Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kentucky's Elizabeth Wirz

By Nancy Hitt (originally published in the Winter 2006 The Lost Cause)

Most of us already know the sad story of Captain Henry Wirz, and his unjust execution at the hands of Yankee “fiends.” The lies, trumped-up charges and use of “charlatans” as government witnesses against Wirz  and his command of Andersonville are all too familiar to those who have studied the War for Southern Independence. These tactics were not unique in the mistreatment of Wirz (see “Walter G. Ferguson: Martyr for Kentucky” in the Fall, 2005, issue of The Lost Cause). Unfortunately, Captain Wirz, of Zurich, Switzerland, was foreign-born and more vulnerable to public outrage by Yanks looking for revenge.

My Confederate interests led me to an exchange of email with one of Captain Wirz’s collateral descendants in Europe. Colonel Heinrich Wirz of Switzerland often visits the States to do honor to his ancestor and to fight for justice for Captain Wirz even at this late date. Colonel Wirz has been active seeking a revocation of the Wirz sentence through the efforts by the SCV’s Committee to Exonerate Henry Wirz. For several years we have discussed the mystery of the location of the grave of Mrs. Elizabeth Wirz, who was a native of Trigg County, Kentucky. It had been understood that she was buried somewhere in an unmarked grave in Trigg County.

I had a good lead about two years ago when Linda Fritz’s mother told me at the Jefferson Davis Birthday Celebration in Fairview, Kentucky,  that she was related to the Wolfe family (Elizabeth’s first husband) and had been to the cemetery where Elizabeth Wirz was supposed to be buried, but I was unable to meet up with this lady in order to visit the cemetery and she was not able to describe the location to me so that I could find it on my own.

While doing research on a Confederate veteran for Rebecca Owen of the Hopkinsville Library, which is located in Christian County, adjacent to Trigg, I mentioned that I was anxious to find the grave of Mrs. Wirz and lo and behold she was kind enough to mail me a long article from the “Trigg County Historical Articles Vol. 2” by Don Simmons which actually stated in detail where Elizabeth Wirz was buried in Trigg County in an unmarked grave in the Fuller Cemetery at the Boyd Hill Church in Linton, Kentucky.

Additional information came to light from this material. We could deduct that Elizabeth was probably the daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth (Rhodes) Savells, but I needed more proof, so I obtained the “Savils/Sivils” booklet again from Don Simmons who is the former owner of the Simmons Historical Publications in Melber, Kentucky. I am using Savells as Elizabeth’s surname as this is the spelling on her marriage record. There are a variety of spellings for this surname even including the use of C as in Civils.

This booklet, by Barbara Smith, confirmed the fact that Elizabeth Wirz was Elizabeth C. Savells. She was born about 1824 and her father, Daniel, died February 4th, 1826, leaving Elizabeth, her sister and two brothers. It does not appear that her mother remarried.

Elizabeth Wirz’s mother appeared to have been founding member in 1845 of the Bethesda Methodist Church, which is now located at 5556 Highway 139 between Princeton and Cadiz, Kentucky. The current location dates from 1877. This date comes from the book about Trigg County by William Henry Perrin. The older frame church was bricked over and had recently received its very first steeple when Betty McCorkle and I stopped there in January of 2006.
The Savells’ home was to the West of the Church, somewhere between the Muddy Fork Creek and the Hurricane Church. A historic Indian fort was located on their property. Betty has been in contact with the current owner of the farm where the old fort was located on a hill near a spring for Revolutionary War use.

In Trigg County, on March 16, 1846, the marriage records show that Elizabeth C. Savells married Alfred C. Wolfe, who died sometime before the 1850 census, as Elizabeth appears back in the home with her widowed mother and other family members and her own two daughters, Susan Jane Wolfe, age 3 years and Cornelia A. Wolfe, age 2 years.

Again in Trigg County the marriage records show that Elizabeth (Savells) Wolfe married Henry Wirz on May 27, 1854. Henry Wirz was a physician and had a practice in Trigg County during his stay in that area. 

The family moved to Millikens Bend, Louisiana, where he was employed at the Marshall Plantation to tend to the sick and injured servants. Geneva Williams of the Madison (Louisiana) Historical Society believes that the Marshall Plantation is now part of the corporate-owned Ashley Plantation.

In the Madison Parish 1860 Census we find two daughters, Cora Lee, age 5 years born in Kentucky and an infant, Ida Wirz,  born in Louisiana. All historical reference works we’ve seen as to the offspring of Captain Wirz indicated that he had only one daughter by Elizabeth, so this youngster was a surprise to us and it appears that Ida did not live to adulthood. Due to encroaching waters, some of the dead at Millikens Bend were moved to the Silver Cross Cemetery. Geneva could find no record of Ida Wirz being buried in the Silver Cross Cemetery and if she did die in that area, she may have been buried at a location destroyed by the War, as only four buildings in the Parish remained standing after the Yankee invasion.

Elizabeth Wirz followed her husband to the Andersonville prison and was forced to suffer the same deprivations of food that the soldiers suffered at that time with the South was running out of supplies, men, money and time.

After the War she tried to save him from death at the hands of the “victors” to no avail. She was allowed little, if any, visitation, during his months of imprisonment. After his execution, she requested his body be returned to the family for a Christian burial, but was again refused. During Captain Wirz’s imprisonment, government officials tried to accuse Elizabeth of smuggling him poison in order to deny them their vengeance by hanging. Actually, she was home in Kentucky during the time she was supposed to have attempted this.

She returned home and appeared in the 1870 census of Trigg County with Cornelia Wolfe, age 21, who was teaching school, and Cora Lee Wirz, age 14. There is no mention of Ida Wirz in this census.

The Wirz Children, Mystery of Elizabeth’s Resting Place

Both of the Wolfe daughters who had been raised by Captain Wirz married Redd brothers and appear to have remained in the Trigg county area.

Susan Jane Wolfe was born July 10, 1847, and she married George L. Redd on September 29, 1867. They had nine children. Susan died November 15, 1915, and George died January 16, 1916. They are buried in a plot together with Oscar Redd, their son and Myrtle Violie Redd, their granddaughter. Amelia Eudora Redd, their daughter-in-law, is also buried in the same plot. Amelia was the mother of Myrtle and wife of Walker Redd, who was a son of Susan and George Redd. These folks are buried in the Fuller Cemetery four miles North of Linton, KY on Hwy 164. As you will recall, this is the same cemetery that was recorded as the place where Elizabeth Wirz was buried in an unmarked grave. This becomes more logical when we learn that her eldest daughter is buried there as well. I believe that Mrs. Elizabeth Wirz has finally been found! We may never be able to find the exact spot in the cemetery where she is buried, but it seems evident when one studies the facts of her life that she is buried in this well-cared-for cemetery. 

We were not able to locate the Boyd Hill Church, and we found out later that it burned in 1983. Apparently there was a family connection to Linton as Walker Redd worked on the John M. Boyd farm near to Linton for 22 years and his wife Amelia, was born and raised in Linton. I believe that John Boyd was the founder of the town, and probably the namesake of the Church. Betty McCorkle has researched the record of the Boyd Hill Church and was unable to find evidence that the Redd family were members of this particular church that was founded after the Baptist Church located on Donaldson Creek. A study of the records of the Donaldson Creek Baptist Church may shed some light on the year in which Elizabeth died, as this remains an unanswered question so far in our research. Written reports indicated that the Walker Redd farm was about two miles from the Fuller Cemetery and in the Donaldson Creek area. Both his parents lived with him when they became elderly. Actually, Walker Redd suffered many losses, inlcuding being exposed to rabies and requiring the Pasteur treatment in Bowling Green, KY. During this period his mother passed away and he was unable to attend the funeral. He lost both parents and his wife in less than one year. He was the victim of at least three very destructive fires at his residence. Walker Redd is buried in the East End Cemetery in Cadiz, KY. 

Cornelia A. Wolfe was born on November 3, 1848 and she married James W. Redd on January 1, 1871. She died on May 14, 1881, giving birth to a daughter also named Cornelia. Cornelia Redd and her husband, along with his second wife, Allie, and one of her children are buried in the Redd Cemetery in Cadiz. 

On October 23, 1871, Elizabeth Wirz sold the homeplace of her father, and appears to be residing with her brother, Daniel C. Savells, in Marshall County.

Cora Lee Wirz was born February 24, 1855,  in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. In 1874 she married J. W. Walker at the home of her uncle, Daniel, at Birdwell Landing which is now known as Altona in Marshall County, Kentucky.

Sometime around 1876 Cora was married to J. S. Perrin. The Natchez census of 1886 shows J. S. Perrin to be 39 years old and a machinery dealer, while Cora is 29 years old. They had three children living at that time; Sam, who was nine, Roscoe, age three and an unnamed female, who was one. I believe she is probably Fanny Maude.

Cora Perrin died June 19, 1928, in Natchez, Mississippi. Her death certificate shows that she died at the Natchez Sanatorium of cancer of the liver and stomach. She was 73 years old and her husband was still living at the time at 504 Madison Street in Natchez.  She was buried at the City Cemetery in Natchez, and yet the cemetery director, Don Estes, told me that there are no records for Cora, possibly due to a fire that destroyed many records for that time period.

It appears Cora had many children, but only a few survived. Listed as buried in the City Cemetery in the Perrins Lot, Fields addition, Lot #83, which had space for eight burials, are Cora Lee Perrin, one year old, who died June 5, 1894, J. S. Perrin, a female infant who died October 30, 1895, and Fannie Maude Perrin, 20 years old, who died of yellow fever on September 25, 1905.

Within the Fields plot there are no markers standing for the Perrin family. Perhaps they could not afford markers or they have been damaged by the ravages of time. Could they have been moved? Don Estes has dowsed the area and is not sure if there are any bodies buried in Lot #83. A marker to Harry Johnston, born June 15, 1885, in Boligee, Alabama, and died September 1, 1901, stands alone and is embedded in a tree on the Perrin lot, but we do not know how he was related to the Perrin family.

Roscoe Wirz Perrin, who died September 18, 1907, in New York City is the child mentioned in the 1886 census. Roscoe is buried in another section of  the Natchez City Cemetery, which is named the 1st Zurhellen addition Lot #6.

Cora Lee (Wirz) Perrin had at least one child who lived, and she was Mary Gladys. It is my understanding that Cora Lee was associated with the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Natchez and actively defended her father. Cora and Mary were both present at the dedication of the Wirz monument in Andersonville, Georgia, and Mary Gladys Perrin unveiled the monument to her grandfather on May 12, 1909.

Captain Wirz has four great-great grandsons today living in Louisiana. They are Perrin, Robert, William and John Watkins. Their grandmother was Mary Gladys (Perrin) Watkins. Someday I hope to meet them and perhaps they will travel to Kentucky and visit the Fuller Cemetery where their great-great grandmother is buried.

Kentuckians should be proud that our state holds the remains of such a brave lady, and it has been a personal honor to be part of this effort to expose some more of the tyranny imposed on the prostrate South. It has been a pleasure to finally locate the cemetery, if not the exact gravesite, of Elizabeth Wirz. It is possible she rests under a fieldstone, of which there are many at the Fuller Cemetery, but in the future we will install a memorial stone that will clearly define exactly who she was so others will not have to do this research again.

 We owe it to this Southern Lady who suffered greatly for the Cause to recognize her part in this conflict of which Kentucky and particularly Trigg County offered her sons and daughters in defense of their homes.

I hope that we can have a memorial service perhaps in November of 2006 at the Fuller Cemetery and have descendants of Henry and Elizabeth Wirz in 
attendance. Hopefully, Elizabeth Wirz will never be “lost” again!

In a letter to Louis Schade (the last of his attorneys to quit in protest over the mockery of a trial), dated the day of his execution, November 10, 1865, Capt Wirz wrote:

   Dear Sir: It is no doubt the last time that I address my
self to you. What I have said to you often as often I repeat. Accept my thanks, my sincere, heartfelt thanks, for all you have done for me. May God reward you, I cannot. I still have something more to ask of you, and I am confident you will not refuse to receive my dying request. Please help my poor family - my dear wife and children. War, cruelest, has swept everything from me, and today my wife and children are beggars. My life is demanded as an atonement. I am willing to give it, and hope that after a while, I will be judged differently from what I am
 now. If any one ought to come to the relief of my family, it is the people of the South, for whose sake I have sacrificed all. I know you will excuse me for troubling you again. Farewell, dear sir. May God bless you.

Yours thankfully,
H. Wirz."
Above: The Execution of Henry Wirz


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