Written by Joel Ringgold Stegall; edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter
By the time the Civil War began in 1861, Great-Granddaddy Thomas Bottom Stegall was already 47 or 48 years old, too old for combat duty. As the war dragged on, and North Carolina began to run out of young men to give their lives for this increasingly futile cause, 45- to 50-year-old men were called up for non-combat roles. Thomas Bottom Stegall was one of those. He was inducted and assigned to the 4th Regiment of the North Carolina Senior Reserves, responsible for guarding prisoners at the Confederate Prison in Salisbury. (Appendix IV)
Built in 1861 to house 2000-2500 captured troops, life at the Salisbury prison was at first not all that bad as POW camps go. Early in the war, Union-Confederate prisoner exchanges kept the population at Salisbury to manageable levels. The Yankee prisoners had decent housing and enough food. They even had organized recreation, including baseball. Some prisoners reported that it was a little like being in college.
In 1863, after the generals came to grips with the fact that exchanged prisoners were going back to their combat units to fight again, and thereby extending the war, prisoner exchange stopped. By fall 1864, the prison population at Salisbury had grown to more 10,000. With four times as many people as the facility was built for, and with the South becoming increasingly strapped for money and supplies, there was not enough food. Pervasive filth brought rampant disease, such as dysentery, smallpox, frostbite, gangrene, scurvy and dengue. Winter was coming on, but the Union prisoners had to sleep outside because all the buildings were taken over as hospitals to house the sick waiting their turn to die. There was no sense in which these crowded shelters were places to regain health. Some local citizens in Salisbury, feeling compassion for the Yankee boys’ suffering, gave food and clothing to the prison. A few even opened their homes to the sick, but it was not nearly enough; nearly 12,000 bodies were dumped in mass graves in an area later designated as Salisbury National Cemetery.
Things were already desperate when Thomas Bottom Stegall arrived as one of the new guards in August 1864 about the time a new commanding officer, Maj. John H. Gee, took charge. Maj. Gee was the last of nine commandants who had the misfortune to be assigned to this dismal enclave of miserable humanity.
Two months after Maj. Gee took command, the prisoners petitioned to use pine logs to build dry cabins. Maj. Gee denied the request, giving no reason. As the cold winds of winter engulfed the site, the desperate prisoners, feeling they had nothing to lose, rioted on 25 Nov 1864. At least 250 prisoners and three guards died in the melee, including Great-Granddaddy Thomas Bottom Stegall. He left a widow, Sarah Adaline Holmes Stegall, and 12 children. One of their twelve children, four-year-old Green DeBerry Stegall, became my grandfather.
After the war, Commandant Gee was tried by in a US court in Raleigh for war crimes. He was found not guilty on the grounds that his assignment was impossible. The only other Confederate prison commandant to face such post-war charges was Capt. Henry Wirz, who was in charge of the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Wirz was found guilty and hanged.
Although Thomas Stegall’s Confederate service record seems to have been lost, confirmation of his service is in his widow Adeline’s application for a pension 21 years later:
Stegall, Thomas B. – Name not found on roster of Co. I, 4th NC Senior Reserves, but Adaline Stegall, age 54, widow of Thomas B. Stegall, applied for pension on June 1, 1885 from Rushing P.O., Union Co., based on her husband’s service in “Co. I, Senior Reserves.” He was killed at Salisbury on or about Nov. 14, 1864. A letter found in the pension file dated Aug. 28, 1885 from Henry Bivens stated that he was acquainted with widow Adaline Stegall, and that “Thomas B. Stegall, while guarding Federal prisoners at Salisbury, N.C. was killed during an outbreak of the prisoners; that he saw him shortly after he was shot and knows that his remains were sent home for interment….” [They were shown on the 1860 census in Beaverdam, P.O., Union Co. He was age 45 and she was 29. See newspaper account of his death. Other sources give their full names as Thomas Bottom Stegall and Sarah Adaline Holmes. She was b. July 28, 1830-d. July 24, 1890 and is buried at Stegall-Trull Cemetery, Marshville Township, Union Co.] ,
Great-Grandmother Sarah Stack (Great-Granfather’s name undetermined)
I have been unable to identify with certainly my father’s maternal grandfather, though it is without question that my father’s maternal grandmother was Sarah Stack (abt. 1831-26 Apr 1908).
In her Stegall Family History, my mother, Irma Ringgold Stegall, provides rudimentary information about Sarah Stack based on her conversations with Emeline, Sarah’s daughter and my father’s mother. I have supplemented this information with my own research; however, critical elements of her life are still a mystery.
Records clearly indicate that Sarah had five children, with Emeline, the person I knew as Grandmother Stegall, being the youngest. Why is there no reference to a husband in any document I have found? It seems likely that her partner would have fought in the Civil War if for no other reason than that it was a rare able-bodied male who did not. On the other hand, I have found no Confederate service records for him. It is, of course, possible that he was not healthy enough to fight. In that case, one would think there might be some kind of civilian documentation; if so, I have not been successful in finding it.
At one point, I thought maybe Amos M. Stack (abt. 1818-27 Dec 1862) was Sarah’s spouse. Amos, like Sarah, was from the Lane’s Creek part of Union County and was even married to a woman named Sarah Hilton. However, the names of Amos’ children do not match the known siblings of my grandmother Emeline Stack. Even more to the point, Amos died three years before Emeline was born. However, Amos M. Stack may have been Emeline’s uncle. In 1919, when Emeline’s 16-year-old son, Roy (my uncle) was found guilty of raping a woman, A. M. Stack, a lawyer from Lane’s Creek in Union County, was one of those who appealed to the governor. This younger Stack was almost certainly Amos M. Stack, Jr. (1863-1939), and probably Emeline’s cousin.
Census data from several decades confirm that Sarah Stack lived in the Lane’s Creek Township of Union County and that there were children at home; however, no Census report shows an adult male in the household. The Census dated 07 Aug 1860 names Sarah Stack (age 29), a weaver, as the only adult in the family with three children: Franklin (age 9), Leander (age 6) and Mary (age 3). In the 1870 Census, still no adult male is listed, although a man had to be around at some point because Sarah had had two additional children, making a total of five: Franklin (19; born abt. 1851), Leander (16; born abt. 1854), Mary (12; born abt. 1858), Laura (9; born abt. July 1861); and, Emeline (4; born Nov 1865). The date of birth for Emeline in the Census documents agrees with the date my mother reports in her Stegall Family History, confirming that the Stack household named in the Census was indeed the home in which Grandmother Emeline Stack Stegall grew up.
The 1880 Census lists Sarah Stack as a widow, the first Census reference to a husband. In 1900, the Census reports that Sarah, age 70, a widow, lived by herself. We further learn that, “She can read & write and speaks English. She owns her home free of mortgage and it is a farm. No household members other than herself.”
While puzzles remain about Sarah Stack, including the father of her children, we do know a bit about the family from Mother’s History.
Sherman’s Troops on Stack Farm
A unit of William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union army set up camp on the Stack farm and pretty well destroyed everything they didn’t consume or steal. Emeline was not born at the time but remembered stories told in her childhood. Her memory fits with documented accounts of Union troops moving through Union County in late February 1865.
We don’t know where the father of Sarah’s children was when Sherman’s troops came through, but it seems reasonable to guess that he, like almost all Southern men of his age, including all three of my other great-grandfathers, was away from home with the Confederate army.
It is curious that my grandmother Emeline, Sarah’s youngest child, was born 23 Nov 1865, almost exactly nine months after Union troops were on the Stack property in late February 1865. If her spouse was off somewhere in the Confederate army, how did Sarah become pregnant? Or perhaps her partner was close but lived elsewhere during the war? Another reasonable speculation is that the father was one of the Union soldiers. If that was the case, did she voluntarily become involved with one of the Union soldiers? Was she raped? Did she trade sexual favors for special treatment or to protect her children? I have given up ever knowing.
All I have learned so far is that Great-Grandmother Sarah Stack was buried in the Zoar Methodist Church Cemetery in Pageland, SC.