Saturday, October 18, 2008


I am continuing with a few more family stories in my attempt to show the impact one can have on our history. I also want to remind everyone to write down their own family stories. You may think they are insignificant now but one day, they may help another generation understand their world.

No matter what you think of the Civil War - North vs. South, slavery vs. state's rights, good vs. evil - the fact is that many families were greatly impacted by the war no matter the reasons they were fighting. My family was no exception.

Mason Lee Wiggins was a planter and Senator from Halifax County, North Carolina. His wife, Elizabeth or Betsy, came from a family of soldiers and was the daughter of General Jeremiah Slade who was a hero of the war of 1812. Mason and Betsy had 12 children and lived at Woodlawn in Halifax County. Betsy kept a detailed diary and many stories we know of this family come from her diary. She was also a prolific letter writer. I have several letters from her sons and nephews to Betsy and one from her to her son, Blake, after his marriage.

During the war, Mason and Betsy had 7 sons serving in the war. Blake was a surgeon in Mississippi, Will and John were in the Texas Rangers, Alfred (also a surgeon), Tom, and Octavius (Octa) were in the Scotland Neck (NC) Cavalry and the youngest, Eugene, ran of to South Carolina at the age of 14 to join.

Alfred was killed at the head of his cavalry charge at Bull Run. Octa and Eugene were both severely injured in battle. Here are their stories:

From a letter from Betsy to her son Blake dated July 14, 1862:

Your Pa went to Enfield in the carriage to carry Tom (who came up to bring Al) and when the carriage returned I saw some others besides your Pa and thought it might be Eugene and ran out to meet him. The only one I recognized was cousin Jerry Slade of Ga supporting some one that seemed very feeble with his head bound up. Supposing it to be some wounded friend of his, when your Pa said "Betsy don't you know Eugene". I thought I should have fainted as my poor boy laid his arms around my neck and was made to realize it was indeed my own baby Eugene.

He fought through the thickest of the Thursdays and Fridays battles 26 and 27 June and escaped unhurt. Mondays battle near the James river he had received nine buck shot wounds in his left arm between the elbow and wrist and a ? rifle ball past(sic) through his jacket sleeve above the elbow had his haversack and canteen both shot off but he did not flinch but continued in the battle until after night when he was struck down- ? with a red hot cannon ball from the enemies gun boats.

When he came to his senses three days after he found himself in the Leabrook Warehouse hospital without sight or hearing. The ball had not touched him but came so close as to burn off the rim of his hat. It was supposed it was the concussion from the ball that had injured him so, bursting the blood from his ears, loosing his teeth, and bruising his shoulder. Soon after his senses came to him he could see and hear a little from his right eye and ear. He knew no one in the hospital and they would not let him out.

All this time we had telegraphic dispatches that he was safe up to Tuesday which quieted our fears at home while a lad only 14 years old was suffering what he had to go through among strangers. He stayed in the hospital until Monday nearly a week. He said he new(sic) he should die where he was and concluded he would get out if he perished in the ?streets? so when the servant came in the unguarded door with bread he slipped out and got in the ? where he providentially met with ?J. Snow our sheriff who carried him to the exchange where Dr. Joyner and Dr. M. Perry were. Dr. Joyner had been looking for him for nearly a week and with him he came out to Enfield meeting with cousin Jerry at Weldon, going home with a sick furlough.

The girls courage me to hope Eugene's sight will be restored which I pray God may be so but as yet he has no power to open or see at all out of his left eye. His health has improved a great deal the short time has been at home. You may imagine his altered appearance when his own mother did not recognize him after only 4 months absence.

Eugene lost his eye and it took a very long time to recover. His brother, Octa, however, had many adventures to come. Octa was a Lieutenant in General Lane's Brigade and apparently, pretty fiesty.

As reported by General James H. Lane in Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 9,1881, Pages 145-156 and pages 495-496:

On May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania Courthouse, was seen by General Lane, caught unarmed in the woods by the enemy, daring two Yankees to fire on him. He not only escaped but by his boldness, immediately afterward captured the flag of the 51st Pennsylvania , bringing the flag and several prisoners with him.

Also during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse he was wounded in the charge of May 21st.

Was captured at Petersburg during Grant's attack (he received a head wound and was left for dead then taken prisoner), confined in the Old Capitol Prison (he spent his 21st birthday there), While being transferred to Harrisburg by train, he jumped from the car window just as the train crossed a bridge and as it was dark and rainy, he made his escape.

He obtained a working suit and valise to avoid recapture and worked in Baltimore until he made enough money to buy a new suit and pay his passage to Richmond. When he reached Richmond, Lieutenant Meade and General Lane dressed him in soiled military clothes and a lady friend escorted him to the Provost Marshall at the Baptist Female Institute. He surrendered there as a "straggler", was paroled and given transportation home to North Carolina.

Octa recounted his stories in a small booklet that he made for his daughters. He tells of being at Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Spottsylvania where it was believed he had been killed. In fact, when he finally arrived home, his family still believed he was dead. What a surprise for them as he slowly walked up the long oak lined avenue at Woodlawn to his grieving family.

When I hear these stories, I realize that I have no idea what their politics were or how they felt about the reasons for the war. I only see the sacrifice they and their family were willing to make.

My genealogical line is as follows:
Mason Lee Wiggins married Elizabeth Slade.
Son of Mason Wiggins and Elizabeth Slade Wiggins, Blake Baker Wiggins married Mary Lorrain Dewees
Son of Mary Dewees and BB Wiggins, Blake Baker Wiggins III married Trinkins (Eddie) Cabaniss
Daughter of BB Wiggins and Trinkins Cabaniss, Aline Dewees Wiggins married Frank Cunningham
Son of Frank Cunningham and Aline Wiggins, Frank Cunningham Jr married Georgianna Marcella Gilligan
Son of Frank Cunningham Jr and Georgianna Cunningham, Frank Cunningham III married Annette McKnight
I am the daughter of Frank Cunningham III and Annette McKnight


Anonymous said...

I read this long post with some interest because of my relationship to President Lincoln. And, in my family, my two grandfathers were in the Civil War but neither was killed. One was cut across the skull with a sword and parted his hair there ever afterwards.

Ruth D~ said...

I think you are going to write a book. I think you should.

Wanda said...

Amen, about writing a book.. I was so facinated reading this account, and the heart of a mother as she penned this letter.

Wonderful post Tere... Wonderful!

Tere said...

Thanks everyone. I have always wanted to do a book on this, sort of a fictionalized version, using the facts based on the letters and diaries but then embellishing the stories and personalities to make it interesting, not just a genealogical history of the family. Hmmmmmm, one day.