Sunday, December 27, 2009

John Stephenson Lee (1847-1948) Feature Article in Florence Morning News 27 July 1947

Florence Morning News, Sunday, July 27, 1947, p. 11, columns 1-5, transcribed by Teresa McVeigh 27 Dec 2009

Thrice-Married 98-Year-Old Confederate Veteran Who Walked Guard At Stockade Still Much Alive
by Leroy Bannerman

A spry old man of 98 sat upright in his straight-back, wooden chair stroked a white beard and said, "The God Almighty has blessed me." John S. Lee, one of only four living Confederate veterans in South Carolina and who up until last year was an ardent fox-hunter, credited the Lord for his unusual good health and long life.

"Uncle John"--as he is known to the people of Coward community of Florence county--has been married three times, proudly possesses two of his original teeth, has never drunk a cup of coffee in his life, likes fox-hunting and visiting a multitude of friends. Moreover, he displays a keen wit and a memory that recalls the hard times of years gone by. As his 68-year old son would say: "There never was a man like him."

His direct descendants are many--estimated over 160--with 121 living today. This family of five generations, includes five children, 38 grandchildren, 67 great-grandchildren, and 13 great great-grandchildren. [Totals 123] And the old man who still rules the roost, quietly maintains of his three wives: "Three better women never were on this earth."

Today the third Mrs. Lee, looking young and beautiful for her sixty years, labors industriously about the house preparing meals and keeping the frame, weather-beaten home tidy in tiptop condition. She is devoted to her 98-year-old husband and answers to his familiar "Ma," his only title for his last two wives.

He first married on February 12, 1874 to a girl named Zilppha who 22 years later [1896] died after bearing twelve children for him, three of whom are living today, including the two oldest sons. They are John T Lee, 72 [b. 1875], and Stephen J. Lee, 67 [b. 1880]. On September 13, 1890, he married the second time to Leslie who died November 1, 1928 after giving birth to three children, two of whom are living today--Mary E R Lee, 46 [b. 1901] , and Oscar C. Lee, 43 [b. 1904]. A short while after the death of his second wife, Mr. Lee married again. This time to his present wife, Eunice, with the present day philosophy: "There are too many women around to live alone."

While still a boy in his teens, John Lee shouldered a musket and took his place among the Confederate ranks that walked guard around the Union stockade, that loomed out of the mud and wilderness just outside Florence. The terrible times of starvation and exposure that the prisoners suffered are still etched in the mind of this old man, who says now, "I've never seen the old stockade since. I never want to see it again."

He remembers the meager rations of one soda cracker and a tumbler of water twice a day to each of the multitude of prisoners. He remembers the bellowing voice of Captain Jim McCall informing the pitiful throng that 'if yuh try to escape, these youngin's (the guards) ain't got any better sense than to shoot you!" He remembers the wallow, the mire, and the moans of the sick and dying. He remembers the heavy musket, which he never fired and his thinking that if a prisoner did get out, he would likely have said: "Get away if you can."

But John Lee remembers, too, the joy of peace, of going home to his "mammy," and the shock of finding the ravaged land that Sherman had left behind. "His soldiers camped under the mulberry trees at home," he said

And it was during these first days of peace that he last heard of his father. His father had fought all through the Civil War up until the seige of Petersburg. It was then that the Union soldiers tunneled under the Confederate lines and dynamited...breaking through...The faltered... and..though for some time confusion reigned. It was during this period of shock that a brother and two other soldiers ran past John's father who was lying behind a log. They stopped long enough to plead with him to come with them, but he merely said, "I won't run another step." That was the last heard of him. The skirmish was known as the Battle of the Crater. [July 30, 1864]

The memories are vivid of the long weary reconstruction days that followed. He recalls the time when they raised their own wheat, the days when one biscuit a week was doled out on Sunday mornings. He likes to tell of the times when women pulled off their shoes and carried them in their hands, putting them on just before entering church. Of that, the says, "You couldn't get shoes every day." But of all the difficult years, he lists '82 at the toughest. "It was awfully dry," he explains. "Why we didn't even make any corn."

The face and beard of old John Lee is known far and wide, but as he puts it: "My name's known farther." His friends are more numerous than his descendants and today, they all know him by the great white beard. With a twinkle in his eye, he says proudly, "Since the third Saturday afternoon in July '81, a razor hasn't touched my face."

He says that his health is "not so good," but he still remains a remarkable man of energy and will-power, fully capable of getting around by himself. He worked his own farm until he was 85. Jokingly he says now that he works his "jaws." Of his place located deep in the sandhills of Coward community, he says, "I bought the first place...and ever since..." and...John Lee reluctantly admits that...Confederate reunion in Columbia...ago. "I'll never go again," is his solemn vow.

He says that he never has been drunk but once in his life, that being before he married for the first time. He lives an upright life in every respect, demands that his children do likewise, for as he firmly states, "When I die, I'm not going to hell if I can help it."

Today he sits on his porch and looks out over a rickety, oft-repaired picket fence at his farms and tobacco beyond viewing a passing era with uncertainty. He has lived to see many changes in the world--from horse and buggies to jet-propelled planes--and will undoubted live to see many more. His grave opinion: "We're living too high."

The ... in the transcriptions are skips in the print, probably due to folding of the paper before micro-filming.
John S Lee's wives:
Zilpha S McGEE 5 Sep 1854, SC-29 Apr 1896 SC
Leslie S McALLISTER 16 Jul 1860 SC- 1 Nov 1928 SC
Eunice JOHNSON b. 1888 SC
John S. Lee's father, who died in Petersburg VA was Timothy LEE (b. 1826 SC) and his mother was Agnes LEE (b. 1833), dau. of John Alexander LEE and Margaret SMITH
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © Teresa McVeigh 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment