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The Stephenson Family of Wiregrass Georgia

By Janice Newton Thurmond
2 February 2008

In 1849, Joshua Stephenson moved his family from Johnston County, North Carolina, to Thomas County, Georgia, whose southern line was the boundary with Florida. The land was covered with a type grass which grew in thick, spreading turfs as an understory to the vast long leaf pine forests of that area, and which was called “wiregrass,” lending its name to the coastal plains of the Southeastern United States. Joshua and his wife, the former Henrietta Isabella Powell, had eleven children, ranging in age from twenty-five year old Bartley to one year old Henry. They were farmers and members of the Primitive Baptist Church.

Eldest son Bartley married Susanna Jane Alderman about 1859. They owned a farm in Colquitt County, an area that had been cut out of Thomas County in 1856, when the new county was created. Two of his sisters were also married and living in Colquitt County – Martha Jane to James Hancock and Susan Ann to John Tucker. Brother Thomas was single; he was staying with his sister Susan Ann’s family when the census taker made his rounds in 1860; however, he was also counted in the home of his parents in Thomas County, where his brothers, Ezekiel, David and Joshua, all single, resided.

Rumors of war drifted across South Georgia and the Stephenson brothers were filled with the patriotic passion, which fired most of the South’s young men. Twenty-four year old David, who had married Mary Frances White late in 1860 and had one child, was the first of the brothers to enlist. He joined Company E, 50th Regiment, Georgia Infantry on 3 April 1861, and eventually made his way to Virginia, where he received a near fatal wound in the Battle of Salem Church on 3 May 1862. After his recovery, he was reassigned to the Quartermaster Corps and remained in that branch until the surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, where he was present. After the war, he and Mary Frances went on to have a total of fourteen children, eventually moving their family to Lafayette County, Florida, where David died in 1894.

Thomas married Mary Ann Tucker in 1861, the younger half-sister of his brother-in-law, John Tucker. At twenty-eight years old, he traveled to Macon with some of his friends from Colquitt County, all of whom enlisted in Company C, 19th Battalion, Georgia Cavalry on 24 July 1862. They were sent to Atlanta for training, where Thomas fell ill. He was admitted to the Atlanta Medical College Hospital, where he died in November 1862. They buried him in Oakland Cemetery.

Ezekiel, age thirty-three, enlisted on 31 July 1862, in Company E, 50th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, the same company his brother David was in. He died of pneumonia in camp near Lynchburg, Virginia, on 22 November 1862 – the same month that brother Thomas died in Atlanta.

Brothers Joshua and Bartley probably were in the Georgia Militia first, though there is no record, for both of them were found in Company D, 1st (Olmstead’s) Regiment, Georgia Infantry, during the Battle of Atlanta – records say that Joshua enlisted in that company in Macon on 12 January 1864. The first date on Bartley’s record is 17 February 1864, with no date of enlistment. Brothers-in-law James Hancock and John Tucker were with the Georgia Militia, fighting in the Battle of Atlanta.

Bartley, age forty, was captured on 19 June 1864, in Marietta. He was transferred by the Union captors to Nashville, Tennessee, and then to Louisville, Kentucky, eventually arriving at Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he died of typhoid fever on 23 January 1865. He was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery in Indianapolis; however, in 1933, all of the Confederate dead were re-interred in a mass grave in Crown Hill Cemetery in that same city. The former Green Lawn Cemetery was paved over.

Joshua, age twenty-three, was captured in Jonesboro, Georgia, on the 2nd of September 1864. He died of typhoid fever while a prisoner of war in Chattanooga just twenty days later. His burial place is unknown.

Brothers-in-law James Hancock and John Tucker fought through most of the Battle of Atlanta. James became ill with typhoid fever and was transferred to a hospital in Macon, where he died 16 August 1864, leaving a wife and seven children, ranging in age from twelve to two; another child was born just a few short months after his death. James was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon.

John Tucker survived the war and returned to his home in Colquitt County, where he continued his life as a successful farmer and became a great political leader. He served two terms as representative to the Georgia General Assembly from his home county — 1873-1874 and 1882-1883. He and Susan Ann were parents of eleven children. John died in 1919 in Colquitt County and was buried in the Live Oak Church Cemetery; he and Susan Ann had been charter members of Live Oak Primitive Baptist Church.

Joshua and Henrietta Stephenson lost four sons and a son-in-law in defense of the Confederacy. Is there any wonder that we Southerners cannot forget?

[Searching for the Stephenson brothers was a great adventure — David and Ezekiel were fairly easy to find, for they were listed in Lillian Henderson’s Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia; however, finding Bartley, Thomas, and Joshua was much more of a challenge. About 1992, I asked an eighty-three year old cousin, Blanche Pitts Smith, herself a descendant of John Tucker, as I am, what happened to Bartley and Thomas; she said she didn’t know, for no one in the family had ever mentioned their names (she began recording family history at age ten). I was able to share my discovery of those two brothers with Blanche before she passed away and she was very grateful to me. It was only last year that I found Joshua — it had completely slipped past my observation that his birth year was 1841, the very birth year of so many Confederate soldiers. JNT]

Copyright © 2013 by Janice Newton Thurmond
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