Suffolk, Virginia and Habersham County, Georgia are separated by nearly 500 miles, and yet, they are connected. It was on March 27, 1862, in this Suffolk house, that Sarah J. Elliott sat down to write a letter to an anxious father in Georgia. The letter began, “It is my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son, John.” Many such letters were written during the war, but this one was written “with the sympathy of a mother.”
March 27, 1862
It is my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son, John. He remained in the Hospital a week or ten days before I knew he was sick, and though a stranger to me, I sent for him to my dwelling, where he departed this life this morning, at 10 o’clock. He often spoke of his absent parents, and expressed a great wish to see them. He died without the least struggle. He will be buried here, and I will have his grave marked. Enclosed you will find a piece of his hair. His brother was with him part of the time, but was ordered to Goldsboro, N.C., a few days ago, consequently had to leave him. I assure you that he had all the attention that I was capable of giving him.
With the sympathy of a mother, I remain, yours, respectfully,
Sarah J. Elliott
John Dawkins, age nineteen, “attached himself to Captain Styles’ [sic] company 16th Ga. Regiment.” The company of Capt. Benjamin Edward Stiles was raised in Habersham County and became Co E “aka Cobb Infantry” of Howell Cobb’s 16th Georgia Regiment.
Lillian Henderson’s Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia includes the following brief entry:
Dawkins, John – private July 24, 1861. [according to the carded record below, the date should be February 13, 1862.]
The files of the 16th Georgia Infantry contain only one carded record for “John Dockins” Pvt. Co. E, who is recorded on Regimental Return dated February 1862 as “Recruit. Feb 13, 1862.”
There are no other records for John Dawkins in the file of the 16th Georgia Infantry – nothing to record his illness or his death, which occurred just six weeks after he arrived as a “recruit.”
But what about the woman who provided care for John Dawkins? Sarah J. Elliott was born March 13, 1808 as Sarah Jackson Powell. She married Major Robert Riddick Smith (b. 10 Jan 1808) who was a State Legislator, a Major for Nansemond County, and the 3rd generation of his family operating the Somerton Ordinary (also known as the “Somerton Inn” now located at 8443 Arthur Drive, Suffolk.) His father built for the couple, a fine home, which was located just across from the Inn and known as the Robert R. Smith house. (See house in photo atop this post.)
Robert and Sarah soon had two boys, Washington C. Smith (b. 1840) and Henning Ezekiel (b. 1843) but tragedy struck in 1845, when Robert was stabbed to death on the front porch of the Washington Hotel in Suffolk by a man named Henry Hill. At the time of Robert’s death, Sarah was expecting a third child, Robert Riddick Jr., born three months after his father’s death. (…with the sympathy of a mother.)
Sarah later remarried Dr. John Richard Elliott, and is found as Sarah J. Elliott in the 1860 US census for Nansemond, VA and confirmed by Bible records. Sarah’s first husband was buried in the Smith Family Cemetery located just behind the Robert R. Smith house. It is probable that John Dawkins was also buried there. (He will be buried here, and I will have his grave marked.)
So, you may ask, why post here about a young man who had only 6 week’s service in the 16th Georgia Infantry and probably did not participate in a single skirmish or battle? Perhaps, some day, a member of John Dawkins’ family – maybe a descendant of his brother, Alfred M. Dawkins – will wonder what ever happened to John. Since only this newspaper article records his fate, I am hopeful that those descendants will find this post and know what happened to John Dawkins, age 19. And know that a kind woman cared for him, where he died, and where he was laid to rest. Rest in peace, John Dawkins.
2. Transcription of letter and obituary from Athens, Georgia, Southern Watchman, Aug. 20, 1862, page 3.
4. A Record of Farms and Their Owners in Lower Part of Nansemond County. William Turner Jordan, unnumbered pages.
5. Bible Records of Suffolk and Nansemond County, Virginia Together with Other Statistical Data. Fillmore Norfleet, Genealogical Publishing Com, 2009, p. 175.
6. Smith Family Cemetery