Thursday, October 12, 2006

Brothers Philip and Wilson Gillespie--Casualties of the Civil War

In last week’s column we were introduced to the Gillespie gunmakers of East Fork, NC. Two sons of Mathew and Elizabeth Sitton Gillespie, John R. and James A., moved to Union County, Georgia about 1849 and set up gun making establishments.

Two of their brothers, Philip and Wilson, and their brother-in-law, George Washington Underwood, were casualties of the Civil War.

Mathew and Elizabeth Gillespie had a large family of twelve children. Two of their sons, Philip and Wilson, and two of their sons-in-law, Robert O. Blythe, husband of their daughter, Jane, and George Washington Underwood, husband of their youngest child, daughter Isabel, left Mills River, NC together on their way to Tennessee to join the Union Army. It is reported that they walked from Mills River to Asheville where they caught a train to Tennessee. After arriving in Tennessee, they worked for several days in the fall harvest of wheat and corn, and then enlisted on September 25, 1863 at Greenville.

Prior to joining the Union Army, Philip Gillespie (2/11/1815 – 1/15/1864) was a noted gunmaker, having learned in his father’s shop. At Mills River, Philip plied his trade, with his brothers John, James and Wilson, and his brothers-in-law Robert O. Blythe, George W. Underwood, and John Harvey Gillespie, his first cousin but also his brother-in-law, married to his sister Sarah, worked at the shop owned and managed by Philip. In addition to turning out many guns with the initials “P. G.” to identify them, Philip owned a large farm he had bought from his grandfather, Philip Sitton, Sr. (for whom he was named). He ran a legal whiskey distillery. He also operated the Sitton Iron Forge.

Up in Tennessee, the two brothers and two brothers-in-law were assigned on October 1, 1863 to Company F, 2nd Regiment, North Carolina Mounted Infantry, Army of the United States, at Knoxville.

How much action Philip Gillespie engaged in is unclear. He became quite ill and was taken from camp into the home of Richard Wade near Maynardsville, Tennessee. He died of chronic diarrhea on January 15, 1864, and was buried there the next day.

Philip Gillespie never married. Reportedly, before he left Mills River to enlist in the war, he hid a bag of gold coins and a cask of brandy somewhere on Forge Mountain near his home. But the treasures were never found. Several fine Gillespie rifles with his initials were his legacy left to posterity. He was perhaps the most productive and best known of the third generation Gillespie gunmakers.

Wilson Gillespie (02/15/1825 – 01/15/1825) was the eleventh child of Mathew and Elizabeth Sitton Gillespie. Wilson was first married to Rachel N. Taylor. She died shortly after the birth of their son, William Harvey Gillespie (1851-1920). Wilson married, second, Malinda B. Underwood., a sister to George Washington Underwood who married Wilson’s sister, Isabel. Wilson and Malinda had five children: Rachel, Mary Elizabeth, Martha E., Margaret J., and Thomas W. Martha died the day she was born (March 1, 1858) and Thomas died at age fourteen months in 1864. When Wilson left home to join the U. S. Army, Malinda had the responsibility of rearing their children, Rachel, Mary Elizabeth and Margaret. William Harvey Gillespie, her stepson, was living with his maternal grandfather, Jeremiah Taylor.

It is interesting that Wilson Gillespie and his brother, Philip, died the same day, January 15, 1864. Wilson became sick on November 24, 1863, shortly after his enlistment, and was taken to the army hospital at Tazewell, TN. The cause of his death was listed as typhoid fever. He was buried in Tazewell. It is reported that Wilson Gillespie had received no pay during his months in the army.

Malinda Gillespie, widow, made application for a pension, applying first on September 11, 1865, with the last appeal dated March 30, 1869. She was finally granted a small pension. She lived until May 21, 1921 and was buried far from her fallen husband in the Shaws Creek Campground Cemetery near Horse Shoe, NC.

George Washington Underwood, husband of Isabel Gillespie, died April 8, 1864. Details and place of his death are unknown to this writer. The only one alive of the four men who went with high hopes to defend the Union was Robert O. Blythe, husband of Jane Gillespie. However, since his death occurred on January 21, 1866, he may have returned home with an injury or illness from the war. He was 54 when he died and was buried at Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery in Henderson County, NC.

In Union County, Georgia, John R. and James A. Gillespie would have heard with great sadness about the deaths of their brothers Philip and Wilson and their brothers-in- law. George W. Underwood and Robert O. Blythe.

[Note: My thanks to Dennis Glazener and his book, “The Gillespie Gun Makers of East Fork, NC” (2004) for information for this article. He granted permission for the use of pictures to accompany this article. On the very day this article will appear in “The Sentinel,” he is in Union County, GA from Midlothian, VA. Local resident, Billy Harkins, also a Gillespie descendant, is showing Dennis Glazener where John and James Gillespie had their gunshop in Union County.]

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Oct. 12, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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