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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)