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.)