Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Philip and Wilson Gillespie--Casualties of the Civil War
last week’s column we were introduced to the Gillespie gunmakers of East Fork, NC.
Two sons of Mathew and Elizabeth Sitton
Gillespie, John R. and James A., moved to Union
about 1849 and set up gun making establishments.
Two of their
brothers, Philip and Wilson, and their brother-in-law, George
Washington Underwood, were casualties of the Civil War.
Mathew and Elizabeth Gillespie had a large family of twelve
children. Two of their sons, Philip and
Wilson, and two of their sons-in-law, Robert O. Blythe, husband of
their daughter, Jane, and George Washington Underwood, husband of their
youngest child, daughter Isabel, left Mills River, NC together on their
way to Tennessee to join the Union Army. It
is reported that they walked from Mills River to Asheville
where they caught a train to Tennessee. After arriving in Tennessee,
they worked for several days in the fall harvest of wheat and corn, and
then enlisted on September
25, 1863 at Greenville.
Prior to joining the Union Army, Philip Gillespie (2/11/1815 –
1/15/1864) was a noted gunmaker, having
learned in his father’s shop. At Mills River,
Philip plied his trade, with his brothers John, James and Wilson, and
his brothers-in-law Robert O. Blythe, George W. Underwood, and John
Harvey Gillespie, his first cousin but also his brother-in-law, married
to his sister Sarah, worked at the shop owned and managed by Philip. In addition to turning out many guns with the
initials “P. G.” to identify them, Philip owned a large farm he had
bought from his grandfather, Philip Sitton,
Sr. (for whom he was named). He ran a
legal whiskey distillery. He also operated
the Sitton Iron Forge.
Up in Tennessee, the
two brothers and two brothers-in-law were assigned on October 1, 1863 to
Company F, 2nd Regiment, North Carolina Mounted Infantry, Army of the United
States, at Knoxville.
How much action Philip Gillespie engaged in is unclear. He became quite ill and was taken from camp
into the home of Richard Wade near Maynardsville, Tennessee. He died of chronic diarrhea on January 15, 1864, and
was buried there the next day.
Gillespie never married. Reportedly,
before he left Mills River to
enlist in the war, he hid a bag of gold coins and a cask of brandy
somewhere on Forge Mountain near
his home. But the treasures were never
found. Several fine Gillespie rifles with
his initials were his legacy left to posterity. He
was perhaps the most productive and best known of the third generation
Wilson Gillespie (02/15/1825 –
01/15/1825) was the eleventh child of Mathew and Elizabeth Sitton Gillespie. Wilson was
first married to Rachel N. Taylor. She
died shortly after the birth of their son, William Harvey Gillespie
married, second, Malinda B. Underwood., a sister to George Washington
Underwood who married Wilson’s
sister, Isabel. Wilson and Malinda had
five children: Rachel, Mary Elizabeth,
Martha E., Margaret J., and Thomas W. Martha
died the day she was born (March 1, 1858) and Thomas died at age
fourteen months in 1864. When Wilson left
home to join the U. S. Army, Malinda had the responsibility of rearing
their children, Rachel, Mary Elizabeth and Margaret.
William Harvey Gillespie, her stepson, was living with his
maternal grandfather, Jeremiah Taylor.
It is interesting that Wilson Gillespie and his brother, Philip,
died the same day, January 15, 1864. Wilson
became sick on November
24, 1863, shortly after his enlistment, and was taken to the
army hospital at Tazewell, TN. The cause of his death was listed as typhoid
fever. He was buried in Tazewell. It is reported that Wilson Gillespie had
received no pay during his months in the army.
Malinda Gillespie, widow, made application for a pension,
applying first on September 11, 1865,
with the last appeal dated March 30, 1869. She was finally granted a small pension. She lived until May 21, 1921 and
was buried far from her fallen husband in the Shaws Creek Campground Cemetery near
Horse Shoe, NC.
George Washington Underwood, husband of Isabel Gillespie, died April 8, 1864. Details and place of his death are unknown to
this writer. The only one alive of the four men who went with high
hopes to defend the Union was
Robert O. Blythe, husband of Jane Gillespie. However,
since his death occurred on January 21, 1866, he
may have returned home with an injury or illness from the war. He was 54 when he died and was buried at Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery in Henderson
In Union County, Georgia,
John R. and James A. Gillespie would have heard with great sadness
about the deaths of their brothers Philip and Wilson and
their brothers-in- law. George W. Underwood and
Robert O. Blythe.
thanks to Dennis Glazener and his book, “The Gillespie Gun Makers of
East Fork, NC” (2004) for information for this article. He granted permission for the use of pictures
to accompany this article. On the very day
this article will appear in “The Sentinel,” he is in Union
County, GA from
Midlothian, VA. Local resident, Billy Harkins, also a
Gillespie descendant, is showing Dennis Glazener
where John and James Gillespie had their gunshop
in Union County.]
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Oct. 12, 2006 in The Union
Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708
Updated June 15, 2008
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