Sisters pen book on Civil War history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MOCKSVILLE — For five years, sisters Mary Alice Hasty and Hazel Winfree relied on John Spillman to supply the ham biscuits and coffee for breakfast or the tomato soup and grilled sandwiches for lunch.
Meanwhile, they sat at Spillman’s dining room table — piled high with their research — and wrote out in long-hand the manuscript for a state award-winning book, “The Civil War Roster for Davie County, North Carolina.”
“I was a referee,” Spillman says, laughing. “I kept them from clawing and biting each other. I kept the momentum going and gave them the praise they needed.”
The sisters called him their business manager. His pay in the end: a free book.
Published in 2009, the women’s book gives short biographies of 1,147 Davie County Confederate soldiers before, during and after the war.
It’s filled with photographs and includes invaluable extras such as the company and regiment rosters for Davie County soldiers, townships covered by the census information they used, cemeteries in Davie County where Confederate soldiers are buried, the names of the Davie men who died in the Civil War and a complete bibliography and index.
“It would make a movie,” Spillman says of the sisters’ devotion to the project. “Not ‘Gone With the Wind,’ but …
“The sequel,” Winfree says, finishing the thought.
Hasty and Winfree won the 2009 Willie Parker Peace History Book Award from the N.C. Society of Historians Inc. They didn’t even know their book was in consideration until after the awards ceremony in Morehead City.
Their research also led to the discovery that 55 names of Davie soldiers who died in the Civil War were left off the Mocksville monument memorializing the county’s Confederate dead.
That omission has since been remedied with the additional names carved into the stone.
The sisters’ book started when they were researching their own family history, and Doris Frye, librarian at the Martin-Wall History Room of Davie Public Library, directed Hasty to “The Civil War Roster of Davidson County.”
In that book, Hasty quickly found evidence of her great-great grandfather Nicholas Miller, leading her to discover that her great-grandfather Michael Miller died in the war when her grandfather John was only six months old.
She asked Frye whether Davie had a similar Civil War roster book, learned that it did not and declared that she would correct that situation. Hasty immediately called Winfree to tell her they were going to collaborate on a book.
Hasty remembers Hazel saying, “Oh, shoot.”
“That’s not exactly what I said,” Hazel recalls, “but that’s the way we’ll print it.”
Over the next five years, the women turned to federal census information, marriage and cemetery records for Davie County, Civil War pension applications, family correspondence, 1851-1892 injury and obituary notices from “The People’s Press” in Salem and the published works of more than 20 authors for backup.
They also received assistance from Frye and Jane McAllister at the Davie Public Library, historian Jim Rumley of Cooleemee, archivist Earl Ijames at the State Archives in Raleigh and Sion Harrington, a state military collection archivist and an old neighbor of Hasty’s from Harnett County.
“We wanted to do it right,” Hasty says.
Cousins Marie Roth and Brenda Bailey typed all of their manuscript pages and worked closely with the Jefferson publisher, McFarland & Co.
The sisters — Winfree is 87, and Hasty will be 80 in August — brought plenty of their own tenaciousness and expertise to Spillman’s dining room table.
Hasty is a retired English teacher and assistant principal from Harnett County, where she led the effort in 1993 to publish a large-volume Harnett County heritage book.
Winfree is a retired Salisbury Post proofreader and voracious reader in general.
Together, they make a pair, always jabbing and kidding with each other.
“We spent as much time laughing as writing,” Hasty says. “It was just so much fun.”
Winfree remembers overhearing Hasty on the telephone with an archivist in Raleigh, asking for forgiveness and saying, “If I tell you my assistant is 83 years old, will that help?”
“It made me feel sorry for her,” Winfree says.
Hasty jokes that she always takes a pill before giving Winfree a call at her home in Cooleemee. The women worked out of their friend Spillman’s house because it was close to the library and, when they started, Hasty was in the transition from Harnett County and still waiting for her condominium to be constructed in Mocksville.
As with many historians, the sisters discovered information that didn’t jibe with some published accounts from the past. Their work also helped to untangle the branches of family trees in Davie County.
The case of W.C. Perry Etchison, private in Company F, 42nd Regiment, is a good example. For generations his descendants lived with the belief that he had been shot as a Confederate deserter.
Having left the Confederate Army on many occasions only to be apprehended later, Etchison finally was sentenced to be shot for desertion in 1865. But the sisters’ research revealed that the sentence was suspended, and Etchison received a parole June 7, 1865.
“The execution order of 1865 overshadowed reality and the following rumor evolved:” the sisters’ book says. “Perry deserted, came home, was accosted on a path by Captain Clement and a contingent of men. He was shot where he stood by Captain Clement and that his body was left where it fell, and Perry’s 16-year-old son found his body and buried him where he lay.”
But Hasty and Winfree point out that Etchison would have only been 19 years old himself and could not have had a 16-year-old son.
“Unfortunately for his descendants,’ the women write, “the good news of Perry’s life was never told.”
They learned that Etchison had married Nancy Parker in January of 1865, and the couple had two daughters, Sarah in 1867 and Hetty in 1871. The family lived in the Clarksville district for a while, where Etchison was a farm laborer. He died March 14, 1923, and is buried in Rose Cemetery.
Hasty and Winfree also contacted Louise Stroud, “who had lived in Davie County 90-plus years and had a flawless memory,” the women wrote. She recalled that as a girl of 5 or 6, she watched a white-haired Etchison, Mocksville’s only policeman of the time, conducting his evening rounds in the square and lighting the kerosene lamps.
“It was pure detective work,” Winfree says of the whole process behind the book. “… And some facts didn’t add up.”
The sisters regret that one of Etchison’s descendants, George Smith, died before hearing that his ancestor was not executed as a deserter. Estelle, his wife, bought 11 of their books (at $60 each) and distributed them among relatives so they would know the real story.
“I just wish George could know this,” Hasty says.
While writing the book, the women took out newspaper notices asking people to bring them family photographs of ancestors who were in the Civil War. Sometimes, they also would make themselves available at the Davie Public Library on Sunday afternoons.
Since the book’s publication, they have had four book signings.
Spillman says people should realize that Hasty and Winfree produced the book out of love for the subject and at their own expense. They’ll never recoup the investment they have in the project, he says, but they’ve left Davie County with a historical treasure.
The sisters want desperately to do another research project.
“Man, I’d start tomorrow,” Winfree says. Meanwhile, after a 40-year break, Winfree has begun painting landscapes again. “I’ve decided I’m going to be the next Grandma Moses,” she says. (She is a great-grandmother.)
Hasty has a more personal project in the back of her mind. Over 15 years, she taught English to 1,650 students in Harnett County. Through Facebook and other means, she would love to contact all of those students and give them another writing exercise.
She would ask them to write about the most significant thing that has happened in their lives “since we parted.” She would collect the answers, she says, and publish them in a book.
“Should I go get us some lunch?” Spillman asks.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or