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John L. Stiles/Styles, Cpl.

by Sandra Nipper Ratledge

[©1983 Appalachian Ancestors by Sandra N. Ratledge ©1998-2016 revision for website by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs, articles, stories, anecdotes, documents, obituaries, letters, and other contents herein and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications of any kind.]

Dark eyes, black hair, and tanned complexion account in part for Grandpa Stiles' nickname, "Black Fox." Although that name was commonly used among Cherokee Indians, no blood kinship with the tribe has been found. The closest connection between them seems to be a first cousin, Julius W. Stiles, who married a part-Indian, Mary E. "Mollie" Payne, registered as one-sixteenth Cherokee. This relationship through marriage is the only one that could be discovered.

From Mitchell Stiles of Murphy, North Carolina came the account of how Grandpa Stiles won his nickname during the Civil War. Once when cornered by Rebels and nearly captured, he dashed frantically toward their horses. The soldiers dared not aim and fire toward him for fear of killing their own steeds. Though only a short man about five feet seven inches, he could run like a gazelle; and none of these Rebels were able to catch him. Side to side, their numerous horses stood hitched to a post. His only hope of escape lay beyond those horses and into a hiding place in the woods. At that point, he executed an astonishing running broad jump that won him his nickname. Like a fox, he leaped over the horses at least sixteen hands high, darted this way and that into the thicket, and so escaped. Before long, friends and relatives alike in the area were calling him "the Black Fox of Persimmon Creek" for those amazing maneuvers.

Regrettably, no photograph of this clean-shaven, stocky, short man has survived. The only known photograph of him was lost many years ago. One story has it that a descendant, no longer remembered sent the photograph away to be copied, and it was subsequently lost in mail transit.

Although his likeness no longer remains, his huge, heavy bible containing part of the Apocrypha is still preserved. Therein is the family record section written in his own large cursive style. This record reveals a preference for the use of y instead of i in his surname. His Union military enlistment records the Styles spelling also; however, his signature on various other documents exhibits the i as often as y. The i spelling is engraved on his tombstone, and family members seemed to be equally satisfied with either of the two spellings. For the sake of consistency, the Stiles spelling is used in this manuscript.

This bible and his tombstone give his birth as 13 February 1845, while the 1860 census and his pension application record his birthplace as Cherokee County, North Carolina. He is known to be one of the twin sons born to Thomas Stiles and Louisa Smith. William T., his twin, died in the latter part of 1850 at only five years of age. His only other older sibling, Silas Wilburn Stiles, was killed in the Civil War; thus, John L. was left the oldest son and his widowed mother's mainstay. His brother, Zech, became a well-known gospel singer in the area. Both Zech and James, younger than John L., died before he did. Death date of his youngest brother, Charles N. "Charlie", is undetermined. Only one younger brother, then, Thadeus G., "Doc," is known to have survived him.

Other than censuses, earliest existant records pertaining to Grandpa Stiles are his Civil War military records on file in the National Archives, Washington, D. C. His Union Muster-in Roll records that John Stiles was officially enlisted as private in Company G, 3rd Tennessee Mounted Infantry Regiment on 1 October 1864, at Loudon, Tennessee for one hundred days. It also records that he had formerly joined a Union company on 10 July 1864, in Monroe County, Tennessee. He gave his age as nineteen at enlistment. Subsequent Union rosters listed him as John G. Styles, a corporal in the aforementioned regiment. Pension file documents also located in the National Archives corrected the above lists which should have read John L. Styles, Corporal.

Within his pension file, two letters addressed to the Commissioner of Pensions, Washington, D. C. and dated December 5th and 8th, 1899, concern his initial Confederate service. The first of these contains his own statement that he was conscripted during February 1863 into a Confederate regiment, the name of which he did not recall, taken to Strawberry Plains, Tennessee and escaped therefrom about a month later. The second provides official documentation of his Confederate service. It relates that John L. Stiles was a private in Company H. Walker's Battalion, Thomas' Legion, North Carolina Volunteers, C. S. A. Furthermore, he was enrolled as a "volunteer" with no record of his conscription being found. Enlistment was dated 23 February 1863, at Cherokee County, North Carolina. Thereafter, he was checked as present on 7 March 1863, two days following date of company origin; but on the 21st of that month, he was recorded as absent without leave. His name never was enumerated on subsequent rolls, nor was any discharge or medical record for him found.

Walker's Battalion, sometimes known as the 1st Battalion and commonly as "Cherokee Guards," was assigned to the 29th North Carolina Infantry of the Confederate States of America. John L.'s uncle, James M. Stiles, was listed with Company A of this same regiment but was discharged 16 September 1862. He was later enrolled with Company H also and may have been conscripted along with John L. Stiles. Although conscription was denied, it was commonly practiced late in the war. The official Conscript Act was passed 16 April 1862, at Richmond, Virginia, and most states began to implement the law at once.

James M. Stiles is one of few veterans whose grave bears a Confederate military marker inscribed with his name, company, infantry, and "C. S. A." That Grandpa Stiles and this uncle James had been close seems probable since the latter named his own firstborn son John L. Two cousins bearing the same name and living in the same area complicated record keeping in later years.

Two other letters in John L.'s pension file bearing the same address but dated November 1899 regard his Union service prior to 1 October 1864. In the first letter, he claimed service with Captain Goldman Bryson's Company, Scouts and Guards, Tennessee Volunteers of the United States Army, from about 1 June 1863, and until official mustering, of course, occurred more than a year after he had left the Confederacy.

"Bryson's Boys" was the same outfit which his father had joined. Both enlisted in mid-summer of 1863 and served together. A squad from Company B of the same Confederate regiment into which John L. had been drafted killed Captain Goldman Bryson in October 1863. His death numbered among the first of many future ambush executions in the area. It appears that by 1864, Confederates had determined to purge the area of "turncoats" by bushwhacking warfare or hanging. Lucky, indeed, was John L. to have survived the conflict. Many others, including his own father, older brother Silas Wilburn, and uncle, William L., were not so fortunate.

To illustrate this purge even further, the Williams family, like the Stiles family, had nearly all its young men wiped out. In Hill Country Heritage, Volume I, Paul J. Long records that the Williams boys, who had deserted the same Confederate regiment and enlisted with Company A of the same Union regiment as John L., all met deaths similar to that of John L. Stiles' father. It is not merely coincidental that the Stiles and Williams families of soldiers all met similar fates but typical of the Civil War in this section.

Grandpa Stiles applied for an invalid pension 23 December 1889, declaring that "in the service while on a raid in the state of Tennessee about the latter part of October 1864, he contracted rheumatism of the back, right hip, and right leg down to the foot." Such a pension must have been difficult for him to obtain for its authorization was delayed. On 29 December 1891, Dr. J. F. Abernathy of Cherokee County, North Carolina wrote an affidavit swearing that he had "carefully examined" John L. Stiles, whom he had known for ten years, and found him to be suffering with chronic rheumatism. He further stated that his patient was "able to work moderately with safety to himself about half of his time." Finally, his application was approved; government military pension number 589,811 granted him $6.00 per month. Each time Congress enacted new legislation to increase benefits for veterans, he filed a new application. By the Congressional Act passed 11 May 1912, his payments were increased to $15.00 per month which he drew until his death on 11 October 1913.

On November 1913, May Anne Sutton Stiles, his widow, applied for her widow's pension. She was soon granted pension number 775,770. By the time of her death, four years later, payments were $20.00 per month. Documents in her file reveal her birthplace as Cherokee County, North Carolina, near Murphy. Her birth date given, 14 April 1841, agrees with the family bible and her tombstone. The application also provides still another marriage record to that found in Monroe County, Tennessee. Additional information therein contained shows that John and May Anne were married in Sweetwater, Tennessee, 25 September 1865, by Reverend McDelania and that neither the bride nor groom had been previously married. The Monroe County record shows their marriage license as issued 19 September 1865, but no date of return had been recorded. In spite of their marriage in Tennessee, they were lifelong residents of Cherokee County, North Carolina according to pension applications.

May Anne was one of John and Eliza (McDowell) Sutton's eleven children. She was born with a congenital defect, a harelip. Very little is known of her early life and childhood. Her father died when she was a teen-ager, fourteen to eighteen years of age. Thereafter, she lived with various relatives and helped with domestic chores.

John L. and May Anne Stiles were members of Hiwassee Baptist Church where he served as deacon for a time according to Aunt Ethel Coleman. Hiwassee Lake submerged most of this church property and cemetery, as well as Beech Creek Cemetery, when Hiwassee Dam was constructed 1936-40. Hiwassee Baptist Church congregation then established a new place of worship in the Hanging Dog Community of Cherokee County. Only a portion of the original Hiwassee Cemetery remains in tact. It is located on a knoll to the left of Hanging Dog Campground boat ramp. John L. and May Anne were buried there alongside many of the other relatives, but their remains and tombstones were removed by TVA at descendants' requests. They were then relocated in Old Martin's Creek Cemetery in Martin's Creek Community of Cherokee County.

John L. Stiles' home place, located in Tract 18 District 8 of Cherokee County according to his will, was covered by Lake Hiwassee as were all residences along Persimmon Creek in Shoal Creek Township. However, a PHOTOGRAPH was taken of this dwelling in autumn of 1913 just after Grandpa Stiles died. Holding her bible, Grandma Stiles is seated in front of the fence. Standing beside her is Aunt Ethel Coleman who was born close to May Annie's birthday and became a favorite of her grandchildren. Aunt Ethel spent nights with this widowed grandmother, beset by old age and infirmities.

John L. Stiles died in this home, according to May Anne's pension file, on 11 Octber 1913. A death certificate was not recorded for him in the county probably because the new law requiring registration of all deaths in the state did not take effect until later that month. In the summer of 1913, Grandpa Stiles must have felt his life drawing to a close for on 21 July he dictated his last will and testament. It is recorded in Will Book A. at Cherokee County Courthouse in Murphy. He directed his executor to pay for his burial and any just debts outstanding at his death from the proceeds of his estate. The remainder he bequeathed to his lawful heirs; however, May Anne, if widowed, was allowed to keep Tract 18 and their dwelling for the duration of her life. He appointed his son, W. Decatur Stiles, of Fannin County, Georgia the executor.

May Anne did survive him by almost four years before succombing to death on 22 July 1917. The informant for her official death certificate was J. P. Stiles, her youngest son. He listed "Bright's Disease" as cause of her death on this certificate; but on another document located in May Anne's pension file, he had written "pneumonia." The latter document was his application for "reimbursement from the accrued pension" for medical and burial expenses of the pensioner. According to said application, John Patton Stiles and his family had nursed May Anne from the onset of illness about 16 April 1917, and until her death for which care he requested $30.00. He applied for $42.50 in payment to her physician, S. E. Highway, and $20.00 for her burial expenses.

Bravely had May Anne lived her seventy-six years spanning four different wars and four years of war on home soil. To her beloved husband, she bore five children, three sons and two daughters, and reared them in the Baptist faith and a Christian home. A courageous spirit and an ardent devotion to family and friends were legacies she passed on to these offspring. Never to remain "talents lodged useless" with them, her children exemplified this heritage. Decatur, her first-born, made a trek from North Carolina to Oregon and then Alaska to join explorers in the Klondike Gold Rush. Daughter Harriet, the mother of ten children, helped raise the frame and construct her home in McMinn County when she was more than fifty years of age. Surely such qualities were characteristic of grandchildren who endured with Christian fortitude the Great Depression of 1929 and, with zealous patriotism, World War II. And. with hope, this legacy will be passed through each of us.

John L. Stiles' will

Stephen Ratledge, my husband, is a great-great-grandson of John "Black Fox" Stiles.

©1983 Appalachian Ancestors by Sandra N. Ratledge & copy;1998--present year by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs, articles, stories, anecdotes, documents, obituaries, letters, and other contents herein and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications of any kind.