Uncle Sephus. Sephus Bass was his full name. He was my gr. grandfather Mitchell Bass's brother. But like many of my family, with roots in Tennessee, I never heard his name until the 1990s. At a family reunion in 1989, his name came up as one of our Tennessee ancestors from Giles county. I would not hear the story until 1995, when one of the cousins related the story that he had heard at the family reunion years before.
Our Arkansas patriarch in Horatio Arkansas, was Louis Mitchell Bass born in Giles County Tennessee. He was taken from his family in Tennessee never to see them anymore. Oh he was not sold, but instead, he was "given" as a "wedding gift" when the slave owner's daughter married a man from Arkansas.
It would be decades after the war, before he would learn the story of what actually happened to his family left behind. Among those left behind were his parents, and brothers---one of whom was Sephus--Sephus Bass.
As I said, Grandpa Mitchell Bass would never see most of them ever again. However late in life he did get a chance to meet a younger brother, John Silas Bass, who had moved to Kansas in the 1900's. And years later when the two met---John Silas, the younger brother told his brother Mitchell, the story of what happened to the family on one fateful night in 1888.
Night riders---klansmen---visited the home of the Bass family in Elkton, and in one of the many acts of terrorizing black families in the county----- they attacked the Bass family. To shorten a long and tragic story----in an effort to protect the family---a shoot-out took place. The younger members of the family were put on the roof of the house, and the shooting began. The patriarch of this family---Irving Bass---the father----and also my gr. gr. gr. grandfather would lose his life in that struggle to protect his family.
One of the sons----Josephus (Sephus) was a marksman and he shot at least one of the night riders. After the incident---he, Sephus as he was called, had to leave. It was said that he left for Texas, and no other details about his life were ever known.
Part of this story involves the fact that even for many years---his name was never uttered. Finally at a family reunion in the 1980s, the only person living who ever heard the story about Uncle Sephus was there---my great uncle, George Bass. At this reunion, someone asked about the story of the event of 1888. Uncle George shared the few facts that he had heard about the tragic end to Irving Bass's death and how the family defended itself. And he did mention the uncle who shot the white man and who fled to Texas.
Finally----at the urging and prodding of our cousin Buddy---he pointed out the obvious ,"...but...they are all dead! This is the 1980s. Nobody can argue with you for saying his name...what was his name?"
With much reluctance, he finally said, "well, his name was Sephus."
But WHERE in Texas? Texas is huge! And did he actually make it to Texas? Or was he just headed for Texas? There were no stories of anything that happened to him when and if he arrived.
Did he write back to the family? And since he was on the run---could he have written back to communicate where he was? Chances are---no. A letter arriving at the post office for this family, coming from a wanted man---they would never have been allowed to even receive it, and warrants would have been put out immediately for his arrest. Could that possibly have happened?
And if 100 years later, Uncle George was still cautious about even telling the family his name---surely in the days and years when the terrible incident happened, chances are, he could not have made contact at all. And the fear lasted for 100 years! But---could I find out what happened to Uncle Sephus and how his life turned out?
All I had was his name----Sephus. It was supposed to be short for Josephus. We all know that "Spelling dusn't cownt"* And there were many ways to spell Sephus. Sephus, Sephas, Cephus, Cephas----and even more ways to misspell his name.
But I wanted to find him, somewhere in the records---just to know that he survived. All I knew was that he shot a man and fled to Texas.
I had to used some logic. The incident took place in 1888. Since there is no 1890 census to use, could he possibly have been found in the 1900's? And would he have possibly be in Texas, if he lived that long? Well, my mind kept dwelling on the possibilities-------he might have died along the way, or never made it to Texas. But, I decided to look anyway. A search of Texas census records reflected a lot of people with the surname of BASS.
In the 1910---there was a Sephus Bass. He was an older man, living with a married daughter and her husband. He was living in Fayette County Tennessee, AND he had Tennessee roots. But-----was this MY Sephus Bass?
Luck again!! In 1900, there was also a Sephus Bass----and this one had to be mine!! He was enumerated with a brother----Napier Bass! Wow---Napier----this was a surprise! I was delighted to see this, because I recognized the name Napier as a family name. Uncle George---the one who revealed the name Sephus to the family---his middle name was Napier. He had a son called Napier Bass. And John Silas Bass---the man who moved to Kansas, he too had a son called Napier But wow----this man--brother to Sephus--might have been the first of the many Napier Bass's around!! This HAD to be the family!!
But how could I know? I needed something to really connect a Texas-based Sephus with a Tennessee-born Sephus (or Cephus). Then----came a hunch---I wonder if he fought in the Civil War. Were there soldiers from Tennessee named Bass? And one named Sephus?
Well, this was years before the NPS Soldiers & Sailors online database was created. I would have to make a trip to the National Archives to find out more. I planned a trip, and my task was to look up on microfilm, the alpha index of US Colored Troops. I found out the BASS surname was not unique---there were hundreds of soldiers called Bass who served in the Union Army.
So I cranked the microfilm. I was being careful to note spelling C-E-P-H-U-S, C-E-P-H-A-S, C-E-P-H-I-S- and on and on. I looked for Josephus Bass as well. Nothing came up. I kept cranking and then I got to the letter S and there was----SEPHAS BASS. Hmm...........could this have been MY Sephus? The index file simply said that he was a private who had served in the 111th US Colored Infantry.
Well, I had 3 things to do:
1) I had to learn something about that regiment. Where was it organized and where did they serve? If this was a regiment from Virginia, or Maryland, he would most likely not be connected to my Giles County Tennessee-based Bass family. )
2) I had to learn if the Private Sephus Bass whose name I found, had possibly survived the war, and filed
for a pension.
3) I had to connect the Texas-based Sephus with my Tennessee-based Bass family.
So, first, what could I find out about the 111th US Colored Infantry?
At the National Archives in the 1990s, on the 4th floor there were several reference rooms. There was a copy of Frederick Dyer's Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. This is a wonderful reference book to have and a great way to learn about the history of the various units that served in the Civil War. I turned to the section where the US Colored Troops were described. I found a listing for the 111th US Colored Infantry.
Luck!!! Sephus Bass DID file a pension! And--holy cow---this Sephus Bass was applying from the state of Texas! (Keeping in mind the one thing that I had ever heard about Uncle Sephus: He shot a white man and fled to Texas!)
So, there on a warm summer day at the the National Archives, in the old 4th floor microfilm room---I filled out the forms to order the Pension file to see if this man in Texas was MY Uncle Sephus. My mind kept racing......"this unit spent some time around Pulaski, the main city of Giles County. My family of Bass's were from Giles County Tennessee. Could Uncle Sephus have enlisted when the Federal soldiers came through, and if he did, then was THIS Sephus possibly MY Sephus? And if the man filing for the pension was from Tennessee, and Giles County could this possibly be our ancestor found years later in Texas?
Now note-----when one visits the National Archives, and has a Civil War record pulled, one has to wait. Staff members go into the stacks on the upper tiers, and the records are then taken to the 2nd floor reading room. This takes about an hour. That wait was the longest hour!
Finally I went downstairs to the 2nd floor reading room to see what that file contained. I approached the desk and gave them my name, and one of the staff members presented a rather thick file to me, and I went over to one of the tables and settled down. Unwrapping the string around the bundle I also said a small prayer, "God, please let this be my Uncle Sephus."
Pages upon pages came out of that file. I was astonished that I was looking at old pages many yellowed with age, and I realized that I had to handle them delicately. Some were physical reports addressing arthritis and other ailments of this aging soldier. And then I saw what I was looking for---A deposition from Sephus Bass.
Of course---we were the Arkansas Bass family---our gr. grandfather Mitchell Bass had never returned and rarely, if ever spoke of the folks left behind in Tennessee. And here were the names of others in the family. Sephus mentioned a brother----Braxton. Now if Braxton was a brother to Uncle Sephus, then Braxton was also our gr. grandfather Mitchell's brother too! Braxton Bass---a gr. gr. uncle!
Then I read more----and this was something to digest:
Wait a minute!!!! Did I see what I think I saw? He was captured by N.B. Forrest. The N.B. Forrest? As in General Nathan Bedford Forrest?? And wait a minute----did Uncle Sephus say that Nathan Bedford Forrest captured him and then pulled the four of them aside and then they---all four of them escaped? From Nathan B. Forrest---the Confederate General?
This was hard to comprehend on so many levels.
1) Nathan Bedford Forrest----a major name to those who study the history of the Confederate Army.
2) Why would a general--of any army, in any war, care about enlisted men who were serving in the enemy forces? And why would---as Uncle Sephus said----why would he--(N.B. Forrest) have singled out Sephus Bass, his brother Braxton Bass, and his two sons---Henry and Emmanuel?
3) AND---more than anything----if anyone has studied the Civil War---there is the story of Ft. Pillow.
(Ft. Pillow was a terrible massacre of black soldiers that occurred in March of 1864. When trying to surrender, they were brutally murdered, as the confederates under the direction of N.B. Forrest, in fact, swore to take no black soldiers prisoners. The CSA as it is told, did not see the colored soldiers as fit to be soldiers, nor considered them men, and had found their enlistment in the army to be so heinous, that their rage turned into one of the most horrific massacres of the Civil War.) But now I read that in late 1864---6 months after the Ft. Pillow massacre---the same general--makes prisoners of this regiment of black soldiers, and for some reason pulls my relatives aside, and then they escape!!!! Was this possible???)
Well I had to study more about the history of the regiment and I had to look up records of the battle of Sulphur Branch Trestle where they were captured.
Sure enough, the official records do indicate that the 110th and 111th US Colored were captured! AND they were taken prisoner. And of course, my own curiosity extended back to N.B. Forrest and his relationship to my own ancestors.
Why would a general pull these 4 men aside, then not watch them, and allow their escape? So I pulled the official records of the Civil War and read about the capture of the 110th & 111th.
Now this confirmed the capture of the 111th and that they were captured and not killed. But I still had to try to comprehend, why Nathan B. Forrest had an interest in 4 enemy soldiers---enlisted men.
I also had to read about the capture of Sulphur Trestle to fully understand what took place:
I also could not stop myself from speculating. I wanted to know more about the relationship between my ancestor and this Confederate general. I learned in the pension file that by occupation Sephus was a carpenter. I also learned that by occupation Uncle Braxton was a blacksmith.