Vaughn family descendant endears herself to family, community

Published 12:03 am Saturday, March 30, 2013

While researching the Battle and Vaughn families, a descendant common to both stood out as an exceptional person. Bessie Sessions (Vaughn) Battle is remembered for her longevity, but more importantly for her exemplary life, love for her family and adoration of her father who rendered service in the Confederate Army.

Bessie Sessions Vaughn was born in 1875 in Union Springs, Ala., as the first child of Gillam Nicholson and Amanda Madora (Goode) Vaughn. Her paternal grandparents were John Henry and Narcissis Nicholson (Gorman) Vaughn, natives of North Carolina and South Carolina respectively. Her middle name of Sessions was to honor the family physician, Dr. Lowe Sessions, who attended her mother at her birth as well as that of the next four children.

Dr. Sessions was the owner of a large tract of land in Union Springs, Bullock County, of which Bessie’s grandparents had earlier owned several hundred acres. He was a very successful banker who is credited with establishing the Union Springs Bank of which he was president, the Ozark Bank and one in Enterprise. In his role as President of the Board of Trustees of Union Springs Institute of which Bessie was a graduate, he stated what an honor it was for him to offer his name to her diploma. He also had the privilege of writing a letter of recommendation for employment as a teacher in which he described her as “an amiable and modest young lady who had given entire satisfaction during her two years of teaching at the institute.”

In 1903, Bessie was married to John William Battle in Union Springs, at her parents’ home. (Their granddaughter, Annette Wynn Reeves, has a printed copy of the wedding invitation.) Bessie was working as a teacher in Pine Level at the time, and John William was working as a clerk or salesman. Various descriptions of him from employers indicated he was a “sober and honorable gentleman,” and that he was “steady, reliable, attentive and careful in details.” An employer in 1894 described him as being “honest, upright, attentive to business and strict in business.”

John William was a younger brother of the Dr. Henry Elton Battle, who practiced medicine in Andalusia in the early 1900s. They were the sons of William Augustus Battle, a Confederate Veteran who served as a Captain in Company B, 51st Alabama Cavalry, and Martha “Mattie” Rebecca (Edwards). His paternal grandparents were John William Battle and his third wife, Sidney Ann (Tuggle). John William was born in 1870 and obviously named for his grandfather. He lived a rather short life and he died from poor health at the age of 54.

During his later years, John William Battle’s health began to decline. Even as a young man near the time of his marriage, he was diagnosed as suffering from “rheumatism.” At that time, his older brother, Dr. Henry Elton Battle, certified in an official statement that John William was disabled as far as regular employment. It was mentioned that he most likely had what is known today as tuberculosis, and that a serious bout with flu claimed his life on March 2, 1924.

When John William and Bessie were first married, they moved to the City of Dothan in Houston County, which was just being born. As was common for the time, they arrived by horse and buggy, and their first home was near the old Howell School. He opened with his brother a mercantile business in which he could be productive. Using her teaching skills, Bessie found employment as a governess and housekeeper for the prosperous Sherman family. Mr. Sherman was a successful businessman in the railroad industry. He and his wife traveled abroad on regular occasions, and this left Bessie to care for the children and the management of the home.

Bessie has been described as one who loved her family and was always interested in the well being of each member. In fact, she was seen as one who “was interested in the people around her and the things in her world.” She dearly loved her relatives and maintained close communication until her death. She wrote frequent letters in which she included comments, advice and special prayers that could be passed on eventually to the children. She kept up with their activities and progress and always offered encouragement. She saved family information and was able to contribute much to the efforts made to compile a comprehensive history of her family.

Bessie and John William Battle reared one daughter, Mamie Louise, who was born in 1905 and married to Thomas Jefferson Wynn, Jr. Louise was an accomplished musician and served as organist for the First Baptist Church of Dothan for 41 years. Louise and Thomas had one daughter, Annette Louise, who was born in Dothan and later married to William Henry Reeves. The Reeves made their home is several locations, which include a number of years in Andalusia. They reared four children: Dana Gaye, m. (1) Tony Cross (2) Ronnie Landon; William Mark, single; John Benjamin, m. Elizabeth Carson; and Steven Parrish, single. Currently, Annette is a widow and resides in Andalusia.

A news reporter for the Dothan Eagle, Mary Nell McLennan, wrote a story in 1975 upon the occasion of Bessie’s 100th birthday. She described her as “one of Dothan’s most beloved women.” The occasion was “a party with all the trimmings,” which included three cakes, a letter from President Gerald Ford and a telegram from Governor George Wallace. Someone said, “She is as modern as today’s newspaper and as old-fashioned and solid as the Bible.” She was born on a plantation in Union Springs as the eldest of eight children and was reared in “the traditional, gentle, Southern manner.”

The above reporter as well as anyone speaking with Bessie Vaughn Battle soon heard of her great pride in her father’s service in the Confederate Army. At her age of 100 years, she surely was one of the last surviving “Real Daughters” of a Confederate Veteran. It was said “her eyes shown when she spoke of her father, Gillian Nicholson Vaughn, who served as a private in Company D, 3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment. She stated, “He was a fine man, very honest in all his dealings.”

Bessie became actively involved in preserving her Confederate heritage. She was a charter member when the Dothan Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was formed in 1911. When her only granddaughter, Annette Louise Wynn, was born, she set about having her enrolled as a Child of the Confederacy at the age of two months, which distinguished her as the youngest member in the State of Alabama. The chapter chose to make Annette their official “mascot.” Within a year after Bessie’s 100th birthday, the chapter paid her the highest honor by officially adopting the name of Bessie Vaughn Battle Chapter #1342, United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Her career included working as a teacher, 20 years as a substitute teacher, an insurance sales person, census taker, tutor of Latin (a subject she dearly loved) and homemaker. She lived a fulfilled life, which included significant efforts to preserve her family’s history.

The source for this narrative was the family records of Annette (Wynn) Reeves who graciously shared them. These included two stories from the Dothan Eagle on October 26, 1975, and March 9, 1977, and various other records.

Anyone who might have any information to add to this story is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or Email: .

HISTORICAL MEETING: The Covington Rifles Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Thurs., April 4, in the Dixon Memorial Room of the Andalusia Public Library. Anyone interested in Confederate heritage is welcome to attend.