© Kathy Duncan, 2011
The quilt blogs that I follow reminded me in the most charming way possible (lots of beautiful pink and brown quilts) that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. They set me to thinking about my own Civil War generation of ancestors, those who came of age during the war. In that group, I have eight couples. Of them, three of my great-great grandmothers became Civil War widows. However, not one of my great-great grandfathers was killed in the war. All three of them are second husbands.
Of these three widows, my great-great grandmother Duncan was the most elusive for the longest period of time. However, when her identity was finally revealed, hers was the most compelling story.
For nearly two decades, my great-great grandmother was only known to me as Susan P. Hodges, a widow woman with a son, Sam Hodges, who had married my great-great grandfather Isaac Duncan and proceeded to have a houseful of little Duncans with him. No one could remember her maiden name or where she came from. The census only revealed that she was born in Tennessee.
On the day I unraveled her identity, the big pieces fell into place in under twenty minutes. I had ordered a microfilmed copy of tombstone transcriptions for the Coop Prairie Cemetery in Scott County, Arkansas, which is located on the outskirts of Mansfield, Arkansas in Sebastian County, Arkansas. My goal was to locate all of the Duncan burials there. As luck would have it, that particular transcription was arranged by plots and not in alphabetical order. Smack in the middle of the Duncans, near Susan and Isaac Duncan’s graves, was an elderly couple named Reese. I almost passed over them, but duly noted them since they were old enough to be Susan’s parents. Now at an impasse, I paused to go back through my Duncan file in hopes that there was something there I’d overlooked. I read back over an entry from the 1903 Atlas of Sebastian County, Arkansas which described Isaac Duncan’s wife as “Mrs. Susan P. Hodges, born in Tennessee, and raised in Washington County, Arkansas.”
Raised in Washington County, Arkansas! Why hadn’t that ever registered before? Within a few minutes I had located a book of Washington Co., Arkansas marriages and found an entry for Anson Hodges who had married Susan Reese . Reese! I pounced on my cemetery notes. What was the Reece couple’s names and dates? W.W. Reece, 1816 - May 24, 1896 and Frances J. Reece, 1816 - Feb 10, 1896. Armed with their names I pulled out the 1850 census index for Arkansas and located William W. Reese in the index. Within a few minutes I was spinning microfilm. There in William Reese’s household, page 359, was a nine year old girl named Susan with three younger siblings: John, Eliza, and Margaret My next stop was Goodspeed’s biographies, where I located a biography for Susan’s brother John Reese. John’s biography revealed that “William W. Reese and Frances J. (Halbert) Reese, were born on Duck River, Maury County, Middle Tenn., and Madison County, Ala, respectively, and were married and made their home in the former State until 1839, at which time they immigrated to Arkansas, locating on a tract of land in Cove Creek Township, Washington County…”
Susan’s identity and family were finally revealed. Her personal story, however, was uncovered in other documents obtained later: her remarried widow’s pension; a Southern Commission Claim filed on behalf of Sam Hodges by John Reese; an oral interview conducted by Alfred Duncan with his father Warren Duncan, a grandson of Susan‘s; and finally, a family story passed to me through a cousin.
Here, then, is Susan P. Reese’s story:
Susan P. Reese was born June 13, 1839, presumably in Lincoln County, Tennessee, prior to her parents move to Cove Creek in Washington County, Arkansas. No documentation for her middle name has been located yet, but my best guess is that she was named after her maternal grandmother: Susan Poindexter, wife of Martin Halbert. Susan married Anson L. Hodges on January 7, 1861 in Washington County. Their wedding was conducted by Samuel Cox, a Methodist minister. They both stated they were 21 years old.
In January 1861, a few states had already seceded from the union. The first shots were fired in April at Ft. Sumner, SC, and the Civil War was officially underway. Arkansas seceded on May 6, 1861. The Reese and Hodges families, however, were Union sympathizers. Many union sympathizers fled to Missouri in 1861, but the Reeses and Hodges remained on Cove Creek.
Susan gave birth to Samuel A. Hodges on February 22, 1862, slightly more than nine months after Arkansas entered the war. Mary Wilhite, a midwife living on Cove Creek was called to attend the birth.
By August of 1862, Susan’s brother John Reese left his parents house and was hiding in the “brush” to avoid the Confederate conscription law. Learning in late October that the Union army was within reach, John Reese along with his brother-in-law Anson L. Hodges, and Anson’s brother Roland E. Hodges traveled to the nearest military post at Elk Horn Tavern in Benton County, Arkansas where they joined Company D of the First Regiment, Arkansas Cavalry. They enlisted on November 4, 1862. Ira Mannon of Sebastian County was also a member of this regiment; he was Isaac Duncan’s future son-in-law.
Within a month Anson Hodges was back in his old neighborhood, fighting in his first and last major battle: The Battle of Prairie Grove. Both the union and confederate armies charged through Cove Creek. John Reese, Anson and Roland Hodges were cut off from their unit on December 7 and taken prisoner by the rebels.
The Confederate army took about 100 prisoners from the Battle of Prairie Grove in a group to Ft. Smith. Nearly a month later the decision was made to march them to Cane Hill for an exchange. However, just 19 miles north of Ft. Smith, Anson L. Hodges and three or four others were taken aside. Anson’s brother Roland assumed that it was for the purpose of killing them. He never saw Anson again. Anson and the others were taken to Little Rock instead. Why weren’t they included in the exchange? Were they of some other value to the Confederates? If so, what? Subsequent reports vary, but Anson attempted to escape either 25 or 50 miles above Little Rock and was shot. His official date of death is January 10, 1863. His place of burial has not been located.
By her second wedding anniversary, Susan was a widow and mother of an infant son nearly one year old. The war would last three more long years. Where was Susan during the Battle of Prairie Creek? Was she back in her parent‘s household? Had they stayed on Cove Creek? The Morrow family spent part of the Battle of Prairie Grove in their basement on Cove Creek while the bullets flew overhead. Had the Reeses done the same? In July of 1864, Susan Hodges was still in Washington County when she filed for a pension as Anson's widow, signing with her name. However, a year later, in September of 1865 she and her siblings, John and Margaret Reese were in Dallas County, Missouri. Their mother, Frances J. (Halbert) Reese had a brother, David P. Halbert in Dallas County. That may account for their presence there. It is assumed that William and Frances Reese were also in Dallas County at this time.
Whether Susan spent the war years on Cove Creek or in southern Missouri, times were harsh. Cove Creek was ravaged by both armies during the Battle of Prairie Creek. On one single night, thousands of men camped along the small Cove Creek area. Both armies plundered every farm they came across. There could not have been much left at William Reese’s farm. It is impossible at this point to document his losses. He filed a claim before the Southern Commission, but the papers are not available. Either they are misfiled or were skipped during the microfilming of those records.
Family legend has it that they were starving during the war. Susan supposedly boiled the dirt from the floor of the smokehouse for the salt and then salted food with the murky water. There was precious little food to salt. At one point, she was reduced to eating rats. Warren Duncan speculated that they would have tried to catch rabbits to eat. At the close of the war, William W. Reese and family returned to Cove Creek to start over.
Meanwhile, in Sebastian County, 36 year old Isaac Duncan made his mark on an Oath of Allegiance on January 20, 1864. He was 5’ 8” tall, with black eyes and auburn hair. Arkansas needed ten percent of the men who voted in 1860 to sign an oath of allegiance to pave their way back into the union. It’s hard to know if Isaac was a Confederate seeking to live peacefully in Union controlled territory or a loyal Unionist hoping to help Arkansas return to the Union. According to Warren Duncan, Isaac Duncan hid in the mountains for long periods of time to avoid the bushwackers. Both during the war and afterward, Arkansas was in a state of chaos. Bushwackers preyed on the civilian population, killing, raping, plundering, and burning out farms.
A descendent of Sam Hodges related that Susan Hodges came to Sebastian County, Arkansas specifically to be Isaac Duncan’s housekeeper. His wife, Martha Sales, died October 9, 1865, leaving him with small children. Living near Isaac was Susan’s uncle Mark Halbert; her grandfather Martin Halbert was in Uncle Mark‘s household. No doubt Mark Halbert mentioned to Isaac that he had a widowed niece who could keep house for him and tend his children. Her move to Sebastian County would also relieve the Reese household of two mouths to feed..
John Reese’s Southern Commission Claim on behalf of Samuel A. Hodges dates Susan P. Hodges and Isaac Duncan’s marriage to 1867. Given the location of Isaac’s farm, they probably filed their marriage record in the Greenwood Courthouse, which burned.
Isaac Duncan had eight children by Martha Sale. Only two of them survived to adulthood: Rebecca (Duncan) Mannon and Sarah (Duncan) Knight. By Susan, Isaac had five more children: John, Thomas M., Dora, Richard Elick, and an unnamed infant.
Decades after the Civil War, Susan’s parents William and Frances Reese moved to Sebastian County, Arkansas, traveling by train. Their grandson Samuel A. Hodges had built a brand new house. He moved his grandparents into his old house, where they lived out the rest of their days When they both died in 1896, they were buried in the Coop Prairie Cemetery in plot that the Duncans were already using.
Susan P. (Reese) Hodges Duncan died on January 21, 1919. She outlived Isaac Duncan by eight years. They are both buried in Coop Prairie Cemetery, Scott County, Arkansas near Mansfield. Coop Prairie is the only cemetery in the United States to be bisected by a federal highway.
This photograph of Susan P. (Reese) Hodges Duncan with her grand daughter Nydia (Duncan) Price, daughter of John Duncan, was probably taken after Isaac’s death in June 19, 1910. In 1911, Susan P. Duncan filed for a pension as Anson L. Hodges' widow, which she could do as a "remarried widow" after Isaac's death. This time she signed with her mark, stating that she could no longer sign her name due to nerves.
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