A Leamington Man Fights in the American Civil War

Royal Midland Hospital for Incurables, Tachbrook Road, Leamington Spa. 1910s
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My ancestors, Eli and George Turner, were born and bred in Leamington and went on to lead interesting lives to say the least.

Enlisting with the Union side in the American Civil War

Eli was one of 17 children. His father was a gardener. At the age of 20 in 1857, he did something not many working class men would have done and emigrated to America. He stayed in a boarding house in New York, a house painter by trade. Four years later the American Civil War started and he enlisted with the Union side, fighting against slavery. I don’t know if he had any experience as a horse rider but he joined the cavalry and was given the role of bugler. He volunteered for three years and was honourably discharged at the end of that time. After the war he remained in New York for another couple of years then returned to Leamington in 1867.

There he continued on as a house painter, married, and had five children. Sadly three of his boys contracted polio and became paralysed. His wife was a laundress and they must have found life very hard with three handicapped children. One of them was admitted as an adult to the Home For The Incurables. There is a reference to this charitable act in the Leamington Spa Courier, December 3rd 1909.

Lived to 93

At retirement age Eli was able to draw an American pension for his service in their war. He lived till he was almost 93, at the end crippled with arthritis. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Leamington Cemetery with his wife and one of their sons. The US Dept of Veterans Affairs will supply a marble military gravestone to honour him, as they do for all Civil War vets buried in unmarked graves and I am trying to apply for this.

An unpredictable life

Eli’s older brother George also had an unpredictable life. He was a farm labourer.  In 1842, at the age of 21, he and another lad stole three cheeses. They were caught with early forensic methods by comparing the soles of their boots to imprints in the mud at the ‘crime’ scene. The patterns and numbers of hobnails matched up. There is a detailed account of this, again in the Leamington Spa Courier 12th March 1842.

He was tried at the Warwick Assizes, sentenced to 10 years and transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, Australia. He survived 16 months of the dreadful prison system at that time while awaiting transportation. The sea voyage lasted six weeks and was a cruel, harsh experience for prisoners, who were treated like slaves. He served his sentence and finally became a free man. In 1852 he sailed to Melbourne to make a life there. He married but sadly died, aged 39, of hepatitis.

I hope this is of interest; humble men with extraordinary experiences.

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