Cumberland Plateau

Family History: Bennie Lewis’ Locker Sheds Light On What Was Important To Him

Bennie Lewis, a younger brother of my paternal grandmother. He died at the age of 25 in a logging accident.

Bennie Lewis, a younger brother of my paternal grandmother. He died at the age of 25 in a logging accident.

I have previously posted about Bennie Lewis, my paternal grandmother’s brother, and wrote about how his life was tragically cut short while working in a Civilian Conservation Camp in Idaho. The post includes the letter Bennie wrote his mother one week before his death.

But to learn more about Bennie’s accident, I contacted the National Archives Records Administration in St. Louis and purchased a copy of his file. Contents of the file offer additional information about the accident because it contains the eyewitness accounts.

Bennie’s main duty in the camp at the time of his death was Kitchen Police — or KP duty as it’s often called, but he was also a truck driver. On the Friday when Bennie died, he was working with two other men, felling trees. They had been asked by their supervisor to cut dry lumber into four to eight foot sections — load the lumber into a truck and haul it back to the main camp a couple miles away.

The three men sawed in pairs. That is, two men would saw while the third man would mark the trees — rotating the roles so no one was stuck with only sawing. At the time of the accident — around 2:50 that Friday afternoon — it was Bennie’s turn to mark the trees. A witnesses who was sitting about 200 feet away — taking a break and talking with some other members of the camp — describes what he saw.

“…I happened to look up where the boys were cutting the last tree and just then the tree fell on Bennie. After it fell I could not move for about half a minute and then I ran up to see if I could do anything about it.”

Another witness reported hearing a man yell ‘look out’ as he saw the dead tree falling. The men sawing the tree were able to jump back out of the way, Bennie, unfortunately, was not.

In the follow-up reports that were filed after his death, the tree that killed Bennie was described as a dead 8-inch diameter Red Fir — about 40 foot long that uprooted as it fell.

Bennie’s Foot Locker:

In less than two hours of his death, all of Bennie’s personal effects were locked up and inventoried so the items could be sent to his family. This is what was found in his foot locker:

  • 1 box of old letters
  • 1 box containing two horned toads
  • 1 box containing souvenirs and a New Testament
  • A baseball cap
  • 1 suit of blue clothes — 3 pieces
  • 1 blue dress shirt with a neck tie
  • 1 pair of black oxfords
  • 1 briar pipe

Bennie, who had only been with the program about eight months when he died, received high marks for his work ethic and personality while in the CCC — being described by his supervisor in an earlier evaluation as ‘courteous and willing to work.’

Gravestone for Bennie Lewis, located in Cumberland County, Ky.

Gravestone for Bennie Lewis, located in Cumberland County, Ky.

Red Tape
After Bennie death, his parents were awarded a monthly settlement of $8.40 to be paid for a period of eight years — or just a little over $800. For those who believe excessive red tape is a modern invention of the government — apparently not. In order to receive the monthly payment (which was actually sent in a bi-monthly $4.20 check), his parents were required to resubmit the claim four times a year (on the first day of January, April, July and October) and the claim had to be ‘acknowledged’ before the local postmaster and then forwarded to the Commission.

My Family Tree

Bennie was the second member of his family to die at a young age. When Bennie was around 12 or 13, his youngest brother, Earl, died about a week after his 10th birthday.

Children of Granville Hunter Lewis (1877-1962) and Delila Florence Surratt (1875-1948)

  1. Martin M. Lewis (1897 – 1974)
  2. Fannie Lola Lewis Cash (1900 – 1993)
  3. Mary D. Lewis Claywell (1903 – 1993) — my grandmother
  4. Claude L. Lewis (1905 – 1991)
  5. Clyde Lewis (1907 – 2003)
  6. James Logan Lewis (1909 – 1980)
  7. Bennie P. Lewis (1910 – 1935)
  8. Earl Lewis (1913 – 1923)
Categories: Cumberland Plateau, Family History

Confederate Ruse Led To Capture of Beaty Men

ransomMary Polly (Hull) Beaty, my grandmother of the Civil War era, understood firsthand the pains of War. In less than a decade, she watched as her life went from being a farmer’s wife with a healthy family to a widow who lost not only her husband, but two sons, a son-in-law, a nephew and a grandchild. Her husband and grandson were the only two not killed by the war. The other four men died, not in battle or from battle wounds, but instead they died of starvation and disease inside a Confederate prisoner of war camp.

Several situations had to increase Mary’s pain. One, her sons were buried away from home is a military graveyard and second, the way her sons and family members were captured.

These seasoned soldiers were victims of a well-planned ruse by Confederate sympathizers. The ruse would eventually cost two of her sons, Thomas and Andrew Jackson, their lives. Her oldest boy, Jonathon would survive the ordeal, but his brother-in-law Andrew Owens and cousin Morgan Hull would not.

We learn more about how the Beatys, members of Company B, were captured on Nov. 6, 1863 near Rogersville, TN in a book written by a fellow soldier. Twenty years after the capture, in 1883, John Ransom, published a book based on a diary he kept (but later destroyed) as a prisoner of war with Company B. In John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary: Life Inside the Civil War’s Most Infamous Prison, he describes the way company was captured.

The rebel citizens got up a dance at one of the public houses in the village, and invited all the Union officers. This was the evening of Nov. 5th. Nearly all of the officers attended and were away from their command nearly all night and many were away all night. 

At dawn, with many of the Union officers missing or incapacitated from the previous night, the Rebel Calvary attacked Company B.

[The] Rebels had us completely surrounded and soon began to fire volley after volley into our disorganized ranks. Not one in five officers were present.

According to Ransom, the battle lasted 10 hours and when the unit finally surrendered 100 men were dead and another 400 were wounded. Once captured, it became apparent that the Confederate Army had no intention of treating the capture men humanely. The first order of business was to take personal belongings (blankets, etc) from all the Union soldiers.

Then the Army executed several soldiers accused of deserting the Rebel cause.

It set the expectations for what the captured men could expect. Within six months, the last of the four captured family members, Thomas, was dead.

Based on pension records filed by Mary in 1868, we further discover Mary was dealt one more hard blow — she lost her source of livelihood.

Thomas supported his mother both financially and physically, during the War. Each month, Thomas gave his mother all — or nearly all — of his Army stipend –and since his father, Alexander, was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, Thomas planted and harvested the crops.

Categories: Appalachia, Civil War History, Cumberland Plateau, Family History | Tags: , ,

Cabin A Link to My U.S. Revolutionary War Heritage

headerThe image I use in the header of my blog is not just a random log cabin I photographed. It has historical significance to me. It was the dwelling place for my grandfather of the American Revolutionary War generation Shadrach Claywell — and he is believed to have built at least a portion of the cabin.

Originally located near Settle, Ky. on U.S. 90 in Cumberland County, the cabin was moved to Veterans Park in Burkesville in 1969. My paternal grandparents moved to within a mile of Veterans Park in 1968.  And, despite spending a considerable amount of time with my grandparents in the late 60s and early 70s, I knew nothing of the cabin’s existence until around 2000 when I started doing genealogy research after my father’s death.

According to historical documents, portions of the cabin, including the 1/2 dovetail section is believed to be original and may have been built as early as 1794. In 1969, Randolph Smith wrote a piece for the Cumberland County newspaper called the History of Shadrick Claywell Log Cabin and states his belief that Shadrach built the second portion of the cabin when he purchased the land in 1813.

The cabin and much of the land associated with it left the Claywell line with Shadrach’s death.

Shadrach, who lived in Virginia at the onset of the War was a bit of a restless soul. He was captured by the British during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, lived in Canada awhile before eventually returning to Virginia. Before heading to Kentucky, he would first moved his family to North Carolina where his brother, Peter, was a minister. Then at the age of 46, Shadrach left North Carolina to settle in Kentucky on the land given to him for his War service.

Shadrach lived in the cabin and worked the 200 acres surrounding it more than 20 years until his death in 1839. In his Will, Shadrach bequeaths the cabin and surrounding land on Bear Creek to his daughter-in-law Obedience Shugart Claywell. Upon her death, Obedience would will it to her daughter Permelia B. Keen. The cabin remained in the Keen family until it was moved in 1969.

Historical documents describe the cabin as a one story log dogtrot (20′ x 52′), built mostly of poplar logs, consisting of two pens (20′ x 22′ and 20′ x 20′)  connected by an enclosed 10-foot breezeway. It has gable and cut stone hipped chimneys.

Categories: American Revolutionary War, Appalachia, Cumberland Plateau, Family History | Tags: , ,