What Ever Happened to John Yancey?
- A Confederate Soldier -
The Atlanta Constitution, 28 Feb 1972 in an article by Bob Harrell:
"What Ever Happened to John Yancey? "
Mrs Nell Benefield was 112 years getting the letter from her great-great-grandmother.
This statement does not date Mrs. Benefield's age, and it isn't being critical of the U.S. Mail. It happened this way:
Mrs. Benefield collects Civil War memorabilia and she bought this packet of letters because one of the writers was named "Thames". It just so happens that Mrs. Mattie Thames wrote one of these letters and Mrs. Thames was Mrs. Benefield's great-great-grandmother.
Sitting around the big table with Mr. and Mrs. Bennefield, I heard about the long-ago relative from "Miss Nell" "Mattie was the wife of Billy Thames and he had a plantation. The original plantation house sat right where the State Farmer's market is today. That was the Thames Plantation at Rough and Ready, Georgia.
I asked, "At where, Georgia?"
"Rough and Ready, Georgia. Don't tell me you've never heard of it?"
Miss Nell explained, "Rough and Ready, Georgia, later became Forest Park. I thought everybody knew that."
We looked through the packet of letters and almost all had come from Rough and Ready, a name would go well with some wild west movie.
All of the letters were written to John Yancey who was serving in the Confederate Army Co. E, Georgia Regiment, near Richmond. The year was 1861.
Mrs. Bennefield speculated, "I believe that Yancey might have been killed and his packet of letters collected and either sent home or with that purpose in mind". She displayed some of the letters. "See? Doesn't that look like blood stains on them?"
The three of us sat around the big table, passing the letters back and forth, trying to read them. Sometimes Mr. Bennefield would let me borrow his bifocals. Sometimes even the bifocals didn't help.
Susan Yancey wrote to brother John:
"John, you said them Yankees were going to drive you all away from there, but I hope you all will be brave men and not let them run you away. John, you must be brave and never run because I don't want to never hear of you getting shot in the back."
And Mrs. Thames wrote cousin John that if she didn't get to see him in this world she hoped to see him in the next.
Well, Mr. and Mrs. Bennefield agreed that John Yancey could have used more encouraging news from home which was Rough and Ready, Ga.
An unknown writer -- because the letter had been torn - described for John Yancey the Rough and Ready scene as some young men left for the army and the local girls said goodby.
"They took a protracted spell of hugging and kissing . . . "
It was interesting to read that a Mr. Morrow might carry a pair of new boots to John Yancey who earlier had written that the mud was coming over the "mouth" of his shoes.
Any of you readers ever heard of a shoe's mouth? Not me. I guess it covers the tongue. Seems logical.
So the time passed and the readers of those old, old letters were taken back into another era.
Mrs. Nell Benfield had a mission now. It is to dig back into history and discover what really happened to John Yancey of Rough and Ready Ga.
The Atlanta Constitution, a succeeding article by Bob Harrell:
"Civil War Soldier - John Yancey Story Fleshes Out"
The John Yancey store grows backwards, thanks to interested readers. We know the ending. John, a Confederate soldier, died Nov 21 1861, in Williamsburg, Va.
It's the beginning and middle portions of the story that take some puzzling out and filling in.
Mrs. Leon (Nell) Benefield bought a packet of old letters because her hobby is Civil War history. The letters concerned John Yancey. On the entire packet there were stains. Blood? Mrs Benefield thought so. So the question was asked in this column: "What happened to John Yancey?"
Ruth Yancey was the first to answer. In the family bible were facts which said John Yancey was shot and wounded as he sat in the open door of a train. A Yankee sniper did the deed. He later died of this wound.
In the meantime, Mrs. John McHugh of the State Department of Education, Division of Public Library Services, did some research on John Yancey. She looked in the "Roster of Confederate Soldier of Georgia" written by Lillian Henderson who was director of Confederate Pensions and Records Department.
Mrs. McHugh, a history buff herself, zeroed in on our John Yancey, who was found under "Muster Roll of Co. E, 10th Reg. Georgia Volunteer Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate States of America". To make a long title short, they were nicknamed "The Clayton Sharp Shooters."
Mrs. McHugh came up with John Yancey's death on the same date and in the same place as did Ruth Yancey. But the records consulted by Mrs. McHugh indicated that John "died of disease".
Mrs. Benefield said, "I'm more inclined to go along with facts from the Yancey Family Bible because I've discovered that it was hard to keep up with so many deaths back then and I think officers tended to lump the deaths together. Of Course, thousands died of typhoid fever then. I'm inclined to believe that John Yancey died of the bullet wound or complications from it. Or this wound might have weakened him to the point that Typhoid or pneumonia took over and ended what that Yankee bullet started.
But Mrs. McHugh filled in and uncovered more questions of John's story. For instance, John was in northern Virginia when Company E was formed here. Why was he up there?
When Company E left Jonesboro, for Richmond on May 30 1861, it took them just two days to get there on the troop train. That was fast travelling then. Fact is, I recall a World War II troop train that didn't make it as fast from Ft McPherson to Petersburg, Virginia.
Mrs. McHugh's research indicates that John's company camped at 28 sites in Virginia and Maryland in about one years time. And at each site the company lost men killed, wounded or captured.
I asked Mrs. Bennefield, "Do you feel like you are getting to know John? I've sort of gotten close to him".
She laughed and explained. "Its the most amazing thing to read his letters and get the feel of the man. He strongly believed in what he was doing. He was so concerned that he do what was right. We know all the Confederate soldiers believed in what they were doing but when it comes out of a letter, when a person can sit down and take their time and read how the man felt, it comes out different".
From a letter to Bob Harrell, of the Atlanta Constitution, from Ruth Yancey.
In your news column of Feb 28th 1972 you asked the question "What ever happened to John Yancey?"
Here is the answer: John Yancey was born March 31st 1842 in Clayton County, Georgia. He was the seventh child of James Robert Yancey and Penelope Griffin Yancey - early settlers of Forest Park, Georgia. He was wounded in the left shoulder by a Yankee sniper and died in Williamsburg, Va. Nov 21 1861. He was sitting in the door of a freight car (troop train) and had been warned by his comrades that he was in an exposed position just before he was shot by the sniper. Susan Agnes Yancey who wrote to her brother that encouraging letter was born Aug 16 1844 and died Jan 19 1898 (a single lady). When you talk or read about the terrific odds and the plain fighting ability of the Southern Men don't forget the Southern Women who like the women of Sparta, Greece told their sons as they went into battle to come back wearing their shields and swords or to come back on them.
That is what happened to John Yancey and this was told to me by my grandfather Simeon Plummer Yancey who was the 10th child of James Robert and Susan Griffin Yancey. These facts and dates are recorded in the family Bible of Simeon Plummer Yancey.
Rough and Ready was a stage coach stop and tavern and was located about equal distance between what is now the Carling Brewery and the road that turns off the Old Dixie Highway to the present day State Farmers Market. Rough and Ready was the location of the Post Office at the time. In our family there are quite a few letters addressed to James Robert Yancey, Esq, Rough and Ready, Ga. also to Marthasville, Ga. from his family in Virginia, Alabama, and Kentucky.