I am not related to this family, only posting to help others.
The Civil War was a tragedy for individual families in addition to being a tragedy for the nation. I don’t know how typical my Sanders family was of Southern families generally, but the Civil War literally set brother against brother and father against son within the Sanders clan descended from the original settlers of Randolph and Montgomery counties, North Carolina. As if emblematic of the conflicting loyalties generated by the war, my grandfather, Jesse Sanders, appears to have served in both the Confederate Army and the Union Army before he was nineteen years old.
When the war began my great grandfather Isaac Sanders was living in Mount Ida in Montgomery County, Arkansas. He had three sons already of military age, and one, Jesse, my grandfather, who would become old enough to serve during the war itself. Numerous other related Sanders families lived in other counties in Arkansas, in Texas, in Mississippi, and back in Alabama and North Carolina, the points of origin for the westward Sanders migration.
The sentiment within Mount Ida was overwhelmingly in favor of secession, and those who had doubts were too intimidated to protest. On July 17, 1861, a unit called the “Montgomery County Hunters” was organized. It would later be designated as Co. F of the 4th Arkansas infantry. The small rural community celebrated the occasion with a home made drum and fife show using improvised instruments and joints of sugar cane stalks. Their collected baggage consisted of bed quilts, pots, skillets, coffee pots and other household items, all drawn by yokes of oxen. Their weapons of war against the Yankee invaders were old squirrel rifles and double barreled shotguns.
The leader of this group, Captain John Lavender, would later write a book about his war experiences, The War Memoirs of Captain John W. Lavender, C.S.A. (W.M. Hackett and D. R. Perdue Publishers, the Southern Press, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1956). He wrote, ”we was in high spirits and no one complained fearing he would be accused of being a coward or playing the baby act.” The company was mustered in Missouri and participated in the battles of Elkhorn, Richmond, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Georgia campaign of 1864, Franklin, and Nashville. There were some changes in the organization of the company during the war, and it is difficult to tell how many of the original men who joined in July of 1861 survived the war, but Lavender later estimated that of the one hundred or so who crossed the Mississippi and fought in the battles in other states only about a dozen survived the war.
The nature of Isaac’s combat experience is not clear, though it is known he was a member of the Montgomery County Hunters and Company F. We do have a record that Isaac enlisted on October 21, 1861 at Fort Smith Arkansas, and that he was furloughed from December 17, 1861 to March 1, 1862. His discharge papers state that he was suffering from pneumonia. His son Aaron enlisted on November 21, 1861 at Forth Smith and was present on December 31, 1861; his son Benjamin enlisted on October 21 1861 at Fort Smith and was with Humphries' batallion at Shelbyville, Tennessee on April 29, 1863. His son Isaac, Jr., enlisted on October 21, 1861 at Forth Smith and died on January 10, 1862 from illness or an injury.
By June 4, 1863 Isaac, Sr., was back in Montgomery County because he signed up for Earnest’s local defense company, which was established to defend the home front. Apparently, this was the only unit of its kind in the state. Isaac’s son Aaron was a first sergeant in the same company and Isaac’s seventeen year old son Jesse appears for the first time in the war records as a private if the “J. Sanders” who appears in the company roll is the same person as Jesse.
In the fall and winter of 1963-64 most of the Sanders family in the Montgomery County area appeared to have switched sides from the Confederacy to the Union forces. Isaac's cousin William Patrick Sanders and two of his sons joined 4th U.S. cavalry in November of 1863. They were accompanied by some of the related Biddy and Lamb families. Isaac's son Jesse joined the 4th cavalry in February 1864 Isaac himself enlisted at Dardanelle in Yell County in March, 1864.
According to the Edward G. Gerdes Civil War in Arkansas page, quoting from a contemporary account of the 4th cavalry, Isaac's unit was involved in the skirmish at Dardanelle on May 17, 1864:
"At that date Dardanelle was attacked by Shelby in the night with 2,000 men and four pieces of artillery. The commanding officer of the post had ordered the camp equipage across the river and at the time of attack, it was slowly crossing in a single flat boat. Capt. Wood, Co G, in charge. The town was held until it was completely surrounded and for nearly two hours after it had beena bandoned by the post commander. All records of the company were lost, except for copies of muster-in rolls found in the Adjutant General's Office. Some of the men escaped by swimming the river and some by cutting their way through enemy's lines. Many of the men reported missing in action are in the woods near Dardanelle, unable to rejoin the regiment on account of guerillas."
The official military record of Isaac's service indicates that he was listed as "missing in action" during the skirmish. What happened to him immediately afterwards is not clear, though we know that he survived the battle and lived for at least another sixteen years. Maybe he escaped from the woods and joined some other unit to continue fighting the war; or maybe he, like many other solider-farmers of the time, went back home to take care of his family's needs.
Isaac’s brother, John, who lived in Jackson County, Alabama, stated in his Southern Claims record in 1875 that Isaac lived in Montgomery County, Arkansas and that Isaac fought for the Confederacy. Unlike Isaac, John remained loyal to the Union throughout the War and served in an Ohio Regiment, stationed mainly in the Tennessee theatre. A letter written by Louie Richard David of Weatherford, Texas, on July 24, 1974 to friends in Jackson County, Alabama and later printed in the July 2000 issue of Sanders’ Siftings suggests that Isaac and John may have fought in the same battle:
"There is another story told about two of the Sanders. The story goes that the two brothers were fighting during the War Between the States. One had enlisted with the Union Army and the other was serving with the Confederates. They were mounted and fighting and charging with sword and saber. It was night and dark and they did not recognize each other, or who they were fighting against. One of them said 'Get Ert Aunt Becky,' and the other said 'Is that you, John?' and they then recognized each other as being brothers and stopped fighting. They had an aunt called Aunt Becky who had a 'By-Word' of Get Ert. I have a note of a John Sanders serving with Co. B. 3rd Ohio Regiment (Union Army). I don't remember where I got it but wonder if they might be the one in the story."
Regardless of whether this is a true story, it does coincide with the facts that John and Isaac, two Sanders brothers, fought on opposing sides during the war. The county where John lived, Jackson County, Alabama, was in the Alabama hill county, a region with few slaves and many poor whites who had no use for the planter aristocracy. Further, most of the Sanders families in Jackson County had emigrated from Randolph and Montgomery County, North Carolina. Many of the earliest settlers of these two North Carolina counties had been Methodists or Quakers, people with a strong social conscience, and, in some case, an aversion to slavery.
John Sanders was by no means alone in his service to the union cause. Two of his sons fought in the same Ohio Regiment in which he served. His elderly uncle on his mother’s side, Joseph Sanders, called “Uncle Joe” by nearly everyone, was a staunch Union supporter whose sons joined the Union army. Unfortunately, Uncle Joe’s public support for the Union led to his death on April 10, 1863. Here is one version of the story, again quoting from the same letter:
"I know you have some information on the Sanders that was killed by bushwhackers. I have heard a story here in Texas passed down through generations .One of the Sanders was caught off guard while plowing a field by bushwhackers. They took him and his horse to the top of a hill and made the Sanders dig a grave. Then the bushwhackers killed both man and his horse and buried both in the grave with the legs of the horse sticking up out of the grave. (This is some tale and may not be exactly true but is what I have heard)”
There are other versions of this story, such as that Uncle Joe was taken from his home and killed. A Huntsville newspaper of the time was decidedly unsympathetic: "On the same day, we learn, an old man, named Saunders, who affiliated with the Abolition Army, when they occupied Jackson county, and went off with them, but returned to depredate on the neighborhood, was shot and killed by some unknown person, on Mud Creek in that county." The latter is from a posting on the Sanders-L list on January 27, 2004 by Don Schaefer who thinks there was probably some vigilante justice after the murder and at least one of the murderers may have been lynched, though the details of subsequent events are rather murky.
The situation in Arkansas was similar to that in northeast Alabama. Pro-unionists, who had remained silent during the heyday of the Confederacy, began to surface whenever the federal troops were able to assert control. I have no family tradition about any competing loyalties within my great grandfather’s father in Montgomery County, but events suggest that, in spite of losing a son for the Southern cause, his family was not composed of wholehearted Confederate sympathizers. For example, his seventeen year old son Jesse, having signed up for the Montgomery County local defense troop unit in June of 1863, switched sides and joined the 4th Arkansas Cavalry, USA in February 1864. He served in the same unit as his uncle William Patrick Sanders and two of William Patrick’s sons. Also in the same unit was James H. Biddie who was related by marriage to the Sanders family, his father having married Isaac’s sister. Biddie had also previously served in the Confederate forces, as had two other 4th cavalry soldiers, Reuben Lamb and George Swaim, who also were related to Jesse by marriage.
Another example is that of Francis Marion Sanders, who may be a second cousin of Isaac. Born in Jefferson County, Illinois in 1838, it is believed his ancestors were from Montgomery County, North Carolina. He served in the 34th Arkansas Infantry, CSA, with two of his brothers, one of whom was killed in action. His wife later claimed that he served in the Confederate Army under duress. In the spring of 1863 he deserted and in the fall of 1863 he joined the Union Army. In December of 1864, while he was visiting his family in Clarksville, Arkansas, he was killed by bushwhackers while his horrified wife and children watched. Later, the family fled back to Illinois to the safety of his wife’s family.
Still another example is that of Stephen C. Sanders in Washington County in the northwest part of Arkansas. Stephen was the son of Nimrod Sanders of Montgomery County, North Carolina, and most likely a second cousin of Isaac in Montgomery County. Two of Stephen’s sons fought for the Confederacy, but according to his descendant Sam Sanders, Stephen said after the war, “I remained a Union man. I never got rebellish at all.” This was in spite of the fact that two Confederate sympathizers once threatened to kill him, and soldiers from both sides raided his farm for supplies.
Farther South, in Van Zandt County, Texas, lived another cousin of Isaac, Levi Lindsey Sanders who had moved to Texas from Jackson County, Alabama in the 1850s. Of Levi’s convictions, there was no equivocation, for he was firmly on the Confederate side. When the war began, he joined the 6th Texas Regiment, Ross’ brigade, Army of Tennessee, served as a brigade blacksmith throughout most of the war, and returned to his family in Texas in 1865. Later, in 1870, Isaac’s son, Jesse, who had served briefly in the Union army, would move to neighboring Henderson County, and Isaac and Jesse would remain good friends for the rest of their lives.