Civil War Letter of Madeline “Maddy” Crenshaw Barnes to Major Thomas A. Martin


William cutout

Captain William Sharpe Barnes of the 4th NC Infantry, affectionately called Billie in the letter by his wife Maddy.

One of my patrons and Barnes family researcher, Katharina Schlichtherle, came across this letter from Madeline “Maddy” Martin Crenshaw Barnes to her cousin Thomas Alston Martin (you may remember his portrait as formerly being labeled as “Jesse Sharpe Barnes”) in the Thomas Alston Martin papers, a collection that is held in the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary .

The letter has  a light, breezy almost cheerful tone as she probes her cousin for any tidbits about his love life, but just below the surface are some very serious issues.  The war grinds on, she doesn’t know where her husband is stationed (he had already been seriously wounded in the war and his brother Jesse was killed) nor had anyone heard from his younger brother for over two weeks, and one of their friends is a prisoner.

Here is Katharina’s  background research and  transcript of the letter:

“We are quite uneasy about Joshua, have not heard from him in over a fortnight. Well, cousin Tom, another year has closed and still no peace, but I hope it will come before the close of another. This time last year we were having quite a pleasant time in Wilson.”

Madeleine “Maddie” Martin Crenshaw Barnes was born in Nash County, North Carolina in 1842, the first child of Daniel Sanford Crenshaw and his wife Seignora Martin Crenshaw. By 1860, her family had moved to Cheraw in South Carolina. On February 08, 1864 she got married to 20-year-old Lieutenant William Sharpe Barnes, the adjutant of the 4th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. William was the sixth child and fourth son of Elias and Mahala Barnes who had a substantial farm near Stantonsburg. His older brother was Captain Jesse Sharpe Barnes who was killed at the battle of Seven Pines in May 1862. The families had apparently had connections before and obviously Maddie spent time in Wilson County. Joshua and Janie, whom Maddie refers to in her letter, are William’s younger brother and sister. Joshua was apparently drafted into Confederate service at age 17. Janie, the youngest child of then widowed Mahala Barnes, was 9 years old at the time.

William, whom Maddie calls Billie, survived the war and the young couple set up house near Wilson. William taught school, eventually becoming a principal and supervisor for Wilson County schools. They had four surviving children, three sons and one daughter. By 1890, however, William had moved his family to Raleigh, where he first worked as an accountant before training as an optometrist. He worked as one at least until 1910. Madeleine died in 1906 and is buried in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery with her husband who died in 1924. At least two of their great grandsons still live in Raleigh.

“Cousin Tom” is Thomas Alston Martin from Franklin County, NC, who seems to have been in regular contact with his cousin as well as with the Barnes family. He attended William and Maddie’s wedding in South Carolina. At the time the letter was written, Tom was a major in the 13th North Carolina Infantry, the regiment he had served with since the beginning of the war. After he had been seriously wounded at Gettysburg, he spent several months on detail in North Carolina but rejoined his regiment in late 1864. He also survived the war, was paroled at Appomattox and apparently managed a family-owned lumber mill in Franklinton, NC.



January 2nd 1865

Dear cousin Tom,


Am going to try to answer your kind letter, though fear I shall fail in collecting anything that is interesting. The first thing, of course, will be Billie[1]. Well, he went back to his command in the Valley and got a thirty day furlough, reached home on the 5th of last month and left on the 30th. While here we went up in Wake [County], but spent only a short time. Spent part of a day with uncle Jay. All were well and very much surprised to see us. Have heard nothing from Zink in some time. Suppose in (?) this that your 2nd Lt. is married – when will your time come cousin Tom? Do not think I am teasing you, but I really do want to know if you are engaged. Tell me cousin Tom, won’t you? If you will I will give you my reasons for asking you. You know I am deeply interested in anything that pertains to your welfare. Billie left love for you. I can’t give you his address just now, as I do not know where he is. It was reported that his command was this side of Stony Creek when he left. Am very anxious to learn whether he has reached it in safety or not[2]. Hope you had a good dinner Christmas, just as much molasses and many potatoes as you could eat. Where were you on that day? Had a letter from home last week, take it for granted that all were well as mother said nothing of any sickness. How did your trip to Weldon serve you? Mrs. Richardson has gone North to see her Father. Mr. Richardson is still in Wilson and is going to keep school in Clark’s Hotel which he has rented for this purpose. Eddie Nadal[3] is still a prisoner. Have you ever met up with Johnnie Moore in any of your travels? Hope you will meet Billie this winter if he remains this side of Petersburg. Janie sends her love. We are quite uneasy about Joshua, have not heard from him in over a fortnight. Well, cousin Tom, another year has closed and still no peace, but I hope it will come before the close of another. This time last year we were having quite a pleasant time in Wilson. Was very much in hopes that I should meet you up in Wake. Excuse uninteresting and badly written letter. Direct to Wilson as we are going to have a daily mail from that place. Love to the home folks when you write to them. A happy new year. With much love for yourself I remain your fond cousin



[1] Billie had been seriously wounded in the battle of Third Winchester in the fall and was recuperating at home.

[2] He safely reached his command which was indeed near Petersburg by that time. Early in 1865 he was promoted to Captain and Aide de Camp of General Bryan Grimes. William was wounded again in the attack on Fort Stedman there at the end of March, treated in a Richmond hospital and made prisoner when the city fell. He was paroled in mid-May.

[3] Edward M. Nadal from Wilson was a sergeant in the 7th Confederate Cavalry. He was made prisoner at Fort Harrison on Sept. 30, 1864, and held at Point Lookout. In mid-February of 1865 he was exchanged and returned home.

New Book: The Hidden Half of the Family, Women’s Genealogy

the hidden

The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy by Christina Kassabian Schaefer is actually not new (1999)  but it is new to us.  Over half of the population are women so it doesn’t require too much of a leap in thinking to know that they have played an important part in the social history of the United States, yet their identities, throughout most of our history, have been subjugated by their husbands.  This makes it harder to find out where they came from on many of the primary records  used by historians and genealogists.

The author’s supposition is that the best ways to find a feme covert  is through the various means that women were allowed to interact with the government and the legal system.  In these records all parties are required to identify themselves and are therefore invaluable resources for tracking the lives of the wives, sisters and daughters residing in the US through time.

The records that she singles out for their power in revealing the hidden women of the past are:

  • Land Records
  • Guardianship Records
  • Probate and Will Records
  • Affidavits of witnesses, all types of records.
  • Public Welfare Records
  • License Applications
  • Sheriff’s Records

North Carolina has its own section in the book and she lists important dates in the history of the state and a useful bibliography of publications which I have listed a few:

  • Clemens, William M. North and South Carolina Marriage Records: From the Earliest Colonial Days to the Civil War (1927. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981).
  • White, Barnetta M. Somebody Knows my Name: Marriages of Freed Slaves in North Carolina, County by County. 3 vols. (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1995).
  • Anderson, Lucy L. North Carolina Women of the Confederacy (Charlotte: The United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1926).
  • Coates, Albert.  By Her Own Bootstraps: A Saga of Women in North Carolina (n.p.: The Author, 1975).
  • Leary, Helen F.M. “The Better Half: North Carolina Women’s Genealogy.”  On to Richmond! FGS/VGS Conference, 1994.
  • “Marriage, Divorce a, and Widowhood: A Study of North Carolina Law Governing the Property and Person of Married Women, 1663-1869.” North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal 16 (August 1990).

Revolutionary War Soldier, Benjamin Farmer


This marker is on a nondescript lot on the corner of Keenan and Tarboro Streets. Supposedly the lot also contains the Farmer family graveyard, but there is no evidence of it on the property.



Last week a local man brimming over with knowledge and curiosity about Wilson County history came into the library looking for information on Benjamin Farmer, a man who lived on a farm in what is now downtown Wilson and served in the in the Edgecombe County Militia in the Revolutionary War.  The local man is named Louis Neal and it turns out he has a rather famous collection of Wilson County artifacts and memorabilia (Louis is also the proud grandfather of an LSU football player).

Mr. Neal had been investigating a vacant lot downtown on the corner of Keenan and Tarboro streets.  He had always heard that there was an Indian graveyard on the property and during the course of his investigation he came upon a bronze marker with name of the aforementioned Benjamin Farmer on it.  This marker was placed by the DAR at some unknown point in the past and listed that Benjamin served in Captain Lytle’s Company during the Revolution.

Mr. Neal didn’t really need my help because he knew to turn to the writings of the Herodotus of Wilson County, the Bede of Nash County, the Tacitus of Edgecombe County, yes the venerable Hugh Johnston.  And this is what Hugh had to say about Ben Farmer:

Benjamin Farmer, son of Isaac and Elizabeth Farmer, was born in the present Halifax County, North Carolina in 1756 and died in Edgecombe County in 1837. He married in 1779 to Elizabeth “Bettie” Dew, daughter of Arthur and Mary Dew of Edgecombe County. She was born in 1766 and died after 1852 in Edgecombe County. She and her husband were buried in their old family graveyard on Kenan Street near the corner of Tarboro Street in Wilson, North Carolina. Considerably diminished in size, it is the only family graveyard that has survived within the growing boundaries of this city. Their home formerly stood on a hill N.W. of Tarboro Street, about where the City Water Tank now stands, and it is said that they owned at one time all the land N.W. of the present Atlantic Coast Line Railroad within the City limits. This may very well have been true, before the rapid growth of recent years.

Some years ago the DAR erected a boulder of native stone and a bronze tablet over the grave of Benjamin Farmer to commemorate his supposed service in Captain Lytle’s Company, Tenth North Carolina Regiment, during the Revolutionary War. Actually, Benjamin Farmer of Edgecombe County was a first-cousin to Benjamin Farmer and brother William Farmer of Johnston County who both served in Lytle’s Company, but there is no question that the first Benjamin was a Patriot and served in the Edecombe County Militia. There is an interesting tradition handed down in the family that, when the British under Lord Cornwallis passed through this area in 1731, they could not be convinced that Benjamin Farmer was away at war and not hiding near by in the woods until they went into the fields and actually saw his wife’s little footprints everywhere in the newly ploughed land.

This is just part of what Hugh has to say about Mr. Farmer and it is too bad that the lot doesn’t have a historical marker next to it because it could be an important point of interest for residents and visitors to the city if they knew where to look.