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Mabry Cousins—USA & CSA

James Patrick Mabry

The Perry Chief
Perry, Iowa
Friday - December 17, 1886

Mabry and Mabry

The civil war of 1861, like all civil wars, furnished many instances of families and kindred taking opposite sides, and occasionally of their personally meeting and recognizing each other in the clash of arms or in matters connected directly with the struggle, so long and bravely persisted in by both sides. So many who entered the war to defend the government had connections in the south, who either voluntarily or through compulsion were in arms to sustain secession, that friend sometimes encountered friend, and brother raised his hand against brother. Even in the Southern States, themselves, there were differences of opinion, and relatives and even families divided themselves into Union and Confederate, backing up their opinions by joining the army of the side they preferred, and going into a conflict in which they might chance to meet face to face.

There lived in early times in Tennessee a man named James Patrick. An honest and sturdy pioneer, he lived to see a family grown around him and to caress a number of grandchildren, heirs to his many virtues, but died before the strife came on when the South assailed the Union.

His descendants had grown and multiplied and scattered in the course of years, as all families will, until the younger members hardly knew each other. One of his daughters had married with a Mabry, and this name was well known in North Georgia and East Tennessee at the time of the war, and, for that matter, is by no means extinct yet.

One of these Mabrys, a tall and stout man of about thirty years, of decided Union proclivities, became a member of the First Alabama Cavalry, a Union regiment. The fortunes of war had not been kind to him and in the winter of 1861-5, he found himself one of the prisoners of war in Andersonville, Georgia, having been captured in one of the numerous engagements which marked the march of Sherman to Atlanta.

It was there that I made his acquaintance. I found him a royal good fellow, full of pluck and endurance, and thoroughly imbued with Union principles. Even in that terrible stockade, where disease reigned unobstructed, and where the strongest felt that death was only a question of time, he was stout hearted and unflinching as if he knew how to baffle the approaches of the grim harvester who gathered his sheaves on every hand. If life might be prolonged Mabry was the man who would put forth every effort to prolong it.

He was one of the few Southern men who had the inventive talent of the Yankee. Had one not been sure he was a native of the South, he would have been supposed to be a New Englander by birth, for his ready adaptation of means to ends in the forbidding circumstances in which he was placed. He made combs of the horns of cattle, obtained by some means from without the stockade.

His tools were primitive, consisting mainly of a thin bladed case-knife, notched like a saw, a pocket-knife, and pieces of wood between which he fastened the plate of horn while he laboriously sawed out the teeth by hand. He cut the horns into oblong strips with his pocket-knife, applied heat to each piece, until it uncurled and became straight and flat, and then placing it in the wooden clamps, he used the case-knife saw to make the teeth, working with a patience and persistency which won him praise from the crowd of comrades who looked on, and who considered his work that of a born genius. The combs when complete would bring twenty-five cents each, greenback, or one dollar in Confederate money, and were disposed of to the guards by a process of smuggling, similar to that by which he obtained the raw material. Mabry could make about four combs a week when he could get horns promptly, and this number never overstocked the market.

Once when I was strolling about the stockade, which at that time, owing to deaths and delegations sent to Florence, Salsbury and other prisons, was not at all crowded, a good part of the thirty acres enclosed being but thinly inhabited, I had occasion to call my friend Mabry by name, as he was a little distance. As he came toward me the Confederate guard, who was stationed in the sentry box, at the top of the stockade, and quite near us, though some twenty feet above our heads, called out:

"Hello, Yank, is your name Mabry?"

My fellow prisoner looked up surprised, for the guards were forbidden to talk to us, and said:

"Yes, Johnny, my name is Mabry, First Alabama Cavalry, Union."

The last words were spoken with some emphasis, as there was a Confederate First Alabama, with which he had not the least desire to be associated.

Guard - "Wall, Yank, my name is Mabry, too, I'm in the Third Georgia Militia here. It's odd you and me has the same name! What might your Christian name be?"

Prisoner - "My first name is James."

Guard - "Wall, I be blest if my name ain't James, too."

Prisoner - "Is it possible! Your name James Mabry! Have you any middle name?"

Guard - "Yes, I have, and proud of it. My full name is James Patrick Mabry."

Prisoner - "Good gracious! That's my name to a dot, James Patrick Mabry. We are different men, that's certain; but we must be some kin, I reckon."

Guard - "I was named James Patrick for my grandfather, who lived in East Tennessee."

Prisoner - "And I was named for my grandfather, James Patrick, who lived and died in East Tennessee."

To me, as doubtless it now appears to the reader, this was a peculiar incident, and full of lively interest. I looked at the stalwart Alabama cavalryman, tall, broad-shouldered and light-haired, and at the Third Georgia militiaman, about as tall, but lanker, of darker complexion, and black hair, but could see no resemblance. Yet each was named after the same James Patrick, a mutual grandfather, one was clothed in the blue of the Federal forces, now much soiled and ragged by constant wear in prison life; the other in a strong and new suit of home made cotton cloth, tinged of a butter nut color and decked with wooden buttons. No likeness there. One was a soldier of the United States, the other one of the Georgia militia, which Governor Brown had so much contention to keep from Confederate control.

More striking than all else - one was a prisoner of war in the hands of enemies, subject to all the abuse and privations of such a condition - the other with musket in hand, guarding the prison and executing the stern decrees of military power upon its helpless inmates. There was no resemblance in their appearance, clothing or situation; in fact, a marked contrast throughout. Yet their names were identical and they were of the same ancestry.

During these engrossing reflections of mine their conversation had been continued. They had traced each other's lineage by mutual question and answer, and found they were in fact first cousins. The details of names of uncles, aunts, cousins and kin of various degrees, with occasional exclamations of astonishment, or corroboration, spun out their conversation to a great length and in minuteness not now remembered.

But there were these two Mabrys - one on guard, the other in the prison pen, one Union, the other Confederate - each with the same name exactly, and cousins.

How many more interviews they had I can not say, but my belief is that my Mabry had the foundation for obtaining a more regular supply of horns, and a better market for his combs, and devoted himself with greater industry than ever to their manufacture.

About the middle of March, 1864, came orders to remove all the Federal prisoners from Andersonville. As usual, we were told this meant exchange, but we had been too often deceived to trust to such an announcement, though it was "a consummation devoutly to be wished." Nobody, however, grieved to leave Andersonville, for it was well known that any other prison would be, in some respects, an improvement, certainly none could be worse. The vast graveyard just outside the prison gates, which had received the bodies of some thirteen thousand of our comrades, always seemed speaking to us in the language of the old hymn -

"Ye a living men, come now the ground; Where ye shall shortly be."

Prisoners in detachments had been leaving Andersonville for a week before our turn came to march out. Mabry and I had become fast friends, and as soon as we were put on the cars for transportation to Savannah, as was told us for exchange, we determined to use every opportunity for escape. Our route lay nearly north to Ft. Valley, at which point the road to Savannah was to the eastward. Instead our train was headed to the west, which seemed to mean no exchange but another prison. Our plan of escape was soon made, though it took some time to execute.

We were confined in box cars, with four rebel guards to a car, two at each door with muskets crossed. In the end of the cars there was not much light even in day time. Our design was to escape by sawing a hole in the floor of the car near one end large enough to allow us to pass through, and then crawl out and spring off the train when it was going slow on an up grade.

We commenced work soon after leaving Ft. Valley, and from there to Opelika did not stop. The main trouble was to get even a small hole through the boards. By dent of working continuously with a pocket knife we at last succeeded and could feel the cool air coming through the crevice.

Now Mabry's comb saw, came into good service, and we worked with a will.

Cramped fingers and blistered hands were not regarded. The rattling of the train in motion drowned all the noise we made at work. How far beyond Opelika we were when we finished our labors, we did not know, but we knew we had been working all night, and it was toward morning. Now came the crisis of all our labor, and I being the smaller ventured first. I let myself down through the hole, found something underneath to cling to until I worked myself to where I could come up between the cars. I climbed up and signaled Mabry as agreed, by three taps on the end of the car that I was out and ready to disembark as soon as he joined me. Then he followed, and soon stood beside me. No guards were in sight, the train was running slowly, so far success had attended us. I jumped first and he followed me, both alighting safely. We lay down until the train had all passed, and then immediately took to the woods.

Once more we were free, at least, masters of our own movements for the time, but hundreds of miles intervened between us and the Union lines and to whatever point we might travel our way led through a hostile country where the greatest watchfulness would be needed to avoid recapture.

After consultation, we decided to shape our course towards Pensacola and endeavor to enter our lines there. For three days we traveled through lonesome woods, waded streams and threaded our way through thick underbrush and swamp, approaching occasionally a negro hut or a plantation for means of subsistence or to inquire our way. The slave was our fast friend, over ready to help as far as able, and to the kind ministrations of the black we were indebted constantly. They gave us food, guided us in by paths, hid us in the safest places while we slept and passed us on to others as faithful and willing as themselves.

One day we struck a road on which evidently troops had passed a short time before. Listening intently we heard the sounds of others approaching, and quickly concealed ourselves in the underbrush by the side of the road. The tramp of horses, the jangling of sabers and the hum of voices came nearer and nearer, and soon troops of some kind were passing us. Mabry peered out, gave one glance and then immediately sprang up, waved his hat and shouted:

"Hurrah! for the United States!"

Telling me to follow him, he stepped boldly into the road to find a line of Union cavalry stretching as far back as we could see. Thank God, soldiers, friends, comrades! What emotions of joy surged through our hearts. It was a detachment of General Wilson's army making the last raid of the war.

They came around us, surprised at our appearance, and hardly knowing whether to take us for friends or foes. General Long, commanding an Ohio cavalry brigade, came riding up, stopped, questioned us sharply and ordered us to be held under surveillance until the arrival of the First Alabama Cavalry, which was further back in the column, and the meantime to treat us well and supply our pressing wants.

In an hour Mabry's old regiment appeared, and he was joyfully recognized. Both of us were soon clad as the rest, mounted on spare horses and riding in the ranks, rejoicing in the swift and fortunate change that had come upon us, and telling the story of our prison experience and escape to eager listeners. We also had questions to ask, as to how the war was progressing and what was the purport of the present raid. They told us they had been riding through from Northern Alabama to Selma, had captured that city after a sharp fight, had turned east to Montgomery, which had yielded, and the course was now toward Columbus, Georgia, and where else was not known.

In less than two days we reached the Chattahoochie River, opposite the city of Columbus. Here were signs of opposition. A strong line of entrenchments seemed full of men, prepared to resist us, while the long bridge over the river at Columbus, well guarded, was all of cotton and inflammable materials, ready to be fired as soon as the occasion required. General Long sent a regiment, dismounted, to slip cautiously down a ravine which led to the bridge, and as soon as they were in view of the enemy to charge on the bridge furiously. This was done, and it was taken in spite of opposition. The charge was continued across the bridge until the whole of it was gained by the National forces, and Columbus was virtually in our hands. In the meantime a brigade had been formed in line to assault the entrenchments. The First Alabama taking a part in this, Mabry and I participated. A few irregular volleys had no effect upon our advance, and we soon, with loud cheers, gained the breastworks and found the rebels in full retreat. They were followed and nearly all captured proving to be a regiment of Georgia militia, lately from Andersonville.

Recognizing one of them as lately a gate sergeant at Andersonville, a fat and rather good humored man, whom we in the prison had nicknamed "Chuffy," I spoke to him, and, after reminding him who I was and how I knew him, I asked him what he thought of the Yankees now.

"When we were guarding you'uns in Andersonville, you were tame Yanks, and not much trouble to boss you around. But these wild Yanks, with guns in their hands, don't stop fo' nobody. We shot owah guns off at 'em, but they nevah stopped commin,' so we thought we'd bettah run. I don't a take no stock in wild Yanks, and I wish this wah was done stopped."

"Are not you the man who said to us prisoners often at Andersonville, "We'll fight you as long as we see you, and then lick the ground where we last seed you?"

"Wall, if it was me, I'm gwine to take it back. There is one tune sung befoah fightin', and another one sung aftah bein' whipped. I'm in fo' peace, now, and if I get through with this, I'll promise nevah to try to break up any mo' gov'ments."

I had lost sight of Mabry in the excitement of the assault and pursuit, and after some search found him in charge of a squad of newly captured rebels. He called my attention to a lank, cadaverous looking Confederate, exclaiming:

"Sergeant, see this prisoner, this is my double. He's the very identical Johnny, who has my name, and stood guard over me at Andersonville on the old stockade! But," he added with pardonable exultation, "things have changed; the bottom rail is on top. I'm on guard now, and he's my prisoner. But I'm going to treat him better than he and his folks did me."

Thus the two James Patrick Mabrys had met again. The guard had become a prisoner and the prisoner had become a guard. The fratricidal nature of the war had again been exemplified.

Columbus was ours. We moved on to Macon, Georgia, sending a detachment to Andersonville which captured the notorious Captain Wirz, keeper of the prison, and some of his subordinates. At Macon, the news met us of a cessation of hostilities, as Johnston's and Lee's armies had surrendered, and the war was virtually over. Only one more exploit was allowed us, that was the capture of the Ex-President of the Southern Confederacy by a portion of our force. Then we separated, I going to Ohio to be mustered out, and the Mabrys each a different way as ordered. Though I have never met them since, they have doubtless met each other in peaceful homes, and recounted to their children the incidents I have here related of how Mabry met Mabry. May the name of James Patrick still continue among their families to future generations.


Don Collins, a Mabry descendant, found this story and the photograph. He edits and maintains The Maybury Family Web site.

Information on James Patrick Mabry (U.S.) and his compatriots can be found 1st Alabama Cavalry, United States Volunteers Web site. Information about Mabry's military career and a photo is available on this site.

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