Paper misses boat on passing of UDC member

John jarrett baggett

South Carolina’s final “real daughter” of the Confederacy was laid to rest last week in Horse Branch Free Will Baptist Church in Turbeville, SC, a small Pee Dee community near where her father, a Confederate veteran, lived most of his life.

Beulah Marie Baggett Mims, 96, was believed to be the Palmetto State’s last living child of a Confederate veteran.

Her father, John Jarrett Baggett, shown above around 1912, served as a private in Co. I of the 23rd South Carolina Infantry. He died in 1919, three years after Beulah was born.

The nearby daily paper, the Florence Morning News, ran a cursory story about Beulah’s passing, but it failed do her justice, talking more about the United Daughters of the Confederacy, of which she was a member for just the last four years of her life.

At a minimum, the story completely failed to give an in-depth look at the nonagenarian’s life and the people she touched.

Just as crucially, it missed an opportunity to look at some of the deeper issues that shaped her times, issues that affected hundreds of thousands of Southerners in the decades following the war.

Her father, John J. Baggett, a native of Clarendon County, SC, was born in 1846 and served in the same company of the 23rd South Carolina with his two brothers, Neighbor W. Baggett (1835-1904) and Benjamin H. Baggett (1837-1909), according to the Confederate Rolls of South Carolina.

Neighbor Baggett was wounded at Petersburg in June 1864, was captured and held as a prisoner of war, according to his gravestone in Williamsburg County, SC.

Following the war, John Baggett married Emma J. Hodge and they had several children. John became a Baptist minister and even preached Emma’s funeral when she died in 1908.

Apparently, John wasn’t ready to give up on married life.

In the 1910 US census, he’s shown as already having taken a new wife, one Alice Rebecca “Allie” Locklair. She was 23 years old and 41 years his junior. They were living in Florence County, further east of Clarendon County, at the time.

Within a few years, John and Allie had three children: Luther, Calvin and Beulah. Beulah was born on Aug. 28, 1916.

However, John died on Dec. 10, 1919, at age 73, leaving the then 32-year-old Allie with three children under the age of 10.

As South Carolina moved into hard times in the early 1920 – a full decade before the rest of the world was hammered by the Great Depression – thanks in part to plummeting cotton prices that hit South Carolina hard, the strain of raising three children alone may have been too much for Allie.

The 1930 census shows Beulah, then 13, and her brother Luther, 18, living with widower Robert M. Mellette, 68, and Margaret I. “Maggie” Mellette, 34, his daughter, in Clarendon County.

Beulah is listed as Mellette’s “adopted daughter.”

Mellette may have known a thing or two about being orphaned: his father died in a Charleston hospital in September 1863 while serving in the 26th South Carolina Infantry regiment. Robert M. Mellette was barely a year old at the time.

Robert Mellette would live until 1937 and his daughter Maggie would survive until 1961.

Curiously, Allie Baggett remarried and had at several children with her second husband, George W. Harrell, who was 17 years older than she.

According to the 1930 census, George and Allie not only had four of George’s children living with them, but they had three children of their own.

In addition, Beulah’s brother Calvin, who was 16 at the time of the 1930 census, also lived with the family in Florence County.

Of course, there’s no way to determine from census records why Beulah and Luther were sent to live with another family in Clarendon County while Calvin stayed with his mother.

George Harrell died in 1931, leaving Allie a widow for the second time in 12 years. She would live on for another 27 years.

In the March 1, 1958, edition of the Florence Morning News, Allie’s obituary lists several survivors: Beulah; her two brothers, Luther and Calvin; Allie’s two surviving children by her second husband; and six step-children, one of whom was a state legislator.

Unfortunately, Beulah Marie Baggett Mims’ story wasn’t all that unusual in the years and decades following the War Between the States.

Hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned as a result of the bloody conflict, which claimed more than one-quarter of all Southern white males aged 18 to 45.

Children grew up without fathers and often ended up being shuttled off to relatives, with siblings sometimes split up, or even becoming wards or the state – if one could call what passed for social services at that time being a ward of the state.

Even more than half a century after the war, when Beulah Marie Baggett was born, one didn’t need to have a 70-year-old father to run a very real risk of ending up an orphan in the rural South.

Disease claimed what today would be an unimaginable number of individuals, young and old. Health care was non-existent in many parts of the region, and education often ended after just a few years, leaving residents with little except brawn and tenacity to scratch out a living.

The psychological toll of losing a parent or both parents, or living a hardscrabble life and of seeing loved ones fall victim to illness at a young age must have been overwhelming for many.

But none of that appeared in the Morning News’ story. Instead, readers got a lighthearted article about how Beulah Marie Baggett Mims’ life was little more than a link to the Civil War through her father.

There was nothing about the reality of growing up without a dad, apparently being given up for adoption by her mother, and likely having to scrape by as a teenage orphan during the Great Depression.

While Beulah’s story is one that was repeated countless times before and after the War Between the States, it is one that is relatively rare today.

That is no small blessing, and something to consider the next time someone scorns our social services safety net as nothing more than a free ride for the indolent.

That this woman managed to overcome those obstacles was certainly worthy of some kind of mention.

And it’s all information that could have been found through the web; that’s how I came up with the material for this post. Until yesterday afternoon, I’d never heard of Beulah Marie Baggett Mims or her father.

Beulah’s connection to the Civil War may have been interesting, but there was much more to her life than that simple side note.

(Above: John Jarrett Baggett, left, with his second wife, Allie Baggett, and son, Calvin. Photo Credit: Ancestry.com.)

The 1930 census shows Beulah Marie Baggett (line No. 90)  and her brother Luther living with Robert Mallette in Clarendon County.

The 1930 census shows Beulah Marie Baggett (line No. 90) and her brother Luther living with Robert Mallette in Clarendon County. Click to embiggen.

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6 thoughts on “Paper misses boat on passing of UDC member

  1. What a great ‘extra’ to her story and what an interesting life she had, well done. A pity the paper missed its chance to honour her memory properly.

    • Thank you. I’ve found that everyone has a story, you just have to dig sometimes to find it. It’s unfortunate that this paper missed the chance to turn an unusual event into a real history lesson.

  2. Great job, CBC. Your sense of history, compassion, and bird-dogging abilities have resulted in a much-deserved final recognition of Beulah Marie and her life. She represented a time – a generation – that was unique and, as such, her story needed to be told — perhaps for the first time. And tell it you did. Grandly!

    Not all writers, or investigative reporters, have an innate sense of compassion that brings their characters to life in a way that readers can identify with. You have that sense. You dig beneath the surface to where the ‘real’ story is. That is a gift that needs to be shared.

    Your comment about the social services safety net is most appropriate for our society today – particularly because of the human misery caused by greed, the stagnant economy, high unemployment, and severe cuts in social services programs designed to help our fellow citizens most in need.

    Those always affected first are ‘the little ones’ in our society, those we never seem to, nor want to, see as we pass by. Most recently, this group includes our veterans who are returning from the Middle East. Many are suffering from PTSD, amputations, and other serious physical disabilities. Many are unable to find employment or no longer have jobs to return to.

    Some people carp about welfare and other aid recipients who receive public monies to help them survive. Yes, there are some who abuse the system- until they are identified and prosecuted. But there are also those — children mostly — who ‘fall through the cracks’ and are never heard from again. Until they die. Or show up on prison rosters.

    The Internet is indeed a fabulous resource. There’s a lot of rubbish and mis-information that one needs to wade through. But with patience and experience a whole world opens up for us to explore and to learn from. What used to consume tedious hours and days in a search can now be accomplished sometimes in minutes. Very easy to become addicted to, however, so that requires self discipline.

    • Thank you for taking time to send your kind words, Alice. The more I details I uncovered about this woman’s life, the more I realized how hard it likely was, especially the early years.

      I certainly enjoy romanticizing the past, but I also know full well that it was not an easy life for the vast majority of people. People literally did starve to death when crops failed to come in, or when the father of the family died and left a wife with several young children to care for. Some were taken in by other family members or helped out by the church or community, but others had no one and nowhere to turn. I can’t imagine that feeling of hopelessness.

      I’ll be the first to admit that our social services system has myriad problems, but I will also say that it’s far better that some slackers cheat the system here and there than people die of hunger or go with untreated medical conditions because of unnecessary hyper vigilance.

      Fortunately for those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ve come a long way in terms of treating PTSD compared to World War I and World War II. When one reads stories in old newspapers in the decades after the War Between the States about murders and suicides by veterans, one has to imagine that PTSD was indeed often a factor, even if no one knew it then.

    • The story I linked to mentioned that there were 15 living “Real Daughters” remaining, though there are probably some out there who haven’t come forward. There are a handful of “Real Sons,” as well, I believe.

      Of course, the last widow died just a few years ago, within the past half decade I believe.

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