Friday, February 1, 2013

James Franklin Coker (1836-1899)

Look at that, two days in a row. I am on a hot streak now as I continue to post for the February Family History Writing Challenge. Today's story is about my wife's 3rd great-grandfather James Franklin Coker.

James Franklin Coker
James Franklin Coker was born on 12 March 1836 in Upson County, Georgia. His parents were Henry (1797-1863) and Nepsey (Wilson) Coker (b. abt 1813). James was the fifth of ten children. His siblings included Rebecca, Millie Evaline, Nancy, Isaac, Elizabeth, William, Orphy Jane, Louisa, and Francis Coker. The area where James grew up had been the territory of the Creek Indians up until the mid 1820s when the Treaty of Indian Springs relocated them to the west of the Mississippi River.

The 1840 US Census for District 588, Upson County, Georgia, lists two adults and 6 children living in the household. Three members of the family were employed in agriculture. James would have been 4 years old at the time of this census. The other children would be Rebecca (age 12), Millie (age 10), Nancy (age 9), Isaac (age 5), and Elizabeth (age 1).

In the 1850 US Census the family was found in District 17, Sumter County, Georgia. Henry Coker (age 52) is listed as a farmer with real estate valued at $1,200 (the equivalent of about $35,000 today). In addition to his father Henry, the following family members are listed: his mother Nepsey (age 37), brothers Isaac (age 16) and William (age 10), sisters Elizabeth (age 13), Jane (age 7) and Francis (age 2). The 1852 Sumter County, Georgia tax roles indicate that the family had 303 acres of land, valued at $1,500 with additional personal property valued at $330. According to the records we have found, the family did not own slaves so we can assume that they farmed the land on their own or had hired farm hands.

In 1860, the family is listed in the US Census as living in Americus, District 20, Sumter County, Georgia. During that census, the following family members are living together: parents Henry (age 63) and Nepsey (age 47), brothers Isaac (age 24) and William (age 19), sisters Elizabeth (age 20), Orphy Jane (age 17), and Louisa (age 13). James is listed as 24 years old. Henry is listed as a farmer with land valued at $1,500 while James and his brother Isaac are listed as students at the time of this census. In addition to these family members, there is an 8 month old infant, James A. living in the home. James A. is the son of James Franklin and his wife Martha Butler. James and Martha were married on 23 December 1858, in Sumter County. Their son, James Anderson Coker, was born 25 October 1859 but he died less than a year later, on 9 July 1860, soon after the census was taken. Martha appears to have suffered from the birth of her son because she died two weeks after giving birth, on 8 November 1859. So at the age of 24, James was already a widower and had lost his first son, all within the span of 8 months.

Regimental Flag - Sumter Flying Artillery
A year later, war called James to action. He enlisted in the Sumter Flying Artillery, Company A, 11th Battalion, Georgia Volunteer Infantry and saw much action during the Civil War. Much of the following unit history is from the website, The Soldiers and Sailors Database and several books. The unit was mustered into service on 15 July 1861, in Richmond, Virginia. On 22 July 1861, they arrived in Manassas, Virginia, one day after the Battle of First Bull Run.

Their first experience in battle was on 20 December 1861, at the Battle of Dranesville where the unit suffered five killed and thirteen wounded. The unit then set winter camp in Culpepper, Virginia until 8 March 1862, when they arrived at Warrenton, Virginia. On 12 April they were ordered to Richmond and then on 16 April to Yorktown to establish a defensive line. On 2 May they were removed from Yorktown and moved back to Richmond. The distance from Warrenton to Richmond is 90 miles and the distance from Richmond to Yorktown is 60 miles. During that 3 week period the unit traveled approximately 210 miles. Throughout the first part of 1862, the unit was plagued with an outbreak of measles  resulting in the death of at least 37 soldiers.

Dunker Church, Battle of Antietam
On 1 June 1862 the unit was incorporated into the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee. They served as a reserve unit during much of this time and didn't see significant action during the Seven Days Battle (25 June - 1 July 1862). Following the retreat of Union General George McClellan from Richmond, the unit was sent to Petersburg to participate in an artillery bombardment of McClellan's camp on 31 July 1862. After an ineffectual bombardment the unit returned to Richmond to protect the rear of the advancing Army of Northern Virginia. However, once the army moved into Maryland, the unit was moved to the front lines and saw heavy action in South Mountain and the Battle of Antietam. During the Battle of Antietam on 17 September 1862, the unit was stationed near Dunker Church defending the "Bloody Lane". Then the unit repositioned in the afternoon behind the woods and was replaced by another unit. After Lee's retreat the unit was again assigned to the Reserve Artillery.

The unit was encamped near Ninevah, Virginia in October 1862, moved to Culpepper, Virginia in early November and then ordered to fortify Fredericksburg, Virginia on 19 November. While in Fredericksburg, the unit was to defend against Union gunboats on the Rappahannock River. On 13 December 1862, they took part in the Battle of Fredericksburg and then set up winter camp at Chesterfield Depot. On 29 April 1863, the unit was moved to Port Royal, Virginia to guard against gun boats. On 4 May they participated in the Battle of  Salem Church. On 9 June Lee's army was reorganized and the Sumter Flying Artillery was assigned to Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill's 3rd Corps in preparation for the second invasion of the north. On 16 June the unit crossed the Potomac River at Sheperdstown, Virginia arriving in Gettysburg late on 1 July. On 2 July the unit provided support in the battle at Bliss Farm. On 3 July the unit participated in the artillery bombardment that preceded Pickett's charge. After that attack failed, the unit made a nighttime retreat back into Virginia on 4 July.

During 1864 the unit participated in several major battles, including the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Mule Shoe, Myers Hill, Cold Harbor, and the defense of Petersburg. However, from March through August 1864 James was detailed as a guard to the Artillery Ordinance Train, 3rd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia so it is uncertain how much of this action he saw. The unit was assigned the defense of Petersburg from mid-August until 2 April 1865, when they were evacuated to Amelia Court House.

On 8 April 1865 the unit was attacked near Appomattox Station. Several men were captured along with the unit's battle flag. The remainder escaped capture and retreated to the north near Oakville. On 9 April they were ordered to Appomattox Court House to assist the Confederate troops in their retreat. During their march to Appomattox, the troops were informed of Lee's imminent surrender and were ordered to disband. They spiked their cannons, hacked off the wheels, destroyed the carriages and buried the guns. The unit never surrendered. After they disbanded, small groups of men made their way back to their homes. On 19 April some were captured and on 10 May 1865, the The District of Florida, which included southwest Georgia, surrendered.

Simeon & Seaborn Walters
On 8 December 1866, James married Sarah Ann Jane Walters. Sarah was the sister of Simeon and Seaborn Walters both of whom were in the Sumter Flying Artillery, but served in Company B. Both Seaborn and Simeon were captured in Lynchburg, Virginia on 14 April 1865 while in the hospital. Simeon finished the war in a Union hospital while Seaborn was paroled on 15 April 1865.

James and Sarah Jane had the following children: Willis Barnum (1867-1956), William Bartow (1868-1889), Dora Joline (1870-), James Thadeus Beta (1871-1956), Belle Boyd (1874-1938), Maggie Louise (1876-1856), and Effie Dessolee (1878-1905).

In the 1870 US Census James is listed as Jefferson Coker married to Jane with Barnum (age 4), Bartow (age 2) and Dora (age 0) as children. The family is living next to his mother Nepsey Coker, in Georgia Militia District 1185, Americus, Sumter County, Georgia. James is listed as a farmer.

James' wife Sarah died on 9 November 1883 at the age of 47. Six years later, on 28 January 1889, James married Mary Emma Bellew. Mary was 29 years old and James was 52 at the time of their marriage. This union resulted in four children: Ethel Veronica (1889-1916), Janie Mabel (1891-1919), James Bradford (1894-1961), and Mary Ida (1897-1898). James died on 15 June 1899, at the age of 63, in Plains, Sumter County, Georgia. He is buried in Magnolia Springs Cemetery in that town. His wife Mary Emma died on 8 July 1930 at the age of 70.

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