Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Nine Sons Wore the Suit of Gray

My three times great grandparents, James Harvey Beard and Mary McMullin (or McMullen) had four known sons:
  • David Fleming Beard, Sr. (1812-1878), my great great grandfather
  • Granville Lacy Beard (1813-after 1873)
  • Robert M Beard (about 1818-after 1880)
  • Charles Edward Beard (1827-1900)
Charles Edward Beard married Ann Elizabeth Key, daughter of John Bernard Key and Paulina Overstreet, on 21 November 1849 in Bedford County, Virginia, and two of his nieces married younger brothers of his wife, Ann.

Beard-Key marriages; created using Microsoft PowerPoint

Apparently the Beard and Key families were quite close as evidenced by the fact that my great great grandparents, David Fleming Beard and Barbara Ann (Mitchell) Beard are buried in the Key Family Cemetery in Bedford County.

According to a book about the Key family, John Bernard Key, was born in Petersburg, Virginia, to Thomas and Nancy Keys. He moved to Bedford County, Virginia, when he was 17 or 18 years old. Also living in the southern part of the county was a family with the same surname. The mail frequently was delivered incorrectly so John Keys dropped the "s" from his surname.

Ann Elizabeth Key, wife of Charles Edward Beard, was one of thirteen children. Nine of her brothers served in the Confederate States Army (CSA):
  • Thomas Henry Key, born 3 September 1821; enlisted in Company C, 28th Virginia Regiment on 10 August 1863; mustered out on 30 March 1864 at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia; according to Find A Grave he died on 30 March 1865 and was interred in Texas so there is some mystery about the end of Thomas' life. 
  • Robert N. Key, born 17 February 1823; enlisted in Company G, 34th Virginia Regiment; died on 10 April 1862 in the Confederate army (according to his brother). His company muster rolls stated that he was "supposed to be dead since April 1862." 
  • Charles Hopkins Key, born 29 November 1825; enlisted in Company G, 34th Virginia Regiment on 3 March 1862; captured on 6 April 1865 in Farmville, Virginia; died in prison in 1865 in Newport News, Virginia. 
  • Yelverton Peterson Key, born 29 October 1829; enlisted in Company G, 34th Virginia Regiment on 3 March 1862; wounded and sent to a hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, on 18 May 1864; died 2 April 1911.
  • Edward Willoughby Key, born 17 January 1835; enlisted in Company G, 34th Virginia Infantry on 3 March 1862; captured on 6 April 1865 in Farmville.
  • John Singleton Key, born 6 May 1839; enlisted in Company G, 34th Virginia Regiment on 1 May 1863; died 4 June 1864 at a hospital in Petersburg.
  • Joseph Cephas Key, born 7 May 1841; enlisted in Company G, 34th Virginia Regiment on 3 March 1862; transferred from a hospital in Farmville to a hospital in Bedford County on 29 March 1865; died 21 January 1884 according to his widow from a lung illness contracted during the war.
  • Benjamin Franklin Key, born 17 January 1844; enlisted in Company G, 34th Virginia Regiment on 3 March 1862; transferred to a hospital in Farmville on 2 April 1865; died 1 May 1925.
  • William Alfred Key, enlisted in Company E, 34th Virginia Infantry in 1864 at Petersburg.
As stated earlier, Thomas Henry Key's death is a bit of a mystery. In Key and Allied Families, written by Mrs. Julian C. Lane, his brother wrote in a letter, "Thomas Henry, b. Sept. 3, 1821, d. in Confederate Army Mar 1865; m. Cecilia A. Owens." Yet, his military records indicated he mustered out of the Army on 30 March 1864. He was interred Pilot Grove Cemetery in Yoakum, Texas, and the inscription on his headstone says, "Thomas Henry Key PVT 2 Co C 28 VA INF Confederate States Army Sept 3 1821, Mar 30 1865." His widow lived in Pike County, Missouri, in 1870 with their children.

Benjamin Franklin Key wrote to a grandson of his brother, Charles Hopkins Key about the experiences of the nine brothers during the Civil War:

"You asked me to tell you something about your grandfather. He belonged to Company E, 34th Virginia Regiment[1], Capt. William Jordan's company, Wise Brigade, Infantry, and was taken prisoner not very long before Gen. Lee's surrender at Appomattox and was kept in prison at Newport News, Va., until June 25, 1865, he passed out and went home to be with his Redeemer. I can say this, that a more devout Christian ever lived or died. He was imprisoned about three months and buried at Newport News. Your papa scarcely remembers ever seeing him. He was born Nov. 29th, 1826. Besides him I had seven other brothers in Civil War, namely: Thomas H., who was born Sept. 3, 1821, and died at a hospital in Richmond, Va., March, 1865. Robert N. was born Feb. 17, 1823, was put on a boat in Yorktown very, very ill with double pneumonia enroute to hospital in Richmond, but never landed, supposed to have died and was thrown overboard. Yelverton P., Edward W., Joseph C., William A., and myself were the only ones to return and I came from a hospital in June at Farmville after the surrender, minus a foot I lost on our retreat the 29th of March, 1865, and John S. Keys was born May 6th, 1839, and died June 4th, 1864, in a hospital in Petersburg."

Benjamin Franklin Key is credited as the author of this verse:

Nine sons wore the suit of gray,
Four sons passed o'er the way --
And their deeds, proud deeds shall remain for us,
And their names, dear names without stain for us,
And the glories they won shall not wane for us,
     In legend and lay
     Our heroes in gray
Though dead, shall live over again for us.

The 34th Virginia Infantry Regiment was formed in May 1862 from men from Norfolk, Richmond, and Yorktown and the counties of Gloucester, Mecklenburg, Bedford, Greene, and King and Queen. For almost two years the unit served as heavy artillery. During that time it was known as the 4th Heavy Artillery and was assigned to the Department of Richmond. In May 1864 it was assigned to Wise's Brigade as an infantry unit. It participated in the Siege of Petersburg and saw action in various conflicts around Appomattox.

[1] According to muster rolls Charles Hopkins Key served in Company G, not Company E.

Lane, Mrs. Julian C. Key and Allied Families, (Baltimore, MD: Clearfield Co., Inc., 2003), pages 275-280.


  1. Looks like Charles Edward Beard was a brother to my Great Great Grandfathr, Granville Lacy Beard.

  2. We are conducting a survey of the many Bedford Co VA cemeteries, your blog has provided valuable and colorful historical info on the Key(s). My wife is also DAR so we share your love of history!

    1. I'm glad you have found the blog helpful. I've researched at the Bedford Museum & Genealogical Library before and was very impressed.

  3. Granville is my 3rd great, through his son Robert. I look forward to following your page on Facebook, the next time I log on.

    1. I'm glad you found this blog and my Facebook page.