Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bird Nance - who fought for his young country in New Orleans

Family lineage: Bird Nance, a son of Reuben Nance 1, Sarah Nance 2, Enos Philpott 3, Rebecca Philpott 4, Lula Jane Johnson 5, Charles Mabry Copeland 6, Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr. 
Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.  8

1771 – 1815

Bird???   Really?  Yup, that was the name given to this fourth child of a huge family (22 to 27 siblings - depending on who did the research).  He was the son of a large plantation owner and veteran of the Revolutionary War, Reuben Nance, and his first wife, Amy Williamson.  

Genealogists might disagree on the number of Nance children, but there is no doubt that it was an extremely large household!  We also don't know how well the children of the two wives  got along before Reuben's death in 1812.  What we do know is that “the first family” believed they had been short-changed in Reuben's will - with the "second family” supposedly receiving far more than their "fair share" of the estate. As a result, they contested the will.  In case you'd like to look at the proceedings yourself, all 182 pages can be found on the Virginia Chancery Court website. 

It may be that there was no place on the plantation for Bird's talents or of interest to him.  So he eventually looked elsewhere, especially after he'd married Polly Hannah in 1793. Their search led them eventually to Tennessee, where - in 1799 - he enlisted in the West Tennessee militia as an Ensign (Lieutenant).  It was only two years later that Polly died shortly after the birth of their fifth child.  Bird didn't marry again for seven years - this time to Sarah Mack, with whom he had six more children. In 1811, when the War of 1812 was on the horizon, Bird – now 39 years old - was commissioned as a Captain in the 2nd Regiment of the West Tennessee Militia. 

This regiment, commanded by General William Carroll (who was elected Governor of Tennessee twice after the war was over) was one of three West Tennessee militias under the command of General Andrew Jackson. There is no record of exactly where Captain Nance was from 1811 to 1814 but we do know that he served as co-Executor of his father's will in 1812 and probably didn't make himself very popular with either side of the dispute.  If he served under General Carroll during those years, he was fighting the Indians who had been incited by the British, in order to create havoc and dilute the energies of the American forces.

 After one of those battles, General Carroll returned to Nashville to recruit more troops for the defense of New Orleans. At the same time, Andrew Jackson resigned from the militia in order to accept a commission in the Federal Army and Carroll was elected Major-General of the Tennessee militia. 

As the battle lines formed up, the British leadership committed 9,000 British soldiers to taking over control of New Orleans and the whole Louisiana territory which America had recently  purchased. At the same time, 4,000 American soldiers, traveling in flotillas via the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers, had a totally different goal.  

Major-General Carroll's newly recruited troops had arrived in New Orleans just prior to the British invasion, and were stationed near the center of General Andrew Jackson's army.   It was here that some of the most intense fighting occurred between December 23, 1814 and January 8, 1815. Victory was finally won by the Americans – but not without heavy casualties. 

Medal commemorating Battle of New Orleans
We don't know the severity of Bird's wounds or when he became one of the 173 soldiers hurt during the battle.  What we do know is that it would have taken him over four months to get home from New Orleans - and that 43 year old Captain Bird Nance never arrived.  On April 15, 1815, in a town near Natchez, Mississippi called Mitchell's Bluff, Captain Nance died of “Swamp Fever” - a common illness which affected wounded troops who had been stationed in New Orleans during February and March of 1815. 
President Andrew Jackson

Following this war and the recognition of Andrew Jackson's actions which helped to win it, he was considered a hero and elected President of the United States of America.

There's no way of knowing whether Bird was able to hold his newest son, Wiley Bird Nance, in his arms before he died or when Sarah was notified of his death. We do know that shortly after the war ended, Bird's widow applied for a pension based on the captain's service during the war. She was awarded five years of Bird's half pay.