Friday, May 25, 2007

From the Hill Country of Northeast Mississippi to Flanders Fields

John Thomas Riley brought his family to Itawamba County, Mississippi from Edgefield County, South Carolina during 1839 where he settled a large expanse of fertile land in the New Chapel community south of Carolina near the Monroe County line. He was the great grandson of John Riley, an Irish immigrant who had settled in Augusta County, Virginia during the early 1700s. John Thomas Riley Jr. (born 25 September 1856) inherited part of his father’s estate in Mississippi and continued to farm the land following in his father's footsteps. He married Amelia Rankin, the daughter of another old South Carolina family that had settled in Itawamba County. From this union were born the following children: John Henry, Daisy Dean, Mary Elizabeth, Samuel Feemster, Lillie F., Merle, Carl and Wallace Cayson. During the Great World War (1914-1919), three of the sons were called to duty and served in the United States Army seeing much action and hardship in Europe.

The young Riley brothers were like many of the young servicemen from the hills of Itawamba County at the time. They were raised on a farm and were taught that hard work, integrity and honor is what makes a man. The young brothers had not been to many places outside Lee, Itawamba and Monroe counties but lived a content happy life tilling the soil. When the three young brothers marched off to war, I am confident it created a hardship for their father and heartache for their mother. Below is a letter written home by Samuel Feemster Riley to his mother, Amelia Rankin Riley, shortly after learning he was leaving the United States for the war front in Europe:

Camp Beauregard La. May 21 1918

My Dear Mother,

I thought I would write you a few lines as I have not written you a personal letter since I have been away. I know this is the hardest time of your life and I realize it is nature for us all to be grieved about parting but we must look at it in a brighter way. I know one thing and that is your prayers have been for me all these years of my life and especially since I have been in the army and I feel grateful to my Maker for having such a mother. I firmly believe that the One that does all things well will guide me through this safely. That I may return home again to be with my loved ones again. There is one thing I will ask you all to do and that is to go on as best you can and don’t bother about me… Now though I realize that this is harder on you at home to live while the war costs for everything is so high, but I am glad you all have such nice chance for a good crop this year. Well I will close. Hoping you all will not worry any more than you can help and don’t cross a bridge till you get to it. I am all right for the time being at least.

Your loving son Sam
Co. C 155th Inf.
Camp Beauregard La.

Samuel Feemster Riley and his two brothers – Carl and Merle eventually returned to their northeast Mississippi hill country homestead from the war, going back to work tilling the soil. But for many Itawamba families, this was not the case. Many Itawamba families across the rolling hills and hollows were touched by grief in the loss of their cherished young sons, brothers and friends to the Great World War and to those families this roll of remembrance is given:

Matthew W. Anderson
Samuel T. Beam
Elvis S. Carpenter
Willie W. Chilcoat
Leonard D. Crouch
Itha C. Dennis
John A. Leech
Barney W. Mattox
Ebbie B. Moore
William A. Nabers
Thomas J. Ray
Lawrence E. Robinson
Oscar M. Sheffield
Elmer Shields
Edd Segars
Audie L. South
Luther W. South
Troy J. Spearman
Willie P. Young

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