by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
Carter & Porter
Editor’s note: Each week “Miner Recollections” will spotlight Georges Creek coal heritage, and the sacrifices made by those who mined it, by drawing upon biographical sketches, family narratives and historical research.
The branches of the Carter and Porter family trees of Eckhart became intertwined 150 years ago when three Carter brothers married three Porter sisters.
Family patriarch Richard Carter (1812-1885) married Margaret Neubiser (1822-1860) in 1837. This union produced nine children: William, Rachael, John, George, Joseph, Elias, Levi, James and Mary. Josiah Porter (1799-1880) had two wives and a slew of children that included daughters Maria, Catherine and Harriet.
Richard and Margaret Carter’s sons William (born in 1831), John (born in 1841), George (born in 1844) and James (born in 1852) all worked with their father in the mines around Eckhart. Perhaps the dismal work of underground mining paled when the rumors of war reached the village of Eckhart. William, John and George, along with their buddy William Anderson, decided to leave their picks and shovels behind and join the wave of men enlisting for duty in the War Between the States. On Aug. 27, 1861, the foursome walked the few miles up the hill to Frostburg. Three of them signed up for the 2nd Potomac home Brigade, Company C, Infantry. The fourth, George, served in Companies G and A of the same brigade.
About a year later, in May 1862, another young boy from Eckhart Mines joined the growing troops. Ransom Powell, 13, was the son of James Powell and his wife, Mary. Ransom joined Company 1 of the 10th West Virginia Infantry as a drummer boy.
The three Carter brothers, their friend William Anderson and young Ransom Powell met up with each other at Moorefield Junction, Hampshire County, West Virginia, where their mission was to protect the railways.
On Jan. 3, 1864, William Carter, John Carter, William Anderson and Ransom Powell were captured by Confederate troops under the command of Gen. Thomas L. Rosser. George Carter, being in a different company, escaped capture. The four were sent to Richmond, Virginia, where they were held in an old tobacco house. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs; they were issued no food or blankets to protect them from the harsh winter conditions. Death by starvation and freezing were common; lice were a constant plague. On March 6, 1864, they were sent to Andersonville Prison Camp in Sumter, Georgia. Conditions were a little better as they were given blankets, food and firewood.
The prison camp, built in November 1863 on 16.3 acres of ground, was meant to hold 10,000 men. Conditions rapidly deteriorated; it was enlarged to cover 26.5 acres and eventually imprisoned 31,693 men. By 1864, the Confederacy could hardly feed their own troops, so food for prisoners at Andersonville was nearly non-existent. The swampy area in the center of the camp was used as both a sink and a toilet. Scurvy, dysentery and diarrhea affected nearly every man. The mortality rate was overwhelming; as one soldier died, his clothes and other belongings were confiscated to prolong the life of another.
William Carter, John Carter and William Anderson struggled to survive the horrifying conditions. The dark, cool and damp climate of the Eckhart mines would have felt good in comparison to the burning sun and sticky, putrid air of Georgia. In the book “Battle of the Crater” by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen, a coal miner from Pennsylvania expressed his feelings about the war: “A cave-in, it’s quick and you already have your grave….You can have this war, I’ll take the mines.” The men from Eckhart most likely would have agreed.
William Carter, weakened by starvation, was beset by pneumonia and dysentery. He died on March 13, 1864, and was buried in Grave No. 524 at Andersonville.
William Anderson (who had married Maria Porter on April 21, 1862,) wanted desperately to hear from his pregnant wife; was he a father yet? Mail went from slow to non-existent. William, trying desperately to hang on for his wife and child, died on May 11, 1864. We do not know if he ever received news of the birth of his daughter Mary Elizabeth “Eliza,” born on April 11, 1864, one month before her father died. William Anderson was buried in Andersonville Grave No. 1028.
John Carter, disillusioned, sick and depressed, hung on until Aug. 3, 1864. He was buried in Grave No. 4621.
In Eckhart, the entire community grieved with William Anderson’s widow, Maria Porter Anderson, and William and John Carter’s father, Richard Carter. Mr. Carter was devastated by the loss of his sons and numb with worry over his son George, who was still at war. Richard’s wife, Margaret, had passed on to glory in 1860; she was spared the agony of losing two sons.
Of the four Eckhart men captured together and sent to Andersonville, only Ransom Powell, “Little Red Cap” as he was called, survived. Local author Harold Scott wrote a book about “Little Red Cap.” Ransom survived because of his young age and the kindness of the prison staff that fed, clothed and protected him. He died in 1899 and was buried in Marietta, Ohio.
George Carter returned home in May 1865 after serving for two years and nine months. He and Maria Anderson commiserated over the death of her husband and his good friend William. George and Maria eventually married; he became a father to Eliza, and the family slowly grew to include sons William in 1871, James in 1876 and Joseph in 1878.
Joseph Carter, the fourth son of Richard and Margaret Carter, was only 15 when his brothers William, John and George marched off to war. He remained at home working with his father; he, too, endured the pain of losing a mother and two brothers. As post-war life became the new normal, Joseph began to court Catherine Porter, the sister of Maria Porter Anderson Carter. Joseph and Catherine were married on Aug. 15, 1868, and were delighted to welcome their first child, Josephine, into the family in August 1869.
According to family genealogy, Joseph Carter was killed in a mining accident on Aug. 10, 1869, five days before his first wedding anniversary. Like her sister Maria, Catherine Porter Carter became a young widow and a mother in the same month. Maria empathized with Catherine in her grief. A few years later Catherine married John R. Sharp. They became the parents of five children born between 1875 and 1880. Sadly, the Carter/Porter gauntlet of tragedy was not over. Catherine Porter Carter Sharp died on Feb. 6, 1881, leaving her husband, John, to raise his stepdaughter, Josephine, and their five children under the age of 6.
The youngest son of Richard and Margaret Carter, James Maurice Carter, followed in the footsteps of his father and brothers and became a coal miner. He married Harriet Porter (sister of Maria and Catherine) around 1868. They became the parents of two girls and two boys, the last of whom was born on May 15, 1890, seven weeks after James was killed in Hoffman Mine. (James Maurice Carter’s story is in “Miner Recollections Volume Two 2019”.)
The Carter/Porter family tree had many intertwining branches, some of them cut off too soon. Of the Carter brothers, two died at Andersonville Prison Camp and two succumbed to the coal mines. The Porter sisters (Maria, Catherine, and Harriet) lost husbands to war and coal mines while caring for newborn babies. The legacy of the Carters and Porters remains in place today in the little village of Eckhart Mines. The committee would like to thank Candy Sandvick, great-great-granddaughter of Richard Carter, for assisting us with the Carter genealogy.