Thomas Durrett (1793-1883), son of Benjamin and Margaret (Hogg) Durrett, married Rebecca Alewine (1797-1872), daughter of Jacob Alewine, during the latter part of 1814 in Newberry county, South Carolina. Thomas and his family left South Carolina in December, 1818, and arrived in Tuscaloosa County early in January, 1819, settling on the Tuscaloosa-Huntsville Road (now US 11), five miles east of Tuscaloosa. He built a blacksmith and wood-working shop on the south side of the road about one hundred yards west of where US 11 and the road leading to the Veterans Hospital fork. He owned several slaves who were trained mechanics. With the help of these slaves he made wagons, plows, hoes, and other farm tools. However, making axes was a specialty as no other shop in this part of Alabama was equipped for making axes. An average of six axes a day were made in his shop every day. There were no iron or steel turning plows at this time. He made a plow with a steel point, iron standard, or foot, and wood mould board. These plows were very popular here because they would turn the red soil in this part of the country. He said they could sell all of the plows that they could make at ten dollars each. He could make three each week. Axes sold for three dollars and hoes for one dollar.
Thomas Durrett and all his family that were living moved from Tuscaloosa County to Bienville Parish, Louisiana in about 1855 (except his two eldest sons, John Andrew Jackson Durrett (1815-1910) and Joseph Hogg Durrett (1817-1894), both of whom were married and had families). After living in Louisiana several years, Thomas Durrett and his wife moved to Texas. His wife died in Texas on April 13, 1873. Thomas Durrett came back to Alabama in 1881 and lived with his son, John Andrew Jackson Durrett, until he died on August 1, 1883, and is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery twelve miles from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
John A. J. Durrett was 25 years old when he married an Irish immigrant named Ann Beauchamp Evans (1819-1880) on 20 January 1840 at Tuscaloosa. Anna was a well educated young school teacher before and after she married her husband. From this union were born three sons and two daughters; namely, James A. Durrett (184X-1865), Thomas Jefferson Durrett (1841-1924), Jane Durrett (1843-1918), Rebecca Evans Durrett (1855-1938), and John Beauchamp Durrett (1858-1922).
During the Civil War, John A. J. Durrett, at age 49, served as a private in Capt. Hassell’s Company of the 3rd Alabama Reserves. His description on the company muster rolls gave hisheight at 5’10”, his hair “dark” and his eyes “dark.”
Incredibly, Ann Beauchamp (Evans) Durrett also enlisted at Auburn, Alabama, and mustered into the Confederate service as “Matron” of the 18th Alabama regiment from 31 August to 30 November 1861. Presumably she cooked, washed, and provided “motherly care” for the soldiers of the 18th Alabama as they settled into their first winter encampment near Mobile. As a general rule, “matrons” were generally consigned to hospitals to serve as nurses only.
John and Ann’s two oldest sons — John A. Durrett and Thomas Jefferson Durrett — were old enough to serve in the Civil War. The two brothers enlisted with their cousin Henry Durrett (1840-1868) in Co. E, 18th Alabama Infantry in the fall of 1861. John (or “J. A.” as he signed his letters) claimed to write home regularly to his family but only a handful of his letters survived the war — particularly those written during his final days while garrisoned at the Spanish Fort overlooking Mobile Bay. Had he not been killed there in one of the last battles of the Civil War, perhaps they would not have been retained at all.
J. A.’s Confederate service record is disappointingly brief. In fact it can’t even be found under his own name; his official was erroneously filed under the name, “J. A. Durnett.” From that cryptic record we learn that J. A. suffered from remittent fever during the winter of 1864-65 and that he did not accompany his regiment on the march into Tennessee with Hood’s Army. His record indicates that he was admitted into the 1st Mississippi C.S.A. Hospital at Jackson, Mississippi, on 8 November 1864 and released to return to duty on 3 December 1864. We also learn from his letter of 18 February 1865, written to Mrs. Abby Searcy, that while he was returning to his regiment in December, he was caught up in the Battle at Egypt Station on 28 December, that he barely escaped capture, and that he decided to lay low at West Point, Mississippi, until his regiment passed through there on their way back to Mobile. From J. A.’s letter of 12 February 1865 to his sister we know that while he was in West Point, he courted 15 year-old Lizzie, the daughter F. A. Faulkner, a Maryland-born merchant and formerly a resident of Tuscaloosa.
A letter by cousin Henry Durrett tells of the death of J. A. Durrett when he “imprudently” raised his head above the breastworks at “Spanish Fort” while under fire. A minié ball ripped through the top of his skull and he bled to death, his cousin by his side. A letter by Harleston Broun of Mobile confirms that J. A’s body was transported to Mobile where he was buried in Magnolia Cemetery under the name, Durret, with one t instead of two.
As previously mentioned, J. A.’s brother Tom also served in Co. E, 18th Alabama. J. A.’s letters reveal that the two were very close. In his 2 December 1863 letter, J. A. wrote of Tom’s presumed capture by the Yankees on 25 November 1863 in the Battle of Missionary Ridge. Describing the loss to his sister, J. A. wrote, “What I lose even by his absence, God only knows, for he was to me brother, friend, protector, counsellor, and all that I could ask for.” From Tom’s military record we learn that he was confined at Rock Island Barracks. He was a prisoner at Rock Island from 9 December 1863 until 3 May 1865 when he was transported to New Orleans and released there on 23 May 1865.
J. A.’s 1865 letters indicate that his mother Ann was absent from their home in Tuscaloosa for an extended period of time. Family knowledge of her whereabouts confirmed my hunch that she traveled to Rock Island to visit her son Tom while imprisoned there. According to Buz Sawyer’s book “Letters”, Ann gathered intelligence for the Confederacy during her stay in Illinois and her clandestine activity was never discovered by the Union army.
After Tom’s release from prison, he returned to Alabama where he married and became a farmer. He moved to Texas for a time but eventually returned to Alabama before his death in 1926. He is buried at the Mount Zion Cemetery with other Durrett family members.
Three of James A. Durrett’s four siblings, (l-r) — Tom, Becky, and John B.