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Louis and Mary Jane (Ervin) Rhea

Story

by

David Stiles


My great, great grandfather Louis Rhea was the grandson of Jesse and Margaret (Blair) Rhea and a son of John and Jane, called “Jinney” or “Jany,” (Cameron) Rhea. John and Jinney raised eight children. Margaret Ann was born in Blount Co., TN, and the other children were born in Tellico Plains, TN. Their children include the following:

(1) Margaret Ann Rhea (May 27, 1832 -- March 16, 1919, Monroe Co., TN)
(2) Elizabeth Jane Rhea (October 22, 1834 -- April 6, 1915)
(3) William M. Rhea (January 7, 1838 -- October 17, 1919, Monroe Co., TN)
(4) Ellison T. Rhea (December 16, 1838 -- December 6, 1912, Jasper Co., MO)
(5) Samuel Marion Rhea (March 19, 1841 -- September 16, 1904)
(6) Louis Rhea (April 13, 1844 -- December 30, 1913, Athens, TN)
(7) Harvey Rhea (about 1846 -- after 1880)
(8) Hetty C. Rhea (about 1850).

The only known census containing the household of John and Jinney Rhea is that of 1860, which shows the family and sixteen-year-old Louis living in Monroe County.

When the Civil War began, Louis and his brothers William, Ellison, and Samuel joined the Confederate Army. On March 15, 1862, at Mt. Vernon, TN, Louis enlisted in Co. H, Third Tennessee Mounted Infantry. In his 1912 pension application, he stated that he had fought in battles “at Tazwell, Tenn. and a number of skirmishes around Vicksburg, Mississippi.” Louis and William were among the 31,000 Confederate soldiers at Vicksburg who surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863, and were subsequently paroled six days later. Perhaps having learned of his sons’ capture, John went to Vicksburg to see them. Tragically, as Louis wrote in his pension file, John “had come home sick from Vicksburg and died of fever” in September 1863.

After being paroled, Louis remained at home to help his mother Jinney with the family farm in Tellico Plains. Jinney died May 25, 1868, and on October 8, 1868, Louis married Mary Jane Ervin (December 25, 1848, Roane Co., TN -- May 18, 1927, Athens, TN), the only daughter of Patrick (April 30, 1827, TN -- September 27, 1880, Mt. Vernon, TN) and Rispa “Rispie” (Orten) Ervin (April 18, 1830, TN -- August 26, 1897, Mt. Vernon, TN). Louis and Mary Jane’s only child, Frances Lillie, was born August 11, 1870, at Tellico Plains, and died November 19, 1945, at Athens, TN.

By 1880, Louis and Mary Jane were neighbors of Pascall Stiles, who operated the Monroe County Poor Farm, which was next to Eleazer Methodist Church in Mt. Vernon. In April of 1880, both of Pascall’s parents, William and Eliza (Pack) Stiles, died from apparent typhoid fever only six days apart. Their sixteen-year-old son Jackson “Jack” LaFollette (October 12, 1863, Mt. Vernon -- June 24, 1945, Athens, TN), the youngest of eight children, left his home in the Notchey Creek Community in Monroe Co., TN and moved in with his brother Pascall.

On July 11, 1886, Jack, my great grandfather, married Lillie Rhea at the Rhea home place in Mt. Vernon, Monroe Co., TN. For the wedding feast, Louis and Mary Jane killed a big hog and used their first sack of “store-bought” flour. About 1902, Louis, Mary Jane, Jack, and Lillie with their children Mamie and Frank Stiles, my grandfather, moved from Monroe County to McMinn County and bought a farm, corn mill, and grocery store in the Rock Creek Community, now called Idlewild, between Athens and Decatur.

On May 14, 1992, Lillian (Small) Bohannon, Mamie’s oldest daughter, took her son Hoyt, his wife Dorothy, and me to the exact location where the old house stood on the bank of Rock Creek. There I happened to find a hand-formed brick that apparently had been a part of the house’s foundation or chimney. All that remains of the homesite today is a huge maple tree which Louis and Mary Jane had no doubt planted.

In 1910, Louis, Mary Jane, Jack, and Lillie bought a 104-acre farm in the Dry Valley Community, next to the present McMinn County High School, where I now teach. On August 8, 1913, four months before he died, Louis sent the following letter to explain more fully the question “How did you get out of the Army,” asked in his April 16, 1912 pension application. He stated that soon after he enlisted in Co. H, he transferred to Co. K and stayed with this until its capture at Vicksburg. Upon returning home, Louis stated:

When the command was called together on the assurance that we had been exchanged, I reported as ordered at Loudon, Tenn. There was much doubt among the men about our being exchanged. Several officers did not believe that we were and so talked among the men. The men were not under strict command and several of them went back home into the adjoining county. I went home and had only been home a short time only a day or two, when Sherman’s Army went up to Knoxville from Chickamauga and a command of his cavalry came up to the Tellico mountains where I lived. There was at that time some fifteen of our command including two of our Lieutenants (Alexander McConkey and William Shaw) and a number of us had assembled at a neighbor’s to help build a house, when this Yankee force came upon us and captured us, although we explained to them that we were Vicksburg prisoners on parole. They took us in charge, however, and took us on to Coker Creek -- ten or twelve miles. Kept us under guard all night and next morning, told us to take our choice of being paroled and go home, or go to prison. We all accepted the offer of a parole. We remained at home until July 1864. One day in July, on my way to the field, I met Major Morelock, of my Reg’t with a small force of men on a raid from North Carolina into East Tennessee. He knew me and told me there was no doubt about the Vicksburg soldiers being exchanged, and I willingly went on the whole raid with him. Some time after this, he was proposing to make another raid across the mountains in East Tenn.-- and knowing of a federal force at Tellico Plains with pickets guarding the road across the mountains, the Major wanted to send two men who knew the old trails to go ahead and locate the camps and picket posts before he came. I and Allen Vaughn were chosen and sent out on this work with orders to do so and scout and report to him at Tellico Plains. We did as ordered and kept in concealment from the Yankees -- waiting for the Major -- but he never came. He was killed just before the time for starting.

I never went back to the army. I remained at home. I could not risk the danger of being caught and recognized as one of the men who had accepted the solemn parole at Coker Creek, a copy of which is enclosed herewith.

I have only told this straight on truth in this affidavit and submit it to the Board for its consideration in connection with my pending application for a pension.

The Tennessee Pension Board denied Louis’ request for a pension probably because one of his muster rolls listed him as “deserted at Loudon, Tennessee, December 2, 1863,” and perhaps they also felt that he had violated his parole agreement. On February 21, 1927, Mary Jane applied for a widow’s pension based on her husband’s service. Ironically, her request was accepted, but she died before she could receive her first payment. In fact, unaware that she had died, the Pension Board approved her pension on May 27, 1927, just nine days after Mary Jane’s death.

Louis, Mary Jane, Jack, and Lillie were a very close-knit family. After I first met Lillian Bohannon on August 1,1988, I would spend hours at a time listening to her recollection of treasured memories about her dear ancestors and looking through her many albums of family pictures dating back to the 1880s. On one occasion, Lillian told me how she would sit on her grandfather Louis’ lap and take red and white strings used to tie up sacks of flour and wind them around his handlebar mustache. Lillian, who died on March 13, 1996, at age eighty-eight, was the “family historian” to the Rhea and Stiles descendants. She told me how her grandfather left the house on December 30, 1913, and began turning up ground with his team of mules in preparation for spring planting. Within a short time, the old Civil War veteran fell dead from a heart attack at age sixty-nine. Mary Jane continued to live with Jack and Lillie until she died of pneumonia fourteen years later at age seventy-eight. On August 1, 1992, almost eighty years after Louis died, Lillian, Hoyt, Dorothy, my son Eric, and I placed a bronze Civil War marker at Louis’ grave.

Written by David Ross Stiles

Sources: Tennessee census and cemetery records; Louis’ and Mary Jane (Ervin) Rhea’s Civil War pension files; and interviews with Lillian Bohannon and Polly Dixon

Many thanks to Cousin David Stiles for this wonderful biography of his ancestors! David is a cousin to my husband Stephen Ratledge through the Stiles family and to me through the Ervin family, but none of us knew the connections when we all attended McMinn County High School in the 1960's. David's father Ross Stiles and my father Tommy Nipper were best friends in their teen-age years.

This site is dedicated to the memory of my mother Beulah Cline Nipper, a beautiful product of the Knobs.

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This site is dedicated to the memory of my mother,
Beulah Cline Nipper, a beautiful product of the Knobs.