A Sketch of the Life of William Watson Beard and His Wife Elmira Fortson Beard


Bill met Elmira Fortson one Sunday morning while he was sitting at a spring getting water. She was just 13 years old and on her way to church at Bond Academy. As she passed by, Bill broke a bough of Ivory [Mountain Laurel] and gave it to her as he introduced himself. Bill was 23 years old, but fell madly in love with the young girl with raven black hair. It was love at first sight for her too. They were married on Feb. 8, 1857 in Madison County, Ga.

They moved in with Bill's parents, Samuel F. & Elizabeth McEver Beard and stayed for four years with them. They were very trying four years!! A set of twins were born to them the second year. They died at birth. The next year, 1859, another set of twins and they too died. In 1860 a set of triplets were born to them and like the others, they also died.

Finally, on 10-15-1861, Elmira gave birth to their son, Billy. Out of eight children that had been born, he was the first to survive. By then, of course, the Northern Aggression, known as the Civil War was five months in progress. Bill started working feverishly to build a home for his little family. He built a two room log cabin, but left for the war on June 17, 1862. He didn't have time to build a door to the cabin.

Elmira was barely 18 years old and with an eight month child and now she was alone except for the bull dog Bill had left with her. And with no door to the cabin!!! She had to stand her kitchen table against the opening to keep out the animals and cold weather.

When Sherman was marching through Georgia burning and destroying everything, Elmira, decided to bury her most precious possession, Bill's picture. It was a tin-type with a metal frame. She wrapped it in a piece of red flannel and buried it in the smoke house out back. Years later, when the war was over she retrieved it. The frame had corroded from the salt drippings but the picture was not harmed.

Elmira had no salt to cook with, so she took the dirt from the smoke house where salt had fallen from the cured meats and she boiled it to get the salt. She had no soap to wash clothes with, so she took corn shucks and boiled them to remove the resin. It contained turpentine to cut dirt and stains from the clothes. [in the Salt Records when the Governor of Ga. sent salt to the families of soldiers on July 21, 1863, I find that Elmira finally received some salt].

one day while Elmira had gone to the spring to wash clothes, two of Bill's sisters, Prudence & Amanda, decided to pull a prank on Elmira by stealing the baby and scare her into thinking the Yankees had stolen him. They got into the house with no problem, but the bull dog stood them off from the baby.

After this little episode, Elmira's 95 year old grandfather, Andrew McEver, sent one of his six slaves to stay with her to help her and to protect her. The slave was Leeth McEver. She was 53 years old. Nearly 50 years later, Leeth would come and visit Elmira and stay for weeks at a time. She was very small with white hair and she smoked a corn cob pipe. They would sit on the porch and rock and talk and laugh about their lives together. Leeth died on 1905 and is buried at Tabors Chapel. She was 95 years old.

Some time later in the war, the Yankees were camped at Fitt's Bridge [present day Hudson River Bridge on Hwy. 291. The bridge was only about a mile away & the sounds traveled well into the night. The Yankees were singing & laughing & carrying on loudly all the time. Somehow, Elmira got word to Bill and he came home. It was said that he would stay in the loft during the day & come down at night until the Yankees left.

Bill fought in many battles mostly in Va. His war records state that he was seriously wounded in the head on December 12, 1862 near Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was in McLaws Division, Co. D, 16th Regiment, Georgia. He returned to duty December 28, 1862. He was reported in the hospital Muster Roll at Scottsville, Virginia in January, February, April and June of 1863. He was reported absent without leave September 1,1864. I wonder if that is when he came home to protect his family?

That was the last record the war department had on Bill & I always wondered if he had deserted and never went back. Just this year I have acquired Elmira's Pension Records and they put my mind to ease. Three witnesses that served with Bill told that Bill had been sent home on medical leave by the hospital surgeon. One of the witnesses, W.H. Bond stated that he had been home on furlough & knew that Bill was home on a medical furlough & when Bill got better they both started back to their command, but only got as far as Augusta, Ga. when the surrender happened.

After the war Bill's family grew as nine more children were born. Bill had a wry sense of humor and once someone asked him why he named his girls such unusual names. He said he named them all after his favorite officer in the war. Puzzled, the man asked him the officer's name. Bill laughed and answered "Suh" [Sir]. The girls names were Serepta, Samantha, Savilla, Sahepsebeth, & Savannah. They all sounded the phonics "Suh".

Bill never fully recovered from his head injury. He died at age 47 due to spinal meningitis. He had never failed to bring Elmira a bough of Ivory [could have been Elderberry] when it was in bloom. After his death, his children kept up the tradition and made sure Ivory was in the house as long as she lived.

Elmira was turned down on her first pension application, but later received $60.00 a year till she died.

Elmira Elizabeth Fortson is buried at Jones Chapel Methodist Church

Note: Also known as Emily Elizabeth