Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Archibald H. McNeill and Jane Howell

My third great-grandfather on the McNeill line is Archibald H. McNeill who was born about 1838 to Hector McNeill and his wife Betty Pressley or Presnell. He was the second of seven children, presumably all born in Yancey County, North Carolina. His mother, Betty, died in 1849 within days of giving birth to her youngest child, Elizabeth. Much like his son Robert, Archibald lost his mother as a boy.

Probably in 1857, Archibald married Jane Howell, daughter of Thomas Howell and Piety Wilson. Jane was born about 1841 in Yancey county, the seventh of at least eight children for the couple. Archibald and Jane had their first child and my ancestor, Robert Nelson McNeill, on 29 Oct 1858. In about 1861, Robert was joined by a sister, Elizabeth.

It was at about this time that the dissension between parts of Yancey County became more pronounced, and a vote was taken to separate into two counties thus creating Mitchell County. I believe at this time Archibald lived on the Mitchell side which apparently tended to side more with the Union than with the new Confederacy. Yancey favored the Confederacy. However, on 8 March 1862, Archibald, along with two of his brothers, enlisted as privates in Company E, 6th North Carolina Infantry. This unit has an extensive list of battles they were involved in, including at Seven Pines, Virginia from about 30 May 1862 to 1 June 1862. Here Archibald's brother, Daniel, was wounded and died from his injuries. According to an article written in Volume 1 of the Toe River Valley Heritage series, Archibald was wounded in the hand at the second battle of Manassas (i.e. Bull Run) in August 1862. I believe the remaining brother, John, went unharmed.

Another tragedy struck the family in November 1862 when Jane Howell McNeill died. I have very little information about her so I have no idea how she died or if it may have been childbirth related. Until a few weeks ago, I didn't even know the date of her death. And I have no idea where she may have been buried.

I have a date of 27 March 1863 that Archibald mustered out of Co E. Family lore indicates that Archibald and probably John deserted the Confederate Army and returned to the mountains of Mitchell county. Whether disgruntled with military life, grieving the loss of his wife, or dissatisfied with the Confederate cause is unknown. I suspect it was a combination of all three.

In the spring of 1864, Archibald remarried to a young widow, Sarah Ann Elizabeth Sparks Silver in Mitchell County. During this same year in the fall he enlisted in the Union Army in 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry and went to Knoxville, Tennessee to serve under the famous (or is it infamous) Colonel George Kirk. He came home during the early part of 1865 on recruiting duty. Because of the fear of Rebel Home Guards from Yancey county, Archibald was forced to "stay out" much of the time rather than stay in his home. It was also about this time Archibald and Sarah had their first of 11 children. During his forced exposure to the harsh winter elements, he took ill. Some in the Union Army took him to be a deserter and he spent literally the remainder of his life dealing with the ailments as a result of his service and fighting to get the pension he rightly deserved. I have a copy of his entire pension file which I believe is about 187 pages. It was Sherman who said that "War is Hell" but apparently so was Archibald's effort to get his pension.

At the time he fell ill, he was at Thomas Howell's who was his first father-in-law. He apparently had been sick for quite some time, including during the time he shuttled four Union soldiers who had been prisoners held near Charlotte, through the rugged mountain terrain back to Knoxville, Tennessee. Archibald became so ill he was then bedridden at Thomas Howell's for about a month. He was treated by a physician for pneumonia fever and later was able to return to his unit. He was discharged in about August 1865.

Archibald returned home a broken man. He suffered from chronic catarrh of the head. He apparently every four to six weeks would suffer so severely from blood and mucous discharge that he would have to go to bed for a week or two to just recover. In approximately 1879, he began his quest to obtain a pension from the Federal government. He submitted medical affidavits, affidavits from those in the community, and still the government believed he was absent without leave during the time he was on recruiting duty to Mitchell County and when he became ill. It was a battle that he wouldn't win in his lifetime as he died 31 July 1886. He is buried in a private cemetery south of Bakersville, Mitchell Co., North Carolina.

His widow, Sarah, continued on with the battle to obtain the pension. She obtained affidavits from Archibald's brothers who served in Knoxville with him, some from family members who remember his falling ill in the spring of 1865, and even went as far as to contact the four Union soldiers that Archibald had shuttled through the mountain passes. Apparently he had kept in contact with at least one of them and that individual forwarded on the information to the other former prisoners of war. And the genealogical gold mine for me in the pension documents was the affidavit from a James C. Howell who claimed he was the brother of Archibald's first wife and gave a death date for Jane of November 1862. Another document told of Sarah's first husband, Reuben Silver and his untimely death from a lightening strike in 1858. Yet another listed the four minor children of Archibald and Sarah. Finally, after a lengthy struggle, Sarah did receive a pension for Archibald and it continued until her death in 9 April 1912. She is also buried at the McNeill cemetery with Archibald.

Children of Archibald McNeill and Jane Howell:

Robert Nelson b. 29 Oct 1858 (my ancestor)

Elizabeth b. ca 1861

Children of Archibald McNeill and Sarah Ann Sparks:

Laura b. 1865, believe she married a David Nelson Howell (grandson of Thomas Howell above)

Ella b. 5 Jul 1866, married Dock William Greene, d. 25 Aug 1956

Julia or Ilia b. ca 1867

Thomas b ca 1869, d. before 1880

Archibald R. b 1869, married Harriet Stewart, d. 1947

Johnson L. b May 1871, married Alice Turbyfil, d. 6 Sept 1960

Minnie Alice b. 6 Apr 1873, married Robert Vance Wilson, d. 8 Nov 1937

William Lincoln b. 13 Dec 1875, married Laura Alice Morgan, d. 20 Jul 1962

Lily b. 1877

Rosa Magdalene b. 30 Feb 1879, married Chester B. Morgan, d. 2 Dec 1957

George Decatur b. 29 Apr 1881, married Laura Buchanan, d. 7 Jan 1963


"U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Profiles" Database. 2009, entry for Archibald H McNeill, enlisted 8 Mar 1862, North Carolina citing "North Carolina. Division of Archives and History. North Carolina Troops 1861-1865 A Roster. 14 vols. Raleigh: University Graphics, 1993."

Civil War Pension application: Archibald H McNeill, National Archives and Records Administration

Bailey, Dr. Lloyd R., "Heritage of the Toe River Valley, Vol. 1" 1994

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