Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lewis Bartram - a minister and a confederate soldier (maybe)

Family lineage: 1 Lewis Bartram , 2 Emarine Bartram, 3 Queen Dickerson, 4 Edna Franklin, 5 Judith Hayward

1818 – 1894

Over the last several months I have written stories about family soldiers who served in the Revolution, the French and Indian War, the War of 1812, and both sides of the Civil War.  And of course there were other tales about some very interesting people who lived extraordinary lives - without fighting in wars. But this story is about a man who seems to have supported both the Confederacy and the Union, while doing an amazing job of keeping both friends and family confused as to where he had placed his loyalties. 

Rev. and Mrs. Lewis Bartram - really!
Lewis Bartram was 21 when he married orphaned 16 year old Eliza Frances Walker (called Louisa by her family), with whom he had nine children.  The family also included a girl who - at age 6 -  had been neglected by her family until Lewis brought her into the Bartram home, where she lived until she married.

He was the grandson of a Cherokee Indian woman (Sarah Mounts) and was an ordained Missionary Baptist minister who twice had to expel his father (James Bartram) from the Greenbrier Baptist Church because of his unsuitable behavior (see my post detailing James Bartram's life which was published a few weeks ago).

He also owned about 1,000 acres of timberland in Wayne County, West Virginia, most of which had been acquired through grants and surveys he had made of unclaimed land in the general vicinity.  Lewis was entitled to be proud of his "free" land acquisitions, and had been heard to say that those properties “cost him only the price of a pocket knife”.  In his later years, he deeded 208 acres to his living  children and sold off most of the remaining acreage to relatives who lived nearby, thus reducing his holdings to 154 acres on Greenbrier Creek by the time he died.

Lewis was a 44 year old ordained minister when the war broke out. As such, he was presented with a heartbreaking dilemma: which side of the conflict could he philosophically support?  This decision was made even more difficult because he knew that no matter what he decided, it  was going to be extremely unpopular with many of the people he loved and had served as a pastor. After all, many of his neighbors and most of his family were Rebel-Democrats who lived on or near the ridge dividing the Union-Republicans and Rebel-Democrats in Wayne County.  One fact  seems obvious - the option of not fighting for what he believed was off the table – it just wasn't who he was!

He died more than 100 years ago, but the question regarding which side he supported during the war has continued to be discussed and argued throughout the  generations. All this disagreement arose because the documentation of his records and the family oral histories describing his actions during that time differ in every way.
In an effort to make at least some of the issues in the argument  easier to understand the following is a summary of the main points on either side of the argument.


  • Because of his age (44) and vocation (a Baptist minister), he could not serve in the regular army. On August 2, 1862, he was mustered into a Union-led Home Guards militia under the command of one of his relatives, Captain David Bartram.
  • In early 1863, his son, Enoch, joined the Confederate Army.  After Enoch's regiment returned to Wayne County in the Fall of 1863 and set up camp nearby, Lewis was again called into service with the Independent Scouts, a Union militia under the command of his first cousin, Captain William Bartram, under whom he served until May 9, 1864. 
  • He participated in the military action which captured a relative, Colonel Milton J. Ferguson and 42 of the  150 soldiers who had set up camp there (see my post on Hiram Dickerson and “The Battle of Murder Hollow". 

    (Despite the documentation of his militias service, many of his descendents (including his granddaughter/ my grandmother, Queen Franklin) have found the claim that Lewis was enlisted in a pro-Union militia and had actually participated in the Battle of Murder Hollow on the “wrong” side, impossible to believe.  It was even harder for Queen to wrap her head around since both of her grandfathers (Hiram Dickerson and Lewis Bartram) had fought in that battle - against each other.  No wonder it is such an emotional issue. )


  • It is a fact that he donated to the Confederacy war effort through a loan of $100 made on February 17, 1864, for which he received a registered bond promising it would be repaid “. . . with 4% interest . . . in 20 years”.  (Needless to say, there was no “Confederate States of America” in 1884 and the promissory note became simply a treasure of the family as shown here).

  • Oral history claims that when Lewis and Louisa's son, Enoch, came home on for a short respite from war activities, he was warmly welcomed and kept hidden.  A short time later the Home Guards discovered Lewis' deception and arrested him and two other men being sheltered in the home at the time. The story goes on to say that Lewis was soon released but the other two men who had been in the house were taken away on horseback and one was killed.

One of the oral histories came from Queen Franklin, who had probably heard it from her mother (Lewis' daughter) that when the Home Guards came into Lewis' home looking for Enoch and 2 other rebels, they even looked behind the clock faces in search of money.  She believed that the Guards wouldn't have done such a thing to Lewis if he was one of their own.

Even today some Bartrams strongly believe that Lewis was pro-union while others argue that he was a pro-rebel resistance fighter.   According to “The Bartram Branches” (which is an excellent resource written by Violet W. Bartam and D. Kent Bartram) one explanation is that he could have been afraid to express his real sentiments or he might have figured that the easiest way to keep an eye on the Home Guards was to be one.  Another possibility put forth was that his political beliefs may not have mattered when it came to his civic duties.  Instead, it has been claimed that he was actually a pro-Confederate sympathizer who had been victimized by the Union-supported Home Guard militias.

What we do know for sure is that he was extremely literate, and expected his children to be able to read the Bible at the very least.

Shortly after Eliza died in 1890, he married a neighbor, Mary Damron Dean, possibly because of a need for a companion and caregiver. Evidently none of the couple's grown children were thrilled about this marriage and let their parents know their feelings in no uncertain terms.

Lewis began to complain of stomach troubles in 1894, and it is assumed that he had an ulcer or stomach cancer. Although she was only three at the time, Queen Franklin vividly remembered that her grandfather's funeral was held under apple trees near his home.  His coffin was carried up a steep hill where he was buried next to Louisa in a grave marked with a simple rock but no longer visible.  

There were some family stories saying that his widow, Mary, fought hard to get a larger portion of the Bartram estate, and they finally “paid her off” so that it could be settled. Her family disagrees with that version.  It seems to be just another strange and confusing chapter in Lewis Bartram's story! 

Mary Bartram died 4 years later and was buried beside her first husband, John Wesley Dean, under the name “Mary-his wife”.