Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hiram Dickerson - Son of William Smith Dickerson and soldier for the Confederacy

(Family lineage: Hiram C. Dickerson  1, William Vincent Dickerson  2,Queen Rebecca Dickerson  3,
 Edna Bethel Franklin  4, Judith Ann Hayward  5 )

1833 – 1918

One of the most popular posts in my blog to date featured William Smith Dickerson. There is no doubt that he was a very interesting man and – like us all – a walking, talking contradiction during his lifetime. One of his most puzzling actions was filing for divorce from Elizabeth (aka Betsey) Martin, his wife of 8 years.  Oh, how I'd love to know what led to that decision which was an uncommon occurrence in those days!  What is documented is that Betsey was pregnant with their fourth child, Hiram, when the divorce was finalized in 1832 and that William was able to build a whole new life and career in Kentucky and Missouri with his second wife, Mary Cooper. 
The child Betsey was carrying when her life changed forever was Hiram who, at age 21, married his 18 year old sweetheart, Rebecca Osburn.  There were already 4 children in the family when 28 year old Hiram enlisted as a private in Ferguson's Battalion in the 16th Cavalry of Virginia and served under Captain Hurston Spurlock for three years. 

Based on existing records of his service during the war, there is no doubt that Hiram was involved in "The Battle of Murder Hollow”.  The story of this battle has been passed down by local mountain folk over the years.  Even as late as 1945 there were reports that whenever water in the neighborhood school's well became undrinkable, the children would refuse to go the short distance to Murder Hollow for water because they "knew" that it was "haunted by the ghosts of men who had been killed there, their bodies frozen to the ground - and the spring running red with blood."

The story of Murder Hollow might have been forgotten if a Wayne County attorney and historian, Stephen Lewis, hadn't discovered it in Jack L. Dickinson's "16th Virginia Cavalry" book and submitted it to the "Wayne County News".  The resulting article was printed in the "Out of the Past" column, and is paraphrased below:

"By the end of 1863, the war was going badly for the South and much of what is now West Virginia was no longer part of 'Mother Virginia' , but was firmly in the hands of the enemy. Most of the people in the southern two thirds of the county were sympathetic to the southern cause, especially because most had  family members and friends involved in the fight. 

In January, 1864, Colonel Milton Ferguson (a relative of the Dickersons) brought a large segment of his regiment to Wayne County.  However, unlike other winter visits, this time the Confederates were there in force with approximately 150 armed, experienced cavalrymen.  The camp was set up quite a distance  from the main roads in order to be protected from the eyes of  spies and sympathizers,  

The weather was incredibly harsh, which made it close to impossible for the wagons and cannon to be moved. and plans for major battles, of necessity, had to be put on hold.  All this led to a lull in the fighting for awhile.  Although it was a frustrating and uncomfortable environment  for the Union soldiers, the weather did provide an opportunity for the  Confederate soldiers to take turns slipping back to their homes to visit their families, restock supplies, rest and get ready for upcoming battles.

Colonel Ferguson
 prided himself on his beard

However, on New Years Day, before settling his troops for the winter,  Colonel Ferguson and some of  his troops had ventured across the Big Sandy River on the ice and attacked a small encampment of Federals. Looking at it through the lens of history, this was not a real good idea.  But it probably seemed insignificant to the participants at the time since casualties were light,and the fight was of short duration.  What it did do was to alert the Federals that the Confederates were in force in Wayne County - so the search began. 

After a number of skirmishes, the Union Army with 275 men and the Kentucky Infantry, including mounted soldiers, marched directly to the Confederate camp on February 14, 1864. Of course it was always suspected that an informant had discovered the camp's location and passed it on to the Federals, who traveled at night so as to not alert the local people.

The sleeping Confederates were attacked at daybreak. The fighting was brief and 42 were captured, including Col. Ferguson. Both he and Captain Spurlock, who had been captured previously, spent  the remainder of the war in various prisoner-of-war camps. At least three of the dead Confederates were buried at the head of Murder Hollow and the outline of their graves is still distinguishable. The other casualties were likely buried in their family cemeteries. 

The irony of all this is that the 16th Virginia Cavalry, which had seen action at Gettysburg and on a number of other well known battlefields, suffered its greatest number of casualties just a few miles from their homes - while protecting those they loved."
It does make you wonder if  the legends might be true and the "Ghosts of Murder Hollow" really do haunt the hollow and make the water run "red like blood!

Hiram's granddaughter, Queen Dickerson Franklin, related a story told to her by her grandfather.   He said that when he was given the opportunity to lead some men on a reconnoitering mission, he had felt very brave and hoped they would run into some Union boys. He wanted to fight! That was until after leading his men up a hill, he looked down below and saw what - to his frightened eyes -  looked like the entire Union army camped there!! What did he do then?   Hiram told her: “I did lead my men – right back down that hill!”.  It's good to know he was human too.

When the war was finally over, Hiram and Rebecca had six more children - making a total of 10 - before Rebecca's death from“paralysis” (a stroke?) in 1891. He obviously was not crazy about single life. He married several more times before his death in 1918.

Hiram and Rebecca with their 10 children, including my great-grandfaher, 
William Vincent (back row with Bible)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dickson Huie Copeland - Son of the "Snake Man" and Confederate soldier

(Family lineage: son of  1  Robert Hatten Copeland; 2 Charles Mabry Copeland;
 3 Charles Thomas Copeland Sr., 4 Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.)

1832 - 1905

The spelling of Dickson's name is somewhat intriguing to those of us who care about such things.  We know for sure he wasn't "Dick's" son ( his father was the "Snake Man", Robert, who was described in an earlier post) or perhaps the family simply didn't know how to spell Dixon. I guess it doesn't really matter because it seems his relatives and friends didn't worry about it (if they ever did) and simply called him "D".

D was the second of nine sons in Robert Hatten Copeland's first family with wife Sarah Minerva Copeland  (maiden name unknown). Family stories reveal that Robert, who was disabled, did not believe in slavery – especially since he had nine sons to help with the chores.  However, despite his father's opinion, D became a slave overseer as a young man on a large plantation with many slaves. His main responsibility was to see that the crops were properly planted and harvested, and he reported to family and friends that there were never problems with the slaves on that plantation.

A little known fact is that some of the large plantations had already begun to free their slaves before the start of the Civil War (aka "The War between the States"or "War of Northern Aggression").  D's employer might have been one of those downsizing plantations because before the war even began, D had left the plantation, rented some land and started farming.  

Where he met her, we're not sure, but Nancy Ann "Nannie" Witcher became D's wife in 1858  After their marriage, the young couple lived next-door to D's father, who was a ferry keeper on the Flint River.  Their close proximity must have been especially welcome after D's mother died the next year at age 48 while there were still a number of children living at home.

As war threatened, the family's pattern of life was changed forever. Although they had never owned or approved of using slaves, they deeply loved their Southern heritage, and it wasn't long before D and his brothers joined the Confederate Army. However, a few of  the younger boys had to wait until they were of age to enlist a year or so later.  It was just as well that no one knew then that by the time the war ended, two of D's younger brothers (Asberry and George) would have died. 

Before joining the army in April of 1862, D transported Nannie and their two little girls to live with Nannie's sister, Lizzie Lyle, in Cave Spring, GA, where they remained until after the war ended.  Once they were assured their families were as safe as possible, D and his brother-in-law, Evan Lyle, enlisted in Company C, 1st Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Calvary of the Confederate Army. This regiment was forming up that April, but wasn't mustered into the Confederate Army until May 28. 

Following early skirmishes in East Tennessee, the regiment took an active part in Bragg's Kentucky Campaign and also fought at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Knoxville, Atlanta, Savannah, and in the Carolinas Campaign.  Finally, almost three years later and a few weeks after General Robert E Lee's surrender on April 9, the regiment, which was composed of less than 50 officers and men by that time, was surrendered by General Joseph E. Johnston at Durham Station, Orange County, NC on April 26, 1865.

Fortunately Dickson and Evan had no idea what their families were going through in Cave Spring while they were gone - which was just as well.  It seems that while the Battle of Atlanta was still raging, some Yankee raiders arrived at the Lyle home. Since the Witcher sisters had encountered the Yankees the year before they sprang into action when they heard they were coming again.  First - and most importantly - they found a safe place for the children and then tried to hide all their valuables and food.  

After Nannie had gathered her wedding presents and stowed them in a trunk which she had pushed into a briar patch, she and her servant squeezed themselves into the trunk (must have been a very tight fit!).  However, the raiders soon found them, tore apart the trunk and divided the contents among themselves. They then turned their attention to gathering all the available food, while killing the chickens and hogs.  

Before leaving with the livestock, they started to burn down the house, but - out of desperation - Nannie, who was a member of the Eastern Star, gave the ritual distress sign.  Ironically, the leader of the Yankees was a Mason who recognized the signal and called his men away from the house without doing further damage. However, they did take all the treasures and food with them, leaving the  two women with four small children to survive the ordeal somehow.

After the surrender of his regiment, D made his way back to Cave Spring to claim his wife and daughters.  They spent some time  weighing the advantages versus disadvantages of returning to Heard County to live, and finally decided that they would make a fresh start in a different part of Georgia.  Eventually they settled near D's sister, Nancy Copeland Haynie, and other family members in Polk County.  

After their 5th daughter was born in 1867 they  managed to buy a farm across the road from Lizzie and Evan Lyles where they lived for 20 years.  Dickson was 73 years of age, and the father of eight children when he died in Cave Spring.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Steward Kee - A soldier at Bunker Hill

1  Steward Kee, 2 Sarah Kee, 3 Sarah Jane Wakefield, 4 Sarah Ann Nelson, 5 Melvin Edward Foss,
6 Estella Elizabeth Foss, 7 Harold Victor Hayward, 8 Judith Ann Hayward
(Note: this family lineage has been questioned by another family genealogy - but the story remains.  So please consider this simply a legend which may - or may not -  be accurate) 
1753 – 1833

Steward Kee was not the first warrior in his family!  We know this because his (and our) family's documented history goes back to Scotland over 100 years before Steward was born when his great-grandfather, Daniel McKay, fought with the "Scottish Nation" against the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell.  According to a recently discovered treasure entitled “Scotch Prisoners Captured 3 September 1650 at the Battle of Dunbar”, things did not end well for these Scots. After a fierce battle, thousands were captured and forced to march to London in chains.  After being imprisoned in the infamous Newcastle Prison for two years, Oliver Cromwell signed the order to have these Scottish undesirables shipped to the New World to be sold into slavery as indentured servants.  During the years between Daniel McKay and Steward Kee, this family's surname changed from McKay to McKee, and then – in 1731 - to Kee.

The Kee family was living in Connecticut when Stewart packed his bags and traveled to Ware,
Massachusetts, where he met and married Sarah Paddock in 1775. According to"Descendants of Steward Kee" by Kee Rodgers, she was a brainy woman with a strong personality, a woman ahead of her time who  loved to read and had a remarkable memory.  As luck would have it, their marriage was only a month old when the Lexington Alarm was sounded. So Private Steward Kee grabbed some supplies and his musket and joined 28 of his neighbors for a 3 month enlistment in Colonel David Brewer's Regiment (Arthur Chase, "History of Ware, Massachusetts", Cambridge, The University Press).

After this experience, most of  these young men re-enlisted shortly after they returned to their families and even signed a petition begging to be allowed to re-join Col. Brewer's regiment.  Their wish was granted but within a few months, Col. Brewer retired and was replaced by Lt. Col. Rufus Putnam, who only served for a short time before  the regiment was disbanded in 1776 and most of its companies were consolidated into the 13th Continental Regiment.  Although we don't know specifically what part the 13th Continental played during the war, there is no doubt that Col. Brewer's regiment was involved in the tremendous upheaval that began at Breed's Hill.  The following paraphrased Smithsonian article best describes the issues and emotions boiling up at that time:  

"Until the battle of Bunker Hill, the colonists had neither wanted nor expected war.   In fact, most sought a return to the Crown’s “salutary neglect” of colonists before 1760, after which Britain became more aggressive and began to impose more taxes, while responding to American resistance with coercion and troops.  The colonists'  attitude only began to change when their blood was shed, which is why the Bunker Hill battle was pivotal.

The chaotic skirmishing at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 left the British holed up in Boston while hostile colonists surrounded the city. But it remained unclear whether the ill-equipped rebels were willing or able to engage the British Army in pitched battle, and leaders on both sides still thought the conflict might yet be settled without full-scale war.  This stalemate broke on the night of June 16 in a confused manner that marks much of the Revolution’s start when over 1,000 colonials marched from Cambridge with orders to fortify Bunker Hill, a 110-foot rise on the Charles-town Peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor.  But the Americans mistakenly bypassed Bunker Hill in the dark and instead began to fortify Breed’s Hill, a smaller rise much closer to Boston and almost in the face of the British.

Short on cannons, and the know-how to fire them with accuracy, the rebels couldn’t do much damage from Breed’s Hill. But their threatening position on high ground just across the water from Boston forced the British to try to dislodge the Americans before they could be reinforced or fully entrenched.   On the morning of June 17, as the rebels frantically threw up breastworks of earth, fence posts and stone walls, the British bombarded the hill. The Americans, now exhausted, were a motley collection of militia from different colonies, with little coordination and no clear chain of command.  By contrast, the British were among the best-trained troops in Europe. And they were led by seasoned commanders, one of whom (General William Howe) marched confidently at the head of his men accompanied by a servant carrying a bottle of wine!

However, the seemingly open pasture proved to be an obstacle course for the British. The high, uncut hay obscured the rocks, holes and other hazards, including those newly erected  fences and stone walls, thus slowing down the enemy's progress. In the meantime, the Americans were ordered to hold their fire until the attackers closed to 50 yards or less. When the rebels finally did open fire, the close-packed British fell in clumps. The Americans added to the chaos by aiming their fire at the officers who were distin­guished by their fine uniforms until finally the British attackers - repulsed at every point -  were forced to withdraw.

Before long, however, the disciplined British quickly re-formed their ranks and advanced again, with much the same result. But with the Americans' powder running low, their firing sputtered, making the men resort to throwing rocks and swinging their muskets at the bayonet-wielding British pouring over the rampart. Eventually the surviving defenders had to flee, bringing the battle to an end.
Breed's Hill Battle
After just two hours of fighting, 1,054 British soldiers— almost half of all those engaged— had been killed or wounded, including many officers.  American losses totaled over 400.  The first true battle of the Revolutionary War was to prove the bloodiest of the entire conflict. Although the British had achieved their aim in capturing the hill, it was a very costly victory. 'The success is too dearly bought', wrote Gen. William Howe, who lost every member of his staff (as well as the bottle of wine his servant carried into battle)." (
After the war ended, Steward moved his wife and seven children north to the Province of Lower Canada (now Quebec), where they were joined by other family members and friends. But the War of 1812 brought changes to the living conditions of the Americans, with tensions eventually reaching a fevered pitch. Finally the Kees decided to move, and in 1818 migrated to Ohio where Steward was a blacksmith and farmer by trade. 

In 1832, he applied for a pension for his service during the Revolution, but did not receive it prior to his death in 1834. Records show that Sarah then applied for the widows' pension, but it was not granted at first because she could not prove that she had been married to Steward. After explaining that the papers had been lost long before in a house fire, it was finally approved and she received $27 a month from 1836 until her death in 1844 at age 90.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Melvin A. Foss - A hard-luck soldier in the Union Army

Family lineage: 1  Melvin Alan Foss, 2  Melvin Edward Foss, 3 Estella Elizabeth Foss,
4 Harold Victor Hayward, 5 Judith Ann Hayward

1844 – 1926

This Union Army soldier was born February 22, 1844 in Fairfield, Vermont, the 4th of 5 children. Although his family had been living in New Hampshire and Vermont for almost 200 years, Melvin seems to have felt the urge to head to new places - away from family expectations and traditions.  He was described as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, fair complected; with light colored  hair and blue eyes.

There is no documentation on when or why he left Vermont, but the 1860 census taken in Worth, Iowa showed 18 year old Melvin living with a Stanley family, whose household also included a 17 year old girl from Norway named Ann Lee. The “what ifs “ and “maybes” have been buried in time, and there is no record of whether Ann and Melvin were ever an “item” or simply shared a home with the Stanleys.  But we do know that sometime after that census was taken, he continued his long journey until arriving in Mankato, Minnesota where, in 1863, he met and married Sarah Ann Nelson, a first generation American.

Just a few months after their marriage, Melvin traveled over 90 miles on horseback to Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota to enlist in the H Company of the Second  Minnesota Cavalry.  This regiment  remained in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory for its entire three year existence in order to guard against incursions by the Sioux Indians. 

Poor Melvin did not have a successful career in the cavalry. In fact, his life could have been likened to “Joe Btfsplk”, a character in Al Kapp's popular cartoon, “Little Abner”, who would have had no luck at all if it wasn't bad!  On April 14, 1864, while participating in a Company drill, his horse became unmanageable. Although he desperately tried to get it back under control, Melvin was unseated and fell to the ground, landing hard on the left side of his body. Seeing what had happened, a friend managed to carry him to his quarters in the hope he would recover with a little rest  But as the pain increased instead of decreasing, he was soon taken to a hospital where he was treated for two fractured ribs (if you've ever cracked or broken even one rib, you have an idea how painful that injury was and how long it would take to heal under "normal" circumstances - and riding a horse was not one of them).

However, by June he had recovered sufficiently to re-join Company H, which was supporting General Alfred Sully's Indian Expedition. General Sully had been ordered to establish several forts along the Missouri River and the eastern Dakotas in order to secure the communication routes to the goldfields and to eliminate the Sioux threat to the settlers east of the Missouri River. Sully's army was the largest ever assembled to combat the Plains Indians and was comprised of more than 4,000 men.

Remember “Joe Btfsplk”?  While riding in the Expedition, Melvin contracted diarrhea so severe that he was taken by hospital boat ambulance to Fort Rice in the Dakota Territory, where he remained until the return of his fellow soldiers from the Yellowstone territory several weeks later. By that time he was feeling considerably better, so Melvin rode with his company to Fort Wadsworth in the  Dakota Territory where (you guessed it) not only did he have to be treated for a recurrence of diarrhea but he was also still experiencing pain from his still unhealed broken ribs.

That was it for his wartime activities!   From that time on, he continued to be weakened and felt severe pain on his left side. Even though he couldn't perform his duty as a soldier, he had been obliged to ride his horse to the hospital in Fort Wadsworth, where he remained  until he was discharged with the rest of his company in April 1866. Despite his painful and shortened active military career, he received a $14 per month pension until 1884, which helped support his and Sarah's nine children and continued to live in Minnesota.

Melvin A. Foss
Sarah Nelson Foss
Surprisingly, despite all his earlier health problems he outlived his wife, Sarah by nine years, and died at age 82.