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Joseph Riley Curtis (1826-1862)

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Joseph Riley Curtis
JosephRileyCurtis18261862
Sex: Male
Birth: ?? ??, 1826
in Hancock? County, Georgia?
Death: May 31, 1862
near Seven Pines, Henrico County, Virginia
Burial: unknown
Father: Joseph W. Curtis
Mother: possibly Mary Kenon
Spouse/Partner: Louisa Mardis
Marriage: February 2, 1856
in Shelby County, Alabama
2nd Spouse: Anna Eleanor Cunningham
2nd Marriage: February 8, 1858
in Montgomery County, Alabama

         Joseph Riley Curtis was the son of Joseph W. Curtis, an English immigrant. His mother is probably Mary Kenon Carew of Hancock Co., Georgia, but I cannot prove it. Circumstantial evidence supports this theory, but coincidence cannot be ruled out. Different census records give his birth place as either Georgia or Alabama. A Joseph W. Curtis married Mrs. Mary Carew (Mary Kenon, widow of Richard Carew) in 1824 in Hancock Co., Georgia, but disappeared after 1829, leaving Mary with only his name. The Hancock Co., Georgia, 1830 census shows her with one less slave than she had in 1820 (both were the appropriate ages and genders to match two of those listed in 1820), while the 1830 census in Shelby Co., Alabama, shows Joseph W. with a slave matching the age and gender of Mary's missing one (along with a young white male (Joseph R.) and a female younger than Mary (presumed to be Harriett, Joseph's Alabama wife)). There is just enough evidence to make the likely connection, but not enough for anything close to definitive proof.

         Oral tradition held that Joseph R. was the mayor of Selma and served as a captain in the Civil War before dying in the Battle of Seven Pines. The actual evidence serves to show how an ancestor's achievements can be aggrandized after his demise.

         By 1831, Joseph R. was living in Montgomery, Alabama, with his family, where his father likely served as a master of a packet boat. By the 1840s, the family had relocated to Wetumpka, Alabama. In 1850, Joseph R. and his sister Adelaide were living in Shelby Co. once again. It was here that Joseph met his first wife, Louisa Mardis, daughter of Margarett Mardis, for whom Joseph worked as an overseer. Within a couple of years, Joseph R. sold some Autauga Co. land and moved to Selma, where in 1854, he was elected marshal (not mayor as tradition held) for one year. He would remain in this post until losing reelection in 1858. In 1856, he returned to Shelby Co. to marry Louisa, probably having earned enough respectability to be acceptable to her family. Unfortunately, she died (probably in childbirth) the next year as was reported in a Wetumpka paper.

         In 1857 or 1858, Joseph R. encountered Annie Cunningham, a pretty Irish immigrant orphan working in the millinery trade, on a trip upriver to Montgomery. Joseph, a Methodist, married Annie in the Catholic church in Montgomery and moved back to Selma. He lost reelection for marshal that year, but was elected constable. That year would see the birth of their first child, Kathrine Giovanni Curtis, ancestor of my Birmingham Simmons relatives. The year 1860 would not be good, though.

         In 1860, Joseph became embroiled in something known only vaguely as the "Goldsby Affair". It either was or caused a confrontation in a Selma gathering place (a "saloon" I guess) between Mr. Goldsby, of Radfordsville (I think) and Joseph R. Curtis. Joseph drew his gun on Goldsby. Goldsby then stood up, but a bit too quickly as Joseph let off a shot (probably by accident). While only passing through Goldsby's hand, it hit one Dr. Richardson, who was trying to intervene in the dispute, in the head. He died the next day. It is probably not surprising that the census a few months later finds Joseph and his family (his wife having given birth to another girl that year) in Cahaba instead of Selma. My great-great grandmother was born there in Cahaba the next year, but 1862 would close the curtain on Joseph's drama.

         In 1862, the Civil War was cranking up. Joseph signed up to join the local infantry company, known as the "Cahaba Rifles", who were reorganizing in March. He joined as a private (not captain as in the traditional account). Two and a half months later, he was killed in the Battle of Seven Pines (Union forces called it the Battle of Fair Oaks). His regimental commander, Col. Christopher C. Pegues, described the experience:

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ALABAMA REGIMENT,
Near Richmond, Va., June 5, 1862.


In obedience to an order received I herewith submit a report of the action of the Fifth Alabama Regiment, together with a list of the casualties [not included], during the Battle of the Seven Pines, on May 31 and June 1:


Saturday, about 11 a. m., the regiment moved down the Charles City road about 1 1/2 miles, and, filing to the left, approached the enemy's works on the right side of the Williamsburg road. After passing through a dense swamp covered with water the regiment emerged from the woods in front of the enemy's camp, which was fortified with a redoubt and a long line of breastworks and rifle pits, and advanced toward it over an abatis formed by thickly-felled timber, which in some places was almost impassable. While in the abatis an order was received to move by the right flank and approach the redoubt more in the rear. I immediately moved the right wing in the direction ordered, leaving instructions with Lieut. Col. J. M. Hall to follow with the left wing.


In consequence of a wound received in the hand Lieutenant-Colonel Hall left the field before executing this order; hence the left wing remained in the abatis in front of the redoubt, being at the same time under command of Maj. E. L. Hobson, where it suffered severely from the enemy's batteries and long-range guns. The right wing formed line on the left of the Fourth Virginia Battalion, and the entire line was ordered by General Rodes in person to charge the redoubt. While making this charge the left wing emerged from the abatis, took its proper place in line, and the whole regiment charged over the ditch and embankment into the redoubt, where we captured a stand of colors and six pieces of artillery. The artillery was immediately turned on the enemy, and under the management of Captain Bagby, of the Fourth Virginia Battalion, did severe execution upon the retreating enemy. This position was held by my regiment until the command was given by General Rodes to advance. The regiment moved through the enemy's camp into the open field beyond under a heavy fire of artillery and small arms from the enemy, who was concealed in the felled timber in rear of his camp.


Here we remained one and a half hours under a galling fire and unable to return it ourselves on account of the Virginia battalion being in front. It was here my regiment suffered most severely, losing more than 100 men killed and wounded at this particular spot. I was finally ordered to lead my regiment under cover of a wood-pile about 60 paces to the rear, where it remained until the fighting for the day ceased.


On the following day (Sunday, June 1) the regiment, with the rest of the brigade, was ordered to the support of General Mahone's command, then engaged with the enemy. In this position the enemy's artillery and musketry played upon us, but being under cover of the woods, we sustained no loss.


During the progress of the battle many instances of individual heroism and bravery occurred under my own observation, but where all behaved so well it would be invidious to discriminate. I cannot, however, forbear to mention the coolness and bravery with which Major Hobson acted throughout the entire engagement. His horse was killed while in the abatis in front of the redoubt, but he continued on foot and discharged his duties coolly, bravely, and to my entire satisfaction. My acting adjutant, Lieut. R. Inge Smith, displayed great courage and rendered me efficient service in carrying orders and assissting me with his presence and counsel throughout the action. All the captains and other officers under my command merit the highest praise. By their example they encouraged the men to the discharge of their duties. I take pleasure in stating that I discovered hardly a single instance of trepidation. Officers and men behaved bravely and were guilty of no conduct unbecoming worthy soldiers.


The list of casualties hereto appended shows a loss of 229 killed and wounded and only 2 missing and unaccounted for, which is sufficient evidence of that bravery and gallantry with which this regiment acted.


Respectfully,
C. C. PEGUES,
Colonel, Commanding Fifth Alabama Regiment.
Maj. H. A. Whiting, Assistant Adjutant-General.


         Thus ended the life of Joseph R. Curtis. He rose from little to a place of significance before falling hard and paying the ultimate sacrifice. His burial place is unknown, though he may be an unknown in the Richmond or Seven Pines National Cemeteries near the battle site.


ChildrenEdit

Name Birth Death
Children of Joseph Riley Curtis and Louisa Mardis
Children of Joseph Riley Curtis and Anna Eleanor Cunningham


Kathrine Giovanni Curtis November 25, 1858
Selma, Dallas County, Alabama
February 6, 1927
unknown


Alabama Curtis May ??, 1860
Selma or Cahaba, Dallas County, Alabama
unknown
unknown


Anna Louise Curtis March 5, 1861
Cahaba, Dallas County, Alabama
February 9, 1942
Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama


Joe Curtis c. 1862
Cahaba, Dallas County, Alabama
unknown
unknown

ReferencesEdit

  • 1830 US Census - Shelby County, Alabama
  • 1850 US Census - Shelby County, Alabama
  • 1860 US Census - Dallas County, Alabama
  • Anderson, Charles Clifford, Jr. Memories and oral traditions as told to him by his mother.
  • Birmingham News, 1942. Obituary of Anna Louise Powell
  • Fry, Anna M. Gayle. Memories of old Cahaba. Nashville, Tenn., Dallas, Tex., Printed for the author, Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South, Nashville, TN and Dallas, TX, 1908.
  • Hardy, John. Selma, Her Institutions and Her Men. Times Book and Job Office, Selma, Alabama, 1879. Facsimile reprint by Bert Neville and Clarence DeBray, Selma, Alabama, 1957. Pp. 70-73, 168
  • Hoole, William Stanley. Historical Sketch of the Fifth Alabama Infantry Regiment, C.S.A.. Confederate Publishing Company, University (Tuscaloosa), Alabama, 1985. P. 23.
  • Hubbs, G. Ward. Guarding Greensboro: a Confederate company in the making of a Southern community. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, 2003. Pp. 189-194.
  • Jackson, Walter M. The Story of Selma. Decatur, Alabama, 1954. Pp. 86, 518
  • Kelsey, Michael, Nancy Graff Floyd and Ginny Guinn Parsons, compilers. Miscellaneous Alabama Newspaper Abstracts, Vol. 1. Heritage Books, Inc., c. 1996. Pp. 191, 199.
  • Parsons, Margaret Hager. "Descendants of John Curtis".

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