Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Torn families – the Burlesons, Yancey County, North Carolina.


Cumberland Gap

The War years are full of interesting stories and sad coincidences. Part of the latter may be found in the story of Daniel W. Burleson and his son William.

The Burlesons (sometimes Burlisons) were a middle-class family living in the mountains of western North Carolina. While the 1860 census enumerator did not divide their home county (Yancey County) into districts, they claimed they received their mail in Burnsville, North Carolina.

Like many families in the area, the war tore this family apart. William P. Burleson joined the 58th North Carolina Troops in the summer of 1862. Like many records in the 58th North Carolina, Burleson’s compiled service record is rather incomplete. We don’t know the exact date he enlisted, what company he joined, nor his rank. He was 18 years old. We might be able to assume that he was forced to enlist by the Conscription Act, but we really don’t know that either. All the records tell us is that he died of “typhoid fever” on September 15, 1862, at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. An announcement in the Asheville News on October 9, 1862, told people that William A. Burleson “was a pious boy and a good boy, and leaves a father and mother to mourn his loss.” (Jordan, NC Troops,14:422)

William’s father, Daniel, also joined the military. On May 6, 1864, in Cumberland Gap, where his son had died several months earlier, Daniel joined Co. H, 2nd North Carolina Mountain Infantry (US). Daniel was 45 years old at the time of his enlistment. Five months later, on October 5, 1864, Private Daniel Burleson died of chronic diarrhea at the hospital in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. We really don’t know why or what compelled Daniel to enlist in the Federal army. The two North Carolina regiments from the western part of the state were not exactly models of fighting to preserve the Union, or even to free the slaves. They were more akin to robbing and plundering their neighbors. Daniel would leave several children back in Yancey County fatherless. (Two other sons would also join local Federal regiments in 1864).

There is really little more to add to this story. In a post-war widow pension application, John W. Burleson, one of Daniel’s other sons, stated that Daniel had been forced into the home guard and forced “to hunt up his neighbors, union men, [and] help force them into the rebel army and he did not want to do this any longer. The only thing left for him was to join the federals…” Of course, pension records are not always the most reliable source.

In the end, it is just another tragic glimpse of our history. Most of the graves of the Federal soldiers were relocated to the Knoxville National Cemetery after the war.  There is a good chance that is where Daniel Burleson is interred. The grave of William, and hundreds of other Confederates who died in the Cumberland Gap area, seems to be lost to history.