The January wedding
It would have been cold there in those mountains, that January day, so long ago.
Western North Carolina, tight up against the Tennessee border, is starkly beautiful in the winter. What was then Yancey and is now Mitchell County is rugged country in the heart of the Appalachians, with elevations ranging from about 2400 feet to Roan Mountain’s 6285 feet1 to Mount Mitchell’s nearly 6700 feet.2
Towns there today — both official and unincorporated — have names like Spruce Pine and Little Switzerland, Loafers Glory and Red Hill, Estatoe and, of course, Bakersville.
Bakersville, where so many of The Legal Genealogist‘s Baker relatives lived and died.
The official website of Bakersville, North Carolina, says that “the first settler on the site of what is now Bakersville was David Baker”3 — my fourth great grandfather. There are Baker descendants there still today.
And many of them descend from David’s son Josiah Baker, who married Julia McGimsey, and went on to run one of the local stores for many years.
And no matter how cold it was that day, 154 years ago today, there in those North Carolina mountains, you have to believe it would have been warm in the hearts of the Baker family and their close neighbors, the Ledford family, as their children stood side by side and said their “I dos.”
The third of January 1861 — when Newton Baker and Harriett Ledford married — was a Thursday and, it would seem, an ordinary day for the time and place. None of the available North Carolina newspapers mentions the weather for the day, so we have to figure it would have been unremarkable — in the 20s or 30s perhaps, maybe with a dusting of snow. Certainly nothing that would have kept Newton and his bride from exchanging their vows.
Newton was not yet 25 on his wedding day; Harriett was not quite 17.6 Both families had been among the first settlers of the Toe River Valley, and had lived near each other for generations.
Surely it was a time of joy for these two families to join like this… but also a time of trepidation. Newspaper stories of the day carried headlines like “From Charleston SC: War is inevitable,” 7 and “Alabama Sure for Secession.”8
You have to wonder what they were thinking that January. Were they fearful for the future? Did they think they would be swept up and perhaps swept away by the rising tide of southern sentiment? Or were they focused only on themselves and what they hoped for their future life together?
There are no records of what life was like there in those mountains for Newton and Harriett in 1861 and early 1862. Only three facts from that time period are known for certain.
First, the couple was blessed with a son, Newton Vance Baker, born 31 May 1862.9
Second, two weeks before his son was born, Newton became the first of the Baker boys to enroll for active service in support of the Confederacy, joining Captain Jacob Bowman’s Company of North Carolina Partisan Rangers, later Company B of the 58th North Carolina Infantry.10
And third, two weeks after his son was born, Newton mustered into active service at Bakersville, Mitchell County, North Carolina.11
The National Park Service’s The Civil War website gives the unit history as follows:
58th Infantry Regiment was organized in Mitchell County, North Carolina, in July, 1862. Its twelve companies were recruited in the counties of Mitchell, Yancey, Watauga, Caldwell, McDowell, and Ashe. In September it moved to Cumberland Gap and spent the winter of 1862-1863 at Big Creek Gap, near Jacksboro, Tennessee. During the war it was assigned to Kelly’s, Reynolds’, Brown’s and Reynolds’ Consolidated, and Palmer’s Brigade. The 58th participated in the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee from Chickamauga to Atlanta, guarded prisoners at Columbia, Tennessee, during Hood’s operations, then moved to South Carolina and skirmished along the Edisto River. Later it returned to North Carolina and saw action at Bentonville. It lost 46 killed and 114 wounded at Chickamauga, totalled 327 men and 186 arms in December, 1863, and took about 300 effectives to Bentonville. The unit was included in the surrender on April 26, 1865. Its commanders were Colonel John B. Palmer; Lieutenant Colonels Thomas J. Dula, John C. Keener, Edmund Kirby, William W. Proffitt, and Samuel M. Silver; and Major Alfred T. Stewart.12
We can hope Newton was able to spend some time with his son before marching off to Cumberland Gap in September. We can hope that Newton was as comfortable as possible in the winter quarters at Jacksboro, in Campbell County, Tennessee, just about 160 miles to the west of his home. We can hope that maybe he even got a visit home while the unit was waiting to be sent into battle.
And we hope for these little comforts because it was there that Newton’s story ends. He died at Jacksboro, Tennessee, on 24 March 1863.13 He was not yet 27 years old; his boy was not yet a year old.
His service record doesn’t say how Newton died. There weren’t any battles or skirmishes around the area at that time, none that involved the 58th North Carolina for sure.14 So it was probably disease — a common killer of soldiers, especially in the Civil War: “Most casualties and deaths in the Civil War were the result of non-combat-related disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease.”15
Not every family tale has a happy ending.
This one surely doesn’t.
But sometimes the stories without the happy endings are the ones that need most to be told.
- Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Roan Mountain (Roan Highlands),” rev. 5 Nov 2014. ↩
- Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Mount Mitchell,” rev. 30 Dec 2014. ↩
- Bruce Ledford, “Bakersville History,” Bakersville, North Carolina (http://www.bakersville.com/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015). ↩
- Bible Record, Josiah and Julia (McGimsey) Baker Family Bible Records 1749-1912, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (New York : American Bible Society, 1867), “Marriages”; privately held by Louise (Baker) Ferguson, Bakersville, NC; photographed for JG Russell, Feb 2003. Mrs. Ferguson, a great granddaughter of Josiah and Julia, inherited the Bible; the earliest entries are believed to be in the handwriting of Josiah or Julia Baker. ↩
- Ibid., “Births.” ↩
- See 1860 U.S. census, Yancey County, NC, Bakersville, population schedule, p. 396 (stamped), dwelling/family 354, Harriett Ledford; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed x2 Jan 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 919. ↩
- Evening Bulletin (Charlotte, N.C.), 3 Jan 1861, p. 3, col. 3; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 2 Jan 2015). ↩
- Ibid., col. 5. ↩
- Baker Family Bible Records, “Births”. ↩
- Newton A. Baker, Pvt., Co. B, 58th NC Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina, microfilm publication M270, roll 315 of 580 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1960); digital images, Fold3 (http://www.Fold3.com : accessed 2 Jan 2015). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- “58th Regiment, North Carolina Infantry,” Battle Unit Details, The Civil War, National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015). ↩
- Newton A. Baker, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina; Fold3. ↩
- See “href=”http://www.mycivilwar.com/battles/1863s.html”>Civil War Raids & Skirmishes in 1863,” The American Civil War (http://www.mycivilwar.com/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015). ↩
- See “Civil War Casualties,” Civil War Trust (http://www.civilwar.org/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015). ↩