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Nancy Pitts Walters 

By Ed Payne

  

When Nancy Pitts Walters died in 1915 at the age of 82, she had the distinction of being the widow of not one but two Piney Woods men who journeyed to New Orleans in the spring of 1864 to join the Union Army.  Both of her husbands, Marada M. Walters and Hanson A. Walters, belonged to one of the oldest and largest family lines in Jones County, Mississippi.  The fact that Nancy’s mother was a Walters and that five more of her Walters kinsmen also enlisted in the New Orleans regiments indicates the extent to which some branches of this prolific Piney Woods clan adopted the Union cause.

Nancy was born on January 26, 1833, the fourth child of Daniel Pitts and Margaret Walters Pitts.  Daniel, a native of Savannah, Georgia, moved to Jones County sometime after 1820.  He homesteaded in the southeast quadrant of the county where the couple raised 13 children, all born between 1827 and 1849.  His wife Margaret was by most accounts a child of Jones County patriarch Willoughby Walters, previously identified in the profile of Civil War widow Martha Rushing as the grandfather of her first husband, George Warren Walters.  

In an era when many women married in their teens, 1860 found Nancy Pitts on the cusp of spinsterhood.  She was single and 27, with a decade of potential child bearing years already behind her.  That summer, however, she was betrothed to Marada Walters, son of Daniel Walters and his wife Nancy.  The two families were neighbors and it seems likely they attended the same church, Mt. Moriah Baptist, founded in 1854.  Marada (alternately spelled Meredy, Marady, and Meredick) was seven years Nancy’s junior, having just turned 20.  His father was one of the younger sons of Willoughby Walters whereas Nancy Pitts’s mother, Margaret, was one of his older daughters—possibly by a different wife.  Nevertheless, it was a marriage of first cousins.

The nuptials of Marada Walters and Nancy Pitts were one or two rungs down the area’s social ladder from those of their mutual first cousin George Warren Walters and his bride Martha Rushing, who exchanged vows just a few months later.  The focus on livestock production and a paucity of fertile crop land resulted in a more homogeneous socio-economic order in the Piney Woods than was the case where the cotton economy predominated.  But the mother of George Walters and the grandfather of Martha Rushing owned a few slaves—enough to afford them a place at the outer edge of the small circle of “slave people.”  Marada and Nancy, on the other hand, were the offspring of subsistence yeomen herders.  They belonged to the majority of Jones County inhabitants who grew no cotton and owned no slaves, and were largely isolated from the newspapers and firebrand politicians who, as the secession crisis escalated, eagerly sought to convince one and all that such factors were beside the point.  

The Walters clan to which Nancy Pitts was related both by blood and by marriage was numerous enough to mirror these modest, but later crucial, Piney Woods class distinctions.  Among the 21 Walters households that included 125 individuals, there were four slave owners who possessed a total of 15 slaves—eight of whom were under the age of 14.  During the Civil War at least 16 of the Jones County Walters males fought in Confederate units. Three were listed on rosters of the Knight renegades, and seven would go to New Orleans and enlist in the Union Army.  It being Jones County, there was some overlap across these three categories. 

One month after Fort Sumter, as the first units of Confederate volunteers formed, Nancy gave birth to a daughter, Sarah.  Her husband Marada apparently shrugged off the early call to arms.  Within 18 months Nancy gave birth to second child, Marion, born in October, 1862.  By this time military circumstances had changed.  That April the Confederacy passed its first conscription act, requiring men of Marada’s age to enlist or be subject to a draft.  Did he comply?  Records show that “M. M. Walters” enlisted in Company D of Steede’s cavalry battalion in April of 1862, but later deserted.  There is no conclusive evidence this was Marada, but his later enlistment as a Corporal in the Union Army suggests that he claimed prior military experience.  

Whether Nancy’s husband deserted or simply evaded the draft, his tenuous position certainly compromised his ability to provide for their family.  He would have had to be constantly alert and prepared to flee at the sound of hoof beats.  With two infants to care for, Nancy probably lived in the household of her father or father-in-law.  Daniel Pitts was in his mid-60s (a vigorous man, he would live to age 94) while Daniel Walters was approaching his mid-40s.  But they, like others throughout the South, were subject to confiscation of their farm produce by any Confederate units who passed through the area.  Daniel Walters later testified that these periodic “requisitions” of goods made efforts at subsistence farming ever more tenuous.  But since Daniel himself had become subject to conscription in 1863, when the Confederacy raised the age limit to 45, he could scarcely afford to protest too publicly.

Conscription policies effectively stripped the area of most of its male workforce.  And, unlike in the cotton producing regions of the state, the Piney Woods lacked a substantial pool of slave labor to partially offset this drain on manpower.  In such hard scrabble areas, women, children, and the elderly were left to scratch out a living as best they could—or else starve.  

The reversals suffered by Confederate forces in central Mississippi, capped by the surrender of Vicksburg in July of 1863, prompted many Piney Woods men to desert and return home.  This, in turn, attracted the notice of Confederate officials who, alarmed that renegade bands such as the Knight Company had assumed effective control of the region, sent in troops to suppress this defiance and force deserters back into service as sorely needed soldiers.  The campaign conducted by Col. Robert Lowry in the spring of 1864 had a galvanizing effect on a group of men who had grown increasingly resentful of Confederate authority.  Those who managed to evade the roundup had no way of knowing that the campaign would be of relatively brief duration as a result of the pressing need to redeploy troops against Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. 

By late April, 1864 over 40 Piney Woods men, many of them not listed on the Knight Band rosters, made the decision to trek to New Orleans and enlist in the Union Army.  Among them were Marada Walters, his brothers Drury and Archibald, and four of his Walters cousins: Albert, Joel, Richard, and Hanson.

The motivations of the Piney Woods men who set out for the Crescent City remain unknown.  Some have argued the incentive was pecuniary: that these were poor men enticed by enlistment bounties and monthly wages paid in greenbacks.  If so, however, such an argument must acknowledge that their allegiance to the Confederacy was nil.  The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863 made the elimination of slavery a stated objective of the Union Army.  Furthermore, these men would serve in close proximity with units of the United States Colored Troops.  This was quite a different matter from deserting the Confederacy after a strategic defeat and banding together to ward off attempts at re-conscription.  It seems more likely that these men, whose original commitment to the Confederate cause was tentative at best, had become embittered by the in-kind taxation and confiscations endured by their families. 

Another point to consider is the mortality risk accepted by the enlistees.  Whether  they expected to see combat or not, those who had served in the Confederacy knew the lethal hazards of camp life.  It is often stated, though perhaps not adequately comprehended, that more men died during the Civil War of disease than from battle wounds.  Many soldiers who entered encampments from rural areas had never been exposed to childhood diseases such as measles and mumps, which often proved fatal when contracted by adults.  Poor camp sanitation added to death rolls by spreading dysentery and cholera.

One month before Marada left for New Orleans, Nancy gave birth to a son, Drayton.  She was now the mother of three children, the oldest of whom had not yet turned three.  It is unlikely that the rather abstract prospect of a Union soldier’s pay held much interest for her.  After all, the money would be difficult to pass across enemy lines and, in any event, it was no substitute for a missing husband.  If Nancy had forebodings, they were realized soon enough.  Marada Walters enlisted at Fort Pike, just outside New Orleans, as a Corporal in Company E of the 1st New Orleans Infantry Regiment on May 15, 1864.  Within four months he was admitted to the University General Hospital where he died of chronic diarrhea on November 27.

Nancy probably received word of her husband’s death in the same way Daniel Walters learned of his son Archibald’s death: from a local man who had ventured to New Orleans and came back with news.  The news was seldom good.  At least one quarter of the Piney Woods enlistees succumbed to disease during their term of service—most within the first nine months.  Drury, the third son of Daniel Walters to have enlisted in New Orleans, died of smallpox three days before his brother Marada succumbed.  Both Nancy and her father-in-law would have had to accept the news and struggle on because life at the margins did not permit devoting much time and energy to grief.   

The war ended in April of 1865 and surviving Confederate veterans, maimed or just emaciated, came home.  The surviving New Orleans enlistees followed a year later, given early release from their three-year terms.  But those who returned were far fewer in number than those who had marched away.  Therefore Nancy, like Confederate widow Martha Rushing Walters, must have counted it a true blessing when she had the opportunity to remarry.  In February of 1867 she wed Hanson A. Walters at the home of her parents.  Genealogies indicate he was the son of Arthur Walters, probably an offspring of the original group of Walters settlers.  Born in 1836, Hanson had married Elizabeth (Quilly) Hightower in 1855.  But she died in 1862 while Hanson was responding to the conscription act by enlisting in the Company C of the 7th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry.  He participated in the Vicksburg campaign and, following his parole after the city’s surrender, deserted and returned home.  He does not appear on any of the Knight Band rosters, but on May 24, 1864 enlisted in Company G of the 1st New Orleans.  He served until his discharge on June 1, 1866.

Despite her remarriage, Nancy was eligible for a Union widow’s pension to help support her children.  She began the application process in June of 1867 and within a year was approved for payment of eight dollars per month, commencing upon the date of Marada’s death and continuing through March of 1880.  She received an additional two dollars per month per child, to continue until each child reached sixteen years of age.  This payment totaling $168 per year would have been a major boost to the fortunes of any family living in the post-war Piney Woods, where annual the value of farm production often amounted to less than $500.  

Pension application for minors of Marada Walters

Nancy and Hanson settled into a life of farming and child rearing.  Years later, when Hanson applied for a disability pension, he listed six children:  Quilla (1868), Eugene Amon (1870), Theodocia (1871), Laura (1873), Renvy (1874), and Isabella (1877).  (Another child, a daughter born circa 1875, apparently died in the interim.)  He operated a modest farm east of Ellisville where, among other activities, he kept bees that he reported in 1870 produced 84 pounds of honey.   

Over time, animosity about the area’s renegade reputation, which provoked returning Confederate veterans to have Jones County briefly renamed Davis County (in honor of Jefferson Davis), mellowed.  Indicative of the emerging tolerance of the choices soldiers made after the surrender of Vicksburg is the fact that Hanson was allowed to join the Ellisville Chapter of Confederate Veterans.  In the 1890s he was elected as his district’s representative on the County Board of Supervisors–a post also held by doggedly unrepentant former Knight Band member Jasper Collins. Even in the midst of Lost Cause glorification of the Confederacy, many of the aging Unionists retained the esteem of their neighbors 

But it was Union service that made one eligible for federal benefits.  So in 1898, at age 61, Hanson applied for a Union disability pension.  He underwent a medical examination that reported him to be 5’ 10” tall, a lean 135 pounds, and still having dark hair.  His application was rejected based on his acknowledged service in the Confederate Army.   A later decision overturned this exclusion and Hanson began receiving ten dollar per month in 1904. 

Pension application, Hanson Walters

The pension bureaucracy was not as well disposed towards Daniel Walters.  Three of his sons had died after enlisting in New Orleans, but Drury and Marada left wives who had rightful claims as widows.  Beginning in 1890, a 72 year old Daniel sought a pension as a dependent of Archibald, who he claimed was a source of partial support prior to his Unions service.  But the Bureau of Pensions was skeptical and demanded further evidence.  Months turned into years and the claim was finally denied in 1898.  The 1900 census showed him living with two boys, ages 14 and 11, who were apparently grandchildren.  Daniel survived for another decade on whatever charity he received from his relatives and died in 1908.    

 

Daniel Walters's letter to Commissioner of Pensions

   By 1910, the wear and tear of Piney Woods life had taken its toll on Nancy and Hanson.  That year’s census showed them living in a household that included their unmarried daughter Renvy, age 33, and a 17 year old grandson.  On December 24, 1910 Hanson died in his home, age 74.  He was buried the next day, a Christmas Sunday, in the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church cemetery.   

Nancy Pitts Walters survived her first husband by 50 years and her second by four.  She died of “senile paralysis” on January 18, 1915.  She was buried next to Hanson Walters in the Mt. Moriah cemetery.  To the right of her tombstone is a funeral home marker for daughter Renvy A. Walters, who died in 1966.  It is assumed that Marada Walters was buried in the Chalmette, Louisiana, national cemetery along with other Piney Woods men who died in the 1st and 2nd New Orleans Regiments—but no record of his gravesite has yet been found.  

(Acknowledgement to the article “Willoughby Walters Family” by Jimmye Walters Watson in Echoes From Our Past, Vol 1 published by the Jones County Genealogical & Historical Organization.  Other information comes from the Union pension files of Archibald Walters, Drury E. Walters, Hanson A. Walters, and Marada M. Walters.)

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Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall

by Ed Payne

The life of Civil War widow Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall was short.  Born in 1844, she would be laid to rest in a now forgotten Texas grave in the mid-1870s.  It might well have been otherwise.  When she married George Warren Walters in late 1860, the event seemed a promising union between the offspring of two of the more prominent families in the area:  the Powell and Walters lines.  In the Piney Woods ‘prominent’ did not equate to ‘wealthy’ in any sense that the term would have been understood in, say, Natchez.  But both families had risen to the upper rungs of the yeoman-farmer society of Jones County.

Martha was the grand-daughter of John Hathorn Powell, who was born in Edgefield County, South Carolina, in 1800.  By 1819 he had moved to central Georgia, a way station for many who would eventually settle in the Mississippi Piney Woods.  There he married and continued to live until 1843, when he resettled in Jones County.  He served as post master for three years before moving to the Gulf Coast.  But after several years he returned to Jones County, where he remained until events forced him to leave the state.

Martha’s husband was a member of the large Jones County Walters clan.  Originating with the arrival of four males from South Carolina into the Piney Woods in the early 1800s, it had expanded by 1860 to 125 individuals in 21 households.   One of the four progenitors was Willoughby Walters.  His son, George Willoughby Walters, had married Sarah Collins in 1830.  The couple prospered for two decades, to the extent that by 1850 their livestock holdings and agricultural yields were among the largest in the county.  This even though George Willoughby, like the majority of those in the Walters and Collins lines, did not own slaves.  But during an 1853 epidemic, George Willoughby Walters and three of the six children died.  His widow then undertook a brief, disastrous marriage to James Parker.  She abandoned Parker after one year and operated her own farm with her sole surviving son, George Warren, and hired men.  When faced with the prospect of her son’s marriage, Sarah Collins Walters Parker purchased a slave couple as farm laborers.  She thereby entered the small circle of Jones County slave owners that also included John H. Powell.

Like her new husband, Martha Rushing Walters had experienced the childhood loss of her father.  Her mother was Samantha Powell, born in Georgia in 1824, who married Joel Eli Rushing there around 1840.  Based on the birth states listed for their children, the couple remained in Georgia until sometime after 1846.  They then followed the trail of Samantha’s father to Jones County.  By the time of the 1850 census, however, Joel had died and left Samantha as the head of household with five children ranging in age from one to ten years old.  The middle child was Martha, age six.

Within two years Samantha had embarked on a new marriage.  And, compared to the second marriage of George Warren’s mother Sarah, this one proved more successful.  Samantha wed widower Marton W. Owens around 1852 and the couple started a second family.  Three of her unmarried daughters by Joel Rushing moved in with their grandfather, John H. Powell, with whom they were recorded living on the 1860 census. A short time after the October census enumeration, Martha Rushing married George Warren Walters. She had just turned seventeen; he was nineteen.

Although John H. Powell was a minor slave owner—he possessed a female slave and two children—he opposed secession.  When voting was held to elect delegates to the state convention on secession in December of 1860, Powell ran on an anti-secessionist platform and won by 166 to 89 over his secessionist opponent.  Upon his arrival in Jackson, however, he quickly judged that the sentiment for secession was overwhelming.  After siding with his fellow anti-secessionist on two test votes, Powell joined with the majority in the final 84-15 vote for secession—much to the displeasure of those who had elected him.

Once war became a fact in the spring of 1861, the opportunity to test one’s courage in combat which often motivates young men resulted in the formation of several volunteer companies in Jones County.  But most males in the Walters and Collins families were not swept up in this initial wave of enthusiasm.  George Warren and his bride had given birth to a daughter, Isabelle, in February of 1862.* When the Confederate conscription law went into effect that April, however, he had little option but to enlist.  He joined Company K (the Ellisville Invincibles) of the 8th Mississippi Infantry regiment.  After nine months of service, he returned home for the holidays in late 1862.  This brief stay produced a second child, Warren Vinson Walters, who would be born in August of 1863.

George Warren Walters remained with his unit throughout 1863 and 1864 as it took part in the Battles of Chickamauga and Atlanta.  But he was captured at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, and had the misfortunate to be shipped to Camp Douglas, Illinois.  The grim, protracted nature of the war had provoked increasing brutality on both sides and Camp Douglas mirrored some of the deadly aspects of its Southern counterpart, Andersonville.  Over the winter of 1864-65 Confederate prisoners were inadequately clothed and fed, which resulted in high death rates from exposure and disease.  George Warren Walters arrived in early December, 1864, and was listing as having died of “Genl Debility” on February 6, 1865.  He was buried in a mass grave along with 6,000 others who died at Camp Douglas.

Plaque showing George Warren Walters as among POWs who died at Camp Douglas, Illinois, during the Civil War

Martha’s brother, Eli Franklin Rushing, demonstrates the way in which Jones County Civil War paths could converge and diverge.  Eli was among the early volunteers in the spring of 1861, when he joined Capt. Samuel Prince’s company of the 8th Mississippi Infantry regiment.  It was the same company, re-designated as Company K, which George Warren Walters would join a year later.  In April of 1862 Eli re-enlisted for two years and was promoted to 3rd Corporal.  But on February 28, 1864, he deserted and within three months enlisted as a sergeant in the Union 1st New Orleans Infantry regiment.  He remained with the unit until his discharge in June of 1866.  He moved to Texas in 1869 and died there in 1903.

Excerpt from Eli Rushing’s Union pension file

At war’s end Martha Rushing Walters faced life as a 21-year-old widow with two children.  Her grandfather, who in late 1862 had been appointed to the thankless and hazardous post of Provost Marshall of Jones County, left for Texas before the end of the war.  Her mother Samantha had lost her second husband in the war and was now managing a household with four children, ages nine through fifteen.  The carnage of the war had affected a significant portion of the adult male population.  If widows hoped to remarry and thereby gain some measure of security for themselves and their children, their choice of men was limited.  The men who survived the war unscathed were often those who had been either too old or too young to serve as combatants.  May-December marriages, certainly not unheard of in the antebellum Piney Woods, became much more common in the years following the war.

Martha Rushing Walters was more fortunate than many of the war widows.  Within three years she was able to remarry to Jacob Sumrall.  On the 1870 census, Jacob listed himself as age eighteen.  This implies he was no more than thirteen at the end of the war and probably about sixteen, compared to Martha’s twenty-four, when they wed.  Perhaps trying to minimize this eight-year age difference, Martha deducted two years from her reported census age.  In addition to Martha’s two children by George Warren Walters, the couple had a one-year-old son, Joel.

The background of Jacob Sumrall (Jacob Theodore Sumrall, according to some genealogical accounts) remains something of a mystery, due in part to the frequency with which the members of the Sumrall line bestowed the names Jacob and Elisha.  The most reasonable lineage is that he was the son of an Elisha Sumrall who married Nancy McCary in Wayne County.  This Elisha Sumrall was a son of a Jacob Sumrall born circa 1804 in South Carolina who had married Mary Ann Friday.  Elisha was born in Mississippi around 1831.  Confusing things further is the fact that Elisha’s mother gave birth to a son named Jacob in 1849.  It seems likely that the Jacob Sumrall who married Martha Rushing was the eldest son of Elisha, rather than his uncle of the same name who was only three or four years older.  The 1860 census might have offered support for this hypothesis, but no records have been found for the Elisha Sumrall family.   However, it can be noted that on the 1870 enumeration Elisha’s widow, who had remarried to Moses Holyfield, was listed with four Sumrall sons just seven households down from the farm of Jacob and Martha.

Shortly after the 1870 census, Jacob loaded up his family and set out for Texas.  They settled in Kaufman County, southeast of Dallas.  It was less than 70 miles east of the community where Martha’s grandfather and family had settled.  John H. Powell had died in Alvarado, Johnson County, Texas in 1867 but his wife and several other members of the family continued to reside there.  The year before, in 1869, Martha’s brother Eli had moved to Falls County, about 90 miles to the south.  But rather than settling near either of Martha’s relatives, the Sumrall family chose to set up housekeeping in Kaufman County.

Martha gave birth to another son, Eli Theodore, soon after their arrival.  In May of 1873 she gave birth to a daughter, Mary Magdalene.  But within two years, as later census records reveal, Jacob had remarried to Lucy Jane Williams.  It is apparent that Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall, mother of five and Piney Woods Civil War widow, had died of unknown causes.  Efforts to find any information concerning her burial site have thus far been unsuccessful.

Jacob Sumrall with second wife, Lucy, and daughter Martha Elizabeth, about 1898. Courtesy of Timothy Sumrall

The two Walters children who accompanied their mother and step-father to Texas remained there for several years, but by 1880 were back in Mississippi living with their 70-year-old grandmother, Sarah Parker.  Also listed in the household was two year old Carley (Charley) Walters, born in Texas.  He was cited, like Isabelle and Warren, as Sarah’s grandchild, but circumstances suggest he was Isabelle’s son.

Isabelle Walters married James Bush and gave birth to another thirteen children.  The couple did not attempt to obscure the chronology of Charley Bush’s birth.  On the 1900 census they identified themselves as having been married for eighteen years, while Charley’s age was given as twenty-one.  Isabelle Walters Bush died on March 4, 1915 at age fifty-three.  Her brother Warren Vinson Walters married Jessie Hattie Pack in 1890.  They had two children, only one of whom survived to adulthood.  Warren Walters served in various elective posts in Jones County before moving to Hattiesburg, where he died on August 26, 1937 at age seventy-three.

Although the two families of Martha Rushing Walters Sumrall had separated in Texas nearly sixty years before, there is evidence in Warren Walter’s obituary of his continuing bond with his half-sister.  It listed Mrs. W. E. Roundtree of Vera Beach, Florida as his surviving sister.  Mrs. Roundtree’s maiden name was Mary Magdalene Sumrall.

* Note:  On the 1900 census, Isabelle Walters Bush gave her birth month and year as February, 1863.  On the same census Warren Walters gave his birth month and year as August, 1864.   However, their gravestones list 1862 and 1863, respectively, which other circumstances suggest are the more reliable dates.

Eli Theodore Sumrall with wife, Lenora Rountree, and family. Courtesy of Timothy Sumrall.

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