03 September 2017

Brushes with Fate

Brushes with Fate: A Georgia Bankston Family’s Civil War-era Story
By Myra Vanderpool Gormley (c) 2017

 By 18601 Jacob Bankston (1798-1881) and his wife, Catharine (née Biffle or Biefler, but rendered under many spellings in American records) (1805-1886) had reared their family. Catharine was the purported daughter of John Biffle, of German ancestry, who died in DeKalb County, Georgia in 1850.2 The Bankstons were of Swedish origins, tracing back to the early Swedes on the Delaware. 3

“Georgia’s decision in 1861 to leave the United States had far-reaching and unintended consequences for all Georgians . . . and indeed all Southerners.”4 The consequences of the subsequent war that began 12 April 1861, touched the lives of Jacob and Catherine Bankston, and all of their children — with death, physical and mental losses and economic misery.

Georgia's old Capitol at Milledgeville 

While no personal accounts of war experiences on the home front or about their lives during Reconstruction by any of this Bankston family were written, or if so, have survived or been found, their stories exist. They are told in military records, Confederate pension applications, court documents, property taxes and later censuses.  
It is believed that their eldest child was Alfred Leander Bankston (called Leander), born ca 1826, who married Martha C. Harris (1837-1905) in 1859 in Butts County, Georgia. This family removed to DeKalb County, Georgia, where he died in 1877. Martha applied for a Confederate widow’s pension in 1891, but it was “refused.” Evidently on grounds she was unable to prove he had died of a disease or injury directly related to one received during the war.

Jacob and Catherine’s  youngest daughter, Delilah (called Lila) Bankston, married on 6 November 1859 in Henry County, Georgia to William J. Smith5, and they and their young daughter (not named at the time) were living with her parents in 1860 in Henry County, Georgia. Jacob Bankston’s real estate was valued at $750 and his personal estate at $339. He owned no slaves.

Their eldest daughter, Sarah Elizabeth “Betsy” Bankston, who married Thomas V. Pelt, a wheelwright, in 1848, was living nearby in 1860 with their four young children. Pelt had no real estate listed. His personal property was valued at $1,000, probably the value of his tools and equipment for his business. He owned no slaves.

Two of Jacob and Catherine’s sons — John E. and William M. — have not been located in the 1860 census in Georgia. John E. (purportedly his middle name was Edward, but that is unproven) was born ca 1828, and he married Sarah E. Dawson 31 Oct. 1852 in Henry County. His brother, William M. Bankston, born ca 1835, married Mary G. Mays on 29 November 1860 in Henry County.

The propensity of many German-Americans6 to use the middle name of their children as the “rufnamen or call name” creates some confusion for genealogists, especially in the censuses, when a person may have given their “first name” as was usually asked for by the enumerators, but they probably went by their second name. It is not unusual to find the same person listed either way in various records. It may be that John E. and William M. will be found in the 1860 census, but under other given names, spellings, or in other states.

Martha M. Bankston, another daughter of Jacob and Catherine, was born about 1838 and married Isaac W. Jinks on 5 January 1860 in Henry County. In the 1860 census they are shown in Buttrill’s District in Butts County. Their first child, Frances, was born later than year or early in 1861. They were not slaveowners.

There also is a James Bankston, born ca 1849, enumerated with Jacob and Catherine in the 1860 census, but he has not been further identified or traced successfully.

The State of Georgia first began giving pensions to Confederate soldiers who had lost a limb in 1877. The law was gradually broadened to include soldiers who were disabled due to their military service and to indigent soldiers. Indigent widows of Confederate soldiers who died in service or as a result of their service began receiving pensions in 1890. Pension funds also paid medical expenses for final illnesses and funeral expenses for indigent soldiers and widows.7

The New York Times on 11 September 1891 (page 1) carried a story under the headline of “Pensions Given by Georgia” wherein it noted that the “[Georgia] House Finance Committee has agreed upon a bill which will cost the State $400,000 per annum for the support of the widows of Confederate soldiers. Two years ago it was resolved to pay $100,000 per annum to such widows, but the estimate being there were about 600 in the State, for that purpose $60,000 was appropriated. Already applications have been received from 3,700 widows. That there are at least 4,000 there seems no doubt. The question which this Legislature had to meet was whether it would stand by its determination to pay $100 pension to each widow.

“The Deficiency Appropriation bill was under consideration and one paragraph referred to widows’ pensions. To a few of the members it did not seem as if the State were able to grant so liberal a pension in view of the great number of applicants, but the majority were emphatically in favor of the pensions remaining as they were first put, $100 each, and when the vote was take $340,000 was appropriate ‘for each of the years of 1891 and 1892.’”

A newspaper transcription below by Don Bankston provides additional light upon the subject of Confederate pensions:

Jackson [Georgia] Argus – Week of January 18, 1895

“Mrs. Sarah Bankston and Mrs. Betsy Pelt, two of Judge Carmichael’s widows at Jenkinsburg, was [sic] in town Saturday looking after their pensions for this year. All the widows are calling on the judge now, and he politely and courteously gives them all the information they need. We should have mentioned a week ago that the blanks were here and ready for signatures, but the good ladies know the time of year and come right along as they should.”

Thomas V. Pelt and Betsy Bankston 

Betsy Bankston’s husband, Thomas V. Pelt, joined Co. G of the 63rd Regiment Georgia Infantry, CSA as a private (later a sergeant). He was killed while on picket duty at the Battle of Kennesaw on June 27, 1864, leaving her with six children ranging in ages from one to 13. He was about 49 years old when he died.

In her Confederate widow pension application she noted that he enlisted in 1862 and that "He never returned after the close of the war, nor has he been heard of since said time."

In the 1870 census she and the children are living in Henry County, County, with $150 in personal estate. Betsy lived until after 1910 census. With the help of her four sons and two daughters, she managed to survive after the war. Her children began to marry and start their own families in the 1880s and early 1900s. They were: Mary C.; John J. who married first Mary Elizabeth “Molly” Thaxton; William D.; Martha Anne who married James P. Vaughn; Wayman who married Sarah E. Snow; and Henry Lee who married first Lidie Parker. Apparently the daughter, Mary C. Pelt, never married. She died 28 June 1943 in Henry County, Georgia.

Pattillo Brothers 

The image of the Pattillo brothers above serves as a remarkable graphic illustration of the dress and weapons used during this time period by men who probably knew the Bankstons, Pelts, Dawson, Mays, Jinks, and Smith families. The Pattillo brothers of Henry County, Georgia, enlisted together in Co. K, 22nd Regiment, Georgia Volunteers, CSA. They served in the Army of Northern Virginia. (The photographer is unknown.) They are, left to right: Benjamin (killed at Battle of 2nd Manassas [Bull Run]), George, James (wounded and lost a toe at Battle of Deep Bottom, Virginia) and John (wounded at Battle of Seven Pines, Virginia). Additionally, James Pattillo connects to the author via his son’s marriage into the George family, also of Henry County.]

John E. Bankston and Sarah E. Dawson

John E. Bankston, born 7 April 1828, joined as a private, in Co. A., 53rd Regiment, Georgia Volunteers, CSA on 28 April 1862. He contracted measles and in August of 1862 the sight in his left eye was destroyed, as a result. Some of his military records say he was captured at Cold Harbor, Virginia on June 1, 1864; released at Elmira, New York on June 16, 1865, and returned home, but substantiating documents about his capture have not been found. Evidently, he continued to have severe pain and what was described as “violent inflammation of the eye” as after-effects of the measles. He applied for an allowance (for the loss of his eye) in 1889. However, it was questioned because the clerk claimed that “a lunatic cannot make the proof the law requires and applicant cannot be paid. Is he not now in the State Asylum and there is supported by the State? If so, he certainly cannot be paid.”

In an undated note, but evidently about 1889, in the Ordinary’s Court of Butts County, Georgia, action had been brought in the “J. M. Bankston vs. John E. Bankston” case about the question of lunacy, and the jury adjudged that “J. E. [evidently John E.] Bankston is insane and that he should be committed to the Lunatic Asylum at Milledgeville, Georgia.”

He was committed and after some time was duly discharged and returned home. He died there May 6, 1890. His widow, Sarah E. (née Dawson) filed and received a Widow’s Pension ($100 per annum) as early as 1891. They had seven children. They were: Nancy “Nannie” who married Henry G. Asbury; Jacob McDaniel who married Margaret Glass; Johnny H. (died young, in 1863); Mattie Emma Jane, who married Cicero H. Farrar; William James who married Edna Letha Glass; Adella who married Joseph A. Moss; and Edgar Bankston.

John E. Bankston, OBITUARY (Middle Ga. Argus – Week of May 12, 1890)

(Transcribed by Don Bankston)

“It is the sad mission of this letter to chronicle the death of one of our most worthy citizens, Mr. J. E. [John E.] Bankston, the senior member of the popular and well-known firm of J. E. Bankston & Son. Mr. Bankston was one of the first to open business at this point, and has steadily gained ground in popular sentiment and in as well, deserved patronage. Shortly after his opening he induced Mr. J. M. [Jacob McDaniel] Bankston become his partner, and the son has borne the burden of business for the last several years, and this made it easy for the old gentleman in his declining years. Thought a hard worker in his younger days, he has spent the greater part of his time for several years in a kingly and easy retirement. The virtues of J. E. Bankston cannot be enumerated in a letter like this. He had in him all the Christian virtues happily blessed. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was not only charitable, but he was a philanthropist; not only generous, but a peacemaker; not only polite, but the master of courtesy; not only firm, but stable; not only honorable, but the personification of honor and virtue; not only a dutiful husband, but an adored father. He has been a consistent member of the church for a number of years and has lived up to his profession all the way through. He was a model Christian, and as sure there is a home for the soul, and just as sure as the pure in heart shall see God, he is in Heaven today. We tender our sympathies to the bereaved wife and children and the sorrow stricken relatives, and to all we will say; try to live the life he did, and do the works he did.”

“For as the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” —N. J. H.

William M. Bankston and Mary G. Mays

William M. Bankston, another son of Jacob and Catherine, was born about 1835. He married Mary G. Mays in Henry County, Georgia 29 November 1860. He enlisted in Company A, Georgia 44th Infantry Regiment (Weems Guards) on 17 March 1862 and died 10 March 1863 of chronic diarrhea in General Hospital No. 2 at Lynchburg, [Campbell County] Virginia. He was buried there in a Confederate Cemetery; disinterred, and sent to Jonesborough, Georgia [Clayton County]. Mary, William’s widow, remarried in 1868 to Jackson Walden in Henry County8, but they are found in Clayton County, Georgia in the 1870 census. It appears that Mary and William Bankston were the parents of a daughter named Rebecca, born about 1862. While Rebecca is recorded under the Walden surname of her stepfather in 1870, she was born about six years before her mother married him, so she probably is a daughter who William never saw or perhaps never even knew about, unless she was born prior to his enlistment in 1862. Preliminary research indicates that Mary and her second husband removed to Miller County, Arkansas where she died 29 April 1873. What became of Rebecca Bankston, born ca 1862 has not been determined.

Isaac Jinks Jr. and Martha Bankston

Martha Bankston, whose date of birth varies in the censuses from ca 1832 to 1838, married Isaac W. Jinks, Jr. in Henry County, Georgia on 5 January 1860. He was born in Butts County and had $200 in real estate and $200 in personal property at the time. They did not own any slaves.

He enlisted in Company A, Georgia 53rd Infantry Regiment in either April or May of 1862 (conflicting dates in the records). He mustered out on 15 Feb 1865. He applied for an indigent soldier’s pension in 1895 claiming “infirmity.” He said that he had heart disease and kidney disease and was ruptured about 15 years ago. He claimed he had no property except household goods and no income. In 1893 and 1894 he had been supported by the labor of his wife and children and about $10 by his own labor. He was married, with five living children, two boys and three girls, ages 35, 32, 30, 25 and 22.

“They are hardly able to support themselves. One boy, 30, is an idiot and utterly helpless, is an invalid, and unable to do anything.” [That child was William, called “Willie” who was born about 1865 and is listed as an “idiot” on the 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes, Georgia.] 
When questioned about property on which he had paid county taxes in 1893/4, he said it had belonged to his wife, who bought and paid for out of a small legacy estate of her father in 1881. [Jacob Bankston, her father, died 12 June 1881 in Henry County, Georgia.]

Isaac Jinks Jr. drew his annual pension from 1897 to 1903. He died in September of 1903. His widow, Martha M., then applied for a widow’s pension, filling out a “Widow’s Affidavit” noting she was 68 years old and “suffer with my head and general break down.” The only property she owned was 15 acres in Henry County and it was sold to pay old debts, burial expenses (of her husband) and the physician. The land was sold for $350. Also included in the file is the physician’s statement that he was paid $350 for his services pertaining to Isaac Jinks’ final illness.

Martha died in 1918 in Butts County. She and Isaac had six children, but one of their daughters (Catherine) died before 1880 and the fate of their son, “Willie” is not known. Only two of her children — James M. Jinks and Rebecca Jinks Crane — survived her. Their daughter, Frances, married a James Leach and purportedly lived until 1926, but is not mentioned in Martha’s obituary. Her obituary appeared in the Jackson Progress-Argus on March 1, 1918.

Mrs. Martha Jinks Passed Away Wednesday Evening

After an illness of only a few days, Mrs. Martha Jinks, 79 years of age, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. P. C. Crane, near Jackson Wednesday night at 7 o'clock. Death was due to paralysis. Mrs. Jinks was a member of Beersheba church, where the funeral services were held Thursday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock. The pastor, Elder Van Henderson, conducted the services. Mrs. Jinks is survived by one daughter, Mrs. Pearl Crane, and one son, Mr. J. M. Jinks, of Henry County.

William J. Smith and Lila Bankston

Delilah (called Lila) Bankston, the youngest daughter of Jacob and Catherine, was born in 1840 and married in late 1859 to William J. Smith, who was born in 1832 in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He also served during the Civil War and was in Company A, Georgia 44th Infantry Regiment (Weems Guards) as was his brother-in-law, William M. Bankston. However, no record of him or Lila applying for Confederate pensions has been found. 

In 1870 census they were living in Henry County, Georgia with $1,600 in real estate and $350 in personal property. According to his obituary [he’s buried in Westview Cemetery, Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia] he fought in the Civil War and afterward became a schoolteacher in

Henry County. When he died in 1910 he was survived by his wife, three sons, four daughters and

19 grandchildren. In the 1900 census, Lila claimed to be the mother of nine children with eight living. She lived until 18 May 1926. She also is buried in Westview Cemetery in Atlanta. Their children, born from about 1860 to 1880, have not been traced further.

 Sherman’s March to the Sea

Jacob Bankston lived until June of 1881 and his wife, Catherine, survived him, dying five years later, in 1886. Although they lived only about 37 miles from Atlanta in Locust Grove, apparently the nearest they were to any military battles during the war was when General William T. Sherman began his “March to the Sea.” One of his Union corps was supposed to take the road to Jonesboro and from there proceed to McDonough, Jackson, Clinton and another was to march from White Hall to Stockbridge, McDonough, Jackson, Monticello and Gordon. They were to reunite in a week with other corps at Gordon (south of Milledgeville). There was a brief engagement between the Union forces and the “Kentucky Orphan Brigade at the Battle of Stockbridge9 in mid-November of 1864. 

One wonders if any of this Bankston family saw the smoke from the fires when Atlanta was burned; or suffered any loss of property. No claims were made to the Southern Claims Commission10, but it restricted claims to those who claimed they were loyal to the Union and had quartermaster stores of supplies taken by and furnished to the Union Army.

Regardless, in their immediate family, Jacob and Catherine lost a son and a son-in-law, and another son lost an eye and suffered mental problems after the war, and another son-in-law returned home a physically broken man, scarcely able to take care of his family. Their eldest son who came home from the war in 1864 suffered physically and was unable to do much work on his farm; he died in 1877. Only their youngest daughter, Lila, and her husband, William J. Smith appeared to have survived and prospered after the war. 

Sifting through the ashes of this one family’s history brings the names and places to life and greatly enhances what little genealogical information we had about them. Additionally, it uncovered yet another Bankston.


1 1860 Henry, Georgia; Roll: M653_127; Page: 913; Image: 251; Family History Library Film: 803127. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch .Original data: 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.

2   See: The Biffle Cabin. at DeKalb County, Georgia History Center:

3   See: Founding Forefathers: Anders Bengtsson (Bankson/Bankston) and Peter Gunnarsson Rambo at:

5   Ancesrty.com. Georgia, Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978 [database on-line].

Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: County Marriage Records, 1828–1978. The Georgia Archives, Morrow, Georgia.

6   German naming patterns: http://www.kerchner.com/germname.html

7   Ancestry.com. Georgia, Confederate Pension Applications, 1879-1960 [database on-line]. Provo,

UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2009. Original data: Confederate Pension Applications, Georgia Confederate Pension Office, RG 58-1-1, Georgia Archives.

8   Ancestry.com. Georgia, Compiled Marriages, 1851-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:

Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000. Original data: Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp., Georgia Marriages, 1851-1900.  G. I. [sic] Walden to G. M. Bankston, 18 August 1868. Her name is also recorded as Mary G., so the G. M. is probably a transposition.

10 Mills, Gary. Civil War Claims in the South: An Index of Civil War Damage Claims filed before Southern Claims Commission, 1870-1880. (Laguna Hills, Calif. Aegean Park Press, 1980).

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