Other Peoples Hearts: Chapter 2- The Other Sister & Civil War Memories
Everyone loved the baby of the family, Katie, but perhaps no one more than oldest brother, Sid, and sister, Vallie.
Vallie wasn’t the closest in age to Katie, but when their parents died, Vallie was the one who looked after Katie the most.
First, their father died. Vallie was ten years old, and she held the then four-year old Katie, as they cried together. Two years later was when their mother passed away.
Oldest sister, Mattie Malinda, had gotten married just a few years prior in 1874. It had been a happy day, and Mattie made a beautiful bride. She was the only one out of all of them to have been married before Mamma and Daddy passed away. And when Daddy died, Mamma couldn’t walk anymore. It was as if her heart had completely broken.
Sid worked in a grocery store in Juliette to help get by, while everyone else pitched in their own ways.
Isadore, Vallie, and Katie would all take in laundry from neighbors. Cooked meals, took in tenants in their homes when they could.
Daddy had loved all of his children. He worked so hard, farming their land. Before the war, he had been an artisan in Monroe County. He always knew hard work. His own mother had died when he was four years old, the death had made his father angry, and when he remarried there were more children to feed. More work for Daddy, and the others, to do.
Daddy had been named after the Marquis de LaFayette, the French Hero who would aid the Americans during their revolution. His parents, Dudley and Martha Malinda, had been so enamoured by his speech in Georgia that they named a child after him. Marcus deLafayette Simmons would go on to represent his home again in war: with Company D, Georgia 45th Infantry Regiment.
Marcus Simmons would be promoted to Full 4th Corporal, and was mustered out on the 9th of April, 1865, at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. He couldn’t even speak about it.
Some of their siblings remembered Daddy as he was before the war. Mattie Malinda, Augustus, and Sid were all born before the War started.
Sisters Francis and Isadore were each born during the War, when Daddy could take leave.
Mattie Malinda, being the oldest, could remember it all best. She was six years old when Daddy enlisted, and had to help Mamma out the most.
When Sherman’s soldiers marched through Mamma was pregnant with Isadore, and Francis was still just a itty bitty one, sleeping in Mamma’s room. The boys all slept in a room together, and Mattie Malinda shared a room with two of their slave girls.
The sounds were awful, as Mattie would tell them, shivering with fear. Friends fleeing Atlanta had sheltered with them, many more had proceeded on to Macon- stopping at their home along the way. Others urged them to move on through with them but Mamma was determined to save the home that Daddy had worked so hard to build. They didn’t leave before, and the Old Confederate Greys saved them those July nights- capturing Stoneman and sending him to Macon, they wouldn’t leave now. Mamma believed, and she knew.*
Mattie would recall later that they knew Lincoln had proclaimed that the year before, and at that time from every year on, there would be a national Thanksgiving. It was at this time that the Union Soldiers would take Milledgeville, destroy Griswoldville, and make their way into the Simmons home.
They heard the soldiers all around them. Mamma was huddled with Grandmother, some of the older slaves, and Baby Francis- putting her finger in her mouth to keep her from screaming. She let the children sleep, they had not slept in the day before- they could hear the soliders all around them- and they were tired. It was at their weakest moment, as if the Devil had instructed them himself, that the Yankees burst through both doors.
Mattie’s room was closest to the back door, and two Yankee soldiers would burst through- waking Mattie as she had slept. She screamed, the slave girls had screamed. One would grab Mattie, pulling furtively at his pants. Others had come through the front doors, into Mamma’s room. The boys were down below: instructed by Mamma to guard what food and goods were left. Surely, even as savage as Yankees could be, they would not attack the women as they appeared to be without guard?
Another soldier would push the man off of Mattie- pointing towards Gibby and Louly, the slave girls who had been in the room with Mattie. Mattie pressed herself against the wall as the men grabbed at Gibby and Louly- both of them fighting hard, kicking and screaming.
One of the soldiers would slink out of the room, moaning and crying at something below his pants. The other, in a fit of rage, grabbed Gibby and carried her off.
Gibby wasn’t seen again.
Every night after that, Mattie couldn’t sleep alone. And she fell in love at 18, escaping to a new home, hoping for new memories.
Vallie would meet a sweetheart of her own, John Joseph King. He would bring flowers to the house, he would help with chores, and he would sometimes bring his brother: James.
Katie was just 14 when he would come calling formally, Vallie married John Joseph that year in 1892, but she had been 12 when they met. Still just a girl.
But she was old enough to hear Mattie and Sid argue about how to take care of all of them. Sometimes they would stay multiple nights with Mattie and her husband. Sometimes they could go see other relatives. But mostly, it fell to Sid to take care of them all, even though everyone pitched in.
So it was determined early on by the girls, when Katie was still just 12, that her best hope for survival was to marry the man who was persistently visiting her even at an early age. His formal calling when she was 14 would turn into a proposal at 15, and her marriage at 16.
Katie never knew there was another option, but she saw her sister Vallie happy with his brother and hoped that it ran in the family. Even when she saw the moments of Jim’s anger, Vallie assured her that all men were apt to be that way when they drank- and it would all change once they were married.
Did you miss the first installement of tjhis series? Go here for Other Peoples Hearts: Chapter 1- Murder in Jones County.
*Battle of Sunshine Church (https://vanishingnorthgeorgia.com/tag/shermans-march-to-the-sea/ )
Sherman’s march from Atlanta to the sea. Drawn from official map of Brig. Genl. O. M. Poe, Chief Engineer.: https://www.loc.gov/resource/gvhs01.vhs00040/
Molly McWilliams Wilkins
Molly McWilliams Wilkins is a Southern culture commentator, web producer, and social media marketing maven. She is also a freelance writer who has worked with a variety of publications and online magazines including Bourbon & Boots, Paste Magazine, Macon Magazine, the 11th Hour, Macon Food & Culture Magazine, and as the Digital Content Editor for The Southern Weekend. Mommy first, fashionista, social media maven, writer, artist, dreamer and poet. Hangs on to her Oxford Commas by force. Addicted to shoes and purses- and lots of coffee. Coffee coffee coffee.