Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Simple Act of Love - a Civil War Story

On Valentine's Day this year, someone very dear to me who knows well my fondness for history and folk music sent me a beautiful love song set during the Civil War. The song, "Yankee Bayonet", by The Decemberists (click on the link to be taken to a recording of it), tells the story of a Confederate soldier from Oconee County, South Carolina, who fell in love but then went off to war and died at the Battle of Manassas (also known as the Battle of Bull Run). Listening to the song (which I instantly loved) reminded me of a Civil War story I'd researched in 2017 with a family hailing from Swain County, and I thought it would make a great article for this blog.

Elise (nee' DeLozier) Palmer at the grave of her 
great-grandmother, Nancy (nee' Monteith) Hemphill. 
Source: Amy Palmer Evans (daughter of Elise)

Members of the DeLozier Family at the Fryemont Inn, celebrating Elise's 93rd birthday in 2019.
Source: Wendy Meyers
Through my research over the years, I have developed a very close relationship with the DeLozier family whose roots lie deep in the area of Swain County that became Judson. Only one DeLozier born in Swain County remains living, and that is Nina Elise (DeLozier) Palmer, who was born at Judson in 1926. Her parents were John Cleveland and Roxie (nee' Woody) DeLozier, who were merchants in Judson up until 1928, when they moved to Buncombe County. Elise's maternal grandmother, Mary Ellen (nee' Hemphill) Woody, lived with the family much of the time and Elise was privileged to spend a great deal of time with her grandmother as she grew up. Mary Ellen's father, William Nulin Hemphill, was the Civil War soldier about whom this blog article is written.

Mary Ellen (nee' Hemphill) Woody with two of her DeLozier granddaughters
Source: Elise DeLozier Palmer
According to census records, Nulin was born around 1835/1836 and grew up in Haywood County (the reader is reminded that much of far Western North Carolina was part of Haywood County at that time). In 1851, he married Nancy Angeline Monteith and began to raise a family. The 1860 census places he and his family of four (two children, Allen Clingman and Sarah Jane had joined the family by this time) in the Webster district of Jackson County, where he was a farmer. His real estate holdings at that time were worth approximately $200 and his personal assets were worth $125. Little Mary Ellen joined the family on May 11, 1862. Just two months later, the family's lives were uprooted by the Civil War.

Nulin Hemphill family in the 1860 Census
Source: Ancestry.com
On July 11th, 1862, Company G of the North Carolina 69th Infantry Regiment (better known as Thomas's Legion) was mustered into service, and Nulin would likely have taken leave of his family at that time. In 1863, his unit passed back through the local area and he was able to come home for a brief visit with his family. The story of Nulin's picture, which was taken during that visit, is told by Elise in the video at the link below. (Click on the link to be taken to YouTube, where I have uploaded it. The quality of the video is not high due to my having to compress it, but I think it's still far better to have Elise telling the story on video than for me to present it in a transcription.)

William Nulin Hemphill (c. 1835 - December 20, 1864), great-grandfather of Elise DeLozier Palmer
Source: Elise DeLozier Palmer
Nulin was evidently not well during his brief stay, and soldiers came to the house to retrieve him. As they headed off, Nancy ran out of the house to kiss him and to give him a blanket. That was the last time she saw her husband.

Thomas's Legion was largely charged with defending the passes of the Southern Appalachian mountains. Unfortunately, their defense of one of the most well-known passes in the country, the Cumberland Gap, failed. On September 9th, 1863, Nulin's regiment was surrendered to the Union. From the Cumberland Gap, Nulin's regiment was transported north to the famed Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. It was an immense prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers and was known as the "Andersonville of the North". (For those readers who do not know, Andersonville was a notoriously brutal prisoner of war camp for Union soldiers.). There, Nulin and over 400 other members of Thomas's Legion lived in utter squalor, bitter cold, and brutal conditions until either the end of the Civil War - or their death. Camp statistics indicate than one out of every seven soldiers imprisoned there died.

Sadly, Nulin did not live to see the end of the war, and instead perished 5 days before Christmas on December 20th, 1864, having spent over a year at Camp Douglas. He was initially interred in a grave just outside Camp Douglas, however, after the war, the remains of many of the soldiers who died there were exhumed and re-interred in a mass grave at the Oak Woods Cemetery. There he now lies surrounded by approximately 4,275 other Confederate soldiers; a large memorial marks their final resting place far from their Southern homes.
Marker for Confederate soldiers who perished at Camp Douglas
Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, IL
Source: Wikipedia.com
Nancy remained a widow until 1870, when she married Edmond Thompson in Jackson County. Together, they had another three children and eventually moved to Swain County, to the area that is now the North Shore of Fontana Lake. There, Mary Ellen Hemphill met and married Augustus Poole Woody (who lived in the greater Forney Creek area) and bore Roxie - mother of Elise.

It is ironic to consider that, had he survived another 5 months to the end of the war, Nulin would likely have made his way back to his family, several other children would likely have been born, and the family may well have stayed in Jackson County. It is almost a certainty that Mary Ellen would never have met Augustus Poole Woody and that the trajectory of generations to come would have been dramatically altered. As such, when one thinks of Nulin, I think it's important to not only honor his service, but also to honor the bittersweet fact that without the loss of his life at the young age of 29, the DeLozier family (and many other families) as we know them would not have come about. And that would be a sad thing indeed.

John Cleveland and Roxanne Myrtle "Roxie" DeLozier
(Parents of Elise DeLozier Palmer)
Source: Elise DeLozier Palmer
Amy Palmer Evans
Elise DeLozier Palmer
Susan Williams Gray