Friday, April 03, 2020

Sweet Home Alabama, April 3, 2020

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you
~Lynyrd Skynyrd

Strange and Difficult Times. I trust that you are all enduring these strange and difficult times of staying home, worrying about family, and doing your best to remain healthy. Wherever your home happens to be located -- Washington, California, Oklahoma, Texas or elsewhere -- I am sure your situation is difficult as we all battle the Coronavirus pandemic. A century ago, in 1918, our ancestors dealt with a virus that wreaked as much havoc then as we are experiencing today. I wish I knew more about how they dealt with that adversity. They survived, and apparently quite well. And we will too. In the midst of whatever hardships you have to deal with, I wish you the very best.

Nate with Logan, William and Preslea
Happy Birthday to Nate. Despite the Virus, life goes on. Today our family here in San Diego is celebrating the birthday of our son Nathan Shepard who was born right here in San Diego in 1977. We and he and his three children are doing quite well as we celebrate this special day with him. We won't go out to a restaurant this year. We won't invite others in to celebrate with us. We will celebrate in "hunker down" mode. But we will gladly celebrate nonetheless. It will be a time for cake and ice cream, birthday candles, special gifts and singing "Happy Birthday." Best wishes to Nate for a great birthday!

A Classic Family Story. Back in 2018 I wrote a series in The Shepard's Crook about people in our family history with interesting names. I called it "The Pantheon of the Famously Named." Two of the people I wrote about were Cindy's GG grandparents Julius Caesar Vessels and his wife Fanny Narcissus Bradford. In this post I want to look further into the lives of these two remarkably named people.

Julius Caesar Vessels
The Julius Caesar in our family tree was born in 1842 in the Southeastern Alabama community of Eufala, along the Chattahoochee River that separates Alabama and Georgia. When just a young man he met a teenaged Southern Belle from Lauderdale, Alabama with a name almost as colorful as his: Fanny Narcissus Bradford. In the summer of 1863, during the Civil War, they married in Lauderdale in the Northwest part of the state and settled in nearby Athens, Alabama. What could be more appropriate? Narcissus (a famous character from Greek mythology) and Julius Caesar (leader of the Roman Empire) settling in the town of Athens!

Service in the Confederate Army. Julius Caesar, born in the early 1940s, was exactly the right age for service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. On April 15, 1861, the very day he turned 19 years old, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for an Army of 75,000 men. Being from the south that edict did not apply to Julius Caesar, but it was a sure indication of the conflict that was to come, and foreshadowed the Southern call for men to join the Confederate Army. I have written several times in this blog about some Shepard ancestors who served in the Union Army, especially my GG Grandfather William Shepard. The only time I have written about service in the Confederate Army was in reference to the Southern soldier David Reid Shannon (1821-1864), the Grandfather of my Grandmother Nola Gower Shannon. Like many American families, we have numerous people in our ancestry who served in the Southern Army. So it is only fair to give consideration to them.

Documentation of the 1862 Civil War letter
A Family Affair. Julius Caesar Vessels, his older brother John, and their father John Franklin Vessels all served during the war in the Confederate Army. For a period of time in 1862, all three were in active service at the same time. Dad served in Company F of the 18th Alabama Infantry, while Julius served in the 53rd Regiment, the Alabama Partisan Rangers. In November, 1842, 52 year old John Franklin Vessels, petitioned the Governor of Alabama for a discharge because he had two sons already fighting in the war. We don't know what the Governor decided, but John certainly had a strong case. This family of 10 children had their father and the two oldest sons taken away to fight in the war, leaving a mother with 8 children to fend for themselves in very dangerous times. One can only hope the governor granted the father's request to be released from duty. What we know for sure is that all three soldiers survived the War and eventually returned to life on their farm outside Athens.

A Hearty Alabaman. Julius Vessels and his wife Fannie, whose married life began during the War, were married for 28 years. She died in 1891 at just 45 years old, leaving her husband and 10 children, the youngest of whom was just 2 years old. Fannie Bradford's family history is quite remarkable in its own right. In a future post I plan to share her interesting and surprising story.

Sally Bates Vessels (1852-1901)
2nd Wife of Julius Caesar Vessels
Shortly after his wife Fannie died in Alabama in the summer of 1891, Julius moved with a broken heart westward some 700 miles with his motherless children to Wise County, northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. He was a hearty Alabaman who lived to be 86, very old by 19th century standards. He outlived three of his children, and his first wife Fannie by almost 30 years. He married a second time to a Texas girl named Sally Bates and lived in North Texas with her. Though 10 years older than her, he outlived her by 27 years!

With his second wife Sally he had one more child, a daughter they named Dollie May Vessels. She was just 7 years old when her mother died of consumption in 1901. This left Julius Caesar Vessels a widower (for the second time!) with several children at home to raise. One of those children was his youngest daughter Dollie May, but the household also included the two youngest children from his first marriage.

Sweet Home Alabama. Sometime before 1920, after he finished raising his children in Texas, the widower Julius Caesar felt the call of his sweet Alabama home which he had left 25 years earlier. At 75 years old, he made the decision to return to his old life in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama. Athens was where his life with Fannie had begun, where Julius had left for the war with his brother and father and then returned safely. Athens was where their children had been born, and where Fannie had died nearly 40 years earlier. It was where a lifetime of other memories were to be found. So it was only fitting that Athens would be the place to which he would return for his final years.

Julius Caesar Vessels may be the only person in our family history who, after migrating westward, went back East to his original home to finish his life. I cannot think of anyone else in our family history who did that. Can you? In Athens Julius lived out the last 12 years of his life. He and his first love Fannie Narcissus Bradford are buried in the Reunion Cemetery in Thach, Alabama, north of Athens, along with other members of their family. It is a fitting final resting place for these two, whose lives were well lived.
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Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

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