Friday, July 11, 2008

Murdered I Say

The above is the tombstone of my 3-great-Uncle George Bible Bennett. He was actually my uncle two different ways since two of his sisters (Sarah & Hannah) were my grandmothers. He was also married to my 3-great aunt, Hannah Cassel, on another side. Oddly enough, Hannah was the sister to my 3-great grandfather, Cullom Cassel, and also to my 3-great grandmother, Elizabeth (Cassel) Nelson. In Pendleton County you will find that all of the older families will have multiple connections.

The interesting story about George Bible Bennett (1831-1864), is that his tombstone reads:

"Here lies GBB
Killed by the Swamps
Murdered I Say"

Now...I'll bet you are wondering why the use of the word murder? You see, my uncle George was killed by the Yankee's during the War, and in Pendleton County, one of the prominent Yankee units were called the "Swamp Dragons". They were known to raid, pillage and steal from any families who supported the Confederacy. Being a member of the Swamp Dragons also gave an excuse for many men to avenge alleged wrongs done to their families in years past. To me, the Swamps were nothing more than a vigilante group that was authorized by the Yankee government.

Many families in Pendleton had strong Confederate sympathies, and the Bennett family had more than most. In fact, George's first cousin, Joseph McCally Bennett was the Auditor for the State of Virginia during the War and appears on Confederate Virginia money. Below you will see a $5 note that bears his photo and signature.

Regardless of the circumstances, uncle George was killed in 1864 by the Yankee Swamp Dragons. He didn't take up arms against them, he was merely eating at his father's house when they approached. Knowing there would be trouble, he jumped out of the kitchen window and tried to run through the field to get away. The Yankee captain spotted him and chased him down on horseback, and according to family stories, wounded him by shooting him in the leg. While George was down the Yankee captain rode up to him, got off of his horse and shot George in the head with his pistol. Of course, the family was outraged over the murder of one of their own, and my grandfather Elijah Bennett (George's father) said that he was going to make a tombstone that would forever let everyone know about the dirt and cowardice of the Yankee army! To that end, I don't know if the tombstone inscription carries the same meaning today as it did in the years following the War, but certainly remains eye-catching and makes the reader want to know more about the events that transpired and led to the death of his George. Maybe Grandpaw Elijah did accomplish his goal.

Another version of the killing of George Bible Bennett is recounted in the book, "Twixt the North and South" by H.M. Calhoun. An excerpt of the story:

"...a portion of Boggs' company of home guards and perhaps a portion of Snyder's company, including Captain Snyder, himself, raided the home of Elijah Bennett in the Bland Hills....George Bennett jumped out of a window and ran. He had gotten several hundred yards away from the house and would have succeeded in making his escape but ran into another squad of the home guards. They fired upon him and wounded him. He threw up his hands and surrendered. Captain Snyder afterward told persons that he tried to prevent the cruel mutilation of Bennett that followed but was unable to do so.
Elijah Bennett, the aged father of George Bennett, procured a large mountain stone and cut the following inscription in crude letters thereon: "Here lies George Bible Bennett. Killed by the Swamp Dragons. Murdered I say."
This stone he placed at the head of his son's grave where it remains to this day."
You can begin see how the events that happened nearly 150 years ago continue to be kept alive through storytelling in rural area's. I know my life has been enriched by the closeness I feel with my ancestors who came before me. To me they are more than names and dates, and that is the way it should be.

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