Sunday, September 17, 2017

Nannie Jumps

The Richmond Daily Dispatch of September 29th, 1870 brings the following story. The Nannie McCallum in the story married Russell County Confederate solder Robert T. McElyea and lived in Robeson County, North Carolina. However, the historical record is confusing, McCallum married McElyea in 1867 in North Carolina and McElyea was apparently living in North Carolina by 1865.

"From Russell County - Explosion of Kerosene Lamps - Thrilling Scene - Narrow Escapes from Death

{Special Correspondence of the Index.}

September 24, 1870.

Messrs. Editors: My long silence has been occasioned for the want of some local topic to speak of, and that was furnished last night in the way of a kerosene explosion.

Miss Nannie McCallum, principal of the Female Academy at this place, proposed giving, with the assistance of her scholars, a number of brilliant tableaux in the large public hall situated in the second story of the court-house building. The entrance to this room is from the court-room below, through two long, winding stairways enclosed by walls on either side.

Nearly every man, woman, and child in our little town, with a large number of persons from the adjacent country, had seated themselves in this spacious room - supposed to be about three hundred in all. Everything was going on as merry as a marriage belle, and several scenes had been exhibited to the great delight of the audience, when an awkward attempt on the part of one of the managers to draw the curtain overturned a large lamp, used as a foot-light, which at once took fire; one of the musicians, in attempting to move a second lamp broke that, and in an instant the flames leaped from floor to ceiling, the curtains and scenery took fire, and the whole end of the room seemed to be in one solid sheet of fire. The audience, with few exceptions, sprang to their feet, men hallooing, women screaming, and children crying, broke pell mell for the doors leading down the narrow stairways, in which many were badly bruised and trampled, though none fatally, as yet heard of. Miss McCallum being upon the stage at the time, with the fire between her and the door leaped from a back window to the ground, a distance of twenty-five feet. When found she was insensible, and is said to be seriously hurt from her fall, or leap, as you may call it. Some half dozen men now engaged the fire, and, by rolling up the large carpets over the flames, succeeded in extinguishing it, and thus saved to the county its costly and beautiful seat of justice.

How so many men, women, and children, in pell-mell order, passed down the narrow stairways and so few seriously hurt, is the wonder of all.

Many laughable and ludicrous scenes occurred during the excitement, which, but for the want of space, would be given.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

World War I Letters of Russell County, November 22, 1918

The following letter originally appeared in the November 22nd, 1918 issue of the Lebanon News.

"Somewhere in France, Oct. 20.

Dear Ellie:

Will answer your letter received some days ago, was real glad to hear from you. This leaves me well and getting along fine.

We are back for a rest now, have been back four days. We were up in the drive for sixteen days, the one which started on the 25th of September. We drove "Jerry" back about ten miles, captured lots of prisoners, several large guns, amunition and material.

Say, on the night of Sept 25th, (I think) the Allies put over the greatest barrage of the war, there must have been over ten thousand guns firing at one time. We didn't feel like waiting for the word to "GO OVER" the top.

This was the place where the French fought so hard in 1914-15. But it didn't take us long to do the job and drive them back ten miles, and they are still going I don't know how far or where they will stop.

Believe me, they had some good dug-outs on this front, I think they were prepared to stay there all winter.

But there is nothing doing when Uncle Sam's boys get after them, they run just like rabbits. Well, I guess you have read all about this big drive in the papers by now.

Since I landed in France I think I have traveled almost all over it. Have been through Paris but was on the train and didn't get to see very much of the city. We were up on the British front for a while when we first came over here, up close to the Channel. We could look over and see Dover, England, alright on a clear day. We were up there with the New Zealand boys, we liked them fine.

Say, I will have lots to tell you when I come home, of how the French people live and their kind of buildings and how they farm, and also many war tales. I have had several letters from Walter Price, get lots of mail from home. We are always so glad to receive them. It does us good to know you people are doing your bits back home, JUST KEEP IT UP, and we will all soon be home to stay. I think from the way it looks over here we will eat our Thanksgiving dinner in PEACE. We have the Huns going and we are not going to let them [...] side of [...]. That is the way we feel about it over here.

We sure do thank the red Cross for what they are doing for the soldier boys, and the Y. M. C. A., they keep all the cigaretts and writing paper we want, beside we can buy most anything we need. We have plenty to eat - for supper I had steak and gravy, butter, syrup, rice pudding and coffee, and a box of cigarrettes and matches on the side. Another thing which is plentiful is rain and mud, it rains about every other day over here, and the climate is much colder than at home. Say, you ought to be over here and see the flying machines. I have seen as many as two hundred and fifty in the air at one time. They drop newspapers in the front lines to us when we were up. It is a great sight to watch air battles. Believe me, they sure can do dirty work. Well I think all the Russell county boys have come out alright, only one or two wounded in the big drive.

Say, you should see old Conley Buttery. I'll bet he weights 180 or 200 pounds. All the boys are looking good.

The hardest fight we have over here is with the German "COOTIES," you can see the boys sitting around anywhere fighting them.

Where is Garland Fleenor now? and has he been drafted? I don't guess there are many boys left at home now.

I'm having some time trying to write this letter by candle light so guess will have to close. Give my best regards to all inquiring friends and tell them that all the boys are getting along fine. I think the war will be over in six weeks. Write and tell me all the news. Here is hoping to see you all soon,

Your friend,

Saturday, July 22, 2017

World War I Letters of Russell County, September 6, 1918

The following letter originally appeared in the September 6th, 1918 issue of the Lebanon News.

"Somewhere in France, July 10.

Dearest homefolks:

As to this being the 10th or not I do not know, but as to "somewhere in France" it certainly is. Wish I could could tell you just where I am. Anyhow, with three others, I am away from my company doing duty. At last the base censor has opened its heart and we are allowed to tell everything from the time we sailed up until about a month ago. So here she goes.

On the morning of October 18th we broke camp and landed in Hoboken, N. J., that evening and later in the day we said goodbye to dear old U. S. A. Had a nice trip coming over in spite of some of the boys getting sick. The name of the ship we came over on is the Covington, which was formerly a German vessel. There were 3,700 of us on this ship. After 14 days on water we finally landed at St. Nozare about daylight. I was on guard on the top deck. Can you picture how I looked. We remained on the ship for seven days then marched out to a string of freight cars for our next journey and my, my, how it was raining, but who cares for it to rain here? We piled into those cars like a bunch of sheep and were in them for two days and nights, landing in a small town by the name of Caucouleurs. This little place is something the size of Lebanon, but of course didn't remind me of Lebanon one bit. We stayed here until late in the fall, then started on a ninety mile hike. Don't remember names of all the towns we passed through. Orquevaux is the name of the town where we spent Xmas. After freezing to death two or three times we next landed in Rolamponts, where the boys met us with our horses. We stayed here up until the latter part of February when we boarded another freight train for Baccarat. Well, I had a time on this trip - got all mixed up and got away from my Company and had four horses hung to my throbbing heart. At last one night about one o'clock they stopped the train and said this is where you get off. Well, I did and my Company wasn't there. I put my saddle and bridle in another train, right a straddle of one those horses, and rode it until ten o'clock and as luck would have it, rode into Baccarat, where I found my Company. In this town is the largest glass factory in the world. This place is about the size of Abingdon, if not larger. Here is where we were when Hargis said the report of the guns jared him out of bed but he l----- a little but in times gone by there had been bombs dropped on this town - the main part or center was torn all to pieces. We have been through towns that the whole place was ruined, no one living there at all.

If I was back with the Company where I could see my map I could write three times this much, but would have to have more paper. Will write more next time in regard to our travels. This is the first opportunity to write since leaving Baccarat about a month ago, and we are a long ways from there now.

Yesterday while on duty a big wild hog came running across the field and I jumped into a shell hole and layed down. I wanted to shoot it with my pistol but there was an old French man with me and he said wait until I get my rifle, so he came back from his dug-out with the gun and then I shot him once and he fell over the but Frenchman said shoot him again, and I did again and again. It was the largest wild hog I have seen over here. We are going to have a feast tonight. Don't you want some pork?

Haven't heard from Frank yet, but had a card from Carroll Gray a few days ago.

Hoping you are all well, and best regards to everybody, I am,

Your son,

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Freedmen's Bureau Activities in Russell County

In 1865 the U. S. Federal Government established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands to help freed slaves integrate themselves into society. Freed slaves were re-connected to lost family members, schools were created, help was given in obtaining food and health care, and freed slaves were given legal advocacy in court cases.

More than 1,000 schools for freedmen were established in the South. Schools in Russell County began to be established in November of 1868. Although the records are unclear, it appears that in Russell County, schools were established at Lebanon and Dickensonville by Fountain Richardson (also spelled Richison), at Copper Creek by William F. Gardner, and at New Garden by Comadore Hurt. Hurt's tenure at New Garden appears to have been quite short, as Gardner is listed as the teacher at that school in January of 1869. Gardner and Hurt were local teachers, which Richardson had previously worked in Tennessee.

Record keeping was haphazard - the local administrator was in Abingdon and had control over several southwestern Virginia counties. Monthly reports exist to some extent for most of 1869. These reports consist of monthly reports listing various attendance figures, school rental information, and general comments by the teachers.

The Freedmen's Bureau appointed Brigadier General Henry Goddard Thomas the Sub-Assistant Commissioner for the 8th District of Virginia, which include most of the counties in Southwest Virginia. Thomas had a storied career in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising from Private to Captain in the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry, before being appointed Colonel in the 2nd United States Colored Infantry and subsequently appointed Colonel in the 19th United States Colored Infantry. He commanded a brigade in 1864 and participated in the Battles of Spottsylvania and the Wilderness.

In December of 1868, Thomas summarized activities for 35 schools, covering 19 day schools, 2 night schools, and 14 Sabbath schools. Seventy eight teachers were engaged, almost all "colored". Thomas held meetings in Wytheville, Abingdon, Marion, Jeffersonville (Tazewell) and Bristol.

When asked to describe "the public sentiment towards the education of the Freedmen and Poor Whites", Thomas wrote "None whatever as to poor whites, I shall probably have trouble in keeping up some of my county schools as chivalric gentlemen in the different localities will drive away my teachers." Perhaps this answers the question of Comadore Hurt's short tenure at New Garden.

Most brutally, in answer to the question "How long will Northern charitable aid be needed for Freedmen and Refugee Schools of your District?" Thomas wrote:

"Untill the present generation shall have passed away. The uneducated adult negroes of today, ignorant of everything except how to curry favor with old massa, with a large family, never earning more than 75 cents per day & cheated out of a part of that by a rapacious landlord who charges him $4.00 per month for a miserable unlighted cabin not worth pulling down for firewood & inclined as the race are everywhere to split up in everything into little factions, will not in this generation be able to support schools. Better white men and more intelligent negroes must replace the present men before the negroes unaided can keep up schools."

Despite these obstacles, enthusiasm was high. In January of 1869 Gardner wrote "I have had very good success [in] every matter as respects Col. schools quiet in my vicinity." He estimated the public response as "common". His New Garden school had 30 students, seven of whom were over the age of 16. Five were free before the Civil War. School was in session for three months at a time, five days a week, from 8am to 4pm.

Gardner soon encountered difficulty. He was not getting paid the full amount for teaching the school and wanted to return to farming. Additionally, his students were getting too advanced for him. In a letter to General Thomas, he wrote: "I cannot teach the students of this vicinity much longer. I expect to farm this season the reason is they are so advanced that I can not teach a part of them after the present cession not with standing I have taught  them from the alphabet." In his March Monthly report he concludes "I have discharged my duty to the best of my skill & judgement & the gentleman that examined my school recommended the progress good."

Fountain Richison's report for the Lebanon school in April of 1869 was more succinct. He was teaching 25 students, ten of whom were over the age of 16. None were free before the War. The school received $300 in aid from the Freedmen's Bureau and were housed in a building owned by "Miss Caroll" or "Marthay Carl" (presumably Martha Carroll, age 85, household #32, Lebanon District, 1870 Russell County Census.)

By May things had turned noticeably darker. Richison reports the public sentiment as "much opose by the rebels saying they outalarew it." Under Remarks he states "hear they thirten to burn houses and kill the teachers." His remarks in August were "oppose finaly through out wanting their labor."

Unfortunately the monthly reports by teachers end in August of 1869. Reports in other counties continue until 1870 or later. Very little information is available as to the state of these schools after 1869. In 1872 the United States Congress abandoned the program.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

World War I Letters of Russell County, August 30, 1918

This letter originally appeared in the August 30th, 1918 issue of the Lebanon News.

"A. E. F. France, July 1918.

Dear Folks at Home:

Will try and drop you a few lines this morning as I am feeling fine and getting along splendidly.

Well how are things there now, very lonesome at home, I guess, since all the boys have left. I hope I will meet Steve and Silas over here sometime. We are at a different place now, but we are going to leave very soon. We get plenty of fresh air for we are sleeping in tents and it is very cool at night but very pleasant during the day. The wind got to blowing the other night and thought my tent was going and I had to get out and pin it down. It is fine to be over here, plenty of excitement and a continual roar of guns. We are going to get the Huns then come home, and I don't think it is going to take long to do it. Don't worry about me for I am doing my duty and I am going to continue to do it for I would rather be called anything but a slacker. Do you know the difference between a slacker and a custard pie? I don't guess you do so I will tell you. Both have a yellow streak but neither has crust enough to go over the top. But folks at home, you can say say you have a son that has crust enough to go over the top and I am going to keep that crust.

Do you hear from Silas and Steve very often? I haven't heard from them for some time. Tell them I want to meet them on the battlefield some day. Did you get the present I sent to my mother and sister? I guess you have, as I sent them about two months ago.

Your son,

Monday, June 5, 2017

Those Fabulously Unlucky Baker Boys

     James C. Baker was a well-to-do farmer in Russell County who married Highly Johnson sometime around the year 1838. They had at least seven children, including five sons: Joseph C. (b. 1839), Nathaniel D. (b. 1843), John (b. 1845), George (b. 1847), and William (b. 1851).

    Oldest son Joseph C. Baker joined the Union army on January 15th, 1863, enlisting in the 39th Kentucky Infantry. Twenty of Russell County's 38 Union soldiers served in the 39th Kentucky. At the time of his enlistment, Baker was 28 years old, six feet and a half inch in height, with a dark complexion and black hair and eyes. Two months later, on March 25th, he deserted the company in Russell County.

     Joseph Baker remained in Russell County and on November 4th, 1865, he married Martha Kilgore in Scott County. They had at least eight children together. While he was married to Martha, he apparently took up with Mary Louisa Deen, a woman 20 years younger than Baker. He maintained two families, having children by both women, for over 5 years, until Martha's death in 1880. He then married Mary Deen, eventually having at least 11 children with her.

     In the 1880 Census, Jame C. and Highly Baker are living next door to Joseph C. and his family by Martha Kilgore. Next door to them is the Deen family, with Mary, age 22, and four children, the oldest age 6. In the 1900 Census, children of both mothers are listed as Joseph's.

     Baker farmed and raised his family, living on Baker Ridge until 1919. On April 3rd of that year, Joseph's 40 year old son Joseph Hopkins Baker (called "Hop") killed his father with two shots to the chest.

     No explanation was given for Hop's action, although there was said to be a disagreement between Hop and his father about money, and there were rumors of "liquor habits" which "led them to wreck and ruin."

    On that fateful day, Hop and Joseph had argued, Joseph was disagreeable and had threatened to kill Hop, and had even drawn his gun on Hop. Hop, enraged, first attempted to kill his mother, missing her by so little that her dress was scorched. She dodged behind a mule and ran for the house, where she hid herself under the floorboards. Two other shots missed her. Hop then shot his father twice, and also fired at two other women who were at the house, missing them. Hop then made his escape.

     Hop made his way to Kentucky, where he bought a farm and lived until the summer of 1926, when deputy sheriff W. P. Horn, N. C. Meade, and Chas. Moneyhun captured him and returned him to Russell County for trial. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, with 10 for acquittal and two for conviction. Hop returned to Kentucky. A second trial later that year resulted in a conviction for manslaughter and a sentence of five years.

     Joseph C. Baker was not the only son of James and Highly to die an unnatural death. Brother John was stabbed to death. Brother William was "shot by a man by the name of Minton" in 1894. Brother Nathaniel suffered the same fate as Joseph C., being shot to death by his son, Bob Baker.

     Other family members also died young, brother George died at the age of 6 years of fever. Sister Sarah died at the age of 24. Robert J., a son of Joseph C. and Martha Baker, died at the age of two in 1877. Two other sons, by Mary Deen, George and Jasper, died in 1888 of flux.

     Hop lived until the age of 86, dying on Christmas Eve, 1960.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

World War I Letters of Russell County, August 9, 1918

The following letter appeared in the August 9th, 1918 issue of the Lebanon News.

"Somewhere in France,"
July 2.

My dear Kitty:

Perhaps since I have gone so far away, it is not as active as the heading reads, but it is army life in its true meaning. You have no doubt been wondering why you have not heard from me before now, and I have also wondered why I have not written you.

Many times I have collected my pen and paper to write, when I begin to realize the face, that my vocabulary is very limited, as you well know, and that my mind is so absorbed that I cannot get my thoughts together enough to find words in which to express them on paper. Anyway you know I am very good at making excuses, especially when it comes to writing letters. We landed in France June 8th, all the way across no one could not help but enjoy every hour of the time spend on board the ship, even the boys who were very sick and "lost their beans overboard." We landed safely without any mishap or excitement throughout the voyage, at times the weather was cool and windy, the waves rolling high. We were all comfortable, cheerful and happy, as though we had nothing to fear, while our good ship moved on and on over the dark blue sea at a great pace. Still land was welcomed by all, and you should have heard the loud shouts and cheers from the brave "Sammies" as we neared the port. The port city (which I shall not name) was a good sized place, and if ever I had my "mouth" open looking it was while we were marching through the city after we had got off the ship.

Thought it was the greatest sight of my life to march through the streets and look at the people watching us pass by, most all would wave their hand and smile, but behind that smile there seemed to be sorrow written so deep in their faces that one could not overlook it. Even to the little children who cannot realize what it all means by woring have the same sad expression, because they seem to have been deprived of lifes essentials. We hiked out a little way from this town to what is called a rest camp. Here we remained for a few days rest, then continued our journey by rail, which has been a pleasant and very interesting trip since, we have been able to see a great deal of the country of sunny France, which is a real beauty. Much more beautiful than I can describe. The land through the country seems to be very fertile and productive. Its nice to see the pretty grass farms, the fine fat horses and milch cows. Through the cities and towns, there are many things to see very interesting. The women take the place of men in many ways such as running street cars, auto, etc. Yet everything seems to be of a very old fashion. Nothing up to date. The substantial structure of the buildings consists only of stone, concrete or brick, very seldom ever see a porch to any house. There are many, many other things to see of great interest, also instructive as well. War seems to be ever present to all who are paying the prices of it.

We could not see these things without having a determination to do our bit in this great conflict. Of course, to us who wear the uniform there is some degree of uncertanty as to what the future holds for us. But as we stand up with strong hearts, as brave soldiers should have, with a full determination to do our very best in this great war, we lay aside every obstacle in view and take up the required work of fighting men, to put an end to "old Fritz," and his wonderful gang go there shall again be peace and prosperity restored to the world when we shall be permitted to return to our homes in the dear old U. S. A. and live in peace, and enjoy the comforts of home life. To me, everything looks very bright. I think America is here in time to save this beautiful country of France, and I am sure we are going to do our utmost to do it. But however should fate decree a different course rest assured we shall acquit ourselves as men, reflecting honor upon our country, making more sacred the stars and stripes in "old Glory" which has become to have a deeper meaning than I am able to describe. I feel sure the dear ones back home are immensely interested in our behalf and faithfully watch our course as to the time when we may return. You speak in your letter of the Red Cross workers, I must say that the Red Cross is playing a great game in helping to win the war, and I trust they will continue the good work, and try to get more people interested in doing their share. I am sure if everybody would be willing to do their bit the war would end much quicker.

Kitty, I have been able to see a few good looking French girls since I have been in France. The hardest thing for me to understand is their language, about all I can say to them, is, "Jer ner parl pah Fraunsay." Jer swee ah mery cang." I am an American. that's going some isn't it? Perhaps if I stay over here long enough I will be quite a Frenchman when I return.

We are having some good times over here, and I don't think our folks back home should worry, while it does no good. It is very interesting to see the boys so eagerly watching for a letter from someone back home. It is a great pleasure to get a letter from someone in "dear old Virginia." I will be pleased to hear from all my friends who wish to write me just a line. I have recently received one letter from you, which was appreciated. Hope to hear again soon.

Well, as my letter is getting rather lengthy, and I have told you about all I can think about, I will soon close this letter. Guess I have written more already than you care to read unless 'twas more interesting.

How's the weather at home now? Very warm I guess. A sweater worn at times, and sleeping under four or five wollen blankets has been very comfortable here.

Wishing you much success in all the undertakings you may wise to accomplish in the future, I remain,

Your friend,
Med. Detach. 317th Infantry
American Expeditionary Forces.