Sunday, January 24, 2021

A New Testament with a Civil War story to tell

I love a good puzzle and this small New Testament, a recent arrival at the Lucas County Historical Society Museum, offered several. Part of a collection of photographs, original documents and memorabilia from mixed sources and vague provenance, it offered lots of opportunities for minor detective work. So I gathered some of my favorite tools --- (general research) and Fold3 (military records), both subscription databases, Find a Grave (free to all) and Google --- and went to work.

It was published during 1861 in Nashville by the Southern Methodist Press, a publishing house established during 1854, some 10 years after the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, and Methodist Episcopal Church, South, split over the issues of slavery and authority.

The name "Eli Vance" is written on the front cover and just inside is an inscription that identifies his home as "Strawberry Plains" and suggests that he might have been a Civil War soldier at the time it was given to him. It contains a lock of dark brown hair bound in string.

It didn't take long to figure out that Strawberry Plains was (and still is) an unincorporated area in East Tennessee served by a post office of that name. Using Fold3, I found a four-page Confederate Civil War service file that told me that Eli, age 21, had enlisted on March 5, 1862, for a 12-month term in Company E of Capt. W.M. Bradford's Regiment of Volunteers, 31st Tennessee Infantry (later Company H, 39th Tennessee Mounted Infantry).

Then, sadly, that he had died while in service about four months later, on June 25, 1862. I was unable to find any indication anywhere of the cause of death or of where his remains might have been interred.


Moving on to family histories, I discovered that Eli was one of 10 children of John M. and Rebecca (Branson) Vance, born at Strawberry Plains on Oct. 10, 1840. 

Then I discovered the record of a marriage uniting Eli and Miss Mary E. Phillips, 18, at Dandridge, Tennessee, by John H. Branner, a Methodist minister, on May 20, 1862, just a month before his death.

I had known that the vintage New Testament might have belonged to Miss Peggy Sones who, when she died at age 92 during May of 2020 and was buried with her parents, Donald and Bernice (Manley) Sones in the Norwood Cemetery, was rich in friends but without an immediate family.

So I followed her lineage back and discovered that Mary E. (Phillips) Vance was Peggy's great-grandmother. So here's the rest of the story:


Mary was in the first stages of pregnancy when Eli Vance died and gave birth on March 7, 1863, to a son she named Eli Branson Vance.

Some five years later, on Jan. 1, 1868, also in Tennessee, Mary took as her second husband another Civil War veteran, this one of the Union cause --- Benjamin Houston Manley (1st Battalion, Tennessee Light Infantry).

Mary and Benjamin had a total of eight children, including Samuel B. Manley, Peggy's grandfather, who was born during May of 1874, a few months before the family moved from Tennessee to Lee County, Iowa, then onward before 1880 to the neighborhood south of Woodburn in Clarke County,

They were living there when Eli Branson Vance died at the age of 21 on Sept. 8, 1884, and was buried in Bethel Chapel Cemetery, Liberty Township, Clarke County.

Benjamin H. Manley was killed at the age of 81 on Oct. 22, 1925, when he was struck by a train in Woodburn, his retirement home. Mary, age 82, died a year later while living with her son, Walter Manley, on the old home place. Ben and Mary also are buried at Bethel Chapel.


So who does the lock of hair belong to? I'm guessing Eli Vance Sr., but there is of course no way of establishing that for sure. Whatever the case, we'll leave it in place folded neatly into John's Gospel.

This image of Benjamin H. and Mary also was among the recent arrivals at the museum, identified on the back in a decisive hand by Peggy herself.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm not related to any of these people but their story is very interesting. Thank You for your research.