Dear John

By Sandra White

Dear John

Lyman White was well-known around Salemburg and Roseboro as a great storyteller. When I was a little girl he would set me on his knee and tell me about Br’r Rabbit and Br’er Fox. I loved my grandfather’s stories, except one and I never forgot it. The story goes that toward the end of the Civil War his family had been warned the Yankees were coming. They rounded up all their valuables, put them in a trunk and sunk it in Little Coharie Creek. When the Yankees arrived, they hung his father, Frank by his thumbs to make him tell where their silver was hidden, but he didn’t tell. I think I was 5 and I was horrified. All of my life I doubted that story was true.

Lyman Abbot White was born in a manor house in Salemburg, NC on October 20, 1889. Franklin Mallet White, his father, owned about 300 acres at the time. Lyman died September 26, 1969 on his share of that land. My great great grandfather, Murdock White was the oldest brother of Oliver Perry, James Jr., and Lalister.

During World War I he served in the 119th Infantry, 30th Division, Company H. As a sergeant, he received the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary bravery in Bellicourt, France September 29, 1918. He married Irene Catherine Tart, fathered 6 children and farmed the land, a life far removed from the privileges of his youth.

Franklin McArthur White was born on September 3, 1925 in Salemburg. He was the first son of Lyman and Irene. He joined the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor at age 16, already a high school graduate. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross while serving in the Pacific theater. He graduated from the University of North Carolina’s Air Force ROTC program and became an F86 fighter pilot. Later he flew the KC135. He was also a Mason for 50 years. Soon after retirement he moved to Salemburg. He died on my son’s birthday, Dec. 17, 2010 in the Alzheimer’s unit of the NC State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Fayetteville. I have 2 younger brothers, and for many reasons, our dad was a hero.

My father was placed in the VA nursing home in Sept. 2005 after a stroke on his 80th birthday. I fought hard, even in court to get custody and move him to Moore County, where I now live. All I accomplished was to earn the resentment from his brother and sisters.

Unable to help my father and feeling guilty, I made a drastic lifestyle change and went to work for an adult home health care agency in Southern Pines. I was so enthusiastic I took the Certified Nurse Aide course at Sandhills Community College. In 2008 I was assigned to John Bowler and his dear wife, residents of Belle Meade, an upscale retirement community in Southern Pines. They were living independently in their own apartment. John had progressive dementia.

A brilliant, former corporate attorney, John could no longer manage the remote for the TV. He was a slight man and a lifelong athlete. My job was to accompany him while swimming (they call this a job!) and take him out to relieve his wife and help both of them with their daily needs. The three of us became very close. John was always well groomed and the consummate gentleman. He would greet me at the door in sport coat and tie and say, “There you are, my dear (He could never remember my name.). Do come in. How do you get your wings in the door?” He was charming to say the least.

John Edward Bowler was born August 6th 1919 on Long Island, NY. His grandfather, Samuel Bowler, an English immigrant, built a homestead in Minnesota and served during the Civil War. Sam’s medal for bravery at Chickamauga was framed and hung on the wall. John was obsessed with the Civil War. He would ask me questions about the South, which I could not answer, sparking my curiosity about my father’s family and “that story”.

John and I had many adventures. We went to Fayetteville several times. One trip was for a docent-led tour of the Museum of the Cape Fear, the old Confederate arsenal and a reenactment with men dressed in Confederate and Union uniforms. John thought the soldiers were real. I took his picture with them and hung it on the wall. He talked incessantly about it to everyone who came to visit, much to the exasperation of his wife. I lost him once at the Airborne Museum (panic attack!) for what seemed forever. He had gone to the men’s room and couldn’t find his way back.

We visited old cemeteries and looked for graves of old soldiers. He was enthralled by the cannon at the Revolutionary War battle reenactment at the House in the Horseshoe in Moore County. Mrs. Bowler accompanied us to the Bryant House living history festival. She thoroughly enjoyed the bluegrass music and vendors. Another excursion was to the Rufus Barringer Civil War Round Table in Southern Pines.

A decision was made to move John to the memory-care unit at Belle Meade as he began to wander the grounds. The transition was surprisingly smooth. Mrs. Bowler, however, cried for days. She and I would visit John every day. He was so happy she brought their good friend. John and his wife would sit on the couch and hold hand, and he would tell her how much he loved her and then regale us with stories.He turned 90 that August and a party was held in the Belle Meade club house. He frequently wore hats, so I gave him a good quality Yankee kepi with colonel’s gold braid.

In the meantime, I purchased an account at Ancestry.com and started a family tree. After visits with my father at the Veteran’s Home, I went to Headquarters Library in downtown Fayetteville, a branch of the Cumberland County library system. It has an extensive NC history and genealogy room on the 2nd floor. I still go there and the NC Archives in Raleigh as often as I can.

In researching Samuel Bowler, I met a distant cousin of John’s who had built a well-documented Bowler family tree on Ancestry. She had many pictures of Sam and his family including John’s father as a young man as well as Sam’s Army service record.

The following are excerpts from Civil War diaries and letters.

December 10….In passing by the barn, I noticed two nice fat cows, and said to myself, “If Sam Bowler only had them to kill for the regiment!” Sam was our commissary…

When I gave Bowler the colonel’s order about the liver, he said, “Young fellow, you just skip to your tent. The cows hain’t go no liver. These hare Confederate cows. Nothing but good Union cows ‘ave liver. So, now, you skip. You got no business to tell the colonel about those cows, hand get me hout how my good warm bed to kill ‘em.” I saw that my worthy English friend was in no mood to talk…

1864 diary entry William Bircher 2nd MN
1864 Diary Entry
1863 letter Lalister Mallett White 30th NC

March 11: Marched thirteen miles to Fayetteville, N.C., where we found an abundance of flour, meal, bacon, molasses, coffee, and tobacco, and lived on the best the country afforded.

March 13 and 14 were passed by us in Fayetteville. The arsenal and the machinery, which had formerly belonged to the Harper’s Ferry arsenal, were completely knocked down and burned, and every piece of machinery broken up and utterly ruined.

1865 diary entry William Bircher 2nd MN

March 17th…Passed through the small village of Owensville. I saw today a very eccentric old lady who had had her burial clothes prepared. For safety she had hid them out of doors and soldiers finding them, some scoundrel had carried them off, as I regretted to hear. She told me it had cost her great labor and hard savings to get the silk dress she had lost and she did not think she would ever be able to get another. She seemed very much grieved about it. She was very old. I observed here today quite a number of old people from 80 to 90 years of age. I take it North Carolina is a healthy place but the mass of people are very poor, as well as the soil.

1865 diary entry Col. Oscar Jackson 63rd OH

1863 letter Lalister Mallett White 30th NC
1863 Letter

Civil War Dead
Transcribed by Myrtle Bridges from
The Fayetteville Observer 1861-1865

Lt. Lalister M. White of Sampson Co., NC, was an intelligent, cultivated young man; modest, gentle, unobtrusive. He entered the army as a private and for a long time persisted in refusing to hold offices which his comrades wished to confer upon him. At last they induced him to accept a Lieutenancy and he was first Lieutenant at the time he was killed. He had passed through many hard fights and was killed on the bloody field of Spotsylvania, May 12, 1864. No doubt this young man, like many others who have fallen during this dreadful war, would have been largely useful if he had lived, but his sudden death reminds us of the uncertainty of our future in the world and admonishes us to prepare for the next. Lt. White had not made any public profession of religion. A few days before he was killed, I approached him and told him I had been praying for him some time. With a good deal of emotion he thanked me for the interest I felt in his and told me he was interested for his own soul. The pasture in which his comrades found him three days after he fell (his hand under his head) led them to think that he may not have died instantly. The veteran soldier long accustomed to the sound of musketry and artillery may have collected his thoughts and prayed, and calmly and trustingly given up his spirit to Him who said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Among the many friends that I have lost by this cruel war, few were dearer to me than Lal White.

A. D. Betts, Chaplain 30th N. C. T.

Lalister Mallett White enlisted 20 April, 1861

Oliver Perry White enlisted 10 March 1862, mustered out at Appomattox 9 April 1865

By the time I learned that John’s grandfather had been in Fayetteville, it was too late. His dementia had progressed so much that he could neither understand nor converse very well. I get goose bumps to this day knowing that our ancestors were in the same place at the same time in history, and we were there 143 years later.

Alexander McArthur, my 3rd great grandfather owned a small cotton plantation in the Rockfish Creek area. His brother, Neil McArthur built the famous cotton factory, so mercilessly destroyed by Sherman. There are accounts of the prominent men of Fayetteville being strung up by the Union troops to force them to reveal the hiding place of their valuables. How this was done, I don’t know.

The Minnesota troops were attached to the 20th Army Corps. Although they crossed the Black River and camped in Sampson County, their divisions went on to Goldsboro via Bentonville. It was the 17th Army Corps, led by Gen. Francis Preston Blair that encamped on the plantation of James White and used his house, known as Gov. Holmes mansion as his headquarters in Owensville.

The heirs of Gov. Gabriel Holmes sold about 2000 acres of land which included the house and a mill to my 3rd great grandfather, James White in 1829 for $500. (Sampson Co. Deed Book, 24 p 105) It was a stage coach stop on the route from Raleigh to Wilmington. A survey plat of 1901 shows the land belonging to Murdock’s brother, Oliver Perry White, former Confederate officer, consisted of more than 3000 acres stretching south from Salemburg all the way across NC Highway 24 into Roseboro.

As for “that story”… According to my cousin, Murdock and James White, Jr. were conscripted in 1865 and away from home, leaving my great-great grandmother Ann with children, Frank, Willie, and Varena, not yet 4, home alone with her aged in-laws and many slaves on 3000 acres midway between Clinton and Fayetteville. Ann White had already lost her only brother, Pvt. George Brown, at Sharpsburg and a brother-in-law at Spotsylvania Court House. According to her the Yankees put a gun to her head and told her they would shoot her if she didn’t tell where the silver was hidden.

The diminutive Ann is said to have replied, “I guess you’ll have to shoot me.” Whether they strung up 9 year old Frank by his thumbs, I’ll never know. The Yankees weren’t above such treatment of old men in Fayetteville. There was no silver in either Murdock’s or James White’s estate records. It may still be in the creek. Murdock White died in 1879. A Masonic emblem is on his headstone.

Ann Eliza Brown White lived until 1927 spending her last 12 years in Fayetteville with her daughter, Mary Lou and son-in-law, Dr. Jacob Franklin Highsmith. Murdock’s land bordered his father’s and is now occupied by Lakewood High School. The “mansion” burned down in 1929. In 1965 an heir sold 2100 acres to a timber company which sold it to the state of NC in 2005. A rare plant called the “pondberry” grows there and one other place in the state. The property known for over 100 years as the “White Woods” is now the “Pondberry Preserve”.

The state project manager told me there were people still living in 2 slave cabins in 1965. The timber company evicted the residents and bulldozed the cabins, the remains of which can still be seen. The James White cemetery is in fair condition surrounded by an iron fence. The bricks of the foundation of the old Gov. Holmes mansion is visible if you know where to look. The slave cemetery has been found and cleaned up. Descendants of the slaves still live in the area and have been using the cemetery all this time. In March, 2014 the state gave a guided tour of the property and explained their intentions to return the land to its original condition. A Civil War historian gave a talk about the Holmes family. It is not open to the public.

The last place John and I visited was the Malcolm Blue Festival in Aberdeen. The festival is all about the history of Sandhills with 19th century house and outbuildings, historically authentic craft and sheepherding demonstrations, vendors, wagon rides, food, a sutler’s encampment, with people in period dress. Of course, the war reenactors put on a great show with their horses. John wore his Yankee kepi. We walked down to the area occupied by the reenactors away from the crowds. We were fortunate to meet local businessman, Darrell Howard in Confederate uniform. He was so kind to John, explaining what they were doing, showing him the armaments and introducing him to his comrades.

John was always friendly, outgoing and he loved to talk, especially to fellow soldiers. He was a captain in WWII, stationed at one time on Iwo Jima. We stayed a long time and my dear friend had a grand day in the Civil War. John Edward Bowler departed this life on September 14, 2013. I went to his funeral and with his family’s permission, I have written this story.

I am forever grateful to John Bowler and proud to say, “I am the great-granddaughter, granddaughter, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister and mother of the troops”, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, John Blue Chapter in Aberdeen, Daughter of the American Revolution, Temperance Smith Alston Chapter in Pinehurst, Eastern Star 259 and Secretary of the Sampson County Historical Society in Clinton. My official title in home care is Caregiver and “As you give so shall you receive”.