Andrew Jackson Isgrigg: A Family’s Hero Amidst a History of Slavery

With so much discourse today on race, slavery, Confederate monuments and civil rights, I have been thinking back on my family history. History is often complicated because humans are complicated. In an earlier blog, I shared about my discovery that my earliest ancestors in America were slave owners. It was a difficult reality that I have had to wrestle with, knowing I could not change the past.

But here is the rest of the story.  Just two generations later, one Isgrigg made an opposite choice, one in which he willing gave his service to America and to the fight to end slavery through the Civil War. This was my dads great-great-grandfather Andrew Jackson Isgrigg. His story was told by my father a few years ago in his book A Long Way To Ride A Horse. (the soldier on the cover is not Andrew, but we thought it looked like an Isgrigg)

Andrew Jackson Isgrigg was the son of a single mother, Sallie (also called Sarah) Isgrigg, who came with her parents William and Mary Isgrigg to Clinton County, Indiana in 1838.  She was well known in her town as the owner of a local hotel in Frankfurt, Indiana, the main homestead of my Isgrigg line. One of Sallie’s seven children, Andrew Jackson Isgrigg enlisted in the Union army at the age of 16 in April 1861 and served in the Army for over 4 years with the Indiana 10th regiment, 3rd Cavalry unity.

The remarkable thing is that Andrew fought and survived 13 battles. In his fifth battle, Andrew was wounded in a battle outside of Nashville. He was shot in the groin (ouch!) and the bullet was lodged in his bladder, which he carried with him the rest of his life. But that didn’t stop him. He went on to fight in seven (!) more battles in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Jonesboro. Amazingly, he survived them all before he was honorably discharged in 1865.

Perhaps his most memorable assignment was to the prison in 1865 in Washington D.C.  By fate, Andrew was in stationed in D.C.  when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  In fact, he had just visited the Ford Theater the night before. Stationed at the prison, he was likely one of the guards assigned to the assassination conspirators.  We don’t know where, but Andrew is one of the soldiers in this famous photo below of the hanging of the conspirators.

Andrew’s story is illustrative of the reality of history.  People can certainly change. My family went from slave owners to serving honorably in the fight against slavery in just two generations.  What made the change that he was willing to fight in 13 battles for this cause? Maybe he knew about his grandfather’s past. Maybe he had his own convictions. We don’t know, but Andrew did his part to end slavery in America. This is the gift of history. You can’t change the past. But history allows us to learn from the past so that each generation can do what is right in their own lifetime.

I am so grateful to my father who spent a lifetime studying our family history and preserving that for my family. I certainly owe my love of history to a father who planted those seeds in me. Thanks for telling our story, Dad.

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