Appalachia Civil War Letters

The Legend of the Rebel Soldier

Joel thompson

Photo from Find a Grave

Joel Thompson was Don Casada’s 2nd great grand uncle, the brother of Alfred G. Thompson Don’s g-g grandfather. Alfred died in the Civil War, a couple of days after being wounded at Chickamauga. He is buried in a national cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.

His daughter Maggie Thompson Price, the mother of Don’s Grandmother Minnie Price Casada, died in childbirth. Don’s Grandmother Minnie and her brother Will were taken in by the sons of WH (William H) Coleman – Andrew Jackson and James Coleman and their wives, Samantha and Laura Shearer (sisters who married brothers). You may remember William H served with WC Penland, the Civil War Soldier whose letters we’ve been reading.

There’s a grave marker for Joel Thompson in Elmira, New York-you can see it at the top of this post. But at least one person believes he may have been buried close to home in Young Harris, Georgia.

Don Casada’s research on his family’s genealogy turned up two distinctively different stories about Joel Thompson’s burial.

agatemoon on shares the following information:

Joel Thompson died March 29, 1865 from the conditions of the Northern Prisoner of War camp in New York where he was taken after being captured. His wife Hannah when she found out that he had died left her young children with different family members and with a friend of the family went to New York to bring Joel home. Hannah had to first travel by wagon from Union county Georgia to Toccoa, Georgia to catch a train. She had to get on and off the train many times as the troops would commandeered the trains often. It took her another two weeks after she arrived in New York for the Northern officials to meet with her to give her permission to have Joel disinterred. Then the long journey home began. It was again on and off the trains having to remove Joel’s coffin each time. Hannah was low on funds and she would stop and use her cooking, cleaning, and clothes washing skills to earn enough funds for the next part of the train fare. It is told after she was back on the North Carolina and Georgia trains they did not charger her extra for Joel’s coffin. She made back in June. The war was over by the time she made it back home with Joel. Hannah was a truly brave and remarkable women. Women did not travel the distances or have make the hard decision that she had to make in that time period. Women only traveled with fathers or husbands any distance and they did not leave their young children with others to watch unless the were extremely ill or died.

Joel Thompson is buried in the Old Union Baptist Church Cemetery near Young Harris, Georgia

This story was told by Millie Ann Thompson Thomas, daughter of Joel and Hannah Coffey Thompson to her children. Millie Ann lived to be 108 years old. Her daughter Coreen Thomas Swanson who told me this story lived to be 95.

This alternate version was also shared on by a different person:

This letter [see below] was handwritten and sent by Irene Thomas-Plott. It was sent to her son, James Ralph Plott, who lived in Key West, Florida during 1966-1967. Irene is the daughter of Millie Ann Annie Thompson and the granddaughter of Joel Thompson. Margaret, referred to in the letter, is the sister of her son-in-law, Donald McFaden, Annie Jo Plott’s husband. Irene suggests that she and her mother Millie Ann Annie Thompson never knew where Joel was buried. Dennis is the son of Annie Jo and Donald McFaden. Joel Thompson’s wife was Hannah Coffey.

Irene, daughter of Millie Ann Annie Thompson, never mentioned the story about bringing Joel’s body back from New York. Like any good Thomas descendent, she loved to tell her stories. She would have talked about her grandfather’s body being moved to Old Union Cemetery. Plus, ALL of the Thomas children and relatives would known of Joel’s body being moved. Old Union Cemetery has no record of his body nor a grave plot/marker. The Elmira records have Joel being buried there.

Also, Irene Thomas never wrote letters. This is the only letter she wrote to her son James Ralph Plott. The finding of her grandfather’s resting place was of great significance to her. As she mentions in the letter, “I wanted to go and tell my mother I had found her daddy…”

“The entire number of Confederate prisoners buried here (Elmira) during the life of the prison camp was 2,973. Soon after the war, three bodies were removed by friends and taken South for burial. There seems to be no record of the names removed. The entire record as kept by Jones was perfect with the exception of seven listed as unknown. All rights to Elmira Prison Camp OnLine Library Submitted Information – Chemung County Historical Journal: Underground Railroad Activities in Elmira [A biographical sketch of John W. Jones was written in 1946 by Abner C. Wright, then Chemung County Historian. It was an answer to an inquiry concerning Underground Railroad activities in Elmira.]BY ABNER C. WRIGHT”

“Each coffin was clearly marked with any information that the soldier had been willing to share; the information also was placed in a sealed bottle inside the coffin. Any valuables owned by the soldier at the time of his death were carefully cataloged and stored. The graves were identified with wooden markers and arranged in a pattern that suggested soldiers lined up for inspection. . . . When the families received the precious family photographs, treasures, letters, and remembrances that Jones had kept for them, they were so moved that only three bodies were removed for reburial. All rights to John W. Jones ex-slave From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”

Irene’s letter reads as follows:

Dear All,

Well, I will tell you why I was in Elmira, New York Sunday as a week ago Margaret J and I went to Gettysburg, Penn. To look for something I thought I would never find, my grandfather’s named, Joel Thompson. When I was a little girl, I heard my Grandma say something about my Grandfather being in Pennsylvania. When he died and my mother said the last time she went to see Grandma she said, “Ann, if any one ask you about your Daddy you tell them the Yankees had him.” So, we went to Gettysburg where they keep records of the Civil War and asked if they had any record on Joel Thompson. Dennis was with us, so the man got four books down and ask me what I knew about him and if I knew what county he lived, so I said he lived in Towns County, Ga. Dennis picked one book up, started looking and counties and found Towns County, Ga., and then he saw Joel Thompson name. I will send a copy of what was in the book. I felt like I had found him in heaven. I read his name over & over. I cried. I wanted to go and tell my mother I had found her daddy and then I felt like they were looking down on me. They had found him first. Margaret, then went to Washington, D.C., where they keep records and found his records. There he was in a prison there for a while, so then sent to Elmira, New York. Put him in prison, there until he died. So, Margaret and I left last Friday to go and find where he has been sleeping for one hundred and two years and we found his grave and it’s such a beautiful place. They sent him by train to Elmira, New York. We drove along the railroad track for miles, the one he was on, on his way up. We took a picture old prison ground where he died. Margaret took a movie of me going to his grave. I took a flag and put it on his grave. We will send you more pictures.


Mother Plott

****** Irene’s mother, Annie Thompson-Thomas, lived with Irene and her husband, Newt Plott on and off for years. While Annie lived with Irene, she told her children and grandchildren, “the Yankees had her father”, as directed by her mother Hannah Coffee-Thompson. Joel Thompson WAS and IS buried in Woodlawn National Cemetery, Elmira, NY.

After discovering the differing stories about Joel Thompson’s burial site, Don visited the Young Harris cemetery and found no marker for Thompson there, just as the second story indicated.

The story of Joel’s wife bringing his body home would surely bring the song The Legend of the Rebel Solider to the mind of anyone who has ever heard it.

Paul and Pap learned the song from the Country Gentlemen. I asked Paul about learning the song and this is what he said:

At the time, Doyle Lawson played mandolin. Bill Emerson played banjo; Bill Yates played the bass, and of course Charlie Waller sang lead and played the guitar. It was a cassette that I bought up at Wade’s [Wade Powell] back when he had the recording studio. It’s called “The Legend of the Rebel Soldier.” The County Gentleman performed it in Japan back when it was just being released. They did three key changes in it when they sang it. They started in G, then changed to A, then to C. I can’t sing as low as Waller, so we skipped the G, started in A and went straight to D. This is a full two frets higher than they sang it, but somehow Pap can still get the tenor. I don’t know anything about who wrote it or any history behind it. As far as I know, they were the first to do it. I’ve never heard anyone else sing it. Mike Auldridge played the dobro on the original recording. They turned the reverb up wide open on his dobro so that it sounded like it was far, far away from everything else. It had a neat effect, I thought.

I hope you enjoyed the video and the Civil War history. Both accounts make an equally compelling story. I’m amazed at how information related to W.C. Penland continues to spider web out in all directions, interconnecting with one another until there they are–right here in 2015.

When discussing the conflicting details of Joel Thompson’s burial, Don said “Regardless of where Joel is buried, I’m confident that his soul indeed passed through the Southland.”


p.s. To read an interesting discussion on the MudCat Cafe about the history of the song you can go here.


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  • Reply
    George Pettie
    October 13, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    The North prevailed but, echoing Ed Ammonds, the civil war produced not victors, but only countless casualties. Each side claimed their triumphs. But, in the end, all were vanquished, for the momentous conflict seared the soul of the country, gouged a hole in families without number, and left an ugly scar on the national history.
    Great kitchen harmony from Pap and Paul. They may have learned the song from the Country Gentlemen, but Pap and Paul are, themselves, a pair of country gentlemen.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

    My great great grandfather Allen A Ammons was born into a family who owned slaves. The story goes that sometime in the 1850’s his father Ephraim took his slaves and moved to Grayson County, Texas. None of Ephraim’s family went with him. None! His wife Ann returned to Madison County, NC to live out her years with her older children. The younger children, having married and established families there, including my g-g-grandfather, remained in Cherokee and Macon Counties.
    My ancestor Allen was in his forties when the Civil War began. He, an ordained minister, joined the Confederate Army and soon was promoted to chaplain. I will not presume to reason for him but it seems logical that he felt the need to see to the needs of the souls with which he was entrusted. I cannot and would not claim that he fought in any battles during those awful times. I can only assume that he followed behind the advancing lines and ministered to the dead and dying and faced the advancing enemy when his own were in retreat. I choose to think that he carried no weapon but for the precious word of the Father who had entrusted him with the souls of those young mountain lads who had been forced into a struggle not of their own making.
    My ancestor’s remains are buried in the gap of a mountain in southwestern Swain County. His marker is in the first row nearest Maple Springs Baptist. I is hard to find when the grass hasn’t been mown. It is just a little piece of marble with “A A Ammons 1819-1882” with no indication of his station in life nor his accomplishments. Many of his compatriots with far fewer accomplishments have much more elaborate monuments. There are records of Allen which I have aired here before but he doesn’t need my recommendation nor any records kept by mortals. The only records that really mean anything have already been reviewed and approved by an authority far greater than the combination of all humanity past, present and future.
    Allen’s son G W Ammons served and survived the War and returned to marry the widow of the same Jesse E Breedlove mentioned in Bill Burnett’s comment and raised his three sons.
    PS: I agree with Bill that the winners write the history but our civil war has no winners. Yes, has not had. It is ongoing as is witnessed here today!

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    October 11, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Reading Irene’s letter brought me to tears, imagining the generations that never got to sit by their loved ones graves to pray or to talk or to weep, not just here in the US either, but all around the world.
    It’s just not right, I can’t believe it’s God’s will for us for it to be so. Maybe one day, there will be peace on earth. I’d love to see it in my lifetime, but am not holding out hope that I will.
    Ya’all have a safe and blessed week.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    This is a touching and poignant tale, as are so many from that time. The varying accounts only add to the haunting and longing of those who lived through those tragedies.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 11, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    This post shows how so many families were touched by the “War of Northern Aggression” aka “Civil War” since the history was written by the winners. My 3rd Great Grandfather Andrew Jesse Wikle was captured at the Battle of Deep Creek and his family heard nothing of him until in the 1960s when my 2nd Great Aunt Amanda Crisp was doing some work in her photography shop in Murphy for a gentleman named Bob Barker who had been to Washington researching Confederate soldiers from WNC. She asked him if he would try to find out what happened to her Grandpa Wikle and he pulled out records he had discovered. Andrew Jesse Wikle was transported to Ft. Delaware as a POW where he died and is interred at Finn’s Pt. National Cemetery near Salem NJ. Andrew Jesse Wikle’s wife’s brother Jesse E. Breedlove died while a POW at Pt. Lookout Maryland. Other members of my family were wounded during the conflict and lived with severe handicaps as a result of the same.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    I remember reading somewhere in Scripture that we get our wings for the “lofty flight” on Mt Pisgah. So his soul would have had to at least get to NC wouldn’t it?

  • Reply
    October 11, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    After reading all that, I think
    Joel is at rest, probably in NY.
    And I imagine some folks in Yankee land are still looking for their
    kinfolks too. That was an awful
    War for both sides, but it did
    happen and we just have to live
    with it. All I can say is “I’m
    Sorry.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 11, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    There is a YouTube video of the song that I found particularly poignant. It is Brian Sutton, Lee Ann Womack and Stuart Duncan. Brian is a good old Buncombe County boy who has done hisself proud. The other two ain’t done too bad neither.
    The song doesn’t start until about 3.25 if you don’t want to listen to the talking.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 11, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Great story. My son plays and sings this song. Love Pap & Paul’s harmony.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Enjoyed the stories despite their differences. Also, enjoyed the singing as usual. I am learning so much from your writings. Thanks for all your work.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Occasionally we run across something we cannot describe with words. So, is this wonderful summation about Joel Thompson. You did a wonderful job with the story and tying it in with the song.
    I see a great author in you, Tipper, but I see you as a writer of non fiction or stories based on real life facts. Along with Don’s in depth research, this story should be placed somewhere for future generations. I am so envious of the way you are able to take details and actually tie them all into a story.
    You all are so fortunate to have such a masterful genealogist/researcher as Don in your area.
    Each year I do a book for our family reunion which is chock full of research on the family, oral history stories, old and new pictures, and some quotes. It is well received and is auctioned off to obtain funds for next year’s reunion. I get so many wonderful ideas from your blog.
    I have always had a deep interest in the day to day struggles of our ancestors, and I wondered how many of them survived the struggles.

  • Reply
    Betty Richards
    October 11, 2015 at 8:21 am

    Charlie Moore recorded The Legend of the Rebel Soldier, I think, before Charlie Waller and the Gents did. I have heard He wrote it. Betty
    PS, Enjoy your emails so much and truly enjoy the fellows songs.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Wow, good story.. War will always have a lasting effect on everyone involved, for generations to come.. We will never see true peace in this life if you believe what the Good Book says.. But there’s a Peaceful Home awaiting for those who have prepared for it.. And also a home for those who have not..

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    October 11, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Tipper, thanks for the fascinating post.

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