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No comfort to be found

Yesterday was the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Day of Infamy that would propel the United States into the Second World War.

Baker Bible, Deaths

It was a day of heartbreaking losses — 2,402 dead, 1,177 of them on the USS Arizona alone1 — and the deaths that would follow in the weeks and months and years of the war would stagger the nation.

My family was more fortunate than most, I suspect, during those years. Though I had an uncle in the Navy when Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was not at Pearl on 7 December 1941. And of all the many uncles and cousins who answered the call to arms, only one near relative — my mother’s cousin Philip Cottrell — paid the ultimate price.2

But one comfort shared by my mother’s family and others who lost loved ones in that war has to be a sense that the lives lost were not lost in vain. That something real, and tangible, and precious, was protected and saved by their sacrifice.

That comfort, for my more extended family, has not always been the case.

And I could not help but think of the contrast when thinking of one branch of the family tree, and the woman born 202 years ago today.

Julia McGimsey was born 8 December 1810,3 and lived her entire life near the mountains of western North Carolina.

She was the second daughter of Joseph McGimsey and Allie (Moore) Wakefield McGimsey,4 and the second to marry one of the Baker brothers, my third great granduncles and sons of my fourth great grandfather David Baker. Her older sister, whose name is alternately rendered as Sena and Lena, married David Davenport Baker in 1832;5 Julia married a younger brother, Josiah Baker, on 17 November 1835.6

By the 1840 census, Julia and Josiah had already had four children — and had already buried one of them. Newton A. Baker, born 22 September 1836, Julia Ann Baker, born 11 December 1838, and David Martin Baker, born 8 May 1840, were likely the three under-5 children listed in the household in the 1840 census.7 Julia’s second-born, William, was born 21 December 18378 and died just a year later, on 29 December 1838.9

In all, Julia bore 12 children. The others were, in order, John F., born 4 October 1841; Joseph B., born 21 February 1843; Theodore P., born on 9 December 1844; America A., born on 18 June 1846; Elizabeth J., born 17 October 1848; Phebe Louisa, born 4 June 1850; and Charles F., born 12 October 1852.10 They lost little David Martin, the baby of 1840, when he was just two years old,11 but the other children grew to adulthood.

And I cannot imagine how Julia felt as she surveyed her four beautiful grown boys as the winds of war swept into western North Carolina and the Confederacy sounded its call to arms.

The Baker family as a whole, by and large, were not slaveholders. Some of Josiah’s cousins, in neighboring Caldwell County, had inherited slaves from their parents Henry and Nancy Baker,12 but there are no records of slaveholding by Josiah or his brothers and sisters. Western North Carolina had always sung a different tune from the eastern planters, and politically the eastern and western parts of the state tended to be poles apart. It was no different on the issue of secession: the western counties tended to oppose it.13

But, like so many other families, after North Carolina seceded from the Union, these Bakers answered the Confederacy’s call to arms. One after the other, all four of Julia’s grown sons entered into military service on behalf of the south. (The baby Charles was far too young even at war’s end.) And, one after the other, three of the four perished.

The oldest, Julia’s first born, Newton, only recently married 14 and a new father,15 died at Jacksboro, Tennessee, on 24 March 1863.16 He was not yet 27 years old.

Julia didn’t even have three months to grieve Newton’s loss before her second oldest son, John, died of fever, on the 10th of June, 1863.17 He was just 21 years old.

That left Joseph and Theodore both in service… and the agonizing fear of yet another loss. The rest of 1863 passed. And most of 1864 as well.

But then the hammer fell. The battle at Allatoona Pass on 5 October 1864 was “one of the most dramatic and tragic episodes of the Civil War.”18 “Of the 5,301 men engaged in the Battle of Allatoona Pass on October 5, 1864, there were 1,603 casualties. The Union troop loss was 35% and Confederate’s was 27%, for a combined percentage of casualties equaled only by the Battle of Gettysburg.”19

And, the family Bible records: “Joseph B. Baker, Fell in battle at Altona Mountain, Ga. Oct. 5th 1864.”20 Joseph was just 21 years old.

Of Julia’s four Confederate sons, only Theodore made it home.

And you can’t help but wonder… As the South lay in ruins, as families struggled to come to grips with the unspeakable losses of that war, as Julia looked at the empty places around her family’s table… what comfort did she have? Could she possibly have felt those lives were not lost in vain? How did she cope?

I can’t imagine.


  1. Wikipedia (, “Pearl Harbor,” rev. 7 Dec 2012.
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Memorial Day thanks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 May 2012 ( : accessed 8 Dec 2012).
  3. 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. Julia’s birth was the only family birth recorded on the “Marriages” pages.
  4. Report of A.C. Avery, referee, to Burke County Court, undated, transcribed by Mary Armstrong, “Re: John Caldwell Brown with Bean Family Connection,” posted 18 May 2005, Brown Family Genealogy Forum ( : accessed 8 Dec 2012).
  5. Burke County, North Carolina, Marriage Bond, 1832, David D. Baker and Sena E. McGimsey; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  6. Baker Family Bible Records, “Marriages”.
  7. 1840 U.S. census, Yancey County, North Carolina, p. 260 (stamped), line 21, Josiah Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 8 Dec 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 374; imaged from FHL microfilm 18098. The children’s birthdates appear in the Baker Family Bible Records, “Births”.
  8. Baker Family Bible Records, “Births”.
  9. Ibid., “Deaths.”
  10. Ibid., “Births”.
  11. Ibid., “Deaths.”
  12. See Judy G. Russell, “`Don’t Stop There!’ Connecting Josias Baker to His Burke County, North Carolina, Parents,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, March 2011, 25-41.
  13. Secession,” North Carolina History Project ( : accessed 8 Dec 2012).
  14. Baker Family Bible Records, “Marriages”.
  15. Ibid., “Births”.
  16. Ibid., “Deaths”. See also 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 ( : accessed 7 Dec 2012).
  17. Baker Family Bible Records, “Deaths”. See also John F. Baker, Pvt., Co. I, 29th 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 ( : accessed 7 Dec 2012).
  18. Allatoona Pass Battlefield,” Etowah Valley Historical Society ( : accessed 8 Dec 2012).
  19. History of the Civil War : Battle of Allatoona Pass,” Cartersville-Bartow County, GA Convention and Visitors Bureau ( : accessed 8 Dec 2012).
  20. Baker Family Bible Records, “Deaths”.
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