Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Murder of James Bates During the Civil War

John Wallis Bates was elected to sheriff in Russell County (now Wise County), Virginia.  He married twice.  His first wife was Lavina Light.  They had five children.  They divorced, and Levina moved to Missouri.  He married again to Sarah Waldrup and they moved to Letcher county. 

Sarah was 14 years younger than John.  I always thought that he must have had a bit of a roving eye.  Later, I found divorce records with the right names, but the dates seemed off. In them Lavina was the one who caused the divorce.  John was granted a divorce and able to marry again.  Lavina was divorced but not allowed to marry again.  She never did as far as I could find.  I am not sure that that divorce record was theirs, but it made me think about him a bit differently.

John and Sarah had 12 children:  John Wallis Jr, Margaret "Peggy", Martha Irby, Elizabeth Agnes (my great great grandmother), Jesse, James, Robert "Robin", Uriah, Sarah, Henderson "Hen", Mary Jane and Martin Van Buren Bates.

John Wallis Jr. married Elizabeth "Bett:" Hall, the daughter of Gunsmith Billy Hall and Margaret Martha Johnson.  They had 15 children.

Margaret "Peggy" Bates married William Payne Johnson.  They had 10 chidren.

Elizabeth, known as Eliza Agnes, married Joel Ellis Wright, son of Joel Martin & Susannah Wright.  They had 7 children, one of whom was William Jesse Wright, my great grandfather.

Jesse Bates married Ibby Victoria Berry.  They had three children.

James married Elizabeth "Bessie" Adams.  They had six children.  He served in the Confederate army.

Robert "Robin" Bates married Elizabeth Catherine Bentley, the great granddaughter of Daniel Benltey and Nancy Jane Lewis.  They had 13 children.

Uriah Bates married Letty Adams.  They had two children.  Uriah Bates was a private in the Confederate army during the Civil War.  He was in Company F, 5th Kentucky Infantry. He was listed on the sick roll as of April 30, 1862 and in the hospital. He died of measles at Holston. He is buried in one of the 14 graves marked with a memorial marker on a farm at Gate City, Virginia.

Sarah Ann married William Mullins.  They had seven children.

Henderson "Hen" Bates married Mary Elizabeth "Betsy" Roberson.  They had six children.  He served in the Confederate Army and rode with General John Hunt Morgan in June of 1864.  He was a Captain in Company D  13th Kentucky Calvary. He died in September 1870 from wounds he received while serving in the Confederate Army.

Mary Jane Bates never married and had no children.

Martin Van Buren Bates first married Anna Swan and then Annette Weathersby.  He was known as the Kentucky giant.  He met her while going on a ship to England to tour Europe. 

The story I wanted to tell was about James.  He served in the Confederate army as a Sergeant, Company F 5th Company mounted infantry under the command of Captain Ben E. Caudill. While he was on furlough for the purpose of procuring horses for the Confederates, he was captured by the home guard.  He was tied to a tree and tortured to death with bayonets, a slow and agonizing death.  His family was forced to watch him die.

From a story written by John Lucas, a distant relative of the Bates, what happened is told:

  • "When his brother, Martin Van Buren Bates, found out that the local Unionists had captured James, tormented and murdered him, he was enraged.  He gathered his men and searched out the murderers. One by one they were captured. Some were roused out of their beds at night. Others were found hiding in hilltop caverns. Some were ambushed on Rock House Creek and locked in it under close guard. Then their wives, parents, grandparents and children were rounded up and driven to the mouth of Big Hollow and kept there around campfires all night. The children ranged from about 12 years old down to babes in their mothers' arms. Some of the wives were pregnant.

  • Two slender black oaks grew a dozen feet apart. A pole was lashed to the trees about 10 feet up. A round beech log was cut, stripped of its branches and placed on the ground beneath. Eight nooses hung down from the pole.

  • At dawn, the Rebels roused the sleepers, who threw fresh wood on the fires. At the sight of the dangling ropes the women began to wail. The giant appeared on his giant horse, his giant sword and pistols gleaming, his black eyes shining with contempt and hatred. His men appeared out of the gloomy mists herding the prisoners before them, each man's hands bound behind his back.

  • The prisoners were placed on the log, and a noose was dropped around each shrinking neck, the men pleading for their lives. Their relatives begged the giant to be merciful. The giant sat on his great horse for several minutes while dawn slowly brightened the sky. The fire crackled, adding its gleams to the soft light of the new day. The killers began to hope a little; then the giant raised his hand in a signal. Two men gave the log a shove and it rolled down the hill. The eight bound figures dropped a few inches and choked slowly to death. With swords and cocked pistols the women and children were kept at bay. None could render aid.

  • The "Yankees" were a quarter of an hour dying. The giant told the people not to touch the dead or take them down from the gallows. They were to hang there and rot by the road, their corruption warning all passersby of the consequences of killing a Bates. If anyone violated his order, he would die in the same way. Absolutely no mercy would be shown. In addition, his family would be destroyed, his house burned, his stock killed. "Take warning," the giant said. "because no other warning will be given!" Then he and his men rode away, leaving the dead to swing in the wind and their kin to mourn them through a monstrous nightmare.

  • The bodies turned to skeletons before the giant came back, only rattling bones were left for burial."

After this, Martin  could not stay in Letcher County.  John Lucas said,  "When those children got old enough they would have killed him without a doubt. He moved away when the war was over and didn't tell people where he went, either. You know what his vengeance was like. We can't even guess what those children would have done to even the score when they got to be grown men."

I haven't placed John in the family yet.  I do have a John Lucas who was the son of Noah Holbrook and Siller Bates.  I don't know if that is the right person or not.  He was alive while Martin was alive, but I am not sure how much first hand knowledge he would have had of the incident.

[FNB Chronicle, vol 9 no 3, 1998]

1 comment:

  1. what a blood chilling story. Ida Corene bates was my grandmother. john bates who was my g grandfather and james bates who was my gg grandfather but not the one you talk about. Pike and russell county alabama. James was in the confederate army too. partison rangers.