Andrew, Joseph, and Howell Curtis: Three Brothers Who Fought for Southern Independence
Submitted by: Willis Whichard, Jerry Padgett, James Padgett, Obie Whichard, and Bud Padg
The 1840 Census lists Madison and Sara Curtis as Cherokee County residents. They were among the earliest white families to move to Cherokee Nation lands in an area that would eventually become Clay County. In 1854, records disclose, Madison Curtis bought 150 acres for less than $12. It was not the only land purchased by Curtis, who eventually owned about 600 acres of land in the county.
Madison and Sara had 11 children: Delilia, Elizabeth, Andrew (Andy), Joseph (Joe), Howell, Martha, Sarah, Polly, Mary, Julia, and Rebecca. Seven of them were still living at home at the time of the Civil War.
Despite having a large family to help with farm chores, there is credible evidence from a family source that Curtis had slaves. A letter written in 1927 by the elderly daughter of Sarah Curtis Walker, Madison’s daughter, contains the following: “Grandfather Madison treated his slaves with love and utmost human kindness.” Following a visit to Clay County, she wrote: “We missed the old Negro cabins Grandfather Curtis’ slaves lived in, where they played their banjos and jigged and sang.” She did not discuss the horrors of slavery, instead suggesting that the slaves’ lives and quarters were quaint or even romantic. This granddaughter of Madison Curtis would never have known him since her mother moved out West before she was born; but she would have been reared listening to stories of her mother’s childhood. That childhood obviously involved living in a family setting that contained a significant slave presence. However, the 1860 slave census for Cherokee County, of which Curtis’ area of Clay County was then a part, does not show him as a slave owner. The rental of slaves was a common practice in that era. Since the 1860 slave census does not show Madison Curtis as a slave owner, it is possible that he rented slaves for use on his farm. Regardless, given the aforementioned letter, a conclusion that Madison Curtis either owned or rented slaves is supported by credible evidence. It is also reasonable to conclude that the Curtis family supported the Confederate cause because of the slavery issue.
On November 6, 1861, two of the Curtis boys, 23-year-old Andy and 21-year-old Joe, enlisted in the Confederate infantry. They reported to Company E of the 39th Regiment of the North Carolina Troops, which was composed largely of Clay County men. Andy was mustered in as sergeant, and Joe was a private.
On July 5, 1862, Howell Curtis, only 18, enlisted in the cavalry. The cavalry companies were elite units made up of young men who could afford to furnish their own horses and saddles, and were sometimes referred to as “hot shots.”
In October, Madison Curtis received a letter from his son-in-law, William Coleman, Elizabeth’s husband, which discussed William’s experiences in the Confederate cavalry and his son Howell’s well-being. The letter reported: “[W]e are in common health at this time with exception to my old complaints… Howell is well and there is not a siveler [more civil] man in camp than he is.
Andy Curtis was “reported absent sick during November 1862 [through] February 1863.” From December until February 1863, his brother Joe was “reported absent without leave.” They missed the big battle at Murfreesboro, but they did return in late February. Much to the frustration of their commanding officers, it was common for soldiers to take unapproved leave for undetermined lengths of time, returning home to help their families harvest crops or care for loved ones.
On the morning of September 19, 1863 around Chickamauga Creek (or, when translated from its Indian name, “River of Death”) Union and Confederate soldiers faced each other again. The battle lasted for two days. General Rosecrans arrived with 58,000 Union troops and lost 16,000 of them in a matter of 48 hours. General Braxton Bragg led 66,326 Confederate soldiers to the fight, and 18,454 of them died. The Infantry Company of Joseph and Andrew Curtis, Company E, 39th Regiment, N.C. Troops, assigned to Hood’s Corps and McNair’s Brigade, fought in the middle of the Confederate army attack. The Curtis brothers who fought — Joe and Howell definitely were there — survived. Poor Howell survived the Battle of Chickamauga, but was killed a month later, fighting at Philadelphia, Tennessee.
According to our sources, Joe Curtis, fighting in the trenches at Chickamauga, was wounded and reported “absent wounded through October.” He survived that ordeal and returned to fight, but in May 1864, Joe was captured at Resaca, Georgia. Almost a month later, he died in captivity at Nashville of disease; the records state the cause of death as “measles,” which was fatal to many during the Civil War.
What happened to Andy Curtis at Chickamauga is unclear. He was reported “absent on sick furlough” from September through October, so he may not have been present for the Battle of Chickamauga. On May 4, 1865, Andy was in Citronelle, Alabama when Lieutenant General Richard Taylor surrendered all of the Confederate forces in the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana to Maj. General Richard Sprigg Canby. From there Andy was transported as a Union prisoner to Meridian, Mississippi, where he was paroled five days later.
Madison and Sara Curtis lost their sons Howell and Joe during the war. Andrew Curtis survived, but was left with scars that never healed. After the war, Madison Curtis was 53 years old and probably in his declining work years. He had one living son, Andy, who for several years attempted to operate the farm. The 1870 Census lists Andy as living in the household with “Minivnia,” Andy’s wife Salina Minerva Padgett.
Salina died around 1878, before she was 40 years old. After his wife’s death, Andy had a mental breakdown, which led to his classification as a lunatic and eventual hospitalization at the North Carolina Hospital for the Insane in Raleigh.
Madison died in 1874 at age 62. Sarah Curtis died two years later at age 61. They are buried in Oak Forest Cemetery, just a short distance from their large farm on the Hiawassee River. In 1882, Andy died at the North Carolina Hospital for the Insane, and he is buried in the Dorothea Dix Hospital Cemetery.