John and Sarah (Sasser) Dansby married in 1831 and settled on lands in Russell and Barbour County, Alabama. They had 14 children, among them their four eldest boys: Hiram(b. 1832), John (b.1837), Daniel (b. 1838), and Emmanuel George Washington (b. 1842).
The Confederacy instituted a draft in April, 1862. On 15 May, 1862, all four men enlisted in Company C of the 39th Alabama infantry – also referred to as Captain McSwean’s Company, Pea River Rifles, Alabama Volunteers. Daniel was a Corporal for the regiment; the remaining brothers enlisted as Privates.
39th Infantry Regiment was formed in May, 1862, at Opelika, Alabama. Its members were drawn from Pike, Barbour, Henry, Walker, and Russell counties. Immediately sent north, it was assigned to General Gardner’s Brigade but saw little action during the Kentucky Campaign. The regiment was later under the command of Generals Deas, G.D. Johnston, and Brantley. It was prominent in the arduous campaigns of the Army of Tennessee from Murfreesboro to Atlanta, moved with Hood into Tennessee, and fought its last battle at Bentonville. This unit reported 95 casualties at Murfreesboro and lost thirty-one percent of the 310 engaged at Chickamauga. During December, 1863, it totaled 337 men and 219 arms. On April 26, 1865, less than 90 officers and men surrendered. The unit was commanded by Colonels Whitfield Clark, H.D. Clayton, and William C. Clifton; Lieutenant Colonels James T. Flewellen and Lamuel Hargrove; and Majors Colin McSwean and Drewry H. Smith. — From the National Park Service website
Hiram Dansby was discharged 2 months later, on July 27th, for reasons of “inability.” He was given $2.94 for his transportation home, but was indebted to the Confederacy $14.70 for his issued clothing.
The last muster record for Emmanuel G. W. is July, 1862. The last entry for Daniel is November, 1862.
John Dansby’s last recorded muster is October, 1863. He was named to the Roll of Honor (the Confederate equivalent to the Medal of Honor) for his actions at the Battle of Stones River, Murfreesboro, Tennessee in December, 1862:
Vol. XX, Part I–(658) In Deas’ brigade, Withers’ division, Polk’s corps, army of Tennessee, at Murfreesboro. (677) Casualties, December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, 3 killed, 92 wounded. (754) Mentioned in Gen. Jones M. Withers’ report. (973) Roll of honor, battle of Murfreesboro: Adjt. J. M. Macon; Second Lieut. E. Q. Thornton, Company K; Second Lieut. E. O. Petty, Company B; Sergt. C. K. Hall, Company H; Sergt. W. J. White, Company H; Sergt. E. Priest, Company K; Private W. C. Menefee, Company A; Sergt. A. J. Talbot, Company A; Private Samuel M. Martin, Company B; Private John Dansby, Company C; Private Evander Burkett, Company D; Private Frank Jones, Company E; Sergts. John H. Poyner and T. F. Espy, Company G: Sergt. Abner Flowers, Company I; Sergt. James Wilson, Company K. – From the official war record
The dry language of the regimental history does not adequately convey the experiences of the 39th Alabama. Steven Cone’s online narrative about the 22nd Alabama also includes a great deal of detail about the actions of the 39th and should be read in full, beginning with events leading up to Murfreesboro.
While the details are scant, it is clear that the remaining Dansby brothers deserted at some point between 1862 and early 1864. Desertion during the Civil War is a complex subject and the motivations of the Dansby men are not likely a neat package. A quick review of available literature suggests their reasons were likely economic, but could also have been political. In his narrative, Steven Cones notes that a deserter from Company C was returned to the unit at Dalton, Georgia in early 1864 and promptly executed.
On 20 May, 1864, in East Pass, Florida, the four Dansby brothers enlisted as Privates into Company F of the 1st Florida Cavalry – a Union force in western Florida. A bounty of $100 was promised for each enlistment and evidently paid over time. The brothers participated in the assault and capture of Marianna, Florida on 27 September 1864, in the capture of a company of Rebels in Pine Barrow on 24 November, and in the battle of Mitchell Creek and Pine Barrow on 17 December.
John Dansby, however, was seriously ill with scurvy, a disease of malnutrition that likely affected many of his comrades. On 14 December, 1864, he died at the regimental hospital at Fort Barranca (Pensacola), Florida. He is buried at Barranca National Cemetery, possibly in Section 1 Site 947 (listed in the VA graves locator as “Jno Damby”).
The remaining brothers pressed on: Daniel Dansby was promoted to Corporal on 10 January 1865 (Regimental Order 148). The unit’s last significant actions were the capture of a train and cars near Evergreen, Alabama on 27 March 1865 and the assault and capture of Fort Blakely, Alabama on 9 Apr 1865. Daniel Dansby was promoted to Sergeant in July 1865 (Regimental Order 191). The three brothers were mustered out on 17 November, 1865 at Tallahassee, Florida.
Notes on personal details, taken from enlistment papers:
- Hiram — 6’0”, grey eyes, light hair; fair complexion; occupation listed as farmer
- John Dansby — 6’0″, brown eyes, brown hair; dark complexion; occupation listed as farmer
- Daniel Dansby – 6’2”, brown eyes, black hair; dark complexion; occupation listed as farmer
- Emmanuel George Washington Dansby — 5’11”, brown eyes, brown hair; dark complexion; occupation listed as farmer
Of note, their mother Sarah Sasser, is rumored to have been a Confederate spy. I’ve not located any evidence for this story; the fact that her sons were unanimous in switching their allegiance only adds to the question about this. Was she in fact a Unionist, supporting the informal network of raiders in the area? Were her claimed spying activities a means of mitigating distrust of Confederate neighbors? Or is this just a good yarn?
Sentinel relation: The three surviving men were brothers to John Dansby (d), the great-great-grandfather of Ross Nettles (s).