The Civil War


Captain John Wood Mebane, CSA, KIA

The nation was ripped apart, and few families were unaffected. This war devastated the Mebanes, with one son killed and another's health ruined. Ultimately, the family lost their land and home in Tennessee.

John Howe's sons from his first marriage both enlisted in the service of the Confederacy.

John Wood Mebane, the younger son, was a graduate of the University of North Carolina in 1860*, but was soon swept up in the turmoil of the times.

He commanded an artillery battery which saw extensive action in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

At the Battle of Murfreesboro, Captain E.E. Wright was killed and Lieutenant John W. Mebane sustained a wound that resulted in losing the middle finger of his left hand. Mebane was elevated to Captain, and was elected to be the officer in charge. His unit was engaged in Corinth, Tupelo, briefly sent down through Mobile and Jackson in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue Vicksburg, and then back to Chattanooga.

At Chickamauga, Mebane did not see much action because of their position, and only spent 75 rounds. Up on Missionary Ridge, however, the battery expended 543 rounds and nearly emptied their limber chests. With Bates' division, Mebane was able to save the four 12 lb howitzers in an orderly withdrawal from the ridge.

They were subsequently engaged at the Battle of New Hope Church and sent on to defend Atlanta.

Captain Mebane was ultimately killed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, GA, reportedly from a cannon shot to the head.

It is remarkable that JWM's body was carried all the way back here for burial. Embalming with chemicals was a new technique, and was rarely performed in the south during the war. When we bought this place, Mrs. Perkins told us JWM was brought back packed in salt and accompanied by his brother's servant. I am not aware of any history to either corroborate or refute this.


*To view the Mebane family copy of the handout from the University of North Carolina's Order of Commencement, 1860, click on this link. Note the latin spelling of the graduates' first names.

Pictured above is an artillery officer's sword made by Thomas Griswold in New Orleans. John Wood Mebane likely carried a similar one.



Missionary Ridge, overlooking Chattanooga.


























The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Louis Prang & Co., 1887.

This print is in our breakfast room.

















Grave marker in our back yard.




Captain John Wood Mebane.

J. Harvey Mathes, who wrote the account of J. W. Mebane's death as a war correspondent for the Memphis Appeal (shown to the right of this portrait) edited a book, The Old Guard in Gray. It was published in 1897, and consists of many sketches of Memphis veterans of the Civil war. Mathes interviewed these people and chronicled their experiences.

On pages 53-55, J.J. Brown told the history of the battery that Mebane came to command. Among descriptions of the various battles they were engaged in was "... Kenesaw (sic) Ridge, where Captain Mebane was killed, having the top of his head blown off by an eight-inch Parrott shell while engaged in an artillery duel with the enemy."




John Wood Mebane













Receipt for Captain Mebane's pants and vest. These were presumably for his funeral.











Above: 12-pounder field howitzer at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the type of gun used by Mebane's Battery. To the right is an original cannonball for the 4.62 inch cannon barrel. This one has the original Confederate copper fuse plug at the top, designed to hold the paper time fuse in the center. These fuses burned down in flight and ignited an explosion to break apart the cannonball. This is the version that has the "sideloader” plug where the iron case shot balls would have been loaded into the ball. The plug has two holes for inserting it with a spanner wrench. The shell has been disarmed for safety.

After Captain Mebane was killed, he was succeeded by Captain J.W. Phillips. Documentation of this battery in Tennesseans in the Civil War is here.




Captain William Graves Mebane, CSA

The oldest son of John Howe and Anna, William Graves Mebane was an infantry captain who served in several battles across Tennessee and into Georgia.

A graduate of the University of North Carolina in 1859*, he was planning on settling down as a member of the landed gentry of the Old South, but the war changed everything.

William G. Mebane enrolled as a captain in the 13th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, Co. "B". They were known as The Macon Grays, consisting of men from Fayette County**.

Having already been in multiple major battles including Shiloh, Chickamauga, he was eventually captured in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864, eight days after his brother was killed in the same area. From there, WGM was sent to the notorious Johnson's Island POW camp in Sandusky Bay, OH.

Conditions at Johnson's Island were terrible. I can only imagine living in a small tent on an island in Lake Erie during the winter. Our soldier contracted tuberculosis there, and was ill the rest of his life.

Of course, it helps to have friends at times like this. And Captain Mebane just happened to know a local person who could pull strings at the prison. As always, money was the necessary lubricant to keep this particular engine running. The friend from Ohio brought gold coins to the captain on a regular basis. Let's just say they facilitated things. One would never imply that this was bribery for favors.

Which brings my mind to a scene from "Gone With The Wind." Rhett had been locked up by the Yankees for running the blockade, but life was never better for him. He supplied liquor and cigars to the jailers, and of course he always lost to them while playing poker.

It seems that story was rooted in fact.

Captain Mebane still had some gold in his pocket when he walked out a free man after signing the Oath of Allegiance. His son had a ring made from one of them, and Dr. Yancey Mebane wears it to this day. Six other coins survive. I got to hold them and scanned them in as shown. Please note that family members have these safely stashed away. They also know how to shoot. Just in case someone is wondering, it isn't worth "going for the gold."

I also scanned in the original parole papers signed by the captain and the prison commandant.


*To view the Mebane family copy of the handout from the University of North Carolina's Order of Commencement, 1859, click on this link. Note the latin spelling of most of the graduates' first names, including Mr. Mebane.

**Here is a link to the 13th Tennessee Infantry Regiment in Tennesseans in the Civil War.


Below: The P.O.W. release document and signed Oath of Allegiance


Below at upper right: Bullet entry holes.

While recuperating at home, the Yankees reputedly burst into William's bedroom during one of their raids and he shot at them. He was arrested and headed back on a mule for prosecution in Memphis, but was apparently released by the soldiers before reaching the city. Whether this story is actually true cannot be known, but there are two small-caliber bullet holes in the door, as shown in the old photo shown below. The exit holes are much larger, and indicate the shots were fired from inside the room.

He recovered sufficiently to head back to North Carolina to marry his sweetheart and cousin, Emma Caroline Mebane. They had four children, three of whom reached adulthood. Most of the descendants are now in North Carolina.

William Graves Mebane died December 2, 1882.

Above from the Memphis Appeal. The testamonial on the lower right is difficult for a person with modern sensibilities to read. The former slave expressed forgiveness and love for Mars (master) Will. He was also correct in his prophesy, because before long there was "a big breaking up."



Pictured here is a field staff officer's sword made by Leech and Rigdon. Their manufactory was originally known as Memphis Novelty Works. On September 18, 1861, this ad appeared in the Memphis Appeal:

"Memphis Novelty Works, Thomas Leech & Co., Corner Main and McCall Sts., Memphis, Tenn. Established primarily for the Manufacture of Army cutlery and brass castings of all kinds. We are now prepared to receive and fill orders for the following, viz; Infantry swords, cavalry swords and sabres, artillery cutlasses and knives. Bowie knives of every description, bayonets for shotguns and rifles. Stirrups and spurs of the latest and most approved patterns. Bullet moulds of all kinds. Special attention paid to the repairs of printing presses. Light machinery and machine blacksmithing generally. We have engaged the services of competent workmen and will warrant our work to give complete satisfaction. All orders will meet with prompt attention. We will pay a high price for all the old copper and brass you can send in."

After the fall of Memphis in May 1862, their operation moved to Columbus, MS. They continued making swords and knives, but also contracted with the Confederacy to make 1,500 Colt-pattern revolvers. When the Columbus armament was in danger, they moved on to Greensboro, GA, and continued making revolvers. On January 1, 1864, the partnership dissolved. Leech remained at Greensboro, but Rigdon moved with new partners to Macon, Ga to complete the contract.

Wm. Graves Mebane carried either a sword of this type or a similar but less ornate foot officer's sword. We purchased this one at auction in June 2014.



Top row: William's wife Emma Caroline Mebane with her parents Giles and Mary Catherine Mebane.

Bottom: Her grandparents, James Mebane and Bartlett and Nancy Yancey.

Giles was a three-term member of the NC House of Commons (later Representatives), and probably the most instrumental person in establishing a major terminal and maintenance facility for the North Carolina Railroad in Orange Co.

James (1774-1857) was a son of Alexander Jr. and Mary Armstrong, and a brother of John Howe Mebane's father William. He was a prominent figure in North Carolina history, having served in its House of Commons for eight terms. During the 1820-21 term, he was its speaker. James also served two terms in the NC Senate.

James was also the father of Lemuel H. Mebane, who is buried here. Lemuel was the great great grandfather of Bill McKelvy, pictured below.

Bartlett and Nancy Yancey were also the parents of Algernon Sidney Yancey, the first husband of Henrietta. After Algernon's death, Henrietta married John Howe Mebane! What is even more startling, this record suggests she and John married the day after her sister Ann, John's first wife, died!!

After visiting the descendants in NC, I had to get this information onto the website quickly before my brain turned to mush.

Bartlett Yancey (1785-1828) was a lawyer, congressman, and longtime state senator.



Top: Mary (May) Mebane Parker, 1872-? and her brother William Giles Mebane, 1870-1935. They were both born here to Wm. Graves and Emma Caroline Mebane.

Bottom: May, again with her daughter Caroline, and a picture showing four generations. Front row includes (L) Mary Catherine Yancey Mebane and (R) Emma Caroline Mebane. At rear are May and her son Tony, who died in infancy.

Information on Wm. Giles from his son Yancey's genealogy site:

"Giles had an adventurous boyhood becoming an accomplished horseman and hunter. Unfortunately a boyhood accident cost him his right eye. This occurred when he and a boyhood friend were playing with a knife and the knife struck him in the eye. His mother took him by train to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for treatment although his eye could not be saved. He wore a glass eye most of his life. Because of that handicap he never learned to drive a car.

William Giles Mebane, his mother, and two sisters moved to Mebane NC after the death of their father Major William Graves Mebane. They had lost the Mebane plantation to unscrupulous lawyers and relatives leaving them without resources. In Mebane they lived with Giles Mebane. William Giles attended the Bingham School and was a member of the Beta Tau Omega fraternity. He did not attend UNC because of financial problems but continued to educate himself after finishing Bingham School. He worked for RJ Reynolds for a time. He was one of the founders of the Greensboro Business Men's Club.

He was a member of the Order of Cincinatti."

In 1925, Giles married Ruth Amelia Robinson in Raleigh, N.C. She was the daughter of John Allen Robinson and Emma Kness.

Giles and Ruth had one child. Giles Yancey Mebane was born 10 January 1928 in Beaufort, NC, where his father was the owner and editor of the newspaper. After Giles died, Ruth and her 7 year-old son Yancey moved back to Raleigh. She worked for the state archives department.










Dr. Yancey Mebane visits his grandfather's grave. The laurel cluster was popular in post-Federalist American culture, as were all things Roman and Greek. It stands for the triumph of eternal life over death.














Several other members of the Mebane family also relocated from NC to TN. John Howe Mebane's sister Eliza is buried here.

From Tennessee Tales:

"The carriage was still in use when my mother lived there as a child. It was used to take the family to church on Sunday. It made my mother sick to ride in the closed carriage so her great aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Green Jordan came by on Sundays and she rode with them in their open carriage. Mrs. Jordan was born Ann Eliza Mebane and was John Howe Mebane's sister.

She must have been quite a redoubtable lady. All their horses had been stolen except her riding horse. Word came to them that soldiers were nearly there. There wasn't time to hide the horse so she grasped the nettle and told the negro man to put a bridle and her side saddle on the horse and bring her up to the mounting block at the house. While that was being done she donned her riding skirt. The horse was brought up and she mounted. The soldiers appeared and there mounted on the horse was this very erect lady. She was probably in her late fifties or early sixties. She was ordered down. She didn't budge. Again she was ordered to dismount and told they were taking the horse for the Union Army. She stayed put. The third time she told the men, "If you get this horse, you are going to have to kill me first and drag me off." The party roamed over the place and came back and the same scene was repeated. They went off again and again she looked them down. None of them had the nerve to reach up and drag her off the horse. Finally, the men went off to hunt for easier prey.

My mother remembered her aunt. The children called her "Auntie Jordan." Mama said when Auntie sat in a chair or on a sofa her back never touched the back of the chair."

1860 Fayette County census showed Eliza to be the owner of the Jordan property and she had a sizeable personal estate.


John Howe and Eliza's brother William Grandison Mebane moved his family here. He had his own 1068 acre plantation. He and John Howe Mebane jointly owned an additional 812 acres. He is buried here. The marker is shown in the photo above.



Lemuel H. Mebane was JHM's cousin. John's father William and Lemuel's father James were sons of Alexander Mebane Jr. and Mary Armstrong.

Lemuel's first wife was Caroline Louise Yancey, born 19 October 1825. According to research done by Yancey Mebane, she "...died 24 March 1842. She is buried at the cemetery on Highway 158 out of Yanceyville- the Aunt Bess Womach's place. He then married Mildred Sallard of Person County June 18, 1848."

Lemuel died during a severe outbreak of yellow fever in Memphis. That same year, his teenage daughter and two younger children also died. His widow Mildred later remarried but asked to be buried here with her first husband.

Lemuel and Mildred had three other daughters who survived. They became wards of John Howe Mebane. John had them placed in a Memphis convent and apparently used their remaining money to help finance the plantation. Of course, that mostly went into slaves who were gone after the war.

When Wm. Graves Mebane died in 1882, Lemuel's three daughters sued for their inheritance. As a result, Emma lost the property and had to move back to her parents' home in Caswell Co, NC.

Photo: Bill McKelvy with his great-grandparents and one of their children who are buried here.


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