Saturday, June 13, 2015

William S. Copeland, a young soldier for the Confederacy

Family lineage:  Son of Robert Hatten Copeland  1 , Charles Mabry Copeland  2, 
Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr. 3, Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr. 4

1847 - 1914

"They do not know what they say. If it came to a conflict of arms, the war will last at least four years. Northern politicians will not appreciate the determination and pluck of the South, and Southern politicians do not appreciate the numbers, resources, and patient perseverance of the North. Both sides forget that we are all Americans. I foresee that our country will pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation, perhaps, for our national sins."-----   Robert E. Lee, May 5, 1861.

Robert Hatten Copeland

If you've been following the stories in this blog over the last year or so, you've probably already met the "Snakeman",  Robert Hatten Copeland, his wife, Sara Minerva (last name unknown)  and two of their sons, Asberry and Dickson.  Robert's family was not without its challenges, which included Robert's physical deformities, but nothing could have prepared them for the death of 49 year old Sara, who suffered "dropsy" (today's congestive heart failure) and died  two years before the Civil War broke out, leaving behind her husband,  nine sons, ranging in age from 6 to 19, and one 18 year old daughter, Nancy. 

Asberry or Asbury Copeland
Dickson Copeland
Except for Andrew, his youngest child,  all Robert's sons joined the war effort, but didn't fight together.  Dickson, Robert's second son, fought with the 1st Georgia Regiment and was able to return home after the war ended; but  two others didn't live to see the war end.  They were 27 year old George, killed in a train wreck, and 25 year old Asberry, who died of injuries received while fighting with the 56th Regiment Georgia Volunteers and was buried as an "unknown soldier" in Lauderdale, MS (until 1999 when his great grandson, Col. Billy Copeland, proved that he was not unknown, and his headstone finally was given a name).

Robert and Sara's seventh son, William, was a young teenager when war broke out, and of course he couldn't see any reason why he couldn't join his brothers in the fight.  Needless to say, his father would have considered 14 much too young to leave home, let alone go to war.   It's not known whether he manipulated his father into giving him permission to join up or, after packing some supplies and clothes, ran away during the night to join the 9th Georgia Volunteer Infantry which had been formed in 1861 and was commanded by General James Longstreet.

The battle flag of the 9th Georgia

Captain George Hillyer
George Hillyer, who became the Mayor of Atlanta after the Civil War ended,  was a Captain on the morning of July 2, 1863, but finished the day as a senior officer after the leadership of the regiment turned over six times during the battle of Gettysburg  (his first-hand experiences during that battle were described in his book "My Gettysburg Battle Experiences").   By the end of the day not only Confederate officers had been lost in the section of Gettysburg known as the "Wheatfield", but there were only 151 men left of the 340 who had picked up their muskets that morning.  Fortunately for the Copeland family, William was one of them.

General James Lonstreet
General; Ulysses S. Grant
The remnants of the 9th went on to fight in the “Knoxville Campaign, (a series of battles and maneuvers in East Tennessee during the Fall of 1863), and the “Battle of the Wilderness” in the heavily wooded area of northern Virginia in May of 1864 (which was the South's first battle against Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant). During that battle, heavy casualties were suffered on both sides and looked like a certain loss for the Confederacy -  until General Longstreet brought in his troops, including the 9th Georgia, and sprung a surprise flanking attack. Ironically, General Longstreet was wounded by friendly fire.

General G.W.C. Lee
When comparing General Robert E. Lee's 1861 reasoned call for calm and action (quoted above) to the following frantic message written by his oldest son, General George Washington Custis Lee, in 1863, it is obvious that the mood in the South had changed and tension had increased dramatically.
Fellow Soldiers! Men of Georgia!
A ruthless foe is on your borders-almost at your very doors, and if not repelled, will desecrate the soil of our beloved State with his polluted and unhallowed tread; Will you suffer your homes to be desolated, your wives, sisters and mothers insulted and outraged by the vandal hordes of the North, who are destitute of humanity and strangers to all the laws and practices of civilized warfare? Our hope, our safety, our freedom, and all that men hold most dear, depend upon the stalwart arms and unflinching courage of our people. Rally, I beseech you, to your country's call! Go and battle side by side with your comrades in the field! Let none point the finger of scorn at you or your descendants after you, but rather live cherished in the memory of your country and the pride of your children's children; or be numbered with the once gallant and ever honored dead, whose names and memories will adorn the pages of future history.                    "Daily Intelligencer", Atlanta, 1863

Thankfully, 17 year old William survived all these deadly battles and returned home no longer a callow and innocent youth, but a man who had lived through blood and defeat. Eventually he and his first wife, Otelie, and their 2 children settled in Coweta County, where he became a successful farmer who was always striving to better farming conditions in the area. After Otelie's early death, he married Alice Allen with whom he had another child. From comments made in his obituary, it is obvious that he was not shy about sharing his convictions and was highly thought of until his death at age 66 in 1914.

For a full description of the 9th Georgia Volunteer's people and battles during the war, see