The Civil War and the Williford Webb Family of Holmes County, FL

I’ve been away for a while. Adjusting to not having my Mom with me and focusing on my Yellow River Baptist Church and Oak Grove writing projects. I’ve found it can be hard to think of a short writing project after a two month hiatus so I will share the life of one of my ancestors and hopefully give some things to ponder. Thinking about the period of the War for Southern Independence (aka Civil War) can be useful at the moment. During the period I’ve been away the country has experienced some of the worse convulsions in my lifetime and I lived through the 1960s and the administration of Richard Nixon. I have for some time, as in all of the 21st century so far and the last three decades of the 20th, referenced similarities between the convulsions occurring in our time with those leading up to the War for Southern Independence. History doesn’t repeat itself but as Mark Twain is reputed to have said, it does rhyme on occasion. We are rhyming with the first half of the 19th century and we have now entered the equivalent of the late 1850s. As a genealogist and amateur historian, that correlation makes me ask myself what were my ancestors thinking as the country lurched into the secession crisis and what might have been some of their motivations as the conflict progressed.

Let me start by laying out what I know of my direct ancestors who were living during the War for Southern Independence. Most of them were already in the Florida panhandle. My Marsh and Revel ancestors were still in South Carolina and my Pitts and Bowman ancestors were still in Georgia. In other words, they were all Southern at the time of the war. My seven direct ancestors who served in the war were: William Henry BRETT 6th Florida Infantry, Co G; Randolph “Randal” FULFORD 4th Florida Infantry, Co H; James Millard GASKIN 1st Florida Union Cavalry, Co B; Andrew Jackson MARSH 15th South Carolina Infantry, Co G; Zachariah NICHOLS 11th Florida Infantry, Co F; John C. PITTS 60th Georgia Infantry, Co G; and Williford Newton WEBB 6th Florida Infantry, Co G. It is Williford Newton WEBB’s experiences of the war that I would like to share and draw some lessons from. Hopefully, they will be both history and genealogical lessons.

Williford (Wiliford, Wilford) Newton WEBB was born in either North Carolina or Georgia, in either 1800 (1870 census) or 1812 (1850 census). I suspect he was born about 1812 in North Carolina, though finding documentation for that has remained elusive. One reason for my willingness to accept the 1812 date is his joining his sons in the 6th Florida Infantry. He would have been around 62 when joining in March 1862 if he was born in 1800. I just doubt that they would have accepted him. In addition, one of his muster roll records indicates he was 52 at enlistment, which would fit for a birth around 1812.

He was married briefly to Sarah OZIER in Harris County, Georgia in 1832 and they had a daughter named Elizabeth Sarah Jane WEBB who was born around the time her mother died. I have not yet found the time to track Elizabeth through time. Williford married my ancestor Susan MERCER about 1835, likely in Randolph County, Georgia or a surrounding county based on his purchase of property in Randolph County in March of 1835. They had a possible total of six children. There is a female child in their household in 1840 in Henry County, Alabama that has remained elusive. The next four children, Jasper N, John Marion L, Jessie Baldwin and Mary Susan were born in Alabama. Their youngest, John Talton was born in Holmes County, Florida. I have been unable to locate a 1850 census for the family but based on the ages of the two youngest children, the family moved into Holmes County, Florida between 1851 and 1856.

1860 Holmes County, FL census for Williford and Susan Webb and family

Williford’s 1860 census in Holmes County indicates that he was a farmer but the real estate value appears to be a ditto mark that doesn’t make a lot of sense. It would reference back to the preceding family’s value of $640.00 which would indicate he likely owned his land but using a ditto mark here seems a bit strange. The family must have had a sizable farm since Williford writes Susan in 1862 advising her on handling the sell of some of their produce. When the war started their two oldest boys were 23 (Jasper N.) and 19 (John M. L.). Jasper was likely still at home, he was in their household in 1860. John had married Eleanor HARDEN in 1859 and they were in Jackson County. I’ve often wandered how the three men made the decision to join in March of 1862. I’ve been told that Williford had been a member of the Campbellton Greys from September 1861 until he joined the 6th Florida but I’ve not confirmed that. I don’t know about the two sons. That needs more research. I’ve also not found that Williford had served in the Seminole Wars so he wasn’t experienced in fighting other than doing his duty in serving in the local militia. His two sons would have known they would be drafted in another month or so in March 1862. And his two youngest sons appear to have served in the local guard (based on pension applications) during the war but that’s another bit of research I still need to confirm for myself. So, it would seem the family had strong feelings on supporting the Confederacy. My sense from his letter to Susan and his age and previous lack of military experience other than militia service is that he joined to be with his sons and to watch over them. And based on a reference he makes to preaching to the men in the regiment in his letter to Susan he may have joined to fulfill a sense of obligation to pastor to the men as they went to war. He was a preacher.

Letter from Williford Webb to his wife Susan in January 1862

The 6th Florida left Florida headed for the Army of Tennessee in June 1862. Almost from the moment they were organized at Apalachicola it appears that Jasper was sick. Williford’s letter to Susan and Jasper’s muster rolls indicates he was sick in 1862. His muster rolls do not indicate from what but he spent most of 1862 on sick furlough. He was present for duty in February 1863 and remained so until killed at Chickamauga on 18 September 1863. John did not fare much better. He too was sick for much of 1862 and present briefly in 1863 before dying of congested lungs in April 1863. Williford had also been sick in 1862. His letter mentions him feeling better. There is some evidence that measles ran rampant in the camps as the regiment was formed and mustered into service but diarrhea was also a never ending problem during the war. It does not appear that Williford was ever present for battle but he was discharged in October 1863, likely due to age and physical condition. I can imagine that seeing the death of his two oldest sons in the span of 6 months, as well as being sick himself, would have aged him considerably.

For this family the war was devastating and they certainly were not the only family that lost multiple members. And then, of course, the survivors came home to more devastation. Both sides had taken families’ belongings, produce and livestock. Many men came home with long-term disabilities, as well as psychological trauma that we would term post-traumatic stress syndrome today. Starvation was a major problem in the panhandle during and immediately after the war. Many of these men had gone to war believing what they had been told, that they would beat the Yankees quickly and then be able to keep the Southern way of life that included slavery. But keeping people in bondage against their will is very difficult in a war. Many enslaved found it much easier to run under the supervision of the female head of household who wasn’t experienced in managing slaves. The Confederacy tried to “fix” that by allowing plantation owners or overseers to not be drafted but that proved very unpopular with the average joe who did get drafted and had to leave his family to manage somehow. As far as I can determine, Williford and Susan did not own slaves so their investment in the Confederacy was political and social and not economic. Their loss in supporting the Confederacy was profound and it has led me to often wonder if they felt it was worth it when the war was over.

Williford has a memorial stone at Winterville Cemetery in Holmes County, Florida. That is where a number of Webbs are buried or memorialized. It is not known where Williford is actually buried. Neither is it known where his wife Susan is buried. The date on Williford’s memorial headstone is incorrect. He is in the 1870 census with his wife Susan and son John Talton. By 1880, Susan is living with her daughter and son-in-law Randal and Mary Susan FULFORD. Randal and Mary Susan are my 3rd great-grandparents.

Mary Susan WEBB FULFORD, about 1933 in Holmes Co, FL

Mary Susan WEBB FULFORD and the 6th FL Infantry were written up in the Holmes County Advertiser in March 1933 and was reprinted in the Florida Genealogist in the 1990s. The copy I have is poor and deserves my time to find better copies of the original and the reprint some day. She apparently had a good memory at 83 because she was able to name a good number of the men who served from Holmes County.

I can’t imagine how Williford felt coming home without his sons and likely finding times extremely hard. It would be wonderful to know if they were able to hang on to their land. I wonder if he questioned the decision for the southern states to go to war or if he was resolved that it was the right decision.

In a democratic republic, in theory, we are suppose to settle our political disagreements at the polls and then accept the outcome, regardless of whether we are happy about it or not. Taking up arms when we dislike the outcome can be momentarily rewarding but personally and socially disastrous long-term. As individuals we must determine if we take up arms over small things that can change in a few years or pick our battles when it becomes “…necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” (Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776). We seem to be at that crossroads again. For some, they believe the recent election warrants taking up arms and being violent. For others, we may not be happy about the outcome but we know elections come every few years and they do have consequences. Both current political parties might do well to spend less time trying to command and control the government (i.e. being in charge to wield political power) and more time solving the problems that plague us, together. When we get into trying to control, rather than working together to solve problems for everyone, that’s when we find ourselves again on this slippery slope. When we ignore large groups of people or work to disenfranchise them, we create problems that will be magnified over time. Any of these can lay the groundwork for an autocratic person to come along and take our representative democracy into a direction many of us would not want. It is all coming together now and our future depends on making good decisions, expecting accountability and problem-solving, and then moving forward together. The political marketplace is a place of ideas and solutions, and solutions to work must be implemented. If you can’t sell it, no one will buy it. And if you can’t implement it, folks will likely remember that at the next election. That’s my word to both parties.

Until Next Time.

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