Saturday, September 17, 2016

Singleton shares the strange story of the one-legged Walker brothers of North Carolina

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “It’s not every day that one borrows someone else’s leg” was originally published in the Sept. 28, 1995 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

As I have stated many times in my writings, I like nothing better than to read or investigate a story about our early history. Since I have been an avid student of our tragic Civil War history since early childhood, I never grow tired of hearing over and over again stories of the bloody conflict.

As a child I spent countless hours sitting in the corner by the fireplace, listening to the many stories told time and time again by my maternal grandmother about my family and its association with this dreaded war.

I have been most fortunate during my adult years to have visited all the major battle sites of this terrible war. I have visited many, many other battlefields whose names have since faded from the pages of our history books.

Both sides of my family suffered greatly during this terrible conflict. My paternal great-grandfather fell in battle during the bloody fighting at Shiloh. A total of six of my ancestors wore the uniform of the Confederacy. But that’s another story.

There has never been a time in the history of our country, or perhaps even in the history of the world, when the tide of unusual happenings unfurled as it did during and after our Civil War. As I have stated many times before, one could spend an entire lifetime in the study of this tragic time in history and never completely cover it in its entirety. Many tragic events took place within the five years that shook our country to its very soul, and even today, 130 years later, we continue to feel some of the after-effects.

Not all tales were of battle

But all that happened during this period and its aftermath were not the brutal, bloodletting atrocities so common on the many battlefields of this tragic war. Over 5,500 battles and skirmishes were fought between the North and the South during the conflict. Some events turned out to be rather amusing, as one studies the details of this terrible war.

The date was July 1, 1863. The battle of Gettysburg had started, and some of the fiercest fighting of the entire war was beginning to take form. Members of the 13th North Carolina Regiment were among those who were first to come eyeball-to-eyeball with the Union troops on that hot July day.

Two brothers, Jack and Jasper Walker of Charlotte, N.C., were among those of the 13th Regiment. Jasper, the younger of the two, was a color bearer for the regiment. He was the fifth color bearer of the day; the other four had been shot down in fierce fighting earlier. Jack and Jasper had been separated during the bitter skirmish, and neither knew just where the other one was.

In trying to advance, the 13th North Carolina Regiment suffered heavy casualties. Jasper, while trying to advance with the regiment’s colors, suffered a serious wound in his left leg. Unable to move, he was left, along with many others, as the 13th Regiment began to retreat from the fierce and bloody fighting.

Prisoners of war

As his regiment retreated, the advancing Union army took those who were alive as prisoners of war; Jasper was among them. Little did Jack, his brother, know what had happened; it was every man for himself. Due to the great number of dead and wounded, the survivors of the regiment were doing everything they could to put as much distance as possible between them and the advancing Union forces.

In the hasty retreat from the bloody fighting, Jack, too, was seriously wounded in the left leg. Like the others, he was left for dead by his fellow soldiers of the 13th Regiment. And he, too, was taken prisoner as the Union army proceeded to advance after the retreating Rebels. Neither brother knew the status of the other.

In the shuffle of prisoners, Jack was sent to one Union prison camp, and Jasper was sent to another. Neither knew whether the other was still alive or not. During the next two days, both brothers’ left legs were amputated by Union army surgeons due to blood poisoning. No word had reached either as to whether the other was still alive.

Jack and Jasper Walker were to spend the remainder of the war in separate Union prison camps. As the dreadful war came to a close and as General Grant and General Lee drew up the surrender agreements, the prisoners of war on both sides were released and told that they could go home. Only when the Walker brothers got home did they find that the other was still alive and that they had both lost their left legs in the fierce fighting at Gettysburg.

Prospered, planned wedding

Even though handicapped, the Walker brothers worked hard and became prosperous citizens in the town of Charlotte. They were a familiar sight as they stumped around on the streets of the North Carolina town on their cork legs.

As the brothers prospered, love came into the life of Jasper, the younger of the two. As time passed, the sounds of wedding bells could be heard on the distant horizon. Much thought and effort was put into the planning of this special event. The big pot was going to be put into the little pot on this special day; it would be a wedding that would be remembered for many years by the citizens of Charlotte. Many guests would be present; those who had survived the dreadful war of the 13th North Carolina Regiment were to be guests of honor.

As the hour approached for the wedding, Jasper, as he rushed around trying to get everything in order, stumbled and fell. As he surveyed the damage, he was to find that his left leg, his artificial one, had been broken. Not having time to get another one made, Jasper was at a loss about what to do. He didn’t want to have to stand in the wedding ceremony on his one good leg; this would be very embarrassing to him and his new bride.

Borrowed limb

But the good luck that had followed him and his brother in the years after the war was not to let him down now. Jack, upon hearing that Jasper had broken his cork leg, came forward to loan his leg to his brother to be married on; the leg was a perfect fit. The wedding went on as planned; it would be a while before the news of the borrowed leg hit the streets of Charlotte.

Over the following years, Jack and Jasper Walker were fond of telling the youngsters of Charlotte this story. This was a first; this was the only case on record in which one man was married while standing on the borrowed leg of another.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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