Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Noah Wyle

One minor advantage to the end of this season of Who Do You Think You Are? is that I know no new episodes are coming up, so I'm no longer aiming at a moving target.  I finally had some time to sit down and rewatch the Noah Wyle episode for details, so the slow process of catching up continues. The teaser for this episode said that Wyle would hunt for the answers to mysterious family rumors and unearth (like dig up?) a beloved relative who fell from prosperity to poverty, whose desperate measures and tragic downfall would shake Wyle to the core.

The introduction is shot in Hollywood.  Noah Wyle tells us that he is a third-generation Angeleno who grew up in Hollywood, which had a profound influence on him.  He started acting in his sophomore year of high school.  Everyone in his family had gone to college, and he was the first one in generations not to do so.  He likes the freedom of acting and told his family members it is like an ongoing education because of all the things he learns, which somewhat appeased their anxiety.  So he continues to learn and he makes money, not a bad combination.  We get the obligatory run-down of Wyle's career highlights with stills — A Few Good Men, ER (1994–2009), Falling Skies (2011–2015), The Librarian — although his commentary seems a little more perfunctory than most.  He says that after about 20 years of acting, he now also writes and directs, which he likes a lot, and that he's been very lucky.  (Why does everyone want to direct?  I've done it, and I like acting a lot more.)

Wyle was born at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood on June 4, 1971.  (The old Cedars of Lebanon Hospital building is now the Church of Scientology, by the way.)  His parents are Marjorie Ann Speer and Frank Stephen Wyle (who goes by Stephen).  His paternal grandparents, Frank and Edith Wyle, were movers and shakers in Los Angeles.  They were close by, so he saw them a lot growing up.  His mother is from Kentucky, and they regularly took extended visits to see her family there, and vice versa.  Speer's parents were Alexander Burns Speer and Marjorie Mills (wow, he knows his grandmother's maiden name?).

Education was important to Wyle's family in general, but he excelled in history.  He saw the inherent drama in studying it.  His first interest in history was the American Civil War.  Because his mother's family is from the South, he was always curious about what they might have done in the war.  His Uncle Sandy, who was the family genealogist on his mother's side and who passed away at a very young age, had told him it was commonplace for people of means to pay someone else to serve in their place and that their family had taken advantage of that.  Wyle had felt disappointed to learn that his family members had skated on an obligation like that.

Now that he's 45 years old, Wyle is looking at the second half of his life and decided it's appropriate to understand his family history better.  He realizes that people are complicated, and that a noble act doesn't make someone a noble person any more than an egregious act makes him a terrible person.  He doesn't want his ancestors to be just "two-dimensional people and fourth-generation anecdotes."  He wants to come to an objective understanding of them.  (Obviously, he is preparing himself for people who fought on the "wrong side" of the war.)  He's curious about his mother's family, and now there are few people to tell him stories, but he wants to understand his history so he can tell his own children.

Wyle begins his journey by visiting his mother, Marty, in Hollywood.  She has found a photograph that Uncle Sandy gave her of her mother's family; Wyle has never seen it before.  It shows her mother, Marjorie, who was born in 1916, as a baby, so the photo probably dates from around 1917.  Marty points out Wyle's great-grandparents, George Pemberton Mills and Margaret Mills.  Also in the photo are Wyle's great-great-grandparents, George W. Mills and Marie Pemberton.  Marty never knew her great-grandparents, but she knows that the father of George W. (what an unfortuante name) was John Henry Mills, who was born about 1843 in New York.  She also knows that he married Mary Emily Brown in 1863 in Summit, Mississippi.  We see a floating family tree that follows the direct line to John Henry Mills and adds no information beyond what Marty describes.

Wyle is curious whether John served in the Civil War and which side it might have been for.  He mentions that he had asked Uncle Sandy about this and was told about paying someone else to take one's place.  Marty never heard that story but says they should look it up:  "Let's look on Ancestry and see what we can find."  (The entire exchange had sounded very scripted anyway, and that line just cemented it for me.)

So they go online to Ancestry.  Even though they had just been discussing whether John served in the war, Marty suggests looking in the federal census for 1860 (boy, she knows all the right words, doesn't she?).  Wyle types in John Mills as exact, and birth year of 1843 and birth place of New York with exact turned off.  They immediately focus on the John H. Mills living in Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana and comment that it must be him because of the middle initial — even though his estimated birth year is shown as 1842 and four results above him is a John H. Mills, estimated birth year of 1843, living in Warren County, New York; and three results below the guy in Louisiana is another John H. Mills in New York, this one with an estimated birth year of 1844.  Gee, do you think they knew ahead of time what they were looking for?

1860 census search results using the same parameters as Noah Wyle

That said, they click on the John Mills in Louisiana.  He is the only person in the household, so there is no logical way for them to know he is the correct person, but they are excited nonetheless.  His occupation is clerk.

United States 1860 Federal Population Census, Baton Rouge Post Office, City of Baton Rouge,
East B[aton] Rouge [Parish], Louisiana, June 9, 1860, page 17/463, line 33 (edited image)

Now Wyle wonders if John did serve in the Civil War, was it in a Louisiana regiment?  And where should he go from here?  Since the last place they know John Mills lived was in Baton Rouge, Marty says, "Maybe you should go and try to see what you can find out there."  (Well, of course!  Why didn't I think of that?)

And so Wyle goes off, hoping that this journey can answer his question.  Will he find a Civil War veteran?  If he did fight, was it for the Confederacy?  (There were Unionists in Louisiana, but that doesn't fit the theme of this episode.)  Wyle has no misgivings, because everyone took a side then.  It was regionally specific, so whether they did it to maintain slavery or for states' rights (I couldn't believe he trotted out that canard), it will be interesting to see what he learns.  (And the apologies begin early.)

In Baton Rouge, Wyle heads to the Louisiana State Archive, which we are shown in a close-up is at 3851 Essen Lane (in case you want to go also).  He hopes they have enrollment records for John's military service (good thing he's an actor, but I'm sure he wished he had better material to work with).  He is very polite and thanks Dr. Lesley Gordon, credited as a Civil War historian at the University of Alabama, for taking the time to answer a few questios for him (don't worry, I'm sure she was paid well).  Gordon takes him to a microfilm reader and explains they will be looking at compiled service records, which were created by the government to track veterans.  The opening slide on the microfilm has "Microcopy No. 320 / Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Louisiana / Roll 384 / Crescent Regiment L–Q" and was published by the National Archives.  Wyle fast forwards a couple of times and manages to land on J. H. Mills, a private in Company H of the Crescent Regiment, Louisiana Infantry, Confederate States of America.  (Again, of course this is the right guy.)  They show the jacket cover for the compiled service record, along with one muster card.  (These are available on Fold3, by the way.  I'm surprised Ancestry didn't take the opportunity to show off its military history site.  Maybe the WDYTYA producers didn't allow it.)

The only muster card shown details that on March 5, 1862, John enlisted in Captain John Knight's Company (Crescent Blues), the Crescent Regiment of the Louisiana Militia, for a 90-day stint.  Gordon says that the militia was the home guard.  This unit was made up of the elite of New Orleans and was called the "kid glove unit."  As a clerk, John was white collar and educated, which surprises Wyle.  Gordon explains that in the 1860's, a clerk was indeed in the educated class.  And even though John enlisted in New Orleans, there was no discussion of why or when he went there from Baton Rouge.

Not really unexpected for a unit of a city's elite, Knight's Company had no experience.  Wyle asks if they experienced combat, and Gordon tells him that one month after John's enlistment, the unit was in the Battle of Shiloh, one of the largest, bloodiest conflcts during the war.

The narrator steps in to inform us that in 1862, the Confederate and Union forces clashed at Shiloh, Tennessee.  More than 40,000 Confederate soldiers, including John Henry Mills, launched a surprise attack on the Union army to try to stop their advance on a railroad junction that granted access to New Orleans, Mobile (Alabama), Memphis, and the Gulf of Mexico.  After two days of combat the Union won.  There were more than 23,000 casualties, making Shiloh one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

So John definitely was in the middle of the fighting.  The men in the Crescent Regiment were amateurs, and it would have been a frightening experience for all of them.  Wyle asks whether this was a voluntary enlistment or if John was forced to sign up.  Gordon tells him there was no draft, so he couldn't have been forced.  They don't know what motivated him to enlist.

Next Wyle asks why John, who was born in New York, was in Louisiana at all.  Gordon admits she doesn't know how long he was there.  (Doesn't Baton Rouge have any surviving city directories, tax lists, or newspapers to help pin that down?  I know New Orleans does.)  She points out that New Orleans was the center of the slave trade, so there's a good chance that John's work was in some way tied to that.  Many men joined up to support the economy that provided their jobs.  And after his 90-day enlistment, John was finished with the army.  (Except that if you look at the third muster card in John's packet, which is the fourth image above, it says that John was "Transferred from the Crescent [Regiment] to the 18th for war", presumably meaning the duration of the war, and the top of the card shows that John was in Company F of the 18th Regiment.  The asterisked footnotes on the second and third muster cards explain a little about the relationship between the Crescent Regiment and the 18th Regiment.  Perhaps Gordon discussed this with Wyle in footage that did not make it on air, but I looked through the records of the Louisiana 18th and those of the Reconsolidated Crescent available on Fold3 and did not find John H. Mills.  The only records I found for him were the ones I've included above.  So I don't know if there are no records of John's service in the 18th/Reconsolidated Crescent, there are records but they aren't on Fold3, he didn't actually serve after August 1862 [which was already about 90 days past his original 90-day enlistment], or some other scenario.  And this question will come up again near the end of the episode.)  Wyle still thinks it's cool to find out that John enlisted and fought at Shiloh, which is the opposite of what his family (to be specific, Uncle Sandy) had said, that he had paid someone to fight in his place.

Wyle asks Gordon if she has any more for him, but she says that's it for Louisiana and asks if Wyle knows where John ended up.  Wyle replies that John was married in 1863 in Summit, Mississippi.  Gordon tells him that's where he should go next.  (Just keep in mind, this is not how real research works.)

As he leaves the archive, Wyle comments on how enlighteniing this has been, even though his head has been spun around by the misconceptions he had.  It appears that there is now a cold trail for John's military history.  He doesn't know much about John beyond broad strokes and a few facts, but he wants to know who John really was.

Even though Gordon told Wyle that Summit, Mississippi is where he should go, somehow Wyle takes a wrong turn and ends up in Jackson (about 77 miles away), so one of the show's producers must have redirected him along the way.  Wyle muses that he would love to find a photograph of John or a letter from him, something to give him a three-dimensional, tactile connection.  He has called his children to update them on what he has learned, and they are following him on his journey.  They think it's pretty cool (but do they really understand the implications of John having fought for the Confederacy?).  Wyle continues to rationalize John's enlistment:  Who knows what motivated him?  It could have been his buddies, politics, economic interests, wife-to-be.  He's finding it fun to try to fill in the blanks.  Maybe he'll find something to steer things in a specific direction.

Wyle's next stop is at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, in the William F. Winter Archives and History Building.  There he meets Sharon Ann Murphy, a business historian from Providence College.  The first thing she does is give Wyle a small manila envelope, in which he finds a photograph of John Henry Mills.  (Well, we did get the foreshadowing, right?)

After overcoming his initial surprise, Wyle comments that John doesn't look anything as he expected him to and jokes that he could play bass for ZZ Top, which even makes Murphy laugh.  Murphy apologizes that the photograph is undated and that she doesn't know when it was taken, but Wyle doesn't seem particularly disappointed.  He finds John's high forehead similar to his grandfather's and can kind of see his face in the photo.

Hoping for more, Wyle asks Murphy is there is anything else, and Murphy obligingly takes out an extremely large, oversized copy of a newspaper page.  She says it's the local paper, the Summit Sentinel, of January 19, 1899.  (The newspaper, by the way, does not appear to be online anywhere.)


Capt. J. H. Mills, after twenty-four years occupancy of the city treasuryship, was again unanimously elected by the city council at its last meeting.  This action of the mayor and council in again honoring this faithful and impartial officer meets the approval of every citizen of our town.  Twenty-four years is a long time and that anyone could so continuously retain the high regard and esteem in which our treasurer is held, speaks more than words can convey of his high character and popularity.  His long continuance as treasurer, undoubtedly exceeds that of any other officer occupying a similar position in the state.

Wyle is happy to read this glowing description of his ancestor, who was obviously well respected and an upstanding member of society.  He subtracts the years and figures out that John must have begun his tenure as treasurer in 1875.  He notices that John retained the rank of captain, but Murphy says it was probably an honorary title and that there was no evidence John was promoted from private.

As city treasurer, John must have been fiscally responsible, and Wyle wonders what level of society that would have equated to.  Was it high-end civil service, or maybe the town elite?  Murphy says it would have been town elite within the local community.  John was a prominent, important citizen of Summit.

Murphy then hands Wyle another oversized newspaper copy, this one from 1904, although I did not see a date.  Wyle has a shocked look on his face right before the program cut to a commercial, and I had suspected that John had died.  When we returned from the commercial, we learned that John indeed had died, but specifically, according to the headline, "He Took His Own Life."  (He apparently died on June 18.)  (Not all of the article was shown on screen.  I have filled in some missing information from an article published in the Jackson Weekly Clarion Ledger on June 23 [available on], apparently within a day or two of the Sentinel article, and which had almost verbatim text for the most part.  Where there are gaps, I'm not entirely sure I have the latter pieces of the article in the correct order.  I'm also note sure that all of the text shown on air was from only one article.)

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --



Capt. John H. Mills, Blew Out His Brains Because He Could Not Pay Premium

Because he had a premium on a large life insurance policy falling due Monday, and could not raise the funds to pay it, and being otherwise financially embarrassed Capt. John H. Mills, and [sic] old and prominent citizen of Summit, Pike county, committed suicide at the Larence House in Jackson shortly before midnight Saturday night.  The body was found a few hours later by a police captain from New Orleans with the head laying on a bloodsoaked pillow and a 38-calibre revolver still clasped in his right hand.

It seems Capt. Mills went to Jackson for the purpose of killing himself, and it is evident that he had been contemplating the deed for several days, but did not desire to commit it at home.  Preparations were made with the utmost coolness and deliberation.  He went to his room shortly before nine o'clock carrying with him a supply of writing paper and envelopes.  Five letters were written and addressed, three of them being sealed and [directed to friends and relatives at his hold (sic) home.  The other two explained the cause of the deed.


It is evident that Mr. Mills expected to have his deed discovered immediately, for he left the door of his room open and the gas jet burning.  The body was not discovered, however, until several hours later, when Capt. Fitzgerald, of the New Orleans police force, who was in the city to attend a Knights of Columbus meeting, was passing by the door and remarked to a friend that the man in bed looked like he was dead.  The friend ridiculed the idea, but Capt. Fitzgerald was struck by the unusual pallor of the man's face, insisted on making an investigation that confirmed his suspicions.

Mr. McQuaid, one of the proprietors, was immediately notified.  He stated at the coroner's inquest Sunday morning that he had heard a pistol shot a few minutes after 11 o'clock, but that it] sounded like it was two or three blocks away, and paid no attention to it.


The following letter written by the dead man, and dated at 9:30 o'clock was found on the table:

"With a premium coming due on a large life insurance policy in the Equitable tomorrow which I cannot meet, and being financially embarrassed beyond hope of immediate retrieve, I resolved to take my own life in order to protect my family and personal friends who have endorsed my paper.  I am sure that my family will see that my personal friends and endorsers are not made to assume my obligations.  I left home to end my life because I could not bear the thought of committing the deed under my dear loved ones' eyes.

"May God, who rules the universe, forgive as far as possible, my act.



The letter was written in a bold, firm hand, and the preparations for the rash act were evidently not fraught with nervousness.  Side by side with this letter was the following addressed to [Messrs. McQuaide and Ewing, proprietors of the Lawrence House.

"Will you kindly carry out the following request after my death:

"Wire Dr. W. W. Moore, Summit, Miss., to break the news to my dear] wife and daughter.  Ask Mr. John Patton or Judge R. H. Thompson to have the undertaker embalm my body and ship to Summit.

"God knows I hope you will not think too hard of me for what I have committed in your house.


The other letters were addressed to Mrs. M. E. Mills, Summit, his wife; Mr. E. H. Mills, Summit, his son; Dr. W. W. Moore, Summit, the family physi[cian.  The missives were not opened but probably contained farewell messages and directions concerning the disposal of his personal affairs.

The dead man had carefully covered his body with a sheet after laying down on the bed, and the pillow had been so arranged as to muffle the report of the revolver.]  The bullet entered the right temple and death was probably instantaneous.  The weapon used was a 38-calibre pearl-handle top break Smith and Wesson revolver.  Capt. Mills was formerly one of the wealthiest citizens in the southern part of the state, owning a large property interests, and being identified with several financial enterprises, but business reverses had swept away his entire fortune.  He was about sixty-five years of age, of patriarchal appearance, wearing a long reddish gray beard.  He had always been known as a man of unusually cheerful disposition and had several [intimate friends in this city.]

[gap of unknown size]

[beginning of paragraph not shown] believed his financial troubles were more imaginary than real, for had he made known his troubles to his warm and life-long friends they would gladly have extended the necessary aid.

Capt. Mills was a brave, fearless and faithful Confederate soldier, having entered the ranks in New Orleans the first of the war, and serving till its close, when he settled in Summit, and resided here continuously until his deplorable end.  At the time of his death he was adjutant of Stockdale Camp, 324, U. O. V., of Pike county, and had issued a call for the Camp to meet at Magnolia to-morrow, but never again on earth will he answer to the roll call of his comrades-in-arms.  He was also an esteemed and beloved member [—]nit[?] Lodge, No. 93, I. O. O. F.; DeLeon Lodge, No. 40, K. of P.; Woodmen of the World and Knights of Honor, in all of which he stood deservedly high.

He leaves his heart-broken wife and daughter, Miss Carrie, four sons, George W. Mills, of Lexington, Ky.; Harry H Mills, of Brookhaven; Hollis Mills, of Gulfport. and E. H. Mills, of Summit — all grown — also a sister, Mrs. C. E. Bradshaw, of Summit, and a brother, George W. Mills, of Brookhaven, all of whom were present at the funeral,

Capt. Mills was a whole-souled generous and charitable man, never allowing his lips to utter a word detrimental to any one, no matter what injury had been done him.  Never was there a man more devoted to his family.  Their happiness and comfort was his first consideration, and his love for them was as beautiful as it was great.  On the other hand, wife and children almost idolized him, and looked upon any sacrifice as small that would conduce to his peace and comfort.  As a neighbor he was considerate and kind, always rendering some gentle deed that endeared him the stronger to those who knew him the best.  As a citizen, he was enterprising and public-spirited, [end of paragraph not shown]

[gap of unknown size]

The funeral was one of the largest and most inspiring that had occurred here in a long while.  [missing text not shown] [fu]neral cortege extending over three blocks.  Many prominent visitors from Brookhaven, McComb, Magnolia and other places were present, besides hundreds of his sorrowing townsmen, to pay the last tribute of respect to his revered memory.  All the stores in town were closed in honor of the deceased, and the town bell was tolled.  The grave in Woodlawn Cemetery was literally covered with rare floral tributes of beautiful designs, several of the largest coming from the Odd-Fellows at Jackson.  The active pall-bearers were:  T. L. Cotten, H. Perlinsky, J. M. Willoughby [rest of paragraph not shown]

[gap of unknown size]

[beginning of paragraph not shown] to his many friends here, but every where he was known, all of whom deplore his death beyond words to express, and regret that he labored under the hallucination that it was necessary his life should pay the forfeit of his financial obligations.  In his death a good man has gone, and one the whole town will sadly miss.

During this time when deepest woe and darkest sorrow pervade the household once made so bright, cheerful and loving by his presence, it does not seem meet and proper to offer words of sympathy and [rest of paragraph not shown]

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

Wyle's reaction to all of this?  "Holy moley!"  This was definitely not what he had expected.  Even though the obituary/article said John was "about sixty-five years of age", Wyle figures he was about 61, based on his birth year of 1843.  Wyle notes the comment about "formerly wealthy" and asks about the business reverses that were mentioned; Murphy says she is not sure but that Summit had been in decline since the 1880's.  John had probably invested in several opportunities, with each failing, a scenario not uncommon in the South.

(I have a couple of my own comments on the obituary.  First, it is amazing to find such a long piece about someone who committed suicide.  It went on for two columns!  To me, that more than anything else demonstrates the esteem in which John was held.  I also noticed that the obit said that John had served throughout the war and then settled in Summit.  I commented earlier about the confusion between John's compiled service record and Dr. Gordon's comments, and that it isn't clear how long he served based on what we, the public, saw.  We can also add to that the fact that John was consistently said to have married in Summit in 1863 after his service but nothing about then returning to fight.  I wish the editors had made the information presented on air a little more consistent, or at least explained it better, since we only see parts of the story.  One last thing that struck me was that two of John's siblings were also living in Mississippi by 1904.  That makes me wonder whether the entire family was living in the South before the war.)

Wyle wants to know what happened to John's family.  With his suicide, it sounds as though there would no inheritance.  Murphy explains that the life insurance policy John had mentioned in his letters was probably a deferred dividend policy.  Companies would bring groups of people together for 15 to 20 years; if an individual lapsed in his payments, he received only a small value, but the survivors at the end of the investment period split all the premiums and dividends.  Wyle thinks it sounds "very pyramidy", and Murphy agrees.  If someone was unable to pay a premium, he lost everything he had invested.  On the positive side, if the policy had been held for at least one year, it was not contested for any reason, paying out even in the event of a suicide.  So the policy would have brought money to John's family, and they would have been able to pay some debts and perhaps have something for the widow's share.  Wyle is awed to think about how horrible it would have been for John to keep up appearances while he made all these plans, to maintain a veneer of normalcy.

Until now, Wyle has always thought of suicide as a cowardly act.  He is trying to reconcile his previous opinion with what looks like a selfless act on the part of John.  John's friends and family would certainly have said it was an unnecessary act.  Murphy says that a year after John's death, Congress began to investigate these insurance policies, and eventually they were banned.

What happened to John's wife?  Murphy found Mary on the Confederate pension rolls in 1913 as a widow.  To qualify for one of these pensions, you had to prove you were truly poor.  The listing is by county, and Mary E. Mills appears under Pike County.  Wyle notes that this was nine years after John's death and asks how much money she received.  The summary Murphy has shows that she was getting $40.30 for the year, well below poverty level.  Mary was destitute.  Murphy says that this was the only public aid available, however.  Mary had had some property and had been selling it to pay debts, some of which were from John.

Wyle realizes that John and Mary's children were adults by this time and wonders why they didn't take care of Mary or support her (even though the quick glance at the papers Murphy had indicated that Mary was living with her daughter, Carrie).  Murphy brings up the question of what their circumstances might have been.  They could have been helping to pay off their father's debts.  Wyle notes the irony in the situation and compares it to an O. Henry ending, where the opposite of what was planned happens.  John had committed suicide to make sure his family received the insurance money, but the family was in debt anyway.

The pension rolls are not available online, but some of the pension applications are (at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, in fact, the very place Wyle and Murphy are sitting).  I was able to find Mary's applications from 1913, 1924, and 1926.  Mary is pretty consistent in the information she gives — John enlistedi n 1861 (it was actually 1862); she and John were married in 1863 (one application has the full date); John served through the end of the war, with accurate information about his unit.  I find it odd that she signed the applications in 1913 and 1926, but the one for 1924 has "her mark."  I wonder who really filled out each of the applications.

Murphy brings out a copy of the 1927 pension roll, the last year she was able to find Mary.  The list came from the Chancery Court in Harrison County (but Mary used to live in Pike County . . .).  Murphy asks Wyle what he thinks happened.  He comes up with the logical scenarios, died or remarried, and also considers Mary's children.  Murphy says she has no idea what happened.  Mary could have remarried, could have died, could even have moved out of state.  Since the last pension roll showed Mary as living in Harrison County, down on the Gulf Coast, Murphy recommends that Wyle go there.  When Wyle asks if they'll have records, she simply says it's probably his best bet.  (Can't they come up with better scripting for these shows??!!)

As Wyle leaves the archive, he talks about his great-great-great-grandfather's suicide and tragic end.  The obituary really affected him emotionally.  The public outpouring of emotion, the tolling of the church bells, showed that John was really beloved.  Now Wyle wants to find out what happened to Mary, who lived many years longer and who moved from Pike County to Harrison County.

Wyle goes next to Biloxi, Mississippi.  He tells us that he is going to the Jefferson Davis Memorial Library, but the Beauvoir historic marker doesn't actually include those words, so it was a little confusing.  The marker says that the home "has been" "a Confederate Veterans' home since 1903."  The Wikipedia pages for Beauvoir (the house) and the library make clear that the house became the library after the last Confederate veteran living in Mississippi died, which was in 1953.  You'd think someone might have updated the sign by now.

Inside, presumably in the library, Wyle meets Dr. Susannah Ural, a military historian from the University of Southern Mississippi.  She hands him a file and tells him that it has copies of what she has found.

The first item shown is minutes from a September meeting during which an application for emergency care for Mary Mills was approved, in a handwritten note added to the typed minutes.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --


The finance committee of the Board of Directors met at the Home on Sept. 14th with Mr. J. H. Mc Gehee and Mrs. Josie C. Rankin present.  The accounts for August were audited and allowed.

The following applications were approved:  Mrs. M. A. Jackson, McComb, Pike Co.; Mr. and Mrs. Horace Walker; Biloxi, Harrison Co.; W. C. Green, Louin, Jasper Co.; Wm. T. Waldrup, Batesville, Panola Co.

[handwritten note] Mrs. Mary Emily Mills, of Gulfport, Harrison Co., application was approved during vacation on Sept. 10th by Mr. J. H. McGehee, same being an emergency case.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

So what was the emergency?  Ural doesn't know, but it could have been medical care, as the home had a hospital on site.  Before coming to the home, Mary was living with her daughter, Carrie.  Maybe Carrie was no longer able to take care of her mother.  Ural says that these applications usually came when the family needed help, either temporary or permanent, in caring for their relatives.  Wyle compares Beauvoir to a home for the aged, and Ural agrees, but adds that the residents were impoverished.

Next Ural brings out a photograph for Wyle and adds that it's a rare find.  She almost never sees photos of the home's former residents.  The photo is of an old woman — Mary — with three young children, whom Ural says were Mary's grandchildren.  (There was handwriting at the bottom of the photograph, but it was light and the camera angles did not focus on it, so I was unable to read any of it.  And that photograph is not online, but a different photo of Mary is on her FindAGrave page.)  Wyle thinks she looks tough and strong, and he sees a resemblance to other family members.  (I wonder if he's suggestible or just polite.)

Now Wyle takes the initiative.  He tells Ural that the previous day he had seen Mary listed in pension rolls from 1913 to the "mid '20's" and asks if Ural knows what happened after that.  Ural says, "Take a look," and hands him another copy.  It is from the Biloxi Daily Herald of September 29, 1928 and is an obituary for Mary.  (Again, this newspaper is not online, but the first half of the obituary has been scanned and posted to Mary's FindAGrave page.)

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --


Mrs. M. E. Mills died last night at 9 o'clock, at Beauvoir Soldiers Home at the age of 84 years.  Mrs. Mills is the widow of the late J. H. Mills, a Confederate veteran who preceded her to the grave a number of years ago.  She was a Miss Brown born in Fort Gaines, Ga., but has resided in Mississippi for many years, living in Summit when the famiy was one of the best known in that section.  She moved to Gulfport from Summit 14 years ago with her daughter, Miss Carrie Mills.  Mrs. Mills was a gentlewoman of the old school and in her younger years her home was rendezvous of the intellectual and social group of her neighborhood.  She was of a noble Christian character, a communicant of the Episcopal church.  She is survived by one daughter, Miss Carrie Mills, of Gulfport, and three sons, E. H. Wills [sic] of Shreveport, who will arrive in Gulfport this afternoon, G. W. Mills of Lexington, Ky., and H. C. Mills of Brookhaven.  The remains are at the Riemann Funeral Home on 25th avenue and will be shipped tomorrow morning to Summit, Miss., for burial.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

Wyle notices the misspelling of the first son's surname, which Ural confirms was a typo by the newspaper.  He latches onto the description of Mary as intellectual and social and comments that she was educated and progressive for the era.  Ural corrects him, explaining that Mary was educated to be conversational, not professional, and that she did appear to enjoy that.  She was represntative of wealthy women of that time.  Wyle is still happy and finds the obituary informative.  Mary has nowtaken on some tangible qualities for him.

Wyle sits in a chair on the porch of one of the buildings on the property and thinks about what he has learned.  He thinks about how his great-great-great-grandmother Emily lived out her last few years in one of the barracks buildings, probably living with others in similar circumstances.  She survived her husband's suicide and the family's fall from econoimc grace, and showed strong character.  He knew beforehand that he had proud Southern roots, but he hadn't realized they ran this deep (not really that deep, dude; John came from New York, remember?).  He thought he didn't have any Civil War ancestors, but he found out about John fighting at Shiloh and Mary living at Jefferson Davis' former home.  He's not really surprised there wasn't a great social safety net, but it's good there was some help for veterans; it's unlikely any help would have come from the North. Wyle admits that it's hard to reconcile the South's preservation of a romantic depiction of the antebellum period with the fact that the economic engine was forced human labor, but his choice of terminology makes it clear that he's still dancing around the edges of the topic.  (It makes me wonder what else he learned that was not shown on air, though it does not appear to be the same kind of whitewashing that Gates indulged in with Affleck.)

Marty comes out to Mississippi to see Wyle and share in the discoveries.  He tells her that he was happy to learn that their ancestor did serve in the Civil War, right or wrong.  He shows her the photograph of John and talks about how he is reconsidering his opinion of suicide, and also shares the photo of Mary.  He closes by saying that it's been quite a week and that you can find whatever you're looking for — good or bad, hero or villain.  The complexity of the past is wonderful.


  1. Thanks for the great recap and notes. I'm confused also about the Civil War service information. I think the information left out is about the Confederate Conscription Act that went into effect in April 1862 which basically said that every man who was in the army at that time had his enlistment extended to 3 years (most who had enlisted in 1861 had signed up for 1 year). Mills may have been forced to continue to serve past the 90 days and he may have had to transfer to another unit because his original unit had only enlisted for a short term and their home of New Orleans had been captured by the Union at the end of April 1862.

    1. You are welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      I agree, the 1862 Conscription Act might have had an effect on John's enlistment, especially since it's clear that he did serve past his initial 90-day commitment. The footnotes on the bottoms of his muster cards explain why he was in a different unit, the 18th (noted on the third muster card), and also suggest that he might have served for the entire war. But neither of these explains why Gordon said that he served his 90-day hitch and was done. Perhaps the editorial or researcher decision (we don't know who made the call) to say he served only that short time was based on the apparent lack of any additional muster cards for John, at least as evidenced on Fold3. And maybe that's all he did serve.

  2. Loved reading about this ,I too love history


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.