Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Aged Confederate: G3 Grandpa Thomas E. Sellers (1844-1918) and Mary Emiline Bradford (1850-1928)

G2 Grandpa Thomas E. Sellers (1844-1918) & Mary Emiline Bradford (1850-1928)

Thomas E. Sellers was born October 1, 1844 to Noah Sellers (1821-1894) and Timney Ellen Parsons (1819-?) in South Carolina. Between 1847-1848, the Sellers family drifted from South Carolina, ferried across the wide and flat Tennessee River, and settled in Carroll County, Tennessee. By 1860, the family would be living in Henderson County, Tennessee near the town of Juno. The land of Henderson County is made up of natural springs and creeks, pink oak and elm forests and high ridges. Cotton was the principle crop and most of the original forests were cleared for farming.

At the outset of the Civil War, Thomas would have been 17. According to Christine Waters, a local Henderson County genealogist, this area was mostly sympathetic to the Union cause, but when the war began its fidelity went with the rest of the South. Thomas signed up to fight soon after her was 18. In the Confederate Army, he was a Private in the Company K, 9th TN Cavalry, which was also called Biffle's 19th Cavalry.  His dates of military service are July 1, 1863 to Feb 29, 1865.


TE Sellers' Confederate Card
According to Civil War Tales of the Tennessee Valley, by William Lindsey McDonald, Biffle's Cavalry "quickly gained a reputation as a hard-riding and fierce-fighting regiment...[which was] more of a commando force than an actual cavalry." This particular regiment was nick-named the "Southern Guerillas" and were targeted by the Union Army. If members of Biffle's Cavalry were caught, they were often tortured or murdered, says McDonald. 

In his book, McDonald quotes Dr. Young, a fellow soldier in Thomas's regiment:

During all of my war experience I was fairly well-clothed. Sometimes we had tents, but mostly we lived out in the open, slept on the ground, frequently in sleet, rain, and snow. Generally, we were right fortunate in having plenty to eat. When we ran out of food we made raids on the nearby neighbors, capturing what we could.

In 1865, Thomas was wounded and discharged in Gainesville, Alabama when the rest of his battalion surrendered. This is a bit of the speech Gen. Forrest gave the day of the surrender:

The armies of Generals Lee and Johnson having surrendered. you are the last of all the troops of the Confederate States Army east of the Mississippi River to lay down your arms. The Cause for which you have so long and so manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations, and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless. The government which we sought to establish and perpetuate, is at an end. Reason dictates and humanity demands that no more blood be shed. Fully realizing and feeling that such is the case, it is your duty and mine to lay down our arms -- submit to the “powers that be” -- and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land...

Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men. 

From my research, it seems as though Thomas and men like him particularly needed this talking-to from the General. Whether they took it to heart is unknown, though from Thomas's obituary one can gather he loved to relive the "glory days" of the Old South, as he took part in Civil War reunions. I would imagine that if he were part of such an exciting and tough band of Rebels, it might have been difficult for him to just give up and let it go. But give up he did.

He made his way back home, and a year later, on October 17, 1866, he married Tennessee-native, Mary Emiline Bradford.  Mary Emiline was born on March 10, 1850, so she would have been 17 when they married. Her parents were Alford Middleton Bradford and Nancy J. Anderson. Their post is located here.

Mary Emiline Bradford
By 1880, Thomas was living in Henderson County, Tennessee with Mary Emiline, and children: Andrew (13), Alzonzo (9), Jennie (7), Dora (5), and baby John Lee (1) and who would become my great-grandfather. Thomas was a farmer. Mary Emiline kept house. They could both read and write. In 1882, daughter Dora would die at the age of 7. Five years later, in 1887, his oldest child, Andrew, would die at the age of 20 from an unknown cause. In 1890, daughter Florence would be born, but would live less than a month.

In 1900, they were still farming in Henderon County, though Thomas's older sons and daughters had left home. John Lee, Fred S., Thomas, and Larvis still lived at home and worked on the farm.

In May of 1908, his beloved son and my great-grandfather, John Lee, would be killed by a mule at the age of 29. More about John Lee Sellers here.

In 1910, Thomas and Mary were still farming in Henderson County. Their children Arbie (17) and Alonzo (36) lived with them, as well as two granddaughters, Alonzo's children, Gladys (14) and Vider Mae (11). Their mother, Tabitha Jordan, must have died as she did not live with them. I can imagine the happy laughter of their granddaughters eased the sense of loss and grief they must have felt in recent years. 

Thomas died on 6 Jan., 1918. His obituary in The Lexington Progress on January 11, 1918 reads:

Thomas E. Sellers, aged seventy-eight years, died at his home very close to Bargerton last Sunday and is survived by his wife, four sons and one daughter. Mr. Sellers was an ex-Confederate soldier and for many years enjoyed no greater pleasure than attending the annual Confederate reunions. The surviving sons are Alonzo, Fred S., Cleveland, and Arbie, and his daughter Jennie (Mrs. George Wilson). Mr. and Mrs. Sellers lived with their youngest son, Arbie.

He is buried in Caffey Cemetery in Henderson County, Tennessee, not far from the fertile, orange land on which he spent his life.

Mary Emiline was a housekeeper late in life. She died of liver cancer on November 28, 1928, exactly 50 years before I would be born.

Grave in Caffey Cemetery, Henderson County, Tennessee


  1. Just lovely. I hope you're planning to write some poems about all of this research you're doing. I think I see a book project in here somewhere... xx.

  2. Thomas is my 3rd great grandfather. I have been researching him for a few years but have never seen a photo of Mary Emiline...I teared up from excitement. Thank you so much for putting this together! :)