Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Civil War's effect on Mary Elizabeth Fields Smith Foster

In looking back on the Civil War, we often focus on the men who went away to war and its effect on them. But the women and children who were left to fend for themselves fought a brave fight as well, enduring hardships that would have torn apart less hardy and determined souls.

Little Mary Elizabeth Fields had a rather auspicious entrance into this world. She was born February 6, 1837. The exact place of her birth was not recorded in family records, for her parents, Jesse B. and Catherine Akins Fields were on their way from their old home in Pickens, S.C., to Union County, Ga., when their second child and first baby girl was born. Whether Catherine Fields thought they would be settled in Union County before the new baby arrived, or whether she went into premature labor is not known. However, even in the cold February weather and the trip over rough terrain through the mountainous region, the bundled-up new baby and mother arrived tired and safe at the land on which the Fields family settled and inhabited a log cabin in what later was known as the Edward Crump "gingerbread" house on Owltown.

Mary Elizabeth, better known as Bettie, did not receive much formal education, but learned to read and write at home, skills that served her well in later years. She married at age 17 to George Smith on June 14, 1855. To them were born four children, three sons and a daughter. However, as was common in those days, one son and the daughter did not survive infancy. Sons Louis W. Smith (b. 1858) and Joseph W. Smith (b. 1860) survived and grew to manhood.

Talk of the country splitting into North and South was prevalent, even as people gathered for church or at mills, stores or post offices in Union County. George Smith, who was born in the south and loved the south, held unionist views because he did not want to see the Union asunder. He decided to move his young family to Tennessee to look for a better living than he could make on the farm in Union County. With the family living in a log cabin with some land to provide patches and a garden, George Smith joined the Union Army and went away to fight.

Of great concern to Bettie Fields Smith as she cared for her two little boys and tried to make a crop were the knowledge that her brothers, John and Thomas Fields, who had joined the Confederate Army, might come face to face with Union soldier George Smith, her husband. Having sworn allegiance to opposing forces, their fighting each other was a grave possibility. It is not known whether they ever faced on the same battlefields.

On the home front, raiders and looters were a constant threat. Bettie stored what food she could raise for her family in hiding places to keep it from being stolen. Miraculously, with the help of some caring neighbors, she and the two young boys endured the hardships of war. Her husband did not return. Finally she received word that George Smith had been killed.

After a year of mourning for her husband, she met 24 year old Charles Edmund Foster. He, like her first husband, had fought for the Union cause and had been an officer in the U.S. Army. They courted for awhile and were married in Tennessee. Charles Foster had a good education for a mountain man of his day. He taught in country schools and farmed the land Bettie owned around her log cabin. Their first child, Ulysses S. Foster, was born February 28, 1867. No doubt, Bettie thought of her own birthday, so close to her fifth child's. She had been born 30 years before on February 6, 1837 as her parents moved from South Carolina to Georgia.

Soon after the birth of their first child, Bettie and Charles Foster moved from Tennessee to Union County. Their second child, William Robert Foster, was born October 11, 1869. Other children born to them were Edmund Lee Foster (October 26, 1873), Eva Eldorado Foster (1877) and Fleta Jane Foster (1880).

Betty Fields Smith Foster had learned fortitude during the war years. She did not ease up on her duties as a wife and mother back in Union County. She had not received much education, but she was determined that her children go to school. She made their clothing, weaving the cloth and sewing garments. She worked hard to make what money she could from eggs and chickens in barter at the local merchandise store. Her husband Charles Edmund Foster was "known in the land" as a dependable farmer and teacher. In the 1870s he was elected as Union County's Clerk of Superior Court, an office he filled with distinction periodically until his death in 1887. For a time in 1884, Foster and his eldest son, Ulysses, went west to Texas for six months to seek employment there. Bettie Foster was glad to see them return home and be content to remain in the mountains.

In 1887 Charles Foster became ill while serving as Clerk of Court. As the saying was then, "he took to his bed," and was never well again. His death came October 16, 1887. Although Bettie's older children were married and gone from home when Charles died, she was still left with these children at home: William Robert, 18, Edmund Lee, 14, Eva Eldorado, 10, and Fleta Jane, 7. At age 50, Bettie Foster buckled down and did what she had to do to keep house, farm and children together. Her son, Edmund Lee Foster, wrote a biography of his mother in 1923 in which he paid tribute to her as one who lived by the philosophy of "Where there is a will, there is a way." He lauded her strong Christian faith, her sterling character and her unwavering determination.

Her last years were somewhat easier financially when, in 1890, she was granted a widow's pension from the U.S. Army service of her late husband, Charles Edmond Foster.

With the stipend, she was able to buy a place on the Nottely River about 2 and 1/2 miles south of Blairsville where she lived out her life until age 72, dying May 6, 1908.

In the Harmony Grove Baptist Church Cemetery are the graves of Charles Edmund Foster (1842-1887) and Mary Elizabeth (Bettie) Fields Smith Foster (1837-1908). Close by are the graves of her parents, Catherine Akins Fields (?-1857) and Jesse B. Fields (1812-1904). The Fields were founding members of the church and that is probably where Bettie Foster liked to sing the beautiful songs of Zion and attend church faithfully, bringing up her children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord."

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Aug. 3, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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