April 29, 2021

Pages 2352-2368
Whole Number 116

Some Incidents from the Life of William H. Sparks, (1800-1882)

by Alexander Barrow Daspit

(Editor's Note: Alexander Barrow Daspit, a Rhodes Scholar, is a graduate of Oxford University. He began his professional career as an instructor in government at Harvard University, from which institution his grandfather, Thomas Garten Sparks (1828 -1901) had been graduated in 1841. Subsequently, Mr. Daspit joined the faculty of Louisiana State University where he was an associate professor until he became involved in the war effort with the entry of the United States into World War II. He joined the staff of the U.S. State Department and thus began a long and varied career in the foreign service. Upon retirement from the State Department a few years ago, he returned to Louisiana State and it was there, in Baton Rouge, that he became acquainted with an attorney, J. St. Clair Favrot, who had become interested in the career of Mr. Daspit's great-grandfather, William H. Sparks. Favrot died before he could write the biography of Sparks that he had planned. Later, Mrs. Favrot turned over to Mr. Daspit the materials her husband had collected. Furthering the research begun by Favrot, Mr. Daspit subsequently completed a fully documented study of Sparks's life. In the condensed version of that 40,000-word biography which follows, no positive statements are made without appropriate documentation cited in the original.)

Just one hundred years ago - on January 14, 1882, William Henry Sparks died in Marietta, Georgia. Though almost completely forgotten today, he was widely known in his time and on his death laudatory notices appeared in newspapers from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Boston, Massachusetts.

The Boston Evening Transcript, January 15, 1882, wrote, "He had enjoyed the friendship of Clay, Crawford and the chief men of the South... and was famous as wit and writer throughout the Southern States." The Atlanta Constitution, January 15, 1882, stated, "there is not a community in the - state - scarcely one in the South - to some member of which the intelligence of the death of this genial gentleman will not come as a shock." The Baton Rouge Capitolian Advocate, January 19, 1882, stated, "He was a remarkable man and possessed a more extended circle of friends and acquaintances throughout the Southern states than any man in the country."

His fame came mainly from knowing the famous, having exceptional gifts as humorist and raconteur, possessing a fabulous memory and combining all these in many newspaper and magazine articles in his later years. A book, The Memories of Fifty Years, published in 1870, which has been cited ever since by historians of the ante-bellum South, also added to his reputation.

Among the famous men that he knew were President Andrew Jackson who was related by marriage and by intimate bonds of friendship with the family of Sparks's wife; Henry Clay, the almost President, who was his house guest in Louisiana; Henry Crawford of Georgia, a leading candidate for the Presidency in 1824 and again in 1828 until disabled by a stroke; Mirabeau Napoleon Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, a life-long friend; and Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and Justices of three State Supreme Courts, and others in profusion.

Attempting to see and understand Sparks today on the basis of the very sketchy materials available, one is struck most vividly by the contradictory nature of his personality and behavior. The man was a company, a veritable pride, of paradoxes. Here are some of the features to be assembled for his puzzling portrait: Colonel from the age of twenty-six, who never saw battle; lawyer (one of the few academically trained in the country) who after the age of twenty-five never tried a case; planter whose annual crops were debts, mortgages and foreclosures; politician - ambitious, gifted, well-connected - who reportedly refused appointment in the United States Senate after his withdrawal from politics at the prime political age of thirty-eight; fervent Southerner and slave owner who campaigned eloquently for the Union and resisted secession at the risk of his neck; sentimentalist and romantic who gave vent to those traits in wretched rhyme, but also humorist and wit who wrote satirical political verse that was clever and carried a sting. In his younger years he was a dilettante and idler, running through two tidy fortunes; in his old age he drudged away early and late at journalistic hack work in an effort to meet the bills for his room and board. William H. Sparks was born in Greene County, Georgia, January 16, 1800, the first, child of Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks. His lineage was set forth in some detail in The Sparks Quarterly of December 1962 (Whole No. 40). According to this account, his first identified ancestor in America was 9. James Sparks who died in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in 1736. The four generations of William's male ancestors, beginning with this James and including father Thomas, were all farmers, except for 9.1 James Sparks, Jr. (ca.1700-1738) who became an inn keeper and was a constable of Fredericksburg, Virginia. William's grandfather, 9.1.2 Charles Sparks, left Virginia and ultimately settled in Anson County, North Carolina, where he acquired 1,200 acres of land on the Pee Dee River. His father, Thomas Sparks, moved to Greene County, Georgia, in 1798, at that time a raw frontier area only a few years removed from the constant threat of marauding Indians.

On William's mother's side of the family, there were more colorful figures - most notably his grandfather, David Love, who was born in North Carolina, probably in the mid-1740s. When David's father took a second wife, the boy left home, went to the mountains and lived with the Indians for four years, which he spent in collecting pelts. Then, with his collection, young Love took ship for England where he sold the skins and thereupon embarked on an eighteen months' tour of the continent on foot. Returning to North Carolina, he won recognition in his county for strength, sagacity and courage, and in 1776 he was chosen captain of a company formed to fight against the British; he also became a Senator in the Provincial Congress. During the war, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

David Love's wife, Jean Blewett, came of a family of some distinction, one branch of which had received from the crown substantial land grants near Columbus, Mississippi. Love died in 1798 and his widow, a little, fussy woman of great energy and strong will, as Sparks described her, ran the farm Love had left to her, controlled the slaves, reared her half-dozen children and put the fear of God in all those who had the temerity to cross her. Sparks spent much time with this grandmother and heard from her accounts of the Revolutionary War, the martial exploits of his grandfather, and an unbounded reverence for General Washington - elements which no doubt helped develop in him that loyalty to the Union he showed in later years.

William had a happy childhood, attending the one-room school which served the entire student population of the area, after which he entered the Academy at Eatonton, Putnam County, Georgia, where began his life-long friendship with a fellow-student, Mirabeau Napoleon Lamar, later to become President of the Texas Republic.

On finishing the Academy, young Sparks was given an opportunity to study law in Judge Tapping Reeve's Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut, at that time the only law school in the country and with a very limited enrollment at that.

Judged by his account in Memories of Fifty Years, the Academy made little impression on him, but he was profoundly impressed by two distinguished old gentlemen of Litchfield whose friendship he cultivated and from whom he heard much of the Revolutionary War and the early days of the Union. These were Colonel Benjamin Talmadge, who had been Washington's favorite aide during the Revolutionary War, and Oliver Wolcott, a former Governor of Connecticut and, following Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury in Washington's cabinet. Influenced perhaps by these distinguished mentors, William became a staunch Federalist, worshipping Washington and Hamilton and distrusting Jefferson and most of the principles that Jefferson professed. Along with his school companions, he attended church services conducted by Lyman Beecher, already a famous abolitionist, noting in the congregation Beecher's thirteen children and among that "nest of young adders" as Sparks described them, were Henry Ward Beecher and the future Harriet Beecher Stowe. In this tabernacle, Sparks conceived an abiding loathing for the Puritans and their piety which he considered a covering for their crass pursuit of riches.

Thus, his stay in the North confirmed his devotion to the South, but he returned to Eatonton also a confirmed Federalist and with a deep devotion to the Union. On his return, he became active in local affairs, was appointed a major in the state militia in 1824 and was elected to the state legislature in 1825. At that time, as described by a contemporary, he was a "young lawyer, wag, and an interesting character generally, who possessed a high order of intelligence and an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, wit, humor and mischief, who could outtalk half a dozen men and women and who was no mean versifier."

At the age of 25, then, William H. Sparks was highly regarded by his associates and well launched on a promising public career (he was promoted to the rank of colonel in the state militia in 1826 and he found pleasure and satisfaction in the rude and rollicking life of a young attorney riding circuit on the raw Georgian frontier, but financial rewards were limited and prospects were not promising for an ambitious young man.

As their fathers had done and their sons would continue to do, at that time when young men became discontented with their lot, they pulled up stakes and moved west, where fortune seemed to beckon. In the 1820s, where it beckoned most alluringly was the lower Mississippi, and it is there after a long swing through the uncharted Plains and a sojourn among the Pawnee Indians, Sparks decided to seek his fortune.

The specific spot he chose was Jefferson County, Mississippi, immediately north of Natchez. This area, settled by the British after the French and Indian Wars and by American loyalists to the crown at the start of the Revolution, was far from being a raw frontier. It was supported by a privileged and cultured society, based on great plantations, living in attractive homes and enjoying a gracious life. Sparks was admitted to the bar in Jefferson County in May 1827, but before he had tried a case, he was stricken by yellow fever.

The fever struck while he was a guest in the country home of one Judge James Green, who had invited him there to escape the pestilence in the town. He was dangerously ill, and during the period of his illness he was cared for by the judge's sister, Mariah Green Carmichael, a young widow of 24. Thanks to her care and to his own strong constitution, Sparks survived; during his convalescence a romantic attraction developed, and they were married in October 1827.

by this marriage, Sparks acquired a tidy fortune and entered into alliance with one of the most prominent families in Mississippi. According to J. H. F. Claiborne, the widely recognized authority on Mississippi, the Green family, their connections and alliances had largely controlled the territory. Mariah's father, Abner Green, was a friend and business associate of Andrew Jackson, and Jackson was married in her uncle's house. One of her aunts had been married to the acting governor of the territory; one of her sisters married a former governor of the territory. Her maternal grandfather, Colonel Anthony Hutchins, had been an acknowledged leader of the Republican (i.e., Jefferson's) party, in the territory.

Having acquired a respectable fortune, a key to a lucrative legal practice, and the possibilities of an effective entree into politics, what did William do? Exhaustive research indicates that he did nothing at the law and undertook no political initiative; in fact, the record documents only two accomplishments: he fathered a son and he wrote a ballad which achieved a wide and enduring success. The ballad achieved such success that fifty years later Sparks was still being asked to describe how it came to be written. According to his account, he was sitting with a friend one morning when a venerable town character famous for his devotion to the ladies passed by. His friend apostrophized, "poor old Rawsom, some of these soft sunny mornings his friends will be called to bury him." Left alone, Sparks quickly composed the following lines which, sung to the tune of a Methodist hymn, achieved wide and enduring popularity.

Now soon on some soft sunny morning
The first thing my neighbors shall know
Their ears shall be met with a warning,
Come bury old Rawsom, the Beau.


I've traveled this wide world all over
And now to another I'll go
For I know that good quarters are waiting
To welcome old Rawsom the Beau.

My friends then so neatly shall dress me
In linen as white as the snow
And in my new coffin shall press me
And whisper, "Poor Rawsom, the Beau."

And when I'm to be buried, I reckon,
The ladies will all like to go;
Let them form at the foot of the coffin
And follow old Rawsom the Beau.

Then take you a dozen good fellows
And let them all staggering go,
And dig a deep hole in the meadows
And in it toss Rawsom the Beau.

Then shape out a couple of dornicks,
Place one at the head and the toe,
And do not fail to scratch on it
There lies old Rawsom the Beau.

Then take you these dozen good fellows
And stand them all round in a row
And drink out of a big swelling bottle
Farewell to old Rawsom the Beau.

We have no record of the other matters which diverted him from his profession, but all the evidence seems to indicate that Sparks had no interest in the law and was happy to drop the career once he had the means to do so. by virtue of his wife's assets, he was able to buy a plantation in 1830 and from that time on he listed his occupation as "planter," a term of prestige in the South in those days; joined with the title of Colonel, his status in the world was assured.

The plantation was purchased in April 1830, jointly with his younger brother, David. It was a sugar plantation located in Louisiana on Bayou Lafourche in Assumption Parish, in size some 920 superficial arpents (i.e., about 780 acres). Because of the national tariff of two and one half cents a pound, sugar production was thought to be a bonanza, and the Lafourche was in the heart of the country's richest sugar-cane growing area. Sparks agreed to pay $30,000, with $5,000 in cash and the remainder payable over eight years. He named the place "Glenwood." (Oil was struck there, long years after he lost it.)

No account books of the plantation have survived, but there are some indications of its worth. Evidence in a court case shows that its sugar crop brought a return of more than $27,000 in 1845. It was sold in 1835 for $110,000 (the sale was subsequently canceled) and, reflecting inflation and valuable additions, was officially assessed at $159,000 in 1842. At a rough guess, the net return of the plantation probably averaged between $15,000 and $20,000 a year during Sparks's twenty-year tenure, with a price 15 to 20 times that measured in 1981 dollars. This was not enough, however, to satisfy Sparks's extravagant requirements. He was constantly being sued for debt (there were more than forty such suits brought against him during his 20-year ownership of Glenwood), and his mortgage increased with the value of the plantation, mounting to $85,000 in 1836.

In 1834, Sparks was elected to the State Legislature, which then met in New Orleans. There, he quickly became an important figure. At the start of the session, Sparks was chosen for the Committee of Five elected by the Legislature to notify the new Governor that he had been officially elected. At the end of the first week, he introduced a bill of his own drafting which was to become one of the most important pieces of legislation enacted at that session: a bill to bring gas light to the City of New Orleans. Within two weeks, he became the leading Anglo-American candidate for the post of Major General and Commander of the State Militia (a post awarded by a majority of the two houses of the Legislature). Though ultimately unsuccessful, he led the voting in two of the six rounds and never fell below second. During the session, he proposed and obtained approval for a study of the problem of establishing a state-wide system of public education. He was appointed one of the Board of Trustees for the Medical College of Louisiana (later to become the Tulane School of Medicine). He was a leader in the legislative struggle which "emancipated" the Anglo-American community in New Orleans from financial domination by the French and assured the successful development of New Orleans outside the narrow limits of the old French Quarter.

The Louisiana Legislature of that period was an institution unique in American history. Louisiana had experienced a substantial influx of population from the eastern states following its acquisition from France in 1803 and particularly after its admission to statehood in 1813. Twenty years later, the legislature was about equally divided between French and Anglo-American members, and very few of them were bilingual. Thus, although English was the official language, as a practical necessity, all official business had to be conducted through interpreters.

Although the two factions on the whole got along surprisingly well, there were inevitably some conflicts and tension ran high on the proposal to create, in effect, a miniature federal system in the city of New Orleans: the city was to be divided into three parts geographically, and each area was to have effective control over the spending of tax money raised within its boundaries. This was an Anglo-American effort to end the control of the city council by the French, still in a considerable majority in the city, which enabled them to direct far and away the greatest share of public revenues to the benefit of the Vieux Carre, exclusively their quarter. Sparks was a recognized leader in achieving the enactment of the Three Municipalities Bill.

Sparks's efforts in this matter were, naturally enough, not popular with the French and after the bill's passage he was attacked verbally, in rhyme, by a prominent leader of the French faction. Toward the end of the session and in the relaxed atmosphere of adjournment impending, the members of the House were lounging about one morning before the Speaker called them to order. Sparks was at his desk when his dear friend Alexander Barrow came up to tell him that Bernard Marigny de Mandeville was moving about from one group to another reciting four lines which Barrow repeated:

Sparks and Thomas Green Davidson,
Rascals by nature and profession,
Dey can bos go to hell
Wid Colonel Bob Hailles.

Marigny was an original: an aristocrat, a man of fabulous wealth, handsome, debonair, energetic, proud, tetchy, brave - he had fought nineteen duels and was, clearly, not a gentleman to trifle with. Nevertheless, as Marigny worked himself toward Sparks via a succession of small in groups to the members of whom he recited his quatrain, Sparks composed his rejoinder. A few minutes later, Marigny arrived at Sparks's desk and delivered his broadside. Whereupon, he received the riposte that Sparks had just polished off:

Dear Marigny, we're soon to part,
   So let that parting be in peace:
We've not been angered much in heart
   But e'en that little soon shall cease.

When you are sleeping with the dead,
   The spars we've had I'll not forget:
A warmer heart or weaker head
   On earth, I own, I never met.

And on your tomb inscribed shall be
   In letters of your favorite brass
Here lies, 0 Lord! we grieve to see
   A man in form, in head an ass.

Marigny departed abruptly without a word and Sparks was left to reflect on the possibility of his becoming number twenty in that imposing list of encounters under the Dueling Oaks. But his adversary returned in about an hour to propose a truce. He was deeply offended ("You can call me villian, a knave, a great rascal; every gentleman have dat said about him... but I tell you, sir, I not like to be called ass,") but, after all, he had been the aggressor and, under the circumstances, was too chivalrous to quarrel. Remembering the duels, Sparks had no desire to quarrel either.

Sparks's success in the legislature did not prevent him from enjoying the numerous pleasures of New Orleans society. He seems to have delighted in the social round: the theatre, the opera, the lavish dinners in elegant homes. An account of his uninhibited gaiety on one occasion has been preserved.

One February evening in 1835 he was dining with four congenial friends in a New Orleans hostelry; they had finished dinner and were talking over their wine and cigars when from a neighboring table a tenor voice rang out in song. The song was "Kathleen Mavourneen" and it was sung in good voice with taste and feeling. Sparks's companions asked him to respond for the honor of their table, which he did without much urging, singing "The Widow Machree." The first singer then performed a rollicking comic song, acting it with telling effect. by this time, the dining room was crowded by all the staff and guests of the hotel; one of Sparks's companions said, "Now, Colonel, let's have "Rawsom the Beau: and we'll see who has the best of it." Sparks delivered and there followed great applause for both performers. Someone arranged to introduce the two contestants and Sparks learned that the other singer was Tyrone Power, the famous Irish actor and comedian then performing in New Orleans. (He was to be the greatgrandfather of the Hollywood star who carried the same name.)

This gay and busy metropolitan life must have been enormously attractive in comparison with the rustic calm of Glenwood Plantation on the Lafourche which Sparks, describing its primitive culture at the time of his arrival, asserted that in its entire length had "but one pleasure carriage and half a dozen ladies' bonnets." Succumbing to this attraction, he sold Glenwood and moved to New Orleans after having been re-elected to the legislature from Assumption Parish for a second two-year term - a move which coincided with a financial crisis which shook the whole United States: one of those recurring aberrations in which individuals abandon reason to greed and wild inflation collapses in chaos. Nowhere else in the country was the speculative fever more acute than in New Orleans.

Up to that point, Sparks's star had been in the ascendant; afterwards, though its course was not uniformly consistent, it was generally on the wane. Between March 1836 and January 1838, Sparks borrowed $75,600 and sold 25 slaves belonging to his wife at a price of $17,000, bringing his total cash resources to $92,600 - a sum substantially in excess of a million dollars if measured in terms of the present-day dollar. Virtually no trace can be found of what he did with these sums and in the end he had absolutely nothing to show for it. Having run through the money and received no money at all for the plantation which he had disposed of on highly improvident terms, he moved to repossess it. This was done by amicable agreement, the temporary possessor paying $40,000 in return, presumably, for the net worth of the three crops disposed of during his tenure. This sum also was frittered away by Sparks; no part of it was applied to the reduction of his mountainous debt.

After 1838 he was no longer a member of the legislature, but after he returned to Glenwood, he apparently continued to spend much time in New Orleans and to maintain contact with his many friends in the legislature. According to Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, those friends in the legislature in 1840 proposed to elect him to the United States Senate, an offer, states the Cyclopedia, he refused because the post was desired by the friend whom he most loved and revered - Alexander Barrow. This otherwise undocumented statement seems plausible both as to the offer and its refusal, though another possible explanation for the refusal might have been Sparks's memory of his interview with the brilliant John Randolph Grymes to whom the legislature had authorized him to offer the other Senate seat four years earlier. Grymes, who had dissipated several fortunes, had refused, saying, "I have thrown away my fortune...I am a beggar and cannot consent, in this character, to be made more conspicuous by being made a beggarly senator."

by 1840, then, his short, promising political career was over. For the next fifteen years, his debts were the central fact of his life and his creditors his principal constituents. by miraculous luck and the uncommon generosity of a friend and neighbor, he managed to stay on at Glenwood for a decade during which his debts remained unpaid and the plantation was put up for auction at Sheriff's sales three times before he lost it entirely in 1849. Throughout the period, his extravagant habits continued. He refused to manage the plantation himself, preferring to hire an overseer. And when his oldest son, Thomas, reached the age for going to work or pursuing advanced studies, he sent the boy to Harvard, where he remained for four years, at the end of which financial disaster finally struck and the plantation was lost.

Sparks must have salvaged something from the wreckage, for a few months later he purchased a plantation in East Baton Rouge Parish, near Port Hudson. There, he went into partnership with Judah P. Benjamin, already on the way to becoming one of the most distinguished men in the South: in sequence, United States Senator, Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State of the Confederate States. Within a year, Benjamin sued for a dissolution of the partnership, charging Sparks with certain irregularities, and the partnership agreement was terminated by agreement.

With some assets preserved from this venture, Sparks moved north to Monroe, Louisiana, where he acquired a third plantation, which he relinquished without penalty after only six months. The following year, he lost the faithful wife who had suffered his vicissitudes for twenty-six years and who had brought him fortune and nine children - eight of them sons. (A tenth child had died in early youth.)

In 1855, he made a final attempt to resume the political career he had wanted all his life: he ran for Congress, and as a life-long member of the party, he ran as a Whig. But the times were against him. Disintegration was already well advanced in the Whig Party, and its national debacle in this election was the signal of its death. Given these circumstances, Sparks's performance in losing by less than 400 votes was more than creditable.

With the darkening of the political skies as the national election approached in 1860 and the threats of the storm to come, Sparks could no longer bear the relative isolation of Monroe. He moved, then, to Baton Rouge, which by now had become the state capital, was readily accessible to New Orleans by river boat and where son Thomas, now married to the daughter of Alexander Barrow, was practicing law.

As the political campaign took shape, Sparks saw the preservation of the Union as the over-riding issue. The threat he saw came from the two sectional candidates, Lincoln and Breckinridge, whose parties were committed to irreconcilable positions on the right to hold slaves in the territories. Bell and Douglas sought national support by seeking to preserve the Union and to subordinate the slavery issue.

The issue before the country aroused in Sparks an intensity of purpose and a vigor of action greatly different from the attitude he had shown in most of his previous life. Throughout the election campaign, he took the stump, covering his old haunts in Louisiana and Mississippi, appealing for support for one of the national candidates, Bell or Douglas. After the election of Lincoln, as the secession movement gathered strength, he campaigned zealously for the Union.

He was, by all accounts, an effective performer. Several published accounts describe the qualities he was able to call on: "he was vivacious, hearty and humorous. Wherever he went, he was the center of an admiring circle." He had "wonderful powers of wit, memory and elocution." "Nature supplied him with the requisities of a great actor."

Here is a word picture of the old gentleman as he addressed an audience in Baton Rouge on the night of September 12, 1860:

No doubt the Colonel's discourse was listened to by all present with undivided attention, for such a speech is well calculated to rivet the minds of the listeners and at the same time impart valuable information concerning territorial history. The "Old Gentleman" has evidently seen and heard and known as many wondrous and strange things as any breathing being. His whole argument wascharmingly interspersed with anecdote and witty sarcasm; so that peal after peal of buoyant wit uninterruptedly burst forth from a concourse of tickled fancies.

Mr. Sparks closed his interesting and well-meaning speech with a pathetic and tearful appeal to the ladies to save the Union.

After Lincoln's election a few weeks later, and with the strength of the secessionist movement growing steadily, Sparks continued his efforts, "canvasing Mississippi and Louisiana in opposition to the disruption of the Union and in bold terms denouncing the attempt," stated one published account. Another stated that "he made an anti-secession speech in New Orleans," that hot bed of secession sentiment, "which greatly angered the hot-blooded Southerners...and threats of lynching him were made."

He carried on, undaunted. An impartial observer, a Scottish engineer in Baton Rouge and a volunteer in a Louisiana military company wrote a book after the War, Life in the Confederate Army, in which an early chapter is devoted to a purportedly verbatim debate in a Baton Rouge cafe-bar in which Sparks defended the cause of moderation and conciliation with a whole room full of fire-eating secessionists. At that time, Fort Sumter was under siege, but the first shot had not been fired. His position was identical with that, later revealed by history, of Secretary of State Toombs during the discussion in the Confederate cabinet. Toombs predicted that "the firing of the fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than the world has yet seen..." and opposing the use of force protested, "It is unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it is fatal."

The book's author and two of his friends who shared the Colonel's views but were too discreet to voice them, were discussing the debate they had heard immediately afterwards. All three agreed that Sparks "gave them his mind pretty freely there tonight.... "One said, 'Old S(parks) does not care for one of them. They can't cow him, he has more brains and more fire, too, than all that was there put together, I only wish we had more men like him amongst us.' 'I believe if we had,' responded the other, 'we would have had no secession.'"

Those were his finest hours and they indicate what he might have been had he in his earlier life sustained the will and energy with which he devoted his impressive talents to the struggle for the Union. After the start of the War, a few days following the conversation cited above, he lived on for more than twenty years; married twice; lost five sons in the Civil War; wrote a successful book; did a decade of drudging work as a writer of newspaper and magazine pieces in order to support himself and his wife. But these were anti-climax.

Since the Old Gentleman has been resurrected after a century's oblivion, surely he is entitled to be left with those words uttered by his admiring contemporaries: "I wish we had more men like him amongst us.... If we had, we would have had no secession."


A record of the branch of the Sparks family to which William Henry Sparks belonged appeared in the December 1962 issue of The Sparks Quarterly (Whole No. 40). His parents were Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks.

Early in the 1770's, at least as early as 1775, Thomas Sparks had been born in the Welch Neck on the Pee Dee River in what is now Marlboro County, South Carolina. As a boy, he moved with his parents, 9.1.2 Charles and Gracilla Sparks, to Anson County, North Carolina, prior to 1782. Shortly after his father died in 1797, Thomas Sparks moved from Anson County, North Carolina, to Greene County, Georgia. There, in 1798, he married Achsah Love, daughter of David and Jean (Blewett) Love. The Love family had, like the Sparkses, been former residents of Anson County, North Carolina, from which place David Love had served in the army of the American Revolution, advancing from captain to lieutenant colonel. Achsah (Love) Sparks was born October 25, 1779, and died April 6, 1834.

It was in Greene County, Georgia, that William H. Sparks was born January 16, 1800, the first child of Thomas and Achsah. The Memories of Fifty Years, written by Sparks in his old age, contains surprisingly few direct references to his parents, but he devoted several pages to his maternal grandmother, Jean (Blewett) Love, whom he described as "a little, fussy, Irish woman, a Presbyterian in religion." She lived until Sparks reached his 17th year. A paragraph from his Memories worthy of quotation here pertains to his grandmother's unbounded admiration for George Washington; it also provides an interesting reference to his having been named "William." (page 18)

She had seen him [General Washington], and it was the especial glory of her life. Yes, she had seen him, and remembered minutely his eyes, his hair, his mouth and his hands--and even his black horse with a star in his face, and his one white foot and long, sweeping tail. So often did I listen to the story, that in after boyhood I came to believe I had seen him also, though his death occurred twenty days before I was born. Nay dear, good mother has often told me that but for an attack of ague, which kept the venerable lady from our home for a month or more, I should have been honored with bearing the old hero's name through life. So intent was she in this particular, that she never liked my being named after Billy Crafford (for so she pronounced his name) for whom the partiality of my father caused him to name me....

The William H. Crawford for whom Sparks was named was a young lawyer in 1800 just entering upon the distinguished career in government for which he was destined: U.S. Senator, Minister to France, Secretary of War and Treasury, and candidate for President in 1824.

In 1813, Thomas Sparks moved his family from Greene County to Putnam County, Georgia (the two counties adjoin). A surviving tax list for Putnam County for 1815 shows Thomas Sparks in Captain Turner Moreland's District and credited him with still owning land in Greene County as well as Putnam and Wilkinson Counties. In 1824 he was credited with owning 22 slaves for which he was taxed along with land in Putnam and Wilkinson Counties and a "2 wheel carriage." A tax list for 1824 lists 30 slaves for Thomas Sparks, land in Putnam, Henry, Crawford, and Wilkinson Counties, a lot in Forsyth County (valued at 200), and "l Gig."

A letter written in 1925 by a C. W. Sparks of Vidalia, Georgia, to Martha S. Smith, a descendant of a brother of Thomas Sparks, states that "Mr. Thomas Sparks and his family once lived on what was called, when I was a boy, the Stimson Place located a mile west of Indian Creek in Putnam County, Ga."

We have not learned the date of death of Thomas Sparks, although we know it was after 1830 and occurred, apparently, in Jasper County, Georgia. (Jasper and Putnam Counties adjoin.) Both Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks are said to have been buried in a cemetery at Shady Dale, a village in Jasper County, between Macon and Athens. Toward the end of his Memories of Fifty Years (page 487), William H. Sparks wrote: "I have been to the graves of my father and my mother. For more than a third of a century they have been sleeping here." The book was published in 1870, so this suggests that Thomas Sparks may have died ca. 1835.

Based on the 1820 and 1830 census records, it appears that Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks were the parents of five children: William Henry Sparks, born January 16, 1800. David Lotts Sparks, born between 1802 and 1808. Sarah Sparks, born between 1804 and 1810. Robertus Love Sparks, born ca. 1809. Ovid Garten Sparks, born December 4, 1813. Sherrod Sparks, born ca. 1815. David Lotts Sparks was obviously named for his maternal grandfather, though where the middle name "Lotts" came from is not known. We do not believe that he married or had issue. In fact, our knowledge of him is limited to the fact that he entered into partnership with his brother, William H. Sparks, in Louisiana in April 1830 in the purchase of a sugar plantation. He died the following December A notice of his death appeared in The Southern Recorder, published in Milledgeville, Georgia, on January 1, 1831, as follows:

On December 17th at Bonaventure, the residence of his brother in South Louisiana, Dr. David Lots Sparks, of yellow fever. Was sick 7 days. Was buried in the Catholic Parish Cemetery of his residence. Was graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York, and emigrated to Louisiana only a year before he died.

We believe that the third child of Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks was their daughter Sarah, born sometime between 1804 and 1808. She is known to have married Thomas Hardeman. Among their children was a daughter named Ann Elizabeth Hardeman who married Elisha Griswold. They also had a son named Thomas Hardeman, Jr., who was a captain of the Floyd Rifles, a Macon company of volunteers during the Civil War; later he became commanding officer of the Second Georgia Battalion with the rank of colonel. Robertus Love Sparks was the fourth child (third son) of Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks, born ca. 1809. He was named in honor of a brother of Achsah. He was often called Robert. We have not succeeded in getting in touch with descendants of Robertus Love Sparks nor do we know very much about him other than the fact that he followed his eldest brother, William H., to Louisiana as a young man. He became a wealthy sugar planter in Assumption Parish near Napoleonville. One W. W. Pugh, who had lived in Assumption Parish early in the 1800s, recalled upon returning to the Parish in 1835, after a ten-year absence, "I noted many changes particularly in the increase in the American population. I found Col. W. H. Sparks and brothers, etc." (See Pugh's article, "Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer," in the Assumption Pioneer Newspaper of July 16, 1881.) From census records, we know that Robertus Sparks's wife was Emily A. Sparks, born ca. 1811 in Vermont. She may have been a widow when she married Sparks because the two oldest children living with Robertus and Emily in 1860, Catherine born ca. 1836 and Benjamin F. born ca. 1838, were listed under the name Birdsall. In 1850, however, they were listed under the name Sparks. Robertus Sparks was still living in Assumption Parish in 1880. Known children of Robertus and Emily Sparks were: William Henry Sparks, born 1842. Robert C. Sparks, born 1849. Mary Sparks, born 1852. Ovid Garten Sparks was the fifth child (fourth son) of Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks. In later years he gave his place of birth as Sparks Mill at the confluence of Indian Creek and Little River in Putnam County, Georgia, on December 4, 1813. Achsah (Love) Sparks had two brothers named Ovid from whom this son doubtless received his name. The first of these was Ovid Blewett Love who died in 1795 at the age of two; the parents then named their next son, born in 1795, Friend Ovid Love. On May 3, 1854, Ovid Garten Sparks married Josephine Brazeal, who had been born in 1832. Ovid Garten Sparks became a distinguished citizen of Macon, Georgia, serving as that city's mayor in 1859, 1860, and 1863. He was a cotton merchant and commission merchant. In the Civil War he served as a lieutenant in the Floyd Rifles, a Macon company of volunteers. Following the War, he was elected to membership in the Georgia House of Representatives, but was expelled by the Federal Military "to make room for a Republican."

It is known that Ovid Garten and Josephine (Breazeal) Sparks had children who died in infancy whose names are not remembered. Their children who reached maturity were: (The following information was obtained in 1956 from Augustus O. B. Sparks, son of Willis Breazeal Sparks, who was then a member of a law firm in Macon Georgia.) Willis Breazeal Sparks. He married Mary Louisa Bacon and they had children named: Augustus O. B. Sparks Willis B. Sparks, Jr M. Garten Sparks; and Virginia LaMarch Sparks.

Willis Breazeal Sparks, Sr. was one of the organizers of the Macon Construction Company, which built the Georgia Southern & Florida Railroad from Macon to Palatka, Florida, and the Macon and Birmingham Railroad from Macon to La Grange, Georgia. He served as president of both companies. The town of Sparks, Georgia, in Cook County, incorporated in 1888, was named in his honor. He died in 1943. Ovid Garten Sparks, Jr. He married Daisy Huff of Macon and they had a daughter named Martha Sparks. He died in November 1915. Sarah Sparks. She married Ashley Vickers of Laurens County, Georgia, and later moved to Alabama. They had children named Harriet Vickers; Josephine Vickers; Pauline Van Ness Vickers; Jeanette Vickers married F. H. Turner and Ovid Vickers. Harriet Sparks. Robert Love Sparks. He married Jonnie Louise Holmes of Macon and they had a daughter named Hazel Sparks who married Parker Highsmith. Sherrod Sparks was the sixth child (fifth son) of Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks. He was born ca. 1815. Like his brothers, Col. William H. Sparks and Robertus Sparks, Sherrod became a sugar planter in Assumption Parish, Louisiana. From census records, we know that his wife's name was Martha MNU and that she was born in South Carolina ca. 1818. Sherrod Sparks was mentioned by Solon Robinson in the October 1849 issue of the New York American Agriculturist (Vol. 8, pages 314-16). Describing a tour he had taken in February 18 9, Robinson noted: "Mr. Sherrod Sparks, 14 miles below Donaldsonville, sold his place, last winter, for 20,000, containing 600 arpents, without stock or tools--300 arpents in cultivation, with sugar house and engine and two moderate dwelling houses, with other buildings. The place made 100 hogsheads of sugar last year and 110 the year before, with plenty of corn. The corn on hand sold with the place." From census records, we know that Sherrod Sparks had the following children, perhaps others: Sarah Sparks, born ca. 1840. Thomas Sparks, born ca. 1841. Robertus Sparks, born ca. 1844. Eliza Sparks, born ca. 1847. Georgia Sparks, born 1849. William H. Sparks, eldest son of Thomas and Achsah (Love) Sparks, was married three times. His first wife and the mother of all of his children was named Mariah Green. They were married on October 17, 1827, at Second Creek in Adams County, Mississippi. A daughter of Abner and Mariah (Hutchins) Green, Mariah was a widow when she married Sparks. She and her first husband, Richard A. Carmichael, had been married on December 31, 1821. She died at Monroe, Louisiana, on October 5, 1853.

William H. Sparks married a second time in 1861. On May 1, 1861, at the age of 61, he married 27-year-old Susan Chambliss in Jefferson County, Mississippi. A daughter of Peter C. and Drusilla J. Chambliss, she had been born in 1834. Nine years later, in 1870 (the same year in which The Memories of Fifty Years was published) Susan died. She and Sparks had no children. She was buried in the Sparks family plot at Rose Hill in Macon.

In the spring of 1871, William H. Sparks married a third time, to 25-year-old Caroline Hofmanoff. Little is known of her - - she was born ca. 1846 in Louisiana. Census records indicate that her father had been born in Russia while her mother was a native of Germany. She lived for nearly two decades following the death of William H. Sparks in 1882. She died in Washington, D.C., in either 1900 or 1901.

Following is the information we have been able to gather regarding the children of William H. and Mariah (Green) Sparks. Thomas Garten Sparks was born July 11, 1828, in Claiborne County, Mississippi, and died December 4, 1901, at Belmont Plantation, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. He married Mary Jane ["Jennie"] Barrow who was born June 24, 1834, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and died March 27, 1896, at Belmont Plantation. She was a daughter of Senator Alexander and Mary Ann (Barrow) Barrow. Thomas G. Sparks was a graduate of Harvard (1841) and practiced law in Alexandria and Baton Rouge before moving to Bayou Maringouin. Like his father, he was regularly called "Colonel Sparks" although he did not serve in any military unit during the Civil War. According to William Barrow Floyd's The Barrow Family of Louisiana (privately printed), page 72, this title was probably acquired by Sparks "when he served on Governor Allen's staff." Either during the Civil War or shortly thereafter, Thomas G. Sparks moved with his family to Belmont Plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, an estate which had been owned by Sparks's brother-in-law, Wylie Barrow. The house at Belmont, the construction of which was begun in 1860, was never completed but was, neverthelss, considered one of the stately mansions of Louisiana until it fell into disrepair early in the present century.

In the 1950's your editor corresponded with Miss Isabel Sparks (born August 2, 1877), daughter of Thomas G. and Mary Jane (Barrow) Sparks. She lamented the fact that the family Bible had been lost in a fire "many years ago" which had also seen the destruction of many other memorabilia of the family. Miss Isabel wrote of her girlhood memories at Belmont Plantation for Floyd's history of the Barrow family as follows (page 73): "The war came on and the second story was never completed. We used it as an attic, had several old cedar chests up there and we children played there, dressing up in old-clothes stored in the chests. I remember that the beds in several of the rooms were tremendous and when Mattie Sue Pipes came to spend the night with us, she, my sister Lou, and I slept in one of them in perfect comfort. One of the bedroom sets which adorned our 'Company Room' was of rosewood. Papa bought this from the Batt Barrow II estate at Eldorado. There were no closets in the rooms and each one had an armoire. My mother's grand piano (rosewood) with carved legs was in the parlor and entirely out of tune in my day. We all loved music so used to gather around to sing to its accompaniment, out of tune or not! We had portraits galore. In the parlor was one of my grandfather, Senator Alexander Barrow, painted by a fine artist from abroad who came to Washington to paint a portrait of President James K. Polk. There was also one of my grandmother, Mary Ann, painted about the time of her marriage. Also in the parlor were portraits of my grandfather, William H. Sparks and his wife, a Miss Green of Natchez, and a lovely picture of my oldest brother, Willie, as a little boy of three or four (not a portrait) and a water color of him at the age of twelve, which must have been made not long before he died. In the hall, a portrait of Alexander Barrow, Jr. and his first cousin, David N. Barrow, Jr. as little boys. We gave this one to Cousin Lucretia Pilcher Barrow, as one of those little boys was in after years her husband. A portrait of a little boy and girl, my mother (Jennie) and Uncle Wylie, was particularly lovely. They were standing on the stairsteps, she holding a basket of flowers, he on the step behind and above her. Another was of my mother sitting in the grass with a big hat by her side, made when she was about sixteen."

The children of Thomas G. and Mary Jane (Barrow) Sparks were: William Sparks, born 1857, died ca. 1869. Mary Eleanor Sparks, born 1858, died 1891. She married R. Bennett Barrow and had children named Willie Barrow, Effie Barrow, Jennie Barrow, and Mary Barrow.

[From pg. 3125: Whole No. 139] Mary Eleanor Sparks was born February 18, 1858. On February 22, 1883, she married Ruffin Bennett Barrow who had been born on March 17, 1854. He died May 13, 1907. She died September 18, 1891. They had the following children who were reared by their maternal grandmother and others following Mary Eleanor's early death. (The children were born at Maringouin, Louisiana.) William Wilson Barrow was born July 5, 1884. He married Ruth Hughes Dodds on September 1, 1914. Effie Douglas Barrow was born September 2, 1886. Jennie Sparks Barrow was born March 3, 1889. She married William Walthall Battaile, Sr. on September 29, 1914, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He had been born on October 26, 1881, at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and died November 21, 1954, at La Combe, Louisiana. Jennie died April 4, 1961. Their children were: Bennett Barrow Battaile, born November 17, 1915; Rosa-Mary Battaile, born March 1, 1917; William Walthall Battaile, Jr., born August 31, 1918; and Julian Battaile, born September 25, 1925. Effie Maria Sparks, born 1860, died 1888. She married William Montan. They had no children. Thomas Garten Sparks, died at birth. Jane Douglas Sparks, born 1868, died 1904. She married Nathan E. Dozier and they had a daughter named Mattie. Thomas Garten Sparks (second of the name). He died at the age of three. Mattie Wylie Sparks, born 1871, died 1898. She married Dr. W. H. Holloway. They had a son named Sparks Holloway (died 1953) and a daughter named Elnora Holloway. Adine Sparks. She died in childhood. Lise Barrow Sparks, born 1875, died 1966. She married Justin Daspit and they had two children:

Alexander Barrow Daspit, author of the biographical study of William H. Sparks appearing in this issue of the Quarterly, and Alice D. Daspit who married Leonard Greenburg. Isabel Sparks, born August 2, 1877, died 1963. She did not marry. Lou Gale Sparks, born 1878. She married Dr. W. H. Wagley in 1903. Their children were: Hamilton Sparks Wagley, born 1904, married Marietta Brown; Jane Douglas Wagley, born 1908, married byron J. Goss; Thomas Sparks Wagley, born 1914, married Marie C. Major; and Hugh Franklin Wagley, born 1917, married Earle Hubert. William H. Sparks, Jr. was born in 1831. We know nothing of his youth and have no record of his having been married. He enlisted in the Confederate Army at New Orleans on May 10, 1861, in the 1st Regiment Louisiana Infantry as a first lieutenant. He advanced to the rank of captain and commanded companies H, K, and G. He was killed in action on July 28, 1864. James H. Sparks, born 1834. He enlisted in New Orleans on May 17, 1861, as a private in Company K, 3rd Regiment Louisiana Infantry. Regimental records show him as present on the rolls of this unit through October 1861, but shortly thereafter he was "discharged, order of Gen. Court Martial." This action may have related to the fact that young Sparks had been engaged in a duel in New Orleans shortly before he entered the army. James had quarreled with young Dr. Harry Morgan of Baton Rouge. This altercation had taken place, according to Dr. Morgan's sister, Sarah Morgan Dawson, in her A Confederate Girl's Diary, during a small gathering on a porch in Baton Rouge late in April 1861. Mr. Daspit has noted that this quarrel was "so fierce and so open that the District Attorney had placed both men under bond, with the object of preventing bloodshed." Despite the bond, Sparks and Morgan met on May 1, 1861, "according to code," in New Orleans beneath the Dueling Oaks--"that fateful site where for generations the young gentlemen of New Orleans had revenged fancied slights and clensed sullied honor with blood." Young Sparks's second is said to have been a brother of Mrs. Jefferson Davis. Ironically, this was the very day that James's father married his second wife.

Again, quoting Mr. Daspit: "In a pouring rain, beneath the mossfestooned trees, the duelists, armed with shotguns loaded with balls, fired at each other from a distance of thirty paces." According to one account, ("Pistols for Two; Coffee for One," an article appearing in Vol. 24 of the Louisiana Historical Quarterly, 1941), James Sparks was grazed by the ball from Morgan's gun, but another account states that James was unscratched. Dr. Morgan, however, received a ball in his left shoulder which, glancing, passed through his lungs. He died a few hours later.

Dueling between young gentlemen was so accepted in New Orleans at the time of this incident, that Sparks's only punishment under the law was, apparently, the forfeiture of his bond. Although not punished by the law, his pangs of conscience grew with the passage of time. His enlistment in the Confederate Army shortly thereafter may have seemed to be a way of escape, but after only five months of service, he was discharged by order of a General Court Martial. Shortly thereafter, his body was found in the Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge lying close to the grave of the man he had killed. Charles D. Sparks was born in 1836. He enlisted, with his brother, Abner Green Sparks, as a private in Company I, 2d Regiment Louisiana Cavalry, date not known. Both brothers were captured by the Union forces at Bayou Grosse Tate, Louisiana, on October 27, 1864. They were shipped first to New Orleans, then to Ship Island, Mississippi, then to Fort Columbus, New York, and, finally, on November 19, 1864, to the Union's military prison at Elmira, New York. He died of pneumonia there on January 1, 1865. Frances Ada Sparks, only daughter of William H. Sparks, was born in 1838. She was called Nancy, as well as Fanny and Ada. She married Thomas M. Scott of New Orleans. We have no record of their having children. Alexander B. Sparks was born in 1841. He was doubtless the "Alex. B. Sparks" who was listed as a clerk living on New Levee at Gravier Street in New Orleans in 1861, according to a city directory for that year. He enlisted as a private in Captain Fenner's Battery of Louisiana Light Artillery in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 16, 1862. He died of wounds received in the Battle of Jackson in 1863. One of the few references to his family found in William H. Sparks's Memories of Fifty Years appears on page 341 where he tells of a visit to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1866: "While paying a pilgrimage to the grave of a dear boy who died in defense of Jackson... I saw and paused at the modest stone which marks the grave of Governor Poindexter.... I had just looked upon the sod which covered my boy, and, thinking of the hours passed, long years ago, with him ["Poindexter"] who was sleeping at my feet, I could not repress the tear due and dear to memory. Abner Green Sparks was born in 1843. He was a twin of Gale W. Sparks. As noted above, Abner enlisted in the same unit, Company I, 2d Regiment Louisiana Cavalry, as his brother, Charles D. Sparks. Both were captured on the same day (October 27, 1864) at Bayou Grosse Tate, Louisiana, and were sent to the Union prison at Elmira, New York, in November, 1864. Whereas Charles died there six weeks later, Abner survived and the record shows that he was exchanged at James River, Virginia, in 1865 (month and day not given). However, he disappears from all records thereafter, and the family does not know what became of him. Gale W. Sparks, son of William H. and Mariah (Green) Sparks, was born in 1843, a twin of Abner. He was a student at the U.S. Naval Academy when the Civil War began; he resigned as acting midshipman, U.S. Navy on April 25, 1861, and returned home. He then served in the Confederate Navy during the remainder of the war. His Confederate service is summarized in Andrew B. Booth's Records of Louisiana Confederate Soldiers and Louisiana Confederate Commands published in New Orleans in 1920, as follows: Acting Midshipman, July 8, 1861. Passed Midshipman, January 8, 1864. Master in line of provisional Navy, June 2, 1864. Mississippi defenses, 1862-63. Mobile Squadron, 1863-64. Charleston Squadron, 1864." We have no record of Gale W. Sparks having been married. He was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge. Robertus ["Teddy"] Sparks was born in 1847. In the 1850 census listing the family of William H. Sparks, this three-year-old son was identified as "Anonymous" suggesting that he had not yet been named. In 1856, in the probate proceedings following his mother's death, he was not listed among the minor children. Mr. Daspit has noted: "A possible explanation of Robertus' absence from this list is that in view of his tender age, Mariah's failing health, and the precarious state of the family fortunes, he had been put out for adoption. Perhaps to brother Robertus, by then a successful planter himself in Assumption Parish or possibly to one of Mariah's sisters in Mississippi? Though it is known that he served in the Confederate Army and lost his life in battle, he is not included in the records of Louisiana Confederate Soldiers. He may well have entered the Army in Mississippi." There is said to have been a tenth child of William H. and Mariah (Green) Sparks, a son, who died in childhood.