By Lee Ann Gerhart
3818 Clay Products Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99517
John Chisum Bell was born in 1841 in Rusk County in the Republic of Texas. His father was
James Bell (1812 SC - 1860/70 Rusk Co, TX), one of four brothers who arrived in Texas in 1836
with their parents, Samuel and Margaret "Peggy" Holloday Bell, originally of Edgefield County,
South Carolina. John's mother was Cynthia Ann Walling (1816 MS - 9/16/1884 Kaufman Co,
TX), daughter of John Walling and Anna Chisum. John Walling came to Texas with his second
wife Judy Cargill and received a first class headright of a league and a labor of land. Cynthia
Ann's brother Jesse Walling fought at the Battle of San Jacinto and was of some prominence in
Rusk County, Texas. James Bell and Cynthia Ann Walling met and married in October 1834 in
Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee.
John's father was a shoemaker in 1850, but changed his trade to jailer by 1860. John's older
sister Elizabeth had married John David "Jack" Hamilton, the sheriff of Henderson, which may
have had something to do with the change in professions. The Hamiltons lived just a few
households away. John and his brother Jesse Walling Bell were still living at home at the start of
the Civil War. John was a clerk in the dry goods store. In 1860, enumerated in the household
were three jail inhabitants: an insane saddler, an insane mechanic, and a black murderer named
John C. Bell was single when he enlisted in Company B, 3rd Texas Cavalry on June 13, 1861 in
Rusk County and was mustered into service in Dallas, Texas as a Private. He was 21 years old.
His company captain was Capt. R. H. Cumby. John was promoted to 1st Sergeant on May 20,
1862. He was wounded and taken prisoner at Iuka, Mississippi on September 19, 1862 and lost
his left leg. On October 14, 1862, he is included in a list of paroled Prisoners of War captured at
the battles of Iuka, Corinth, and of Hatchie. In April 1863, he is again a Private and is listed as
wounded at Iuka and in a hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. In June & October 1863, he is still
listed as wounded, leg amputated, and in hospital. In May & June 1864, he is listed as "leg
amputated and in Texas on furlough."
There is a letter in his own hand in his service record transcribed as follows (damaged and difficult
to read in places - best guess in ):
March 7th, AD 1864
W. K. Foster
A. A. Genrl
Dear Sir in a K[xxxx]ton paper
[of] recent date I noticed an order ifsued by Genrl
[xxx]khead Magniden Calling for all disabled Soldiers
[to] report to you for duty. And as I am one of
[the] unfortunate ones of the war, I feel it my duty
[to] respond to the call of my country. I happened to
[be one] of the unfortunate ones to loose my left Legg
[at] the Battle of Iuka Mifs. My Regiment is called
[xx Fox?] Regiment Texas Cavalry and the letter
[of] my Company is (B) Genrl Whitfield Brigade.
[My] occupation before the war was a dry goods
clerk. If I am granted a position I would like
to have one as near home as possible. I am un
fortunately a poor boy and would like to have
[a prostisys?] that would make me a Support.
I will have this certified by a respectable physician,
and if required I will furnish a good recommend
ation. But Supposeing that a Physicians
certificate will be all right I remain very respect
fully your Obedient Servant.
John C. Bell
N.B. Enclosed please find the certificate of Dr. J. M.
Blain also the certificate of the county clerk.
Respectfully John C. Bell
March 5th 1864
I hereby certify that John C. Bell formerly a member of
Co. B. 3rd Texas Cavalry - Whitfield Brigade has lost lost his
left leg just below the Knee was amputated, and now
travels by means of Crutches.
J. M. Blair M.D.
The State of Texas
County of Rusk
I J. N. Still clerk of the county court within and for said county hereby certify that J. M. Blair MD is and has been for serveral years a practicing physician in good standing, and a gentleman of Respectability, and has certificate as appears above is entitled to full faith and credit. I further certify that I have been for many years acquainted with the same John C. Bell mentioned in said certificate and that the statements there made are true, that the said Bell before the commencement of the war was a clerk in a dry goods store and is a gentleman of good businefs [prelifications?] and a gentleman of good moral character.
Given under my hand and seal of office sic. Henderson this the 8th day of March AD 1864.
J. N. Still ccoRusk co.
Statistically, John Bell was one of the unfortunate. Per Douglas Hale, in The Third Texas
Cavalry in the Civil War, for the whole war, 10% of Company B were killed or mortally
wounded in battle, 7% died of other causes such as disease, accident, or homicide, and 15% were
wounded. That would imply that 68% survived intact. At Iuka, casualties were extremely heavy.
"Of the 388 soldiers in the Third Texas Cavalry, 22 were killed outright (90 for the entire war),
and 74 were wounded (221 for the entire war); one in every four men on the line fell that day, by
far the heaviest losses sustained by the regiment in any single engagement during the war." Hale
also states, "The wounded men at Iuka were well cared for by their regimental surgeon and the
local women who had been recruited as nurses." I hope that is so.
February 07, 1866, John Chisum Bell married Martha Elizabeth Merritt. Martha was born July
1845 in Nacogdoches County in the Republic of Texas, the daughter of Robert Merritt, originally
of Mississippi, and Isetta Elizabeth Dunkley (1824 SC-aft 1880 Rusk Co TX), daughter of Green
Berry Lee Dunkley and Izett Long of Fairfield County, South Carolina. Both the Merritt and
Dunkley families came to Texas in 1839 and received 3rd class headright lands in what would later
become Rusk County. Upon his marriage to Isetta in 1840, Robert Merritt received a 320-acre
augmentation grant. Robert Merritt was killed by Indians while milking the cows on June 09,
1846 leaving his 22-year-old wife with three children, Martha the youngest. Isetta married
Thomas Lewis Wright in 1849 who became Martha's guardian.
Despite having only one leg, John took up farming after the war. His father had passed away
sometime between 1860 and 1870, so he was probably tending land inherited from his father. His
mother moved in with her daughter Elizabeth and her husband Jack Hamilton who too had turned
to farming. In 1870, the value of John's real estate was $1000 and personal property $250. The
value of the Hamilton's real estate was $2000 and personal property $1000. In 1860, the James
Bell family net worth is not listed, but the Hamiltons were listed with real estate worth $5000 and
personal property of $8195, approximately equal to the average mean wealth of enlisted men from
Rusk county in that year of $13,664. If the Hamiltons were still of average wealth in 1870, the
John Bell family was worth less than half of that, so would seem to be quite poor.
Martha E. (Merritt) Bell applied for a widow's pension in 1899. She was in very poor financial
condition and her physical condition was "rather weak". She is unable to work, although only 54
years old. She receives no income and says she is in indigent circumstances. The application
shows that John died on March 30, 1872. He was only 31 years old.
Martha was only 27 years old when John died and had two young children, a son named James
Robert, named after both grandfathers, and a daughter named Johnnie I. Martha never remarried.
Her only brother, Daniel Dunkley Merritt, was killed in the War in 1862 at the age of 20. He
served in Company D, 10th Texas Cavalry, a company organized in Upshur County under the
command of his brother-in-law, Capt. Alexander Earp, husband of his sister Sarah Isetta Merritt
and brother of Col. C. R. Earp. How awful those years must have been for Martha and for her
mother, aunt, and sister. Possibly John Bell and Martha were sweethearts before the war, with
high hopes for a bright future only to have him return home so severely injured that he did not live
but a few short years after the war.
Photo: James Robert Bell, son of John Chisum
Bell & Martha Merritt, with wife Effie Estelle
Culver and oldest child, John Culver Bell.
Photo taken about 1898.
Written by Lee Ann Gerhart, 2nd great granddaughter of John Chisum Bell
(John Chisum Bell > James Robert Bell > Tommye Eugenia Bell > Wilfred Drennen Whiteside,
Jr.> Lee Ann Whiteside Gerhart)
To read about the Battle of Iuka (John's Brigade and regiment were most in the thick of it)
©Ron Brothers and Lee Ann Gerhart, 2000, All Rights Reserved.
June 4, 2000
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