John W. Hagan Witnessed “Unholy War” and the Execution of Elbert J. Chapman

John W. Hagan

John W. Hagan of Berrien County, GA

John W. Hagan of Berrien County, GA

John William Hagan, born October 10, 1836 in Jefferson County, FL, was a son of John Fletcher Hagan and Elizabeth Dayton. He came to Berrien County, GA around 1858 when he married Amanda Armstrong Roberts. She was the 15 year-old daughter of Reubin Roberts (1807-1874)  and Elizabeth A. Clements (1815-1862), and a niece of Bryant J. Roberts (see Bryan J. Roberts ~ Lowndes Pioneer  and Bryan J. Robert’s Account of the Last Indian Fight in Berrien County).

With the outbreak of the Civil War John W. Hagan enlisted for service in the Confederate States Army, mustering into the 29th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company D, the Berrien Minute Men, in the fall of 1861.  Hagan had prior military experience, having served in 1856-1858 as a private in the Florida Mounted Volunteers, in Captain Edward T. Kendrick’s Company, in actions against the Seminole Indians.  Perhaps because of his education and prior experience , albeit limited,  he was elected on October 1, 1861 to serve as 3rd Sergeant of Company D (Company K after reorganization) of the 29th GA Regiment.

Initially, the 29th Regiment was engaged at advanced batteries providing coastal  defense for Savannah, GA.  In the spring of 1863, the regiment was sent to Charleston, NC, but was quickly dispatched from there to Mississippi in a futile attempt to shore up the defenses of Vicksburg against the advances of federal forces under Ulysses S. Grant.

John W. Hagan wrote regularly from field camps and battle lines to his wife and family back in Berrien County. His letters frequently contain mention his relatives and colleagues in the Berrien Minute Men, including Bryant J. RobertsLevi J. Knight, Jonathan D. Knight, William Washington Knight, Henry Harrison KnightJames Fender  and many others.   In all there are 43 confederate letters of John W. Hagan.

In his letter of July 23, 1863 Hagan,  after two years  of war, was obviously disgusted with the looting and destruction the Confederate Army visited upon its own citizens. Writing to his wife, he stated ” I beleave our troops are doing as much harm in this country as the yankees would do with the exception of burning houses.”

While Hagan was with the 29th Regiment in Mississippi deserter Elbert J. Chapman, a private known to the company as “Old Yaller“, was captured and returned to his unit. Chapman, while absent without leave from the Berrien Minute Men, was still acting the part of a soldier fighting with a Texas Cavalry unit.

John W. Hagan in a letter to his wife dated  May 29, 1863 posted from “Camp near Deaconsville, Miss”    included the following:

“Amanda, I have some news to write you. One of our deserters was arrested yesterdy & brought to camp. E. J. Chapman was taken at Canton City. He was a member of a cavelry company in Canton & arrested & brought to camp by one of the Sharp Shooters. He says he has bin in service in this State 5 months, but we do not know what to beleave about him. He also says B. S. Garrett was taken up in this state & shot as a Yankee spye.  If  such is the case I am satisfide with his death but I am sorry he did not get his deserts from the proper hands.  I do not know what will be done with Chapman.  We are going to carry him to Canton City to day or tomorrow, turn him over to the military authority to be  dealt with according to the nature of his offence.”  -May 29, 1863

A month later Hagan, obviously weary of the death and destruction of war, wrote of the court martial and execution of Chapman.

Camp near Forrest City , Miss     July 23rd, 1863

My Dear Wife, I this evening seat myself in this benighted reagen [region] to write you a short letter which leaves Thomas & myself in fine health &ct. I have no news to write cience [since] our retreat from Jackson.  We fought the Yankees 8 days but was forced to retreat for want of  more force.  When we first arrived in Jackson after retreating from Big Black [river] I was confident we could stand our ground & give the Federals a decent whiping. But the longer we stayed and fought them the more reinforcements they got & if we had have stayed & fought a few days longer I fear we would have suffered, for our lines was so long we did not have men to fill the entrenchments & support our batteries.  So we retreated in good order & we had a trying time when we made the retreat. Our Regt was left on the field to hold the enemy in check while the other portion of our Brigade made there escape. The projic [project] was not made known to but few of the men and offercers of the Regt & when we went to leave the field it was suppose by the most of the men that we was only changing our position & they did not know we was retreating until we was all out of danger.  The retreat was well conducted & we lost no men or property on the retreat. We are now stationed near the rail road & expect in a few days to be shiped to some place.  Some think we will go to Tennessee & some think we will go to Charleston or Savannah, but I have but little hope of going to either Savannah or Charleston.  But I beleave we will go to Tennessee or to Mobile.  The fact is, this army is too small to do anything in this country & I think will it will be divided & some sent to Savannah & Charleston & some to Mobile & the rest will be sent to Gen Bragg in Tennessee.  Gen Johnston has given up command to Gen Hardee & has gone on to assist Gen Bragg. We are now waiting for transportation & as soon as transportation can be furnished we will leave for some place we cannot say whear to.  We have had some hard fighting cience [since] we have bin out hear, but our Regt has suffered the least of any Regt in our Brigade or divission. We only lost 9 in killed & wounded while other Regts lost 3 times that number.  I would give you a ful account of the fight & the causilties but I wrote a letter to James & Ezekiel & give them a list of the killed & wounded & requested them to send the letter to you. I did not know then but we would march on to some other place whear I would not have an opportunity of writing to you.

I also give them a tolerable fair account of the fight.

Amanda, I never new [knew] how mean and army could do in a country.  I beleave our troops are doing as much harm in this country as the yankees would do with the exception of burning houses.  But our men steal all the fruit, kill all the hogs & burn all the fence and eat all the mutton corn they can camp in reach of.  Our army have destroyed as much as 200 acres of corn in one night. We carry a head of us all the cattle we find & at night they are turned into some of the finest fields of corn I ever saw & in fact wheare this army goes the people is ruined.  I am disgusted with such conduct & feel that we will never be successful while our troups are so ungrateful.  I dread to see our State invaded but I hope this war will cease soon, but I havent grounds to build my hopes upon. But I & every Southern Soldier should be like the rebbel blume which plumed more & shinned briter the more it was trampled on, & I beleave this siantific war fear [scientific warfare] will have to ceace,  & we will have to fight like Washington did, but I hope our people will never be reduced to distress  & poverty as the people of that day was, but if nothing else will give us our liberties I am willing for the time to come. I am truely tyerd of this unholy war.  Amanda, you must use your own pleasure about fattening the hogs, but I think you had better fatten all the hogs that you think you can make weight 100 lbs by keeping them up until January or Febuary for pork will bring a good price, & in case our portion of the State is invaded that much will be saved, & if our troops should pass through there & are as distructive of as army is, we would have nothing, & if such a thing should happen I want you to turn every thing in to money & leave for some other place. But I hope such a thing will never happen, but if Charlston should fall Savannah is shure to fall, & then our country will be over run by troops. This country is now in a glumy state, but the dark part of the night is allways jest before day, so we may be nearer peace than we think.

We had a hard cien [scene] to witness on the 22nd.  E. J. Chapman was shot to death by sentance of a cort martial.  It was a hard thing to witness, but I beleav he was a fit subject for an example, for he confessed being guilty of everything that was mean. & if you write you must direct to Forrest City & I will write again soon. I do not have any eyedia [idea] of having an opportunity of goine [going] home until the war is ended but if times gets no better than at at present I shal not want to leave the field. But if times gets esy you know I would be proud to see you & my little boy.  I have so far ben verry lucky & I hope I shal continue so. Tom [Roberts] sends his love to you all & says you must not look for him nor be uneasey about him for he isn’t far the way. I must close I must close as I have to write on my knee.

I remain as ever yours affectsionately

John W. Hagan

Of course, the execution of E. J. Chapman, CSA for desertion was hardly an isolated event. So many soldiers deserted, the Confederate States Army eventually developed an amnesty policy in an attempt to return them to duty. But before that, many deserters were executed. On March 2, 1863 John W. Gaskins of the Berrien Light Infantry, Company I, 50th Georgia Regiment wrote home to his family that three men in the Regiment had been shot for desertion. Two of his company mates from Berrien County, Absolom B. Dixon and Irvin Hendley, had served on the firing squad that shot Private Isaac Morgan, Company B, 50th Georgia Regiment.

About the post war period, historian Bell I. Wiley reported,

After release from military service Hagan returned to Berrien County where he lived until 1881.  He then moved to Lowndes County where he acquired a large tract of land and was a successful farmer.  He changed his residence to Valdosta in 1896 and entered the livestock business in partnership with Jessie Carter.

Hagan became engaged in politics and was a local leader of the Populist Party

He represented Lowndes County in the Georgia House of Representatives for two terms (1886-87, 1890-91) and beginning in 1904 was for four terms a member of the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners, during two of which he served as chairman. He died in Valdosta on May 17, 1918 at eighty-one and was buried at Union Church Cemetery (then called Burnt Church) near Lakeland, Georgia.

Children of John William Hagan and Amanda Armstrong Roberts:

  1. Susan E. Hagan, born March 30, 1860, Lowndes County, GA; died August 25, 1860, Lowndes County, GA
  2. Reubin Columbus Hagan, born May 21, 1861, Lowndes County, GA; married Laura Roberts
  3. Georgia Hagan, born March 17, 1866, Berrien County, GA; married  James John Bradford, November 14, 1888
  4. Emma Tallulah Hagan, born June 08, 1867, Berrien County, GA; married J. A. Smith
  5. Fannie Ellen Hagan, born October 27, 1868, Berrien County, GA; married James Baskin
  6. Ida Ann Hagan, born August 16, 1870, Berrien County, GA; married John T. Smith
  7. Amanda Josephine Hagan, born March 05, 1872, Berrien County, GA; married Frank Arnold

Child of John William Hagan and Mary “Pollie” Smith Giddens (widow of Aaron Giddens):

  1. Texas Hagan, born June 19, 1875

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Bryan J. Roberts ~ Lowndes Pioneer

Bryan (or Bryant) John Roberts (1809-1888)

In 1827, eighteen-year-old Bryan J Roberts arrived in the newly created Lowndes County, GA with his parents and siblings.  His father, John Roberts, settled the family on a plot of land situated near the Cat Creek community, eventually establishing a large plantation there.

Bryan J. Roberts

Bryan J Roberts 1809-1888. Cat Creek Cemetery, Lowndes County, GA.

According to Folks Huxford, Bryan J. Roberts was born in Wayne County, GA on June 4, 1809, a son of Phoebe Weeks Osteen and John R.  Roberts.

In Lowndes County, on January 26, 1832 Bryan J. Roberts married Wealthy A. Mathis (1813 – 1888). As a young woman, she had come from Bulloch County, GA with her parents, Rhoda Monk and James Mathis, to settle at the site of present day Cecil, GA in Cook County.

Wealthy and Bryan J. Roberts established their home place on the land that had been settled by his father in 1827.  Of B. J. Roberts, Huxford says. “He had a large plantation and lived in comfortable circumstances.”     Roberts may have been among the earliest  planters to introduce pecans in Georgia, as pecans are mentioned in a Civil War letter written by John Hagan, of Berrien County, dated June 2, 1862.  Hagan wrote to his wife, Amanda Roberts:

 ”Give my respects to your Uncle Bryant J. Reoberts…Tel him I would like to heare how his little cob corn is doing. Also letter me know if Capt Martin has paid his cotoe [quota] of the precans [pecans] for introductsion.”

Children of Wealthy Mathis and Bryan J. Roberts:

  1.  John Jackson Roberts (1832 – 1907), married: (l) Susan Vickers daughter of Lewis Vickers; (2) Mrs. Catherine Gaskins widow of John Gaskins of Coffee County.
  2. James W. Roberts (1834 – 1900), married Elizabeth “Eliza” Edmondson daughter of David Adam Edmondson .
  3. Mary Ann Roberts (1835-1919), married Archibald Duncan Wilkes of Berrien County.
  4. Stephen N. Roberts (1837 – 1863), never married; joined the Berrien Minute Men in 1861 and served at Brunswick, Sapelo Island and Savannah; died of pneumonia January 6, 1863 in Lowndes County, GA; buried at Owen Smith Cemetery, Hahira, GA.
  5. Jemima Roberts (1839-1913), married William H. Burgsteiner son of John R. Burgsteiner.
  6. Rachel Roberts (1841-1867), married Jacob Dorminy son of John Bradford Dorminy, Jr. of Irwin County.
  7. Nancy Roberts (1843- ),  married William S. Phillips of Stockton.
  8. Warren H. Roberts (1846-1908), married: (1) Virginia S. “Jennie” Edmondson daughter of Rev. John Edmondson; (2) Isabella Strickland, daughter of Charles Strickland.
  9. William K. Roberts (1847-1908), married Phyllis McPherson Oct 27, 1888 in Berrien County, GA.
  10. Leonard L Roberts (1849-1919 ),  married Georgia Ann Baskin, daughter of James Madison Baskin
  11. Elizabeth “Betty” Roberts (1851-1933), married Daniel D. Andrew Jackson Dorminy, son of John Bradford Dorminy, Jr. of Irwin County.
  12. Martha Roberts  (1854-1898), married Frank Moore son of Levi Moore.

From 1827 to 1829, Bryan J. Roberts served as an ensign in the 663rd district of the Lowndes County militia. He was elected Justice of the Peace in the 658th district, Lowndes County, for the 1834-1837 term. He served in the Indian War of 1836-1838 as a private in Captain Levi J. Knight’s company of Lowndes County militia, and was one of those present at the skirmish with Indians at William “Short-arm Billy” Parker’s place preceding the Battle of Brushy Creek.

Prior to his death, Bryan J. Roberts divided his property among his children. This “self-administration” of his estate was reported in The Valdosta Times, August 8, 1885.

The Valdosta Times
August 8, 1885

His Own Administrator.

      Mr. Bryant Roberts is 77 years old, and he moved to this county in 1827.  He has reared 10 children and there are numerous grand-children.  The old gentleman lost his wife last year, and since that time he has been lonely at the old homestead.  Last week he summonsed all his children together and made up and inventory of all he owned.  It footed up $10,000.  Six thousand of his property was divided up into ten equal parts, and each child drew for his or her share.  The old gentleman reserved $4,000 for his own use for the balance of his life.  The homestead was included in the property divided, and the old gentleman will break up housekeeping and spend the remainder of his declining years around among his children.
      Mr. Roberts has taken this step because he feels that the silken cord has weakened under the weight of years and he prefers to be his own administrator.  We trust his children will make it pleasant for the old gentleman during the remainder of his sojourn with them.

According to the above newspaper clipping, Wealthy Mathis Roberts died about 1884. on July 8, 1888 Bryan J. Roberts followed her in death. They were buried at Cat Creek Primitive Baptist Church.

-30-

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George Washington Knight and the Populist Party

George Washington Knight was born September 8, 1845 in Lowndes County, GA.  His parents were Ann Sloan and Aaron Knight (1813-1887), brother of Levi J. Knight.

At age 16, on  July 3, 1862, George W. Knight enlisted as a Private  in Company E, 54th Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry.  His  unit fought all over Georgia; at Dug Gap, Kennesaw Mountain, and Atlanta, and other battle locales.  Matthew Hodge Albritton, James Baskin, William Gaskins, Samuel Guthrie, William J. Lamb, Jeremiah May, Rufus Ray, and Samuel Sanders, among other Berrien countians, also served in this Company.  On April 20-21, 1865, two weeks after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the 54th Georgia Volunteers, under the command of General Howell Cobb, joined in the last defense of Macon.

George Washington Knight surrendered as a corporal with Company E, 54th Infantry Regiment Georgia on May 10,  1865 at Tallahassee, FL.

On Sept 20, 1865 George W. Knight married Rhoda Futch, a daughter of John M. Futch. She was born October 31, 1846; died January 4, 1909.  At first, the newlyweds made their home on a farm owned by George’s father.  But within a few months George bought a farm on Ten Mile Bay near Empire Church, about five miles northeast of the site of Ray’s Mill. George and Rhoda resided on this farm the rest of their lives.

Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight

Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight

“In 1892 Georgia politics was shaken by the arrival of the Populist Party. Led by the brilliant orator Thomas E. Watson this  new party mainly appealed to white farmers, many of whom had been impoverished by debt and low cotton prices in the 1880s and 1890s.”   Georgia farmers were being driven into ruin by the combination of falling cotton prices and rising railroad freight taxes .  Populism attracted followers in all of the southern states, but it was especially strong in Georgia.

Populist Party 1892 Campaign Buttons.  Campaign buttons for the Populist Party candidate, James B.Weaver, in the presidential election of 1892.

Populist Party 1892 Campaign Buttons. Campaign buttons for the Populist Party candidate, James B.Weaver, in the presidential election of 1892.

The Populist Party ran a candidate for president, as well as candidates for Congress, Governor of Georgia, and the Georgia Assembly.

George Washington Knight was the Populist party’s candidate for Georgia state senator of the Sixth District in 1894, but was defeated.

The platform of the Populist movement called for financial policies to drive up the price of cotton, banking reform, government ownership of the railroads, direct election of senators, and an agricultural loan program, known as the Sub-Treasury Plan,  which would help farmers get the best prices for their crops.

“Realizing that the white vote would probably split between the Populist and Democratic parties, the Populists—and Tom Watson in particular—tried to gain the support of African Americans. Although never calling for social equality, they invited two black delegates to their state convention in 1892 and appointed a black man to the state campaign committee in 1894. They also demanded an end to the convict lease system, a program by which the state leased its prisoners to private mining companies. Work in the mines was dangerous, conditions were brutal, and most of the prisoners were black. Democrats quickly accused the Populists of allying with former slaves. Such racist claims drove many whites from the People’s Party movement, and the contest was marked by fistfights, shootings, and several murders.”

On election day, the Democratic party triumphed over the Populists in the races for the top offices. But the Georgia elections of 1892 and 1894 that kept the Populists out of state offices were marked by blatant corruption.  In 1894 ballot boxes in many Georgia counties were stuffed with more votes than there were voters.

When the Populist ran a presidential candidate in the election of 1896, it split the democratic vote giving the national election to the William McKinley and the Republicans. At the state level, the Populists lost the gubernatorial race to the Democrats. After the defeat of 1896, white Populists slowly drifted back to the Democratic Party, although many of the Populist issues continued in Georgia politics. The Populist Party had never convincingly embraced African-American voters,  who quickly returned to the Republican party.  The Populist party was not always acceptable to the Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass, either.  In November, 1892, for instance, in Empire Church near Rays Mill (Now Ray City), GA charges were preferred against Hardeman Sirmans “for voting the Populist ticket in the preceding General Election.” 

In later years, George Washington Knight returned to the Democratic party.

He died 8 Feb 1913 in Lakeland, Berrien, Georgia. Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight are buried at Empire Church, Lanier county, GA.

Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight, Empire Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

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