Friday, May 31, 2013

Where Parting Will Be No More

One of my great-great grandmothers was Tenny (or Tinny) Zella Stanfill. Even though she was born in Arkansas in 1903, her unique name of Tenny came from the State of Tennessee where some of her ancestors were from. She was a fun, colorful ol’ gal who had the greatest stories. I know because Tenny lived to be 101 years old! In fact, she did not die until I was well into my twenties. Many are not fortunate enough to know their great-great grandma, and I consider myself very blessed. Stories she told me could take up more than a few blog posts (she was a very interesting person, to say the least). But, today I want to focus on one of my ancestors whom I did not know: Tenny’s great grandfather, Lewis Baird. Lewis would be my great grandfather five “greats” back, if my math is correct (Lewis’ daughter Rachel married Melton Stanfill, and together they had James who was the father of Tenny).

Lewis was born in 1795 in North Carolina. And while Lewis was a Southerner, during the Civil War he apparently, very publically, sided with the Union (it is said that his sons even fought for the Union). Because of this, he was arrested in 1862 by Confederate soldiers and imprisoned in the Salisbury Prison.

 Salisbury was an empty cotton factory that was converted into a prison to house POWs after the War began. At first, sources state only a little over 100 men were housed there. But, as the War went on, the numbers began to swell. By 1864, it is said that the conditions at the prison had deteriorated, and the prison was not only housing captured Union soldiers, but also Confederate deserters, common criminals, and Union sympathizers like my grandfather, Lewis Baird. The prison that was originally designed to hold 2,500 men ended up housing a few hundred shy of 10,000 prisoners. It is reported that some prisoners slept under buildings, some in tents, and some simply on the ground-even in the winter. Deaths became common place, and Lewis was one of the casualties.

In conducting my family research, I have found a letter (posted by other descendents of Lewis Baird, whom I would like to thank) written by another inmate and friend of Lewis. This letter was sent to Lewis’ family.

To the sons of Lewis M. Baird:
I, as comrade of your father in prison, deem it my duty to write to you at this time to let you know his present condition. He is in the hospital and to all human appearance must soon be numbered with those who have been taken from the evils of this world. There is no particular disease apparent but old age and confinement have done the work. Having become acquainted with him soon after his arrest, and have been with him ever since, he now seems like a father to me. I can truly sympathize, we have slept together and I have been able to obtain many little necessaries from him. He has stood it very well until lately. I have often heard him say that he would like to know how you all were and let you all know how he was but he never got to hear from any of you at home.

I have talked to the old man upon the subject of religion. He always expressed himself as being prepared, which is a great consolation. I assure you that all that is possible for me to do shall be done for your father. Pray that God in his great mercies may spare him yet to return home. He wishes for me to say if he does not live to see you in this world; that you will strive to so live as to meet him above where parting will be no more. Very truly yours, Thomas Cayton

Lewis Baird never returned home, but died at Salisbury Prison on May 11, 1864 at the age of 68. Sadly, he does not have an individual grave marker, but was laid to rest in a mass grave along with other deceased prisoners. Today, a monument stands marking the general area where the mass graves are.

It is said that Lewis could have gone free, had he simply sworn allegiance to the Confederate cause. He refused. I hope one day, when I too am “where parting will be no more,” can look up Lewis and tell him how much I admire the fact that he stood for what he believed in. From what I have uncovered in my family research, he was a man of integrity and I respect him for it. I was very excited to uncover this small piece of my family tree. But the work (and fun) must continue, as I know there are other stories waiting to be told from my family's history.

Note: I have another grandfather whom I admire that fought in the Civil War, only for the Southern side. He was at the Battle of Shiloh, and was eventually captured and imprisoned at Camp Chase in Ohio. I hope to tell his story soon!

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