Diggin’ Up Family Roots…Going deaf in North Carolina

by Bill Miller

Since we moved to North Carolina nineteen years ago, we have noticed that many of our friends are losing their hearing. Could North Carolina cause deafness? Well, in digging up my Miller roots, I discovered that my great, great-grandfather lost his hearing in North Carolina.

When I first moved south to attend Duke University, I thought that I was the first Miller to live in NC, but I was wrong. My father’s great-grandfather, John Miller, a native of Western Massachusetts and a Civil War veteran, got here first. He was a Yankee farmer in the little Town of Plainfield, MA. I do not know how good a farmer he was, but the records show that he was bad at being a husband. 

In 1853, when he was only 19, he married a young woman named Amelia White, from Connecticut, who died in childbirth. That marriage lasted one year. Then he married Eugenia, but she only stayed a couple of years. So, when the Civil War broke out, and he was between marriages, he mustered in as a Private in the 17th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Co. F. The date was August 26, 1864. His military record shows that on that same day he was transferred to another regiment, and was sent to fight with Major General Ambrose Burnside’s Expeditionary Corps in Eastern North Carolina.

General Burnside had developed a plan to seize parts of the southern coastline with a force of 12,000 to 15,000 troops recruited from coastal areas of New England. This force would descend on lightly defended parts of the southern coast, seize strategically located places, and gain control of the coastal waters of the Confederacy. General McClellan approved of the plan, with Burnside commanding. In 1862 Burnside conducted a successful amphibious campaign that closed over 80% of the North Carolina seacoast to Confederate shipping for the remainder of the war. For the next two years, his Corps engaged in several battles in coastal North Carolina. Great-Great Grandpa John fought in those battles.

His service record shows that he spent four months in 1864-1865 in Newport Barracks. Then they moved to fight the Battle of Wise’s Forks in March 1865, followed by the occupation  of Kinston, Goldsboro and Raleigh. It was in these battles that he developed serious health problems. Records show that on April 10 he was treated for diarrhea and spent over a month as a “convalescent.” He was sick again in Goldsboro. His medical records show that from May through July he struggled, with “intermittent fever,” later diagnosed as malaria. He also lost his hearing totally in one ear and partially in the other, either from weapon fire or disease. The records also show that during that service the Regiment lost 21 men killed or mortally wounded in conflict, and 4 officers and 147 enlisted men were killed by disease. John survived and mustered out on July 27, 1865, and somehow returned to his Massachusetts farm.

Seven months later, on February 4, 1866, he married wife #3, my great-great-grandmother, Caroline “Carrie” Miller, in a civil ceremony. John and Carrie returned to farming, and they produced six more children, the oldest, Henry S., being my great-grandfather. On July 11, 1890, John was granted “a pension at the rate of 12 dollars per month…this pension being for severe deafness of left ear and slight deafness in right ear and malarial poisoning.” That proves that you can go deaf in North Carolina, if you stand too close to a cannon. He died of a stroke in 1900. Carrie was given a pension of $30 per month for the next 25 years. They are buried together in Cheshire, Massachusetts.

The moral of this story is, if you have a hearing problem do not blame it on NC. You might get it tested and do something about it, but if you want help researching the war veterans in your family go to a genealogy club, the internet or your library for some help.


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