north fork reservoirview of valley floor near Wallace Mountain, Walkertown

An ancestry blog by Terrell Ledbetter, originally posted January 30, 2019

In May of 1861, when John W. Woodfin, an attorney in Asheville, North Carolina, began organizing the Buncombe Rangers for service in the Confederate Army, James Washington Walker and his wife Sophronia Jane Burnett Walker were working their farm and raising their seven children (with one on the way).  The conscription age for the Confederacy at that times was thirty-five max and James was thirty-nine and Sophronia thirty-seven.  Sarah was the oldest of the children at fifteen, followed closely by fourteen year old Mary Jane and thirteen year old Harriet.  Rhoda was barely older than her two brothers Albert, eight, and Julius, three. Dicie wasn’t walking yet and Martha was yet to be born.

Sophronia had been deeded twenty-five acres of land from her father, Frederick Burnett Jr. around the time of her marriage in May of 1846.  James’ father, Jonathan Young Walker owned a great deal of land stretching from south of 4000 ft. elevation Brushy Knob, westward along the Walker Branch and around and beyond Wallace Mountain which lies near the present day Mt. View Church in the right fork of the North Fork Valley just outside Black Mountain, North Carolina.  Jonathan and family, except for sons James Washington and Daniel, departed for Union County, Georgia before the war.  There is no found records of the land transactions at that time but it most likely that James and Sophronia changed property.  Sophronia had land west of the left hand fork of the Swannanoa River and most likely James had gotten land along the Walker Branch from his father.


black range

note Walkertown southeast of Burnett Reservoir and under shadow of Potato Knob

In the meantime, Major John W. Woodfin and the Buncombe Rangers fought in the eastern part of North Carolina until September, 1862 when the Major resigned and moved back to Asheville, citing health issues. A few months later at the end of 1862, the Confederate States of America raised the conscription age to forty-five.

At that time, Major Woodfin organized the 14th Battalion North Carolina Calvary consisting of men who had been conscripted or had been previously exempt from service.  Enter James Washington Walker into this unit which was not transformed into the Confederate State’s service but to the State of North Carolina service. During a battle at Warm Springs, North Carolina on the Buncombe Turnpike in October, 1863, Major Woodfin was killed in action. This area was a border county where citizens fought on both sides.

woodfin_john_w_archive_org_cu31924092908569_0133Major John W. Woodfin on horse “Prince Hal”

For the next two and a half years, Sophronia was left to tend the farm and raise eight children.  By now Sarah, Mary Jane and Harriet were old enough to help.  Just up the ridge to the northwest and a buggy ride away, were her father and mother, Frederick Burnett Jr. (Fed) and Elizabeth Smart Burnett who were having major effects from the war. Sons Drury, Berryman, John, Thomas and Marcus Lafayette (Fate) were fighting for the Confederate States of America at varying stages on entry.  All but Fate perished in the war. It is uncertain as to when Fed and Elizabeth knew of their sons’ deaths but when Elizabeth died in 1864, she probably did not know everything  Fed was left to help support his immediate remaining family, the families of his fallen sons and his mother, Peggy Null Burnett.

Sophronia was the epitome of a mountain woman.  An article by her grandson Deward Edgar Walker Jr (as reported in Joan and Robert Goodson’s book about the North Fork of the Swannanoa River), read as follows:  “She was tall, six feet plus, a gorgeous intriguing figure, beautiful twinkling hazel eyes, a face that could light up with a smile that was most enchanting, and Scottish red hair which seemed to change colors—-Her commanding personality could subdue the most stubborn person.  Her special hobby was big game hunting, such as drowning a big buck deer with her bare hands in a hole in the creek a short distance from her home which was the ancestral home of Frederick Burnett Jr. who was her father.  Or, in shooting a black bear and carting to her home , where he was dressed  and then fed to hungry men folk who had returned from a day of hunting without little success in their hunt.”

Sophronia was the first woman to set foot on the top of Mt. Mitchell Peak choosing to ascend along the rugged side with her husband James and Dr. Elisha Mitchell who determined that the peak was the highest east of the Mississippi.

Dick Reed from Black Mountain,  great-great-grandson of Sophronia, tells a story told to him as a youngster by John Walker who was a grandson of Sophronia’s.  It was said that Sophronia had heard noises around the homestead and went out with nothing but an axe.  Seeing a mountain lion, she stuck and killed the wild lion was it came around a corner of the family barn.

It should be noted that she had twelve children, while I account for eight above because of limited information.

missionary ridge  picture of battle in Tennessee

Back to the war- after Major Woodfin’s death, the old 14th Battalion was morphed into the 14th Calvary Battalion.  James Washington Walker was now a Sergeant in Company B fighting in east Tennessee.  On January 14th, 1864, Sergeant Walker was captured at Cooke City, Tennessee, moved to Louisville, Kentucky and then moved and confined at the largest Union prison at Rock Island, Illinois.  Rock Island was on the Mississippi River near the city of Rock Island.

rock island prisonpicture of Rock Island Prision

Sergeant Walker arrive at Rock Island during a three-month outbreak of smallpox which killed over six hundred prisoners.  The winter was especially harsh. Drinking water and sewage issues abound. Their were 84 shanty barracks each housing 120 prisoners. The barracks were 100 by 22 by 12 feet high with a small cook house  on each end.  Each barrack had two coal-burning stoves for heat.  Of the over 10,000 total prisoners taken to Rock Island, a little less than 20% perished there.

Luckily, on June 27, 1864, Sergeant Washington was transferred to New Orleans where he was a candidate to be exchanged.  He must have been viewed as a valuable exchange and perhaps his Sergeant ranking did that.  Perhaps there were a shortage of officer candidates to trade. He was most likely placed in the Parish Prison, similar to a jail, until he was exchanged a month after the war’s end on May 23, 1865.

parish prison new orleans

A certain number of enlisted men could be exchanged for an officer. For example: 1 captain would be exchanged for 6 privates or 1 sergeant for 2 privates. The exchange system was bogged down with paperwork.  General Grant held up exchanges citing that the rebels were likely to interfere with the success of General Sherman.  In August of 1864, the exchange rules were changed to officer for officer and man for man.  In all, there were over 214, 000 confederate prisoners held with over 25,000 of them perishing.

Exchanges of prisons during the war were made at a predetermined location.  Sometimes the exchanged prisoner was given a train voucher to get close to home.  An exchange after the surrender is an unknown.  What was stated by Deward Walker Jr. to William L. Walker (re Walker book entitled “Walker/Kelley/McGlamey/Wallace and Allied Families”) was that James Washington Walker returned home with two horses and two mules well after Lee’s surrender.

James Washington Walker was called Little President by his friends.  He was five-feet seven inches tall and one hundred fifty-five pounds and reported to have auburn hair and beard.  In this picture his hair looks darker.james washington walkerWhile James Washington Walker was imprisoned, the old 14th Calvary Battalion of his was morphed once again into another unit, this time into the 76th Regiment, 8th Calvary.

James Washington Walker died at age seventy-nine on July31, 1901 and is buried at Mtn. View Church, North Fork.

Sophronia Burnett Walker lived long enough to see some of her great-grandchildren such as my mother’s brother Clyde Reese. He remembered Sophronia for her sitting back in a chair smoking a crooked stem bowl pipe or short-stemmed cob pipes with golden grain that came in small bags with a drawstring.  Sophronia visited my grandmother Bertha Walker Reese with Bertha’s mother Betty Creaseman Walker often enough that some of her great-grandchildren were fortunate enough to know her. She passed away on May 10, 1919 at the age of ninety-four.  Dr. Knoefel of Black Mountain incorrectly listed her age as 95 years six months and ten days on the death certificate. He indicated that contributing to the cause of death was a severe fall that resulted in a broken hip.sophronia walker

The known ancestral lineage of the James Washington Walker-Sophronia Jane Burnett family :

generation 1

Jonathan Young Walker – Sarah Garnelia Upton

generation 2

a. James Washington Walker (1822-1901) -Sophronia Jane Burnett (1824-1919)

b. Daniel Walker (1824-1897)

c. Jonathan Curtis Walker (1834-1901) moved to Georgia

d. Rachel Walker Sisson (1838-1920) moved to Georgia

e. Wiley Powel Walker (1863-1948) moved to Georgia

generation 3

a. children of James and Sophronia

1. Sarah Ann Walker Daughtery (1847-1934)

2. Mary Jane Walker Burnett (1848-1893)

3.Harriet Eliza Walker Cordell (1849-1942)

4. Rhoda Matilda Walker (1852-1875)

5. Albert Washington Walker (1854-1927)

6. Julius Alexander Walker (1859-1945)

7. Dicie Emma Walker Burnett (1861-1943)

8. Martha Lula Walker (1862-1867)

b. children of Daniel and Mary Kyle Walker

  1. James Henry Walker (1846-1925)
  2. Jonathan Young Walker (1848-1931)
  3. Sarah Jane Walker (1850-1927)
  4. John Wheeler Walker (1852-1926)
  5. Daniel A. Walker (1854-1856)
  6. Alexander Powell Walker (1856-1946)
  7. Mary Malinda Walker Stepp (1859-1939)
  8. Rosa Matilda Walker Knupp (1861-1945)
  9. Nancy Sophronia Walker Walker (1864-1943)

Descendants of jonathan young walker