Elizabeth PICKENS Denton

A recent find of a pension application in the Georgia Digital Archive shed a lot of light into the life story of this Tennessee Civil War widow. A sketch of her life, with sources, is given here. Any corrections or additions, with sources, are welcome and will be incorporated. A separate post on her husband will be coming soon.

Elizabeth PICKENS was born on Oct 2, 1828 in Blount County, Tennessee (1), to John PICKENS and Nancy (maiden name unknown). Her brother Joseph PICKENS and sister Letta PICKENS would have been 18 and 14, respectively (2). Letta appeared to have some special needs, and lived her life not being able to read or write in an otherwise literate family. (3,4,5) If there were other siblings, they are not known at this time. John and Nancy were 40 and 39 at the time of Elizabeth’s birth, and it appears that Elizabeth might have been the baby of the family, with no children following (2).

In early 1840, her father John applied to purchase 80 acres of land in nearby Bradley County, which was being partitioned for settlement in the wake of the tragic Cherokee Trail of Tears. His purchase was approved later that year (6), and it can be presumed that the family would have moved there sometime soon after, when Elizabeth was 12 or 13. This land was likely undeveloped, and turning it into a working farm would have been a very large effort for this family. Joseph and Letta both came along.

Tennessee Land Records, 1840

In 1850, John and Joseph are both listed as farmers on John’s farm, valued at $1200. (2) In 1850, the average value of land in Bradley county was $6 an acre (7), so their farm either would have been considerably improved, or perhaps they purchased additional land to their original 80 acres, or it simply sat on desirable land. Elizabeth was 21 at this time, and had undoubtedly spent her teenage years working hard at the family farm.

1850 Census, Bradley County, Tennessee

Neighbors to the Pickens family were the families of Greenbury DENTON and Leonard DENTON. Elizabeth would meet and be courted by a Camillus Cornelius DENTON (alt. Camillas, Camelias), perhaps while visiting with her neighbor Dentons, or perhaps Camillus had moved to Bradley county himself sometime after 1850. They were married on January 14, 1856 in Bradley County (1). Elizabeth was 27, Camillus was 34. Children came right away, and by the time of the 1860 census, Elizabeth and Camillus were living most probably on land originally belonging to Greenbury or Leonard. They were right next to Elizabeth’s parents, brother, and sister, and they were raising 2 young sons, 4 year-old John DENTON and 2 year-old Joseph DENTON, names following Elizabeth’s father and older brother. Also in the household is listed a 4 year-old girl named Esther, who is identified as mulatto. (3) Nothing more is known about Esther, and she was not listed with the family 10 years later.

1860 Census, Bradley County, Tennessee

A third son, Samuel DENTON, was born about 1861. Little Joseph would not live long, probably dying before he was older than 5. (4) Their last son Joseph Martin DENTON, born on New Year’s day in 1863 (8), was given the name of his recently departed brother.

The Civil War began in 1861, and portions of Bradley county would be army-occupied through almost the entire length of the war, by one side or another. The Confederacy passed a conscription law in April of 1862, requiring able-bodied men 18 to 35 to three years of service. Camillus was 40 at the time, and they were busy with 3 or 4 young boys, and the farm to run. Bradley county, and eastern Tennessee generally, was opposed to secession. It is unknown where the Denton’s sympathies laid. Unionists, such as there were, were under intense governmental pressure in the Confederacy, and joining the Confederate army did not necessarily equate to support for the Confederate cause, particularly in East Tennessee. The Confederate draft was soon expanded to include older men, and Camillus enlisted with the Tennessee Infantry in August of 1863. (1) Elizabeth was 34, had been married for 7 years, had already buried a son, and had 3 boys aged 6 years, 2 years, and 7 months. Now her husband was leaving for war, with Elizabeth to take care of the farm.

Elizabeth and Camillus wrote at least a few times. However, she was never to see her husband again. He was captured in Virginia in June of 1864 and taken to Point Lookout prison camp in Maryland. The last communication Elizabeth received was a brief letter from Camillus from the prison camp, shortly after his capture. She never heard any further definite news, so she must have waited and hoped for his safe return. (1) The war ended in April of 1865, but he did not return. Elizabeth had been left a widow, with 3 small boys and a farm to manage.

Last letter from CC to Elizabeth, June 29, 1864

By 1870, Elizabeth’s parents had also both died, but her brother Joseph was still living next-door, taking care of Letta. Elizabeth was listed on the census with her boys, 13 year-old John doing “Farm labour.” (4)

1870 Census, Bradley County, Tennessee

Over the next decade, her boys grew up, Samuel left home, and her brother Joseph passed away. In 1880, Elizabeth was 51 with sons John and Joseph at home, and caring for her older sister Letta. (5)

1880 Census, Bradley County, Tennessee

The 1880 US Census Agricultural schedule gives us a sense for her farm, which was likely a combination of the one she grew up on, and the one that she and Camillus had started after marriage. 130 acres of mixed farm and forestland, a horse, a donkey, and a milk cow. Over the prior year she had purchased 12 cows, sold 15, and slaughtered 2. She had made 150 pounds of butter. 3 pigs, 20 chickens (producing 150 dozen eggs per year). 30 acres of corn, 25 of wheat, 50 apple trees and 50 peach trees, bees enough to produce 100 pounds of honey a year (perhaps 4 hives), and harvested 25 bushels of cowpeas. She had harvested 30 cords of wood from her forest. Overall, hers was a fairly typical farm for it’s area and time, providing for her family and producing a variety of products for sale or barter. (9)

1880 Agricultural Schedule, Bradley County, Tennessee

The information in the 1890 census is lost to us, but we know Elizabeth must have sold the farm at some point. In 1891, Elizabeth lost the use of one of her hands in a fall. (1) Perhaps this would have prompted the sale of the farm.

In 1892, Joseph Martin was living in Chattanooga as a carpenter. Elizabeth and John would soon follow, and two years later we find them in the Chattanooga city directory as well, John working as a contractor and Elizabeth, now 64, living with John. The next year 1895, Joseph Martin moved in with Elizabeth, and John appears to have moved out. The Cotton States and International Exposition was held in Atlanta in 1895, and Joseph took his family to visit. Joseph continues to be listed in Chattanooga in 1896, but Elizabeth moved to Atlanta in October of that year. By 1897, Joseph has also left Chattanooga, moving to Atlanta. (11)

1895 City Directory, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Now in her 70s, Elizabeth was living with Joseph’s family in Atlanta in 1900. (12) In 1901, she filed for a widow’s pension for reasons of age and poverty. By this time, it appears her personal property had dwindled to basically nothing. Responding to a question on the pension application, she stated “I hav a Bed and wareing Close is all”

She was unable to work and was being supported by John and Joseph completely. (1) She appeared to share occupancy between the two.

1900 Census, Fulton County, Georgia

At the age of 79, Elizabeth passed away on November 24, 1907 in Atlanta, at her son Joseph’s house. She was taken back to Tennessee for funeral and burial. (13)

From the Atlanta Georgian, Nov. 25, 1907

Future Directions

There are still several questions unanswered, and perhaps approachable with a little more research:

  1. A more exact description of Elizabeth’s early childhood. Where was she born in Blount county? Did she grow up with other siblings nearer her age?
  2. More information about the family farm. It was probably located around Charleston, but based on John’s land application, and census data, it should be possible to figure out the exact location.
  3. How was Camillus related to Greenbury and Leonard? Did he move to Bradley county and buy the neighboring farm before he met Elizabeth?
  4. Who is Esther, and what became of her after 1860?
  5. Was the farm impacted by Confederate or Union troop occupation in the area?
  6. Elizabeth submitted several letters from Camillus in her pension application. Did she keep others and are they still held by a descendant?
  7. What became of Samuel?
  8. Bradley County court record indices indicate two court cases between Elizabeth and her sister Letta. Joining Letta’s side in the cases is an R.J. Cate. Perhaps this is about guardianship? This trail has not yet been explored.
  9. Where is Elizabeth buried? Likely in McMinn or Bradley county, but the cemetery is unknown.


While some clipped images are included within the sketch, Elizabeth’s FamilySearch page has been updated with most of the below sources for more complete information. Her FamilySearch ID is L788-V58.

  1. Widow’s pension
  2. 1850 Census
  3. 1860 Census
  4. 1870 Census
  5. 1880 Census
  6. Tennessee Land Records
  7. Farm real estate values in the United States by counties, 1850-1982/ Charles H. Barnard, John Jones.Barnard, Charles H.Washington, D.C. : U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 1987.
  8. Death certificate of Joseph M DENTON
  9. 1880 Census Agricultural Schedule
  10. Personal narrative of Myrtle Fay DENTON
  11. Chattanooga City Directories, 1892 – 1897
  12. 1900 Census
  13. Atlanta Georgian Newspaper, Nov 25 and 26, 1907

The Last Two Letters of James DICKERSON

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Understanding and forgiveness appear in Letter 11.  The realities of war are described and as ever, James has a keen sensitivity to crops and prices of goods in the area.   He still has no money and is concerned about his family having shoes.

The last letter, number 12 is penned by someone other than James due to his injury.  He is in a Confederate Hospital in Richmond, VA.

Letter 11

Virginia  richmond      June the 20th

Dier wife      I take the plesier of droping you a few lines to informe you that I am well at this time and I hope this will find you all well      I reseved youre leter dated the 11 witch please me vary mutch to her that you was all well and you have become reconsiled about your spyses       I a sorra to think you had that opinion of mee       Wright pritchet died last night and his brother cant carry him home       it cost $40-$50 dolers to barry ethring so ther is no chance for the pore       I int to git my tipe to you for there is no chances        there is one hundred men in this company and about thirty four duty tha ar qurd of them that —- it gives them the brake         tha ar fiting every day in  – ———the ole gineral burnt everything up the tents and everything        we have only what we had on our backs        tell my farther [father] [1] that tome [Tommy] [2] is her and looks as well as I ever seen him       his ridgment is in our brigade       Corne is three dolars a bushel her      sirup is five dolars a galon       are you making aney corne       I reseved youre leter that tha ole mail in one day the 17       Yall rote to mee wether I got pleanty to eat or not       I doo sutch as it is       Bread and meat       wheat bread at that         wee git som beef ons a week       I have got a bunch of wheet      Crops is vary good her       you don’t no how glad I would be to see you all       I doo dreame about you aften times        I think if I doo ever git out of this I will stay at home the balans of my dayes     I don’t hav eny idea that tha war will last mutch longer Continue reading

What Else Happened in 1862?


James DICKERSON’s letters to his wife Clary were written in the year 1862.  Of interest are other events that happened the same year:

  • The first income tax was implemented;  3% of incomes less than $600.
  • Paper money called ‘greenbacks’ were issued to the United States by President Abraham Lincoln.
  • The United States Mint was established by Congress in Denver CO.
  • Bucharest was proclaimed the capitol of Romania.
  • Julia Howe published “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.
  • The U.S. Navy’s first ironclad ship was launched and in the same year their ironclad ship ‘Monitor’ sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C.
  • Congress outlaws polygamy.
  • Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln, freeing slaves in the U.S.
  • The Battle of Antietam was fought and was the single most deadly day of the Civil War with 23,110 casualties.
  • 1st pasteuriztion test completed by Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard.
  • The bowling ball was invented.

Unhappy and Upset – Letters 9 and 10 of James DICKERSON

Civil War Balloon 'Intrepid'

In Letter 9, James wants information from Clary to change his situation in the military stating that he ‘can’t live this life’.  His possesions include a blanket, napsack and discarded knife.

In Letter 10 the strain of separation from his wife is manifest.  It would be so interesting to know what Clary said in her letter dated June 4th.  We can only imagine  it expressed displeasure and some distrust after Letter 5 where James wrote about the women he had seen and his desire to go fishing with Clary.  James ends letter 10 rather cold and business like.

The National Park Service website astutely describes the average soldier of the civil war;  ‘They would face diseases they had never known and wounds they had never imagined. And through it all, these common-folk-turned-soldiers would endure homesickness to a degree none of them had ever envisioned.’

Letter 9

Richmond Virginia    June the 10 1862

Dier wife      I take the plesier of droping you a few lines to informe you that I am well at this time and I hope this will find you injoing the blesing      I want you to rite to mee as soon as you git this leter      I want you to rite to mee what ridment Wiley [1] is in Va and all about it for I don’t aime to sta her      I can get a transfer to my brother anewher you can fine out from J. Grant [2] and from Any Brown [3] the life I live      I cant live this life      I have got one blanket and my napsack and the knife that lutie give to Brown the time of the retreat he throde it away and I pick it up and I am a going to fetch it home if I cane      Nothing more at present only I remane youre husban until death

by D.J. Proctor to Mrs. C. Dickerson


[1] Wiley is James’ younger brother born 8 Oct 1835.  He enlisted in the 32nd Confederate Infantry Regiment, Company H.

[2] J. Grant is probably J.L. Grant found living in Proctor, Monroe County, GA at the time of the 1860 census.  He was born about 1825, was married and had 5 children.

[3] Any Brown is most likely Andrew J. Brown who enlisted in Company H of the 32nd GA Infantry Regiment on 6 May 1862 just as Wiley DICKERSON.

Letter 10

Virginia Richmond    June the 14 1862

Dier wife      I seat my self to informe you that I am well at this time      I reseved yore leter dated the 4 witch I was sorry to her that you was displeise with the one I sent you [1]     I ment no harme of it      you did not understand it about not being at home when you rote      I had no blank look nor the old man and wher did you git it and william Brown [2] told me that he heard your brother Henry say  that he was going to move you closer to his hous and I rote to you I would be glad to be at home so mee and you could go afishing witch was no harme      I have no spise ther [spies there] and I dont want you to rite to mee about none of youre Dam spise and if cant [d]o so I dont want you to rite at all you can use youre one plesier about it      I think that the war will come to a close      I am as hapy as if were soner      I see yankes every Day tha have berloones [3]      you dont rite whether you ar making any corne or not       So good evening      Nothing more at presant


[1] Letter 5 dated May 24

[2] William Brown was from Monroe County GA and enlisted in Jame’s regiment on th 4 Mar 1862

[3] Union army balloons were a common site in the Richmond area.  The ‘Gazelle’ and ‘Intrepid’ were two balloons used at this time.

From ‘Seven Days War Ballooning in the Civil War’ by James Green we learn:

” . . nearly daily balloon ascensions at Yorktown attracted much attention from the Confederates with the balloon being a constant target for their guns. Lowe stated, “the enemy opened upon it with their heavy siege guns or rifled field pieces, until it had attained an altitude to be out of reach, and repeated this fire when the balloon descended, until it was concealed by the woods.”

150th Anniversary of the Civil War

We are in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War 1861-1865.  There are many events commemorating this piece of history coming up in the next year or two. Many of our kindred dead were involved in this war.  It’s a great opportunity to enrich your lives while the anniversary is being observed.

You might find something of interest by looking at the Civil War Sesquincentennial Events site.  Just enter a state to see if anything is happening where you’re at.

Civil War Reenactment at Kennesaw Mountain National Park

For instance, this summer on July 28th there is an Artillery Demonstration at Kennesaw Mountain National Park, just northwest of Atlanta.

The Kennesaw Mountain Website posts tidbits of facts named “Did You Know”.  An example of one is below.

Did You Know –  Confederate armies were usually named for states or regions where they campaigned, while union armies were named after major rivers.  Thus the Confederate Army of Tennessee opposed to the Union Army of the Tennessee.

An 1862 Easter

Happy Easter.  Thoughts and hopes of restoration are hard to resist when learning about our kindred ancestors who’ve moved on, especially the many who suffered and died in war.  I found an Easter sermon written in 1862 at Civilwar.com that sheds light on concerns and challenges of the day.

In addition, I’ve included a couple of videos about Aimee Copeland, a young woman who recently suffered the challenges of amputation.  She is an inspiration as are many others in our own family.

The sermon does not lack for words, thought or content.  Death is likened to sleep.  Just as the body requires sleep and rest for restoration, so does the soul require death to be restored, calling it “tired nature’s sweet restorer . . . ”

“Now, such is the effect of the body’s visit to its grave . . .  all weary and worn . . . They go there with the furrowed brow, the hollowed cheek, the wrinkled skin—they shall wake up in beauty and glory. The old man totters there, leaning on his staff. The palsied comes there, trembling all the way. The halt, the lame, the withered, the blind journey in doleful pilgrimage to the common dormitory. But they shall not rise decrepit, deformed, or diseased, but strong, vigorous, active, glorious, immortal!

Out of the 3 million men who fought in the Civil War on both sides, most of them had a rural, agrarian background like James DICKERSON.  They had a keen understanding of the growing seasons and the importance of seeds with their renewal or germinating power.

“The shriveled seed, so destitute of form and comeliness, shall rise from the dust a beauteous flower. A green blade all fresh and young shall spring up where before there was the dried decayed grain . . . “

The casualties of war included not only loss of life, but amputations and disfigurement as well.   The reference to ‘the holy martyrs’ who suffered similar trials gives way to hope of restoration.  Back then in 1862, most relied on faith in God to make sense of death.  But today we have . . . uh, well. . . let’s see . . . about the same thing.

“Well said the holy martyrs, when their limbs were being torn away—’We cheerfully resign these members to the God who gave them to us.’ Our members are not ours to hold or lose, no torment can rob us of them in reality. For when we wake up in Christ’s likeness it will not be as halt or lame, but full of strength and vigor—more comely than earthly sons of men . . . The winter of the grave shall soon give way to the spring of resurrection and the summer of glory. Blessed is death, since it answers all the ends of medicine to this mortal frame and through the Divine power disrobes us of the leprous rags of flesh, to clothe us with the wedding garment of incorruption!”

A modern story of inspiration and bravery in the face of bodily trials is found in Aimee Copeland, a young University of GA student who suffered a gash to her leg from a river rock when she fell from a faulty home made zip line.  An infection in her leg gave way to a flesh eating necrosis that led to amputations and organ failure.  Not only did she beat the odds and survive but Continue reading

‘We have some hard fiting . . . ‘ Letters 7 and 8 of James DICKERSON

James sounds very low in letter 7.   He’s ill and homesick.  His living conditions are poor and he’s seen casualties of battle, one of them being the death of a friend.  His request is for a momento of hair and the written word from Clary.  Letter 8 appears to be written 3 days after letter 7.  He is in better health but describes the cold, hunger, and anticipation of battle they are living with.  Sickness is amongst the Regiment. He wants to know about home life and remains an ‘affectionate husban.”

Letter 7

Richmond Virginina       June the 5 1862

Dier wife      I take my seet this morning to let you now that I am not well at presant      I not got none leters from you in along time      I think sometimes that you have stop riting      I ly down in a hole of water and get up out a hole of water       wee have some hard fiting everyday      Mose Suten got kiled and great many was wounded      I her that all men that is over thirty five [1] can go home after the 16 of June and if it is so you may look for mee      I have nothing to rite to you of importans      I want you to make mee a brade of your hair and send it to mee      I want you to rite to mee      I have rote ten or twelve leters and reseced foure      tha balans gits leters evry week      I will come to a close saing I am your beloved husband until Deth       J. H. Dickerson to Mrs. C. Dickerson.

[1] James is age 40.

Letter 8

Richmond Virginia the 8   1862

Dier wife       I take this opertunity of droping you a few lines to informe you that I am well at presant and hopeing these few lines may fine you all well       I want to her from you all       any  how I am her in the woods with one blanket and napsack and hot [not] half enof to eat        we are looking evry minet for a fight       we can see plenty of yanks one the other side of the river       we are sheling each other every day       Dick Bias receve a leter from his wife that stated tha had bin a fight in youre settement       I want you to rite to mee if you plese that all git leter but mee      I would be glad to her from you       now is the time to rite       this makes twelve leters I have rote to you      we have a great deal of sickness       John Holwer left us at ginee and i dont no where he is tha loued he would die [1]       all the sickness is from the mesels [2]       I dont want to stay this part of the world      it is cold and too wet       it was cold last night       I want you to rite to mee wether your raking my wheet or not and how youre comin and how you came on rasing chickines and what your hogs is a doing      Jo gilping [3] is home sick and William B too and I am sorter soo my love is all I will to you       the reson I didant pay the potea tha [they] tole [told]  me that tha would go beter without       you must not think hard of it      escuse my hand rite for i had to rite it one my napsack by a fire so I will close       I shal not rite until I git a leter from you       nothing more at presant onley I remane youre afectionate husban until Deth   J. H. Dickerson to Mrs. C. Dickerson

[1] ‘tha loued he would die’ is probably ‘They [be]’lieved he would die’.

[2] A confederate soldier had a 1 in 8 chance of dying in battle and a 1 in 5 chance of dying of disease according to Eric Either (Dec 2003 Civil War Times).  Measles was only a part of the disease epidemic.  Dysentery was number 1 with typhoid, pneumonia, tuberculosis and malaria contributing.  It’s hard to imagine now,  but the folk of the day did not understand that contaminated water and poor sanitation were the major facilitators of so much disease.

[3] ‘Jo Gilping’ is Joseph M.Gilpin married to James’ sister Elizabeth Dickerson Gilpin.  His death on Sept 7th of that same year was communicated to his wife by a letter from W. J. Proctor, 1st SGT in company D.  He writes,

“I embrace the present opportunity to communicate to you the painful intellegiance of the death of your husband.  He died this morning about sunrise at the field hospital about one mile from the company.  He had been complainine for a day or two.  Yesterday mornin he seemed to be quite sick and only lived until this morning.  I am informed that he died from inflamation of the bowels (gun shot). . . I deem it the duty of some member of this company to tell you of the sad fact and take the task upon myself.  I’m not very well aquainted with you but am well acquainted with your father . . . “

5 Fashion Tips from 1862

Even though no picture of Clary DICKERSON has surfaced yet, we can imagine a little bit about how she looked.

Five fashion tips that were popular during her day:

1. Part your hair in the middle.

The popular hair style of the day was to part the hair in the middle with the long tresses rolled and/or  braided into a low bun at the nape of the neck.  In the evening, the pieces of hair could be curled and hung in ringlets.

2. Wear a hoop.

The modern ones made of steel or brass are best but if you can’t get your hands on one of these, your old whalebone or rattan hoop will do.

3. Purple is IN!

The first colorfast synthetic purple dye had just been developed.  Awesome.

4. Full Skirts are Back

Clary might have worn clothes similar to these Civil War re-enactors in the following video:

5. Sheer Elegance

For those warm summer evenings, sheer cotton organdy is the way to go.  You don’t want to miss the 1862 Fashion Show by Robin Stokes.  Live models wear remakes of dresses from the ‘Godeys Lady’s Book’, a catalog of dresses.  It’s fun.  Click here to see it:  1862 FASHION SHOW.

1862 Godey's  Dresses

Next post?  Watch for 2 more letters to Clary from her husband James. He likes her hair . . .

“I have seene sights . . . ” Letters 5 and 6 of James DICKERSON

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Letters 5 and 6 were written 7 days apart.  On May 27 the Battle of Hanover Courthouse (also known as the Battle of Slash Church) was fought. It is noted that about 200 Confederates died on the field and 730 captured. The Union lost about 375 with 70 captured (James says 60 were captured).

In letter 5, James had already seen death in the Regiment due to sickness and was still experiencing illness himself.  He obviously misses the female companionship of his wife and keeps count of how many letters they have (or have not) written to each other.  James wants to make changes and it appears there are many uncertainties at home.

In the 6th letter, James describes the hardship of the last few days. He has ‘seene sights’ of battle and death.  Make sure to read note #4 that more fully describes the situation of the Regiment in a letter written by a young man also of the regiment.  It’s incredible that so much information can be gleaned on the internet.

Letter 5

Virginia       Caroliner County       May 24      1862

Dier wife      I take my seet this morning to drop you a few lines that I am well at this time and I hope these few lines will find you all well     I reseve youre leter dated the 16 of May whitch gave mee great plesir to her from you      wee have a great deal of sickness in the ridgment and deths [1]      when i first came her I had the yerake [2] so bad that I was dif      and when I was at golesborough I had the _______ and the rumatisam in the hip and nee so that I could not walk but I am as well as before at this time      wee have tite laws in this rigment no man can go a mile from the rigment without a pas      there is a few peple lives in this county and tha ar rich      I see some few wimin when I go on dres parrad [3] and tha ar as ugley as tha Devil   Continue reading