CECIL COUNTY — During the Civil War, families across the country lost and mourned loved ones who were killed in battle. Cecil County was no different. Confederate and Union families alike experienced loss. Sarah Sophia Harvey Jeffries, of North East, experienced more than her share of tragedy.
Sarah Sophia Harvey, the oldest child of William Groom Harvey and his wife Mary Ann “Polly” Donaldson, was born in 1835. The 1850 census records show 15-year old “Sophia” living in North East, MD with William and Ann Veazy and their two young children.
William James Jeffries was born in 1830. For most of his youth, he lived in Baltimore. As a young man, he enlisted in the Navy as a machinist. Jeffries married Sarah Sophia Harvey on September 3, 1854.
In 1860, after five years in the Navy, he settled in North East. The 1860 U.S. Census lists him as living with his wife and son Lewis and his in-laws, William and Mary Harvey. A second son, William, was born to the Jeffries in 1861.
After the outbreak of the Civil War in April of 1861, William Sewall Harvey, Sophia’s brother, enlisted in the army in June. He joined Company C, 2nd Delaware under Captain Ben Ricketts. William became ill in February 1862 while camped in Cambridge, MD. When she heard her brother was sick, Sophia travelled by stage to care for him. Captain Ben Ricketts, alias Big Elk, wrote regularly to the Cecil Whig about his experiences in the war. Captain Ricketts wrote “One of our sick, (William S. Harvey) of North East, started in charge of his sister. She heard her brother was sick and came down alone; nearly a hundred mile of the route being by stage. I tell you old Whig that’s what I call the right kind of sister; I would not mind having a dozen such myself, in case of accident you know.”
According to the Cecil Whig, Sophia Jeffries was also one of the local volunteers who travelled to the Gettysburg Battlefield in July of 1863.
William Jeffries enlisted in the Union army in the Maryland 8th Company A in August of 1862. The Maryland 8th participated in many battles and skirmishes, including the Battles of the Wilderness in Virginia, Spotsylvania, Harris Farm Virginia, and North Anna Virginia. William was often sick in 1863 and at Sophia’s request, was moved from a hospital in Fairfax Seminary, VA to a hospital on Camden Street in Baltimore.
Records indicate that he remained ill and in the hospital from August of 1863 until February of 1864. Military leave from February 20 to March 1 of 1864 was granted to Jeffries and he visited his family in North East. He returned to the Camden Street hospital and on March 10 he was granted a two-day furlough, which he spent with Sophia at the home of the William Wallace family in Baltimore. After his furlough, Jeffries was soon sent to rejoin his regiment on the banks of the James River.
On May 6, 1864 tragedy struck. Willie, the Jeffries’ 2 1/2-year-old son, was struck by a fish wagon and killed. Willie had run across the street in North East in front of the wagon. He died in his mother’s arms. A neighbor, Mr. Craig, dispatched a telegram to William Jeffries, who was at the time involved in the Battle of the Wilderness. Sophia also sent him a letter, which the historical society has in its collections.
She wrote, “I wish you could be at home before I lay my precious baby in the grave. I sent a telegraph dispatch to you, but I never got an answer from it. I am going to bury him on Tuesday at 2 o’clock. I have got him on ice now waiting for you.” Willie was buried in the North East Methodist Cemetery. A notice in the May 16, 1864 Cecil Whig stated that “Sophia was one of the nurses of our sick and wounded at Gettysburg last Summer.”
William didn’t reply and probably never knew of the boy’s death. On May 30, 1864 William James Jeffries was killed by a sharpshooter at the Battle of Shady Grove in Hanover, VA. He was buried in an unmarked grave under an apple tree or in an apple orchard within a ½ mile of where he was killed.
At the time of Jeffries death, his wife Sophia was pregnant with their third son. When she applied for a widow’s pension after his death, she could only claim the already born children. She applied for a Widow’s Army Pension in August of that same year. The application was rejected and she had to reapply. In May of 1865, she began receiving an $8 a month pension, but it does not include her youngest son James.
In 1865, Sophia wrote to the adjutant general’s office to request evidence that her husband had been home on furlough on February 20 – March 1, 1864. The office’s reply was that they had no evidence in their files of William’s furlough on February 20. The army still believed that James was illegitimate, even though she had proof that William Jeffries had been home for a 10-day furlough from February 20, 1863 until March 1, 1863.
While all of this was going on, Sophia’s parents passed away. In the span of 3 years, she had lost her son, her husband, her mother, and her father.
In 1867, Sophia was still fighting to receive the correct amount of her widow’s pension. Sophia had to gather letters from neighbors and her midwife to prove that her husband had that 10-day furlough and the child was legitimate.
Finally, in March of 1868, a letter was sent from the surgeon general’s office to the pension office. The letter stated that William was a patient at Camden Street Hospital and received a ten-day furlough on February 19, 1864.
Four years after her husband’s death, Sophia was at long last granted her full widow’s pension. In April of 1868 Sophia received an increase of $2 a month for her third child, making her total pension $10 a month.
After the drowning death of her oldest son Lewis in 1883, Sophia Jeffries helped raise his daughter Ida. Ida married a John Norman, and took in her grandmother in her declining years and cared for her until her death in 1908. Sophia was buried next to her son Willie in the North East Methodist Cemetery.