Sunday, July 24, 2016

Family Tech Throwback : The tech a Civil War vet lived to see

On July 21, 1861 the first battle of the US Civil War was fought near here.  

Five years ago, I wrote this piece for the News & Messenger newspaper,   I was thinking about the technology a young survivor of the battle saw in his lifetime.

With the Sesquicentennial of the First Battle of Manassas, I have been thinking about the technology in the home at the start of the war.  A little poking around leads me to believe there was not much, at least that was new in the previous one hundred years.

Gas lighting, while illuminating street lights in some cities, was not yet widespread in homes.  Horses were still the main mode of transportation and power on the farm.  Bathrooms were still outside the home.

In 1861, my ancestor Selic was a young man of 20 when he left his family’s farm to go to war.  I do not know if he was at Manassas, but I do know he was at Seven Pines.  His nine year old brother William was probably very jealous of his big brother going on such an adventure, as a nine year old boy would view war.

Selic may have seen a lot of new technology for the first time during the war.  It is possible he rode a train for the first time.  He may have seen photographers taking photos of the battlefields.  He did pay a photographer to take a tintype photo of himself and he sent it home to his family.

A young soldier at Manassas might have seen a man carrying balloon rising near the battlefield.  

Back home, news of the war might have reached the families of the entire outfit via the telegraph.

Those veterans who survived the war saw breathtaking change.  

If a young man born the year Selic was born had lived to be 80, then he probably heard music on a phonograph and more.

Depending on where he lived, he may have seen electric lights or in 1903 a motion picture, “The Great Train Robbery.”   He probably rode in an automobile before he died.  He might of talked to someone on a telephone during his life.

If he’d been prosperous perhaps he travelled to Europe aboard a luxurious ocean steamer when they became affordable in the 1870s.

If he lived in Northern Virginia, and was near Fort Meyer one afternoon in September 1908 he may have seen Orville Wright fly over as he demonstrated  the airplane to the Army.  Unfortunately, the demonstration did not go well.  The plane crashed, and Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge became the first person killed in an airplane crash.

If Selic and William had had an uncle who had sought his fortune in the gold fields of  California in 1849, that uncle may have come back to the family farm in the 1880s to visit.  Instead of the grueling six month trip he made in 1849, his trip home might have been a comfortable ten day train ride on the newly completed transcontinental railroad.

Farmers saw horse pulled combines become more common.  In the early part of the 20th century, veterans may have seen powered tractors on their farms.

Those Civil War veterans alive at the end of World War I, probably marvelled at the stories in the newspapers of aerial dogfights between airplanes and mechanized tanks on the battlefield.

And perhaps they listened to the first radio broadcast from Pittsburgh’s KDKA in November 1920.

Selic was not one of those veterans who witnessed all that change.  He fell at the Battle of Seven Pines in May 1862.  

His little brother William grew up and had a son Norman.  Norman had a daughter Elizabeth, my mother.

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