Old Timey Grandma and the War

The U.S. Civil War had terrible impacts on the family in Tennessee, but of all the branches it was the Paysingers who perhaps suffered the most.

Thomas Alexander Paysinger, his wife Mary Adaline McRee Paysinger (grandparents of Charles Paysinger), and their 12 children were living in Lincoln County, Tennessee, in 1860. According to one family recollection, the family tried to avoid the war by heading west – a strategy employed by many Tennesseans who moved to Arkansas or elsewhere in a foresightful but often unsuccessful bid to dodge the hostilities. The Paysingers either didn’t go far enough or moved too slowly and the war caught up to them in Mississippi.


Battle of Fort Donelson, image from Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

First, Thomas Alexander’s son Thomas Polk Paysinger (Charles Paysinger’s father) either volunteered or was drafted into the Confederate army in the fall of 1861 when he was not quite 17 years old. He was captured almost immediately at Fort Donelson in northern Tennessee in Feb., 1862, and ended up at the Camp Douglas prison camp in Chicago. His regiment was exchanged and then reorganized in September of 1862, at which time he was either drafted or chose to enlist for another 12 months.

Meanwhile, on May 11, 1862, his father Thomas Alexander Paysinger was drafted into the Confederate army in Corinth, Mississippi. This was just after the bloody Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, after which the Confederates pulled back to Mississippi and prepared to defend the key railroad hub at Corinth. The defense failed: after a month of battling advancing Union troops in outlying areas and a siege that last about a week, the Confederates withdrew from the city and Union occupiers moved in.

Thomas Alexander was absent from his unit because of illness by the end of October, and he succumbed to whatever disease plagued him on Nov. 18, 1862. This was not unusual – typhoid and dysentery took a heavier toll on the Confederate Army than Union bullets.  By now his eldest son John was in the Confederate Army too, having enlisted after the fall of Corinth. He served for a little over a year before deserting sometime in the fall of 1863.

This sequence of events left perhaps the greatest challenge to Mary Adaline. As described by one family historian:

Mary had started to bring Thomas back home to Tennessee but he died before they could make the trip and he is buried at Kossuth in Alcorn County, Mississippi. Mary then was alone, far from her home and relatives, with a house full of little children [at least 8, with an infant born in the summer of 1862]. Somehow they survived until after the war when she was able to take them back home to Lincoln County…. Times were very hard, especially for widow with a house full of young children to be fed. Her brother Carroll let she and the children live in a house he owned. She became a mid-wife and legend tells how she would ride through the ice and snow on the back of her old blind mule to deliver babies. Although she was a good mid-wife, often her only pay was a small piece of salt pork or a bag of peas.

From Fred Warren McRee, Jr., Some Descendants of William and Dinah McRee, 2001

Mary Adaline lived until she was 89 years old, and was remembered by her great-grandchildren as their “old timey grandma.” She had a lot of great-grandchildren. Nine of her children reached adulthood and had sizeable families of their own. One of the great-grandchildren recalled that she smoked a pipe, and once he and mischievous siblings put some gunpowder in it, which exploded the next time she tried to light up. Hopefully “old timey grandma” had managed to retain a sense of humor after all her family’s travails.


Tombstone of Mary Adaline McRee Paysinger, Major Cemetery, Lincoln Co., TN, courtesy of Find-a-Grave.com, photo by Teresa Rimer

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