| UNION PRISON – Madison Billingsby of Latham was buried in Andersonville, Ga. during the days of the Civil War. His family is unsure of what actually happened to Billingsby and what led to his burial plot in that location that is guarded by wounded soldier statues. |
Madison Billingsby was born in l835, possibly in Carrol county where his father was buried, or in Rockingham County, N.C. where his family originated.
He lived with his widowed mother and several brothers and sisters on ‘the old hill’ at the current Billingsby farm between Hyndsver and Latham in the North Fork River bottom
Family members passed down stories of a relative who was abducted by the bushwhackers and guerillas during the Civil War and was never heard of again.
More than a century later, it was discovered that Madison Billingsby of Weakley County was buried at Andersonville, Georgia, June 20, l864 in grave 3726.
Andersonville, the notorious southern prison for Union soldiers, was created February 1864 when the US government forbid the further exchange of prisoners, believing the southern soldiers would return to battle and the Union would be forced to continue the war until ‘the entire south was exterminated.’
Prostrate, bankrupt, their own armies often marching barefoot, hungry, and without weapons, the South was ill-prepared to care for thousands of wounded prisoners.
Andersonville was built as a stockade to accommodate 10,000 men but saw 45,000 pass through in its one year’s existence. It contains 13,737 Civil War graves with several hundred unmarked.
While the mortality rate was extremely high, more southern prisoners died in northern camps than soldiers who died at Andersonville.
Prison officials pleaded with the US government to take their sick and wounded without exchanging prisoners, but the request was not honored. When Billingsby died in June of 1864, the prison held 20,000 men bereft of food, medical supplies, shelter and sanitation.
How did Madison Billingsby wind up in Andersonville?
Weakley County was overrun by bushwhackers and guerillas, lawless bands of men plundering, looting and killing, declaring allegiance for neither side while terrorizing the citizens, causing more destruction than any of the armies.
Men often hid out in the woods to avoid being ‘conscripted.’
One could only imagine the scene that might have occurred at that lonely log cabin with a dirt floor on the old hill when a band of armed outlaws suddenly appeared. Six foot-two, blue eyed, sandy-haired Madison Billingsby would never be heard of again by his family.
Did he escape his capturers and find refuge with the Union Army? Did the guerillas coerce him into service? Or did he voluntarily join the Union ranks, along with one-third of his county which had voted not to secede, fighting to preserve the Union which was President Lincoln’s stated objective?
Was his allegiance torn when the other two-thirds fought to defend their homeland against northern invasion? When and where was he captured?
Records show that Billingsby was a member of the TN 6th Cavalry, Company I, organized June l862 in Dresden.
The 6th was often combined with other units and it is difficult to know where he may have served.
Could he have been with the 7th TN Cavalry Union soldiers barricaded at Union City in the spring of l864 who were tricked into surrendering by the feared name of Forrest?
If so, those unfortunate prisoners were marched to trains which eventually led them to Andersonville.
Meanwhile on the old hill surrounded by dark trees and bubbling springs, a family struggling for mere survival anxiously watched across the fields for the return of their loved one.
Regardless of the circumstances, on this Memorial Day we salute you, Madison Billingsby, along with all the war dead who made the ultimate sacrifice.
They fought in a war not of their choosing, in circumstances beyond their control. Politicians and generals determined their destinies, and unknowingly elevated these men in Blue and Gray into untouchable legends of immortality – 145 years ago.
Editor’s note: Madison was the uncle of the Joyce Billingsby’s late father-in-law, G. L., Billingsby. Joyce Billingsby is a published author who resides in Latham. Photo courtesy of Don Roney