous opponent of the secession ordinance, voting against the Act under open threats that he would be shot down on the floor of the legislature. 

To escort the caravan he was assisted by Capt. James R. Vanderpool. They took 20 wagons of families. Early on during this trip, Capt. McCoy’s horse fell and landed on him, breaking five ribs. The accident confined McCoy to a bed in one of the wagons and that put Captain Vanderpool in charge.  According to the History of Newton County, by Walter F. Lackey, “as they were passing some fine plantation homes, a woman came out and cursed them and called them names, saying that a Rebel Army was in their path and that every d—— one of the men would be killed and their women and children would be sleeping in tents in less than a week.”

The caravan camped on the bank of the river that night and soon after they’d pitched camp, some steers belonging to the Rebel woman who had yelled at them earlier came near their tent and began bellowing at the Union troops’ steers.  Captain Vanderpool ordered his men to shoot the steers, saying “no d—- Rebel steers could bawl at his oxen.”

Newton County “produced two famous leaders, fighting for different causes,” Rose Lacy writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. They were “James Vanderpool, a Union hero who returned home in August 1865, and John Cecil, the former sheriff of Newton County, who was known for showing off his twin pearl-handled pistols that he had worn as a guerrilla leader for the Confederacy.”

Old State House 1865 Little Rock, Arkansas
In the spring of 1864, James R. Vanderpool was serving in the Arkansas House of Representatives as representative from Newton County. He was absent several times (obviously due his military duties) but appears in the Special Session in April 1865 (Journals of the House of Representatives of the Sessions of 1864, 1864-65, and 1865 — Arkansas Constitutional Convention). His son, John Anthony Vanderpool, age 3, died while the family was in Little Rock in 1865.

James R. Vanderpool

Soon after military service and legislative duties were completed, James and his family went back home to Newton County. Before the war he had purchased a small farm located on the mountain south of Jasper, but the house had been burned and the fences destroyed. He quickly constructed a small cabin and the following spring attempted to plant a crop, but the hard physical labor of farming proved much too strenuous for his failing health. In early 1868, he opened a mercantile business in Jasper, but he sold it about four years later and moved back to his mountain farm. He became seriously ill with pneumonia and on March 22, 1880 died at the age of 49. Just five months later, on August 16, Anna, his wife, died giving birth to their 11th child — a baby boy neither would ever know.

It is difficult to look at the lone picture I have ever seen of him and realize he was only about 48 years old. He looks so much older. Life was difficult in the mid-19th century, but military service was extremely hard on those who fought during the Civil War. I admit that I’m proud to say he is my 2-great-grandfather and confess that I look at his war-time service with pride and bias.