AUTHOR: Linda Lancaster Harmon
Mary had blonde hair and is described as being “very queenly” and “an unusual woman who could make more money than nine-tenths of the men.” (Heritage Book of Wayne County)
This was an incredible woman of courage who left her home three times to cross battle lines to retrieve the bodies of her dead sons.
“The History of Greene County” by James Creech, Page 239. The following is a story related by Mrs. Winifred C. Aldridge Sugg, sister of John Thomas and James Parrott Aldridge and printed in “The Carolina and The Southern Cross” about the story of two soldiers and what mothers endured and titled, “A Meeting with President Davis”.
“The story of my two brothers is also the story of my mother’s endurance, for she went three times to the battle-field to bring home her dead. My father must have come from a military family and no doubt interested in politics. He named my eldest brother John Thomas and the younger James Parrott Aldridge, both family names. John Thomas Aldridge volunteered at Snow Hill, Greene County, in the company of Captain Drysdale. This company went to help defend New Bern commanded by Captain Drysdale and afterwards became a part of the Third North Carolina regiment and went to Virginia. Before going to Virginia, my younger brother James Parrott Aldridge, joined when the soldiers were in camp near Goldsboro.
Mother who went with Jim when he joined had fear that she would never see her boys again. So she packed their dress suits and took them with her to Goldsboro to the camp for the purpose of getting their pictures. The daguerreotype was considered the most desirable picture and mother insisted on having her boys take off their uniforms and wear their dress suits so that they would look familiar to her.
To John Thomas she commended the care of his young brother, and bidding them goodbye, she returned with the dress suits and the pictures.
In the battles around Richmond, the brothers soon learned what hard fighting meant. John wrote the most cheerful letters home to his invalid sister. He noted every funny incident and recorded every anedote that was calculated to disarm her fears. To save his mother anxiety, he failed to report that Jim was ill with typhoid fever.
When he was ordered to march, he vowed that he would not leave Jim unless someone was left to nurse him. This was done, but John sent for mother and she journeyed to Richmond taking a coop of live chickens to supply him with broth. When she arrived at his bedside, the shock of seeing him so ill caused her to faint, and he also fainted at the sight of her. However, she nursed him through the fever, taking him to a Richmond hospital while John was away with his regiment. After convalescing, Jim returned and was again with him and his regiment.
At Chancellorsville on the morning of the day which Jackson was shot, Jim fell while making a charge. Both brothers were in that charge. Jim was taller and was a little in advance of his brother, John, who knew when Jim was struck. He kept on however and the Confederates carried the breastwork. Then John ran back to find his brother already dead with five others. “Dig a hole”, he said to the men who came to carry off the dead and wounded. “Wrap his blanket about him and mark the grave. When I go home, I shall take him too”. Mother heard the news and went at once to bring home her dead, but the fighting around Richmond was so fierce that she had to return without even seeing John.
On reaching home, she found a letter from John awaiting her return. It said, “Mother leave brother Jim to sleep in a soldiers grave with his five comrades where I buried him”.
After the battle of Gettysburg, John Thomas was sent to a Richmond hospital. Here he wrote to mother to meet him. When she arrived, he at once left the hospital, seized a negro and cart, for which he paid an enormous sum, and leaving mother to wait for him, he went to find and bring her dead boy to her. With his own hands, he dug open the grave and sadly lifted the still hand that lay across one of our neigbors, Thomas Hill, of Greene County. (Thomas Wooten Hill lived at Arba and was son of Joseph Parrott Hill and Louisa Wooten, and married Nancy Sugg, daughter of Henry Sugg and Esther Hill) There were soft curls around his boyish face that smiled as if in sleep.
John had taken a coffin from Richmond with him, and after he had put the body of Jim into the baggage car and started back from Chancellorsville to Richmond, the yankees attacked the train and cut it apart destroying part of the track. This delayed the arrival of the coffin for about twenty-four hours; but finally the younger brother’s body was restored to his mother, and John started her toward home. “I’ll put a substitute in your place.” “No mother”, he said, “My country calls and I must go. No substitute can fill my place. I shall never stop fighting till I have avenged the death of my brother, and driven the yankees from our homes”.
It was 13 days before mother could bury her son after the yankees cut the railroad, a bridge was destroyed and she had to go out of the direct way home and it took longer to come by Greensboro. On the way to Greensboro, she attracted the attention of a gentleman who approached her and offered to assist her in any way possible. He introduced himself as Jefferson Davis and she found that she had been talking for some time to the President of the Confederacy. He was very sympathetic and kind, and he talked to her a long time. Tears stood in his eyes as he spoke to her of her trouble and the troubles of the Confederacy. She always carried a pleasant impression of “Jeff Davis” as long as she lived.
When John sent his mother home with Jim in the coffin, he returned at once to his regiment although he had not been discharged from the hospital. I do not remember the things that intervened between that time and cold weather.
I insisted on having that coffin opened that I might look on the face of my brother. As winter came on the soldiers in Virginia were ordered to build winter quarters and John finished his tent or hut by riveting boards to cover it. He was plagued by a boil on his arm but did not seek exemption from duty. John was not the kind of soldier that desired exemption if his company went.
John was mortally wounded at Germanias Ford. When Mary went to claim him, she was accompanied by my great grandmother Vicey Aldridge Wooten. “The weather was freezing and on reaching Richmond, they arranged to travel to the Confederate winter quarters in the covered wagon of the Quartermaster who was then delivering provisions to Lee’s army. They traveled two days in this wagon.” They met soldiers who knew them who retrieved the body using miners’ picks to break the frozen ground. Jim and John are buried in the family graveyard in Jason.
Having gone to the battle scene three times Mary thought she was through with enemy contact. But when Schofield’s army came through, they took all the meat, horses, threatened to burn her house, and drunk yankees even threatened to harm her small son Octavius “Dock”.(From her second marriage to Sterling Bass Taylor)
Some officers who were gentlemen saw some shirts Mary had made and asked her if she would make them some to take home. Since she had only Confederate money and needed to buy a horse, she agreed. Winny was weaving a new homespun dress checked in indigo and white which was cut from the loom and 3 new shirts were made for $9.00. She bought a horse with that.
Born: 1813 Died 1877
Wayne County Heritage Book, Wayne County, NC, page 217 Article 464.