I've been thinking a lot about Independence Day and what it means to me. As some of you know, I love genealogy. I have made it my passion over the past several years to investigate my roots. So, when thinking about Independence Day, I cannot help but think of my ancestors and what they sacrificed in order for me to sit here on this early July 4th morning and write what I feel and expect others to read it without fear of persecution from my government.
I think of my 8th Great Grandfather, William (Willie) Stephens II, born 1711 in York Co, VA and died 1781 in the harbor at Beaufort, NC on a British Prison Ship. History teaches us that conditions on board the British Prison Ships were atrocious, with most prisoners dying of disease or starvation. The few who survived the ordeal told stories of atrocities too offensive to be repeated.
My 5th Great Grandfather, John Thurman, born 3 Dec, 1757 in Prince Edward Co., VA and died 6 Oct, 1827 in Sevier Co., TN. While residing in Albemarle Co., VA, John Thurman volunteered sometime between the years 1776 and 1779, served at various times amounting to three years in all, as a Private in the Virginia Troops under Captains John Miller, John Key, Sergeants Christopher Clark, Epperson, Brown and Benjamin Harris and Colonel Lindsey, was in several engagements, one of which was near Charlottesville, VA, and was at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, after which he was discharged in October, 1781.
I reflect upon my 4th Great Grandfather, Sanford C. Allen, born 1794 in Fairfax Co., VA and died Dec 1865 in Sevier Co., TN after losing 4 of his 5 sons in the War Between the States and after having fought himself in the War of 1812.
There was my 3rd Great Grandfather, William Allen, born 1822 in Sevier Co., TN and died 28 Feb, 1863 on the battlefield near Nashville, Davidson Co., TN of yellow fever while serving in K Co., 2nd TN Calvary, 14th U.S. Corp., Dept. of the Cumberland. He left behind a widow and 4 children between the ages of 2 and 15 years. His oldest child, my 2nd Great Grandfather, Gideon A. Allen, left Sevier Co., TN about 1887 and headed west with his family to search for his father's grave. To my knowledge, it was never found. William and 3 of his brothers died in service to their country, 2 of which are buried at Stones River National Cemetery in Rutherford Co., TN
Another 4th Great Grandfather, William Nathaniel Atkinson, born 1769 in North Carolina and died 2 Apr, 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh in Hardin Co., TN. He was carried to his home in neighboring Wayne Co., TN, where neighbors had gathered to construct a coffin for him. His son-in-law and grandson had begun the trek back home for his funeral and were captured by Confederate troops. After learning of their plight, the Confederates released the men, but refused to give them horses to make the trip. The two men walked the 10+ miles back to their home place where William Atkinson was buried on the following day.
William's son, John M. Atkinson (my 3rd Great Grandfather), born about 1814 in Wayne Co., TN, also served with the 6th TN Calvary, Co., K during the Civil War. John's son, David James Atkinson, my 2nd Great Grandfather, born 9 May, 1845 in Wayne Co., TN and died 17 Aug, 1928 in Hardeman Co., TN, also served with Hurst's Nation in the 6th TN Calvary. Hurst's Nation was a group of Union sympathizers located within Wayne Co., TN.
A cousin, John William Howell, born 27 Dec, 1949 in Hardeman Co., TN and died 15 Feb, 1971 in Quang Tri Region, Republic of Vietnam, South Vietnam. Johnny was killed in battle by small weapons fire. He served with E Company, 187th Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, Light Weapons Infantry Division, U. S. Army. He was a Sergeant and was engaged to Debbie. I will never forget the sadness that befell our entire county when news of Johnny's death reached his home. Debbie died in a motorcycle accident less than 2 years after Johnny's death. Most people said she simply could not stand to live without Johnny. This is a link to Johnny's Virtual Wall page:
My Daddy, Van P. McDonald, born 4 Nov, 1932 in Hardeman Co., TN, was drafted into the Army after being turned down as a volunteer for the Air Force. He was due to ship out to Korea on the day the peace agreement was signed. His orders were changed and he spent 18 months in Germany instead. He was a Corporal and was offered a promotion to Sergeant upon re-enlistment. He declined the offer. He was a squad leader for a sharp shooter squad in Co. K of the 12th Regiment and received numerous citations for his abilities as a marksman. He was notified of possible re-activation to Vietnam as an Army Reserve sniper, but thankfully that never materialized.
My nephew-in-love, Brian K. Eppers, served with the U. S. Army Reserve as a Medic and was deployed to Iraq for 12 months between Dec, 2004 and Dec, 2005. He continues to serve with the Dept. of Homeland Security in a WMD Response Unit.
These are but a few of the men and women in my ancestry who have fought, and many died, for the independence I celebrate today. And, my ancestors are but a few of the many hundreds of thousands who have served and died from every corner of our nation in order that we might enjoy liberty. What an awesome responsibility we have to honor those men and women and continue the fight to keep our nation free!