Some Highlights of My World

by Charles P. Mabry (1894-1977)

Don Collins, Mabry family researcher, publishes a Mabry family newsletter and has written extensively on the Mabry family.  He has generously shared his research on the descendants of Woodford Jones Mabry and wife Anne (Nancy) Rives of Warren County, North Carolina who are also descendants of George Pegram of Williamsburg, Virginia.  In addition to a file of the descendants of Woodford Jones Mabry and wife Anne (Nancy) Rives, which we will post, he took the time to copy this article from a 1998 edition of his newsletter and send to us for the benefit of all our Pegram cousins.  I do hope our Pegram cousins, especially those with links to this Mabry/Rives line, will take the time to send him a brief note of thanks.    and take the time to visit his web site. Since getting the Mabry data, we have been busy abstracting related  records from Warren Co., North Carolina and  have found other links which I was previously not aware. 

Some time during the year of 1840, a young man of Scotch and English descent came from Warren County, North Carolina, to Christian County, Ky., to visit his mother’s relatives. These relatives had migrated from Warren County some years previous, and had settled in Christian County, when the Atlantic seaboard people were making their first big push over the Blue Ridge Mountains and on westward with the sway of empires.

This young man was my grandfather, Charles Jones Mabry, who was making this journey to visit the Rives families who lived in that section lying between Hopkinsville, Ky. and Clarksville, Tenn. and which is now known as "South Christian". The Rives’ had settled and procured title to a large acreage of this fertile and beautiful country, and had become large tobacco planters and wheat growers. Bob Rives of that section was known in later years as the "Wheat King of Christian County", a title much sought after by the large planters of that day.

Christian County was one of Kentucky’s largest counties in area, and was destined to become one of her leading agricultural semi-bluegrass counties. Some distance from the passing turnpikes of that day were built the large, imposing manor houses of the tobacco plantations. These homes usually sit back in a grove carpeted with blue grass, and half hidden by a corridor of shade trees leading from the road to the front of the farm mansion. (Many of these old mansions may still be seen today near Hopkinsville and surrounding country, although many of them were destroyed by the government during the Second World War in the building of Fort Campbell.) Such was the country to which young Charles Mabry came when he made his first visit to Kentucky, the new western frontier of that day.

While visiting the Rives’, his mother’s people, my grandfather met Katherine Sallee, whose paternal forebears had been French Huguenots of the group settling Manakin Town, Virginia in the 1700’s. This young couple was soon married and had one child born near Hopkinsville; after which they joined the trek of western empire builders and moved on across the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers to the south side of Mayfield Creek into what was then Ballard County, but which is now by severance, Carlisle County. There they bought or homesteaded 240 acres of bottom land about three miles southeast of Blandville, Ky., which was the county seat; and established their home on what was known as the old Blandville-McGee Springs road.

After building their home and farm buildings, including a large log tobacco barn, and clearing up the farm—all work of which was done by negro slave labor which my grandfather had brought from North Carolina--, my grandparents settled down and reared a large family of four girls and five boys, of whom my father was the eldest. (One of the grandsons, Thomas Jewett Mabry, son of Uncle Jesse, achieved recent prominence when he was elected Governor of New Mexico twice.

Having grown up with the state achieving eminence as a lawyer in Albuquerque, he was, prior to his governorship, one of the state’s Supreme Court Judges and Constitutional Fathers.

My grandfather, having come from a tobacco-growing state, knew quite a bit about the handling of the leaf, and soon established a commercial warehouse at Milburn, Ky., where he bought, prized, and shipped hogsheads of the leaf by steamboat from Columbus, Ky. As there were no railroads in this pioneer country, except fragments of local lines connecting communities here and there, inland water-way transportation was about all the accessible traffic the settlers had until the time of the railroad era, which developed mainly after the Civil War.

My grandparents soon became well established as agrarian settlers in this part of Kentucky, known as the Jackson Purchase, and enjoyed the prosperous days of the antebellum plantation period. However, one day they awakened to the explosion at Ft. Sumter, and found themselves involved with the Confederate South in the bloodiest four years of war our country has ever known. This began for them a new era. The old was gone, never to return.

Near their home, the south entrenched themselves within the bluffs at Columbus, Ky., which was just below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and began bracing for the attack that was sure to come. A few miles north, at Cairo, Illinois, General Grant established his headquarters in the basement of the old Halliday Hotel. In the area between these two sites occurred the first attempt to break the Mason-Dixon line, and the remains of this struggle is now preserved as a state park located at Columbus. Here one may see the remnants of the trenches, breastworks, and lookouts which the south established all along the crest of the Chickasaw Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, as well as a complete map of the military Plan, and a part of the old anchor and chain which was used in vain by the south to stop the Union boats from going down the river. (This chain was anchored in the bluff on the Kentucky side, stretched across the river, and firmly tied to a group of seven trees on the Missouri side at Belmont.)

My father Rudolphus Aleonzy Mabry, then a boy of nearly sixteen years of age, was sent by grandfahter with some slaves and teams to Columbus to help dig and prepare the fortifications. This he did, and remained through the battle of Columbus, where the Union forces were turned back. These same forces later went by Paducah up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, fighting the battles of Forts Henry and Donaldson, and on to Shiloh, where the big decisive conflict finally took place.

In the meantime, the southern troops of Columbus had pulled camp and begun their march southward to keep from being cut off from their command by the advancing enemy from the east. My father, with his boyish fancy for adventure, tried to enlist as a soldier, but being told he was too young, he sent the slaves home and followed General Leonidas Polk’s (formerly an Episcopalian Bishop) army through Tennessee into Mississippi and served as a forager.

Later, he came home threadbare and barefoot, and much against his parents’ will, insisted that he be allowed to return to the Confederate Army and help fight the battles, which were destined, of course, to be a "Lost Cause". His mother and sisters, sitting up until late at night and using all the methods of domestic home production of that day, finally equipped him with the necessary clothing and blankets, and his father gave him a horse for his return to the lines of the south. Here he enlisted as a sixteen year old with General Nathan B. Forrest’s army, Co. F., 7th Regt., Ky. Calvery (sic). He served the last three years of the war under Forrest, and fought in many skirmishes. He was wounded, but not seriously, in the bloody battle of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

After the war was over, he returned home riding a horse he had borrowed from a farmer in Mississippi (having lost his own). The information that Father returned the farmer’s horse always made me feel proud, for in those days, in the war torn and ravaged south, dishonest acts went unpunished and almost unnoticed.

An incident, not so honest but necessary in wartime, he told on himself. It went something as follows:

One day in Mississippi he came upon a small house in a cornfield. A lady was sitting on the porch, churning, and he, being hot and tired, asked if he could sit on the porch and rest. She readily granted permission and soon was sympathizing with him over the hardships of the rebel soldiers.

Later, she went into the house to get a plate for the freshly churned butter, and Father, seeing his chance grabbed churn, butter and all, and ran down the road where he distributed it among his hungry comrades, after taking some for himself. He said that he always felt pretty mean about that trick, but was sure that anyone as hungry as he would have done the same.

He also like to tell of another experience—After several days and nights of hard traveling and skirmishing, his unit reached a place which, they considered, would be quiet enough to get some rest. They hitched their horses and went down into a large thicket, where they spread their blankets and bivouacked for the night. The next morning when he woke up and looked out through the small trees, he rubbed his eyes in amazement, for dead and wounded soldiers were strewn all about! When he asked one of the wounded what had happened, the soldier replied, "Where were you last night? We had a hell of a fight around here! I have been looking at you stretched out there and I thought you were dead." Father said that he was—"dead asleep".

After that, Father was thoroughly convinced that a man could sleep through most anything, when physically exhausted.

He seldom ever told a war story that had much of a gruesome side to it. Most of the time there were on the jolly, humorous side. Like most kids, I wanted to hear a bloodcurdling tale, and I would try to pin him down to his real gory experiences during the battles and skirmishes. But he would usually disappoint me by saying, "You know, Son, I was in the cavalry, and a certain number of us were assigned to hold the horses, while the fighting was going on." Then he would laughingly say, "I was an excellent horse holder on those occasions. Of all the battles I was in, I never let so much as one horse get away!" If he ever killed a man during those battles, he never told it.

Father was paralyzed in his later years, and loved to sit out in the yard and enjoy the open air and fresh summer breezes. As our house sat up on the highest hill in that section of the country, we had a commanding view for miles around.

One evening while we were enjoying this pleasant environment, a man drove up the hill toward our house in a small buggy pulled by a rather emaciated looking horse. When he got to the yard fence, we could see that it was an old gentleman with fairly long chin whiskers and quite stooped in stature. I could tell my father did not recognize him as he approached.

He called Father by name, extended his hand, and said, "Dolphus, don’t you remember me?" Father looked at the man rather doubtingly, and shook his head. The man then said, "I’m Jackson—don’t you remember carrying me on your horse to the medical station when I was shot through the lung at the battle of Murphreesboro?" Father did remember, and they had quite a talk as this was their first meeting since the war, forty years ago.

Mr. Jackson told father that he felt he owed his life to him, for he had been left to die by the stretcher bearers, who thought he was beyond help. The rebels, at that time, were so hard pressed for time and hospital facilities, that they wasted no time on those wounded which they considered hopeless. He said he felt that he had to see Father once more, as they were getting old, and to my knowledge, that was their last meeting.

Father told me about being hungry enough to eat parched corn from the ears of corn he had taken from some farmer’s crib or field for his horse. We must remember that the South was the "poor" boys, fighting four years of hard, almost individual rugged warfare. Much of their supplies came from home or the countryside, as they fought a stubborn retreat to the south, making every inch cost the enemy the full measure in price for his gains. It is hard for us to realize the doffed tenacity displayed by our own heroic south as they fought their losing battle.

In the end, these noble soldiers returned home—not to draw pensions, schooling, hospitalization, and other advantages given the return of the soldier after most wars—but to financially bankrupted families, chaos, and "carpet bagging". They had to start from scratch, so to speak, and most of the time the "scratch" was on the opposite side from their back, or their bellies, and most of the time, empty bellies at that!

When Father came back after the war, he attended a log school named "Good Hope" now Cunningham High School, for a few months, to which he had to walk some miles through the woods. I don’t think he ever went further than the fourth grade, for the war disrupted his education, and also during his childhood, his father needed him too much on the farm, as he was clearing his land from the virgin forest, and this had to all be done by hand.

My maternal grandfather, John Poindexter, was a doctor, and lived on a farm adjoining Grandfather Mabry. He and my grandmother, Anna Bronaugh, married in Abingdon, Virginia, and moved westward with the influx of pioneer settlers. After spending some time in Christian County, Ky., they moved to Western Kentucky and settled near Cunningham.

At the close of the war, Grandfather Poindexter was given an opportunity to join a Presbyterian colony of settlers from Memphis and move to a community called Des Ark in Prairie County, Arkansas. My father purchased his farm, and while Grandfather Poindexter was packing up to leave Kentucky, he made Grandfather Mabry’s home his headquarters prior to his takeoff for the western frontier—which was then the territory just west of the Mississippi River.

The morning that the Poindexters left Kentucky in a covered wagon, Father, then a young man, rode down to the gate with them and waving goodbye to the family, he called to Grandfather Poindexter, "Take care of your little curly-haired, Doctor, for one of these days I’ll come to Arkansas for her".

This was spoken only in lighthearted conversation to break the sadness of the parting of the two neighboring families, for Mother was just a child of four or five years of age then, whom Father had amused by trotting her on his knee during their recent stay at his father’s home.

But after Father had married a Miss Delores Brame of Hopkinsville, Ky., who died early in life and left him with two small boys, he made good his word by going to Arkansas and stirring up a courtship with my mother, who was then a young lady in Arkansas College at Batesville. They were later married and returned to Kentucky where they established their home on the Poindexter farm, to which Father had added an adjoining 200 acre tract.

Here Father built a two story brick home—complete with observatory on the roof—which was considered then as one of the outstanding homes in the county. The lower story of the home remains much as it was when he built it some 75 years ago out of virgin timber on the farm, and brick which he burned himself, but the upper story was destroyed by a tornado, which ripped through that section some ten years ago. The woodwork in this house was made of yellow poplar, catalpha (sic)and oak, and the winding stair rail was of solid walnut. Virgin timber from which such material could be worked was plentiful in those days, and it was from such logs that the woodwork of this home was hewn and hauled to Paducah to mills, where it was finished.

Some of the shade trees are still alive and standing around the home place, and one can plainly see where Father clipped out the tops to make them spread their branches for shade. They were all oak, except one, which was a very beautiful tulip yellow poplar and I was sorry when it was destroyed by lightning some forty years ago. These trees spreading over a bluegrass lawn on top of this hill always made an inviting place to lounge during the hot summer months.

There are three things at the old home place which are left that remind me of my childhood—the lower story of the house, the remaining shade trees, and the bluegrass, which Father sowed some 75 years ago in the yard and pastures. Many of these old homes and communities in this section have been bypassed by the modern thoroughfares of today, but still have retained their interesting earmarks and symbols of a past era.

Much of which I have related came to me while listening to family conversation when I was a child. I heard quite a bit of family war talk as my great uncle, Judge Jeremiah Clapp of Holly Springs, Miss., had been a member of the Confederate Congress, and two great uncles, John (Middleton) Mabry and Lynn (Leonard) Samuel Mabry had fought and surrendered with Gen. Lee’s personal army at Appomattox Court House. These uncles were reared in North Carolina, and came to Carlisle County and settled on adjoining farms to Father after the Civil War. Although John, Lynn and Father were closely associated in community life during their latter years, they seldom discussed the war together, as the two uncles had fought in the Southeast and Father had fought in the South. Each thought the most important campaigns of the war were fought in their particular section, so they had very little to say to one another about the war.

Had I been older, I would have quizzed each of them more closely about their experiences during those history making days for first hand personal history always brings out little interesting details that happened on the side lines that never get into the history books.

Uncle John did relate to me the blowing up of the trenches at Petersburg, Virginia. He said, "The Yankees thought the Rebels knew nothing about their digging the mines under the Confederate trenches and fort. When it came time for the Yankees to touch off the explosion, after which, they were to rush in and kill and capture the remaining Confederate soldiers, the Confederates fell back and let the explosion expend itself on the gentle southern breeze. When the Federals rushed in on the blown-up soil for the final kill, the Rebels charged them and turned the expected slaughter by the Federals in reverse. That was one talk Uncle John always enjoyed telling. "A Southern Victory", he would say!

He also told me about the surrender. He said, "We were pretty badly scattered. Several of us foot soldiers were sitting on the side of a ditch in an open field resting when General Lee came over the hill on his famous white horse, Traveler. When he saw us sitting in the open field, he yelled to us to move out quickly to a wooded section just below, saying, "Bullets will be flying as thick as hail here in a few minutes." We ran to the thickets below, and sure enough , just as the great General told us, bullets were flying all over

 that open field, and many of them reached the woods where we had taken refuge.

It was not so many hours from then that the surrender came. The captured soldiers were ordered to stack arms and march up between two mountains near the Court House, which was the official place of surrender. There, the surrendered army was corralled for the night.

The following morning, General Lee came out and called "his boys" together and told them that "the war was over, surrender was inevitable, and that he was sorry that he had no way of transportation to send his soldiers home—but they would have to walk."

Uncle John said that he and his brother were several days walking home through the hills to their home in Warren County, N.C., and both ended up with almost bare, and blistered feet. This wound up four years of bloody conflict for them as well as for thousands of other combat soldiers.

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