When daughters are on the way from home, be it for the afternoon or a lifetime, a loving mother will disguise her agony with trifles… A mother must ask and be told – Do you have your handkerchief? Is your nose still running? … For a mother not to trot behind a daughter with those questions and concerns is to send a toddling child into the snow with no mittens.On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons
How can one write about a family that seems as though a dark cloud follows them? When first we began researching in Texas for the sons of Thomas Winston Kimbrough who had moved there we had no idea what we would find. It appeared at first glance that the young Kimbrough men had done well for themselves. Both had extensive holdings and a number of slaves each. As I learned more about the families, tragedies began to emerge. Charles Livingston Kimbrough – C.L. – was the youngest son born (1834) to Susan Garth Gaines and Thomas Winston Kimbrough. He lived with or near his parents in Hadensville, Kentucky until he married Mary T. Cromwell of nearby Logan county. C.L. and M.G. “Garth” <his brother> Kimbrough filed a marriage bond for $1250. in September of 1855.
First, a bit about Mary. Her early life appears to have been tumultuous. According to the population census, she and her sister Margaret were living in Montgomery County Tennessee in August of 1850 with their aunt and uncle, Edward and Tennessee Williamson Haskins. In October they are enumerated in Robertson County Tennessee as part of the household of Thomas Williamson, age 61, likely their grandfather. While researching Mary for this post I found that her cousin, Nannie Haskins (Williams), had written a diary that had been curated and edited by personnel at Austin Peay College in Clarksville Tennessee. The diary focuses on her time in the Civil War and gives a dramatic picture of Clarksville during the war and reconstruction. See: The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863-1890
Soon after their marriage Charles and Mary moved to Palatine in Anderson County Texas. It’s possible they were encouraged by Charles’ brother George, or G.D., as he was called. C.L. and G.D. are shown as founding members of the Masonic Tyre Lodge that was granted a charter in 1856, about ten years after this small northwest Anderson County community was settled. G.D. and his wife Mary appear near C.L. and Mary in the 1860 census. Soon after their arrival in Texas C.L. and Mary started their family. They farmed in Anderson County and appeared to prosper. One of the children, Alex, born in 1860, doesn’t appear in later documents and likely died as a young child.
The Civil War – or whatever it was called in Texas – arrived on March 2, 1861. It was the 25th Anniversary of Mexican Independence and Texas voted to secede from the Union. Anderson County citizens voted 1500 to 7 in favor of secession. The Kimbroughs were likely in the majority as slaves were a large part of their workforce.
Conscription came soon after and likely to avoid being forced to join the Confederate Army C.L. and G.D. enlisted in the 20th Texas Cavalry, Bass’ Regiment, in 1862. Records show that they both joined up on the same day – March 1, 1862. They each received a $50. Bounty and reported, with their own horses and guns, at Camp Bass, Texas about 80 miles from home, on the 10th of March. They were some of the first enlistees. The Twentieth Texas Cavalry was assigned to the Trans-Mississippi Department and served almost entirely in the Indian Territory where it was confronted by Union forces. At times, it was the only non-Indian Confederate unit operating in the Indian Territory. The Twentieth Cavalry took part in more than thirty various engagements throughout the war in both the Indian Territory and Arkansas, the latter where it served on occasion. Although the enlistment was to last for a year it is unclear how long they served.
The war ended in Spring, 1865. Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. The Civil War was officially over. The Twentieth Texas Cavalry Regiment was included in the surrender of Confederate Indian troops at Doaksville in the Indian Territory. Communication was challenging at the time so many of the outlying districts, for example in Indian Territory where the 20th Cavalry was said to have fought, so skirmishes continued for a time after the official surrender. It’s unknown when they stopped fighting or if the Kimbrough men were still a part of the unit.
C.L. died in August of that year. Did he die of possible wounds or from another cause? Where was he buried? We have yet to determine. What we do know is that he left a will naming his wife Mary as his executrix, and named two children, Thomas L. and Maggie H. as his heirs, with a provision for any additional children born after the will was drawn. The will was written in March of 1862 and Mary was named as executrix several times in the document. For what is likely a legal reason, she was not named by the court to fill that role.
A year after C L.’s death, in August of 1866, Mary filed a petition in the county court requesting homestead and maintenance for her and her now 3 children. Charles Livingston Kimbrough II had been born in 1865. Mary stated that her late husband, despite owning land was very far in debt and she was unable to feed or clothe herself and her children without the sale of estate items. It is difficult to know how Mary was surviving during that time, although her brother-in-law, G.D., who had been named will administrator by the court, still lived nearby.
Attempts by the court to obtain information about the estate to enable closure, were not heeded as late as 1871. G.D. moved to Victoria County, Texas, as did Mary’s father A.H. Cromwell. Mary’s whereabouts are unknown at this point, although it’s likely she returned to Kentucky/Tennessee. G.D. dies in Victoria County without resolving the probate issues.
A few years ago I came across a “Mrs. Kimbrough” mentioned in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana paper. The article referred to an accident called the “Fashion disaster” by the media. Unable to figure out who this Mrs. Kimbrough was with a quick search I decided she was likely another branch of the family, so saved the article to read more another day.
When I returned to research this article, I became more and more distressed by what I read. When I learned that this Mrs. Kimbrough was traveling to Palatine, Texas, and returned to Hadensville later, I figured I must have one of “our” Kimbroughs. The story comes together like this:
Mrs. Kimbrough was traveling with her 3 children after Christmas. One could imagine that they were laden with presents and tired after a family visit. They likely boarded the steamboat Fashion at Vicksburg or somewhere south of there and continued south to Baton Rouge. The Fashion carried both cabin passengers numbering around 100, deck passengers from 150 to 200, and about 2600 bales of cotton. It is reasonable to assume they were among the cabin passengers. The children would have been 10, 7 and 3 years old.
It did not seem to be a time for a pleasant river voyage. The Baton Rouge Tri-Weekly Gazette and Comet reported at the time that “We have had bitter cold weather in this vicinity for the past few days. Dark, dismal, rainy, drizzly and freezing, were the compound we have been enjoying by way of variety, and as a contrast to the beautiful and blithesome season which the God of Nature had so unsparingly blessed us with, previously.”
At about 3:30 in the afternoon sparks from the wood fired boiler ignited the bales of cotton that were packed tightly around the deck of the steamer. Carrying cotton and passengers was common practice for river transport, despite fires and other accidents that created loss of life on a regular basis. In 1865 The Sultana, built at Cincinnati in 1863, exploded near New Orleans while carrying Union prisoners released from Confederate prison camps. 1,700 were killed in the worst disaster in steamboat history.
The Fashion’s cargo of cotton began burning despite efforts to suppress the fire. The blaze aided by windy conditions spread rapidly within 5 minutes and panic ensued. Newspaper accounts report a great number of passengers jumped into the water to avoid the flames. One report stated that a woman threw her 3 children into the river and jumped in after them to avoid the flames. Was that our Mary?
Another reported anecdote spoke of the body of a child being brought down to Baton Rouge by a crew member in the Fashion’s yawl. The Daily Advocate of Baton Rouge reported that Mrs. Kimbrough had lost two of her children and that she waited with the body in the expectation of hearing of her remaining child. “The body of the child was taken to the Central house where it was dressed by kind hands for burial.”
This clipping Of Mary’s letter tells the last of the story as far as we know.
It has been a challenge for me to put all this together as the horror seemed overwhelming. Despite my efforts to learn more about Mary and any surviving children I’ve found nothing of substance, including how she may have coped – or not – after this tragedy. Even 150 years later, the pain shows through.