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Out of My Head

The stories behind the story bring Civil War struggles to life

August 15th, 2011 8:16 am by Jan Hearne

Sometimes there are stories behind the story. Such was the case with United Daughters of the Confederacy article above. In the course of our conversations about the UDC quilt, I asked each woman about her connection to the Civil War.
The immediacy of the war became apparent when I talked to Phyllis Wilson. Her grandfather was a Confederate veteran.
“My grandfather was born 100 years before I was,” Phyllis told me. He served as General James Longstreet’s artificer during the war, taking care of his sidearms and horses. “That’s probably why he survived four years, because he was at Gettysburg,” she said. After the war, he married his childhood sweetheart and they had 17 children. Phyllis’ father was the youngest.
Though she never knew her grandfather, Phyllis said she heard stories from her father and his sister about the war and her grandfather’s life.
Katie Walker’s great-great-grandfather Sidney Presswood of Bakersville, N.C., survived the war and came back to North Carolina. He was a court recorder, a teacher and a planter.
Katie said he kept a coded diary of his day-to-day activities. Eventually that diary ended up on the sidewalk in front of a house that was being torn down.
This was immediately after World War II when code breakers were recruited from across the country to decipher enemy messages. Someone took the diary to an expert who decoded it, and Presswood’s life was revealed to his ancestors.
Virginia Kennedy has three Confederate great-grandfathers. Two were on her father’s side, one on her mother’s.
“My daddy’s grandfather he was really close to was from South Carolina,” Virginia said. “He was in the battle of Seven Pines in Virginia.” He was shot in the jaw and taken to a hospital tent.
When he heard the doctors say they had given up on him, Virginia’s great-grandfather got up and walked back to South Carolina. He washed his mouth out in the creeks he found along the way and lived into his 80s.
Martha Culp and I talked for a long time, and it was such a pleasure to hear her stories. Mrs. Culp’s Confederate ancestors lived in North Georgia. One day her great-grandfather, his brother and two neighbors set off on horseback for Rome, Ga. “None of them owned slaves, none of them planned to take part in that war at all,” Mrs. Culp said.
They were intercepted by a group of Tennessee Confederates who told them they could fight the Confederate cause or be shot.
Mrs. Culp’s great-grandfather and his brother made it through the war, but were taken to a prison in Chicago when they refused to surrender. They died there “in their uniforms with their papers in their pockets.” Their bodies were dumped into a ditch and hastily covered.
After the war, they were disinterred and properly buried, along with other Confederate soldiers who had been buried unceremoniously. Because Mrs. Culp’s ancestors’ papers were intact, their names were engraved on a monument erected over the common grave.
“I belong to the United Daughters of the Confederacy because my great-grandfather was forced into the Confederacy,” Mrs. Culp said.

Jan Hearne is Tempo editor for the Johnson City Press. Reach her at

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