Skip to main content

Letter and ring ties ancestry of local family to the Civil War

By
JACKIE KOCH

For Tecumseh resident Jack Beach and his wife, Margaret, the past is more than just history. Their ancestors are solidly linked to the present, and the evidence of how those distant family members lived also links the local couple to each other.

John G. Elliott, Jack’s great-grandfather, was born March 10, 1844 in South Carolina and at age 17 became a soldier in the Confederate States of America Army. Two years of war brought him to Vicksburg, Mississippi and the Battle of Vicksburg when he was just 19, when the Union Army under Ulysses S. Grant surrounded the city of Vicksburg and starved the garrison out. When the Confederate soldiers ran out of food they eventually surrendered on July 4, 1863.

Because the Union Army did not have the ability to keep all of the prisoners, they gave them the chance to be released to go home if they wrote an amnesty letter. John wrote such a missive.

“To all whom it may concern, now hear that I, John G. Elliott, a Private of Co. G, 43rd Regiment, Mississippi volunteers C.S.A.
(Confederate States of America), being a prisoner of war in the hands of the U.S. Forces, in virtue of the capitulation of the city of Vicksburg and its garrison of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton C.S.A. commanding, on the fourth day of July, 1863, do in pursuant of the terms of the capitulation give this my solemn parole Under oath – that I will not take up arms again against the U.S. States nor serve in any military, police or constabulary force in any fort, garrison or field work held by the Confederate States of America against the U.S. States of America, nor as guard of any prisons, depots or stores, nor discharge any duties usually performed by officers or soldiers against the U.S. of American until duly exchanged by proper authorities,” the letter reads. It was signed on July 6, 1863.

Somehow, the letter did not stay with the Union officials and was kept as a memento of the war. John went back home and eventually was married in November 1890 to Eliza Ann Thomas, a woman 18 years younger than he. “She lived to be 92 and I can remember going to her house when I was a little boy,” Jack said of his great-grandmother. “That’s pretty close to history.”

The amnesty letter was passed down from Eliza to Jack’s aunt, and fascinated him from an early age. “He swears to never take arms up against the United States or serve any military or constabulary force. It’s kind of a cool letter,” said Jack. “When I was a kid and we would visit my aunt. She showed it to me once, and in the summer we would occasionally go back to visit relatives in Mississippi and I would say to my aunt, ‘Hey can I see that letter again?’”

His aunt had the letter folded and kept in an old cigar box in the top of a closet, and would take it out and hand it to him to read. “One year after Margaret and I were married I handed it back to her and she said, “Oh hell, just keep it. I was going to give it to you when I died anyway,” he said. “My aunt was quite a character.”

Jack and Margaret brought the letter home, made some copies of it, and had it nicely framed. I now graces a wall of their home, just one reminder of the lives that came before them.

Margaret took up genealogy as a hobby, which has led to many discoveries about their ancestors. Her family has been in Michigan since before Michigan became a state, and she is a member of the Descendants of the Mayflower Society. She was fortunate to receive three large binders of family history from an aunt who did genealogy research in the 1940s and ‘50s, tracing her family lines for hundreds of years.  

Jack’s family was one of the first to live in the state of Mississippi and were some of the state’s founders, with one distant great-grandfather being the first white person to live in Indian territory in northern Mississippi. His family has been in the United States since the early 1600s, as has Margaret’s. His 11th great grandfather was a man named Christopher Newport, a ship captain who brought three ships to America from England to transport the settlers who came to settle Jamestown, Virginia. 

The couple has one more artifact that connects them to the past. When John G. Elliott married Eliza, he had a special wedding band made for her, a wide, 18-karat gold ring with his initials, “J.G.E.” engraved on the inside. That wedding band was passed from Jack’s great-grandmother to his grandmother, and then to his mother. “And then when Margaret and I decided to get married, my mother gave it to me and that became my wife’s wedding band,” Jack said. He had the ring inscribed with his own initials, “J.E.B.”, before he and Margaret got married, continuing the chain of tradition and keeping the family love and the love of family visible, decade after decade.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates