Confederate Widow

One of my great, great, great grandfathers, John Robert Speir, was killed at the battle of Antietam, called the battle of Sharpsburg in the South. His military records state, “Last seen wounded on the field, September 17, 1862, Sharpsburg, Md., Presumed dead.” That battle still holds the record for the bloodiest one-day battle in US military history. His unit, the Florida 5th Infantry, was fighting at the sunken road, nicknamed “Bloody Lane.” He was drafted into the Confederate army in April of 1862, and my great, great grandfather who was his last child, was born in Wellborn, Florida in October of 1862, just a few weeks after his father died.

I have never heard the story of an ancestor being killed at Antietam, and neither had any of the relatives living at the time I made the discovery. Now, I knew my great grandmother well, and this was her grandfather. She lived until I was 18 and she was the matriarch of the family. My mother was her first grandchild and they were very close, yet my mother never heard anything about it. That fact in itself is a mystery to me. Why didn’t we hear about it? Did the family even know what had happened to him? Just a few months ago, I spoke with my great uncle Harry and I asked him if he knew that his mother’s grandfather was killed in the war, and he said, “Yes, my grandfather told me when I was a boy that his father had died in the war.”

“Your grandfather Speir?”

“Yes,” he said, with a look of wonder over the memory from so long ago. “My grandfather Speir.”

I asked Uncle Harry whether he knew that his ancestor had died at Sharpsburg, at the battle of Antietam. Uncle Harry, who is a history buff himself said with amazement, “No. My grandfather just said that his father had died in the war. That’s all.”

I have spent a lot of years and a lot of time researching John Robert Speir, the Florida 5th infantry, and the battle of Antietam. It is a joy to be able to share those details with other family members. But I still have so many questions. I am still not certain whether he died on the field or was taken to a Yankee hospital. I do not know whether his body was recovered. Many were not.

But much of my curiosity is directed to my great, great, great grandmother, Martha Francis Rucker Speir Evers. I really want to know what her life was like during the war. When and how did she learn of her husband’s fate? Did she know, or suspect, that her husband was dead when her child was born? Why was a guardianship established for that child, my great, great grandfather, but not for her other four children? What happened to the 7 slaves, 2 adults and 5 children, that her husband had owned? How did she come to marry James Evers, who was 13 years younger than she? Why did they leave north Florida and settle in Hillsborough Coun

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