Middlebrooks Family Cemetery

By Hal Doby, updated March 3, 2014
in 2010, Camp Wheeler was approached by Debbie Autry and her mother, Peggy, are descendents of the Middlebrooks family. Their Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Confederate 2nd Sgt. Zere Pendergreass Middlebrooks and his brother in-law Pvt. James Christian are buried in the Middlebrooks Family Cemetery located in Porterdale, Georgia. The cemetery is just off Ga. Hwy 81 about a half mile south of Livingston Elementary School, not too far from Bethany Rd. as marked in the photo below. 

Upon learning that members of Sons of Confederate Veterans regularly perform grave and cemetery restorations, Debbie and Peggy contacted Camp Major-General Joseph Wheeler to see if the camp would be interested in helping clean, restore, and preserve the family cemetery where these two Confederate soldiers are now in eternal rest. 

When the camp was approached about the project, the cemtery was totally hidden by overgrowth to the point no one could tell it was a cemetery as seen in the picture above. Camp Wheeler Compatriots spent several weekends during 2011 to reclaim the cemetery from Mother Nature. The picture below shows the cemetery after we completed our initial reclamation efforts in 2011.



The Middlebrooks Family Cemetery has continued to be an on-going project for Camp Wheeler. In additition to the work I have detailed, I want to make special note of the volunteer work of Camp Wheeler Compatriot Larry Cornwell. Over the past year, Larry has been making regular visits to the cemetery to continue work on rebuilding the stone wall that encircles the cemetery. Larry did this work by himself, without any assistance from other camp compatriots. As you can see from the pictures above and below, Larry has transformed the wall from a pile of scattered rocks back into a clearly defined wall. As you can tell from these photos, this is not a small wall, this was a very major task for Larry to accomplish by himself!


In the above picture, from left to right, 2nd. Lt. Commander Jerry New, Commander J.H. "Joe" Underwood, and Larry Cornwell.

The cemetery is like a lot of smaller cemeteries that are scattered across the state and our country. The families are now scattered far away from the home site or the churches that formerly maintained the cemeteries are no longer around, so cemeteries like this are not looked after and left to decay and be reclaimed by nature. These cemeteries usually go without any maintenance for years, decades, or even centuries.


In the June 18th, 2013 edition of the Rockdale Citizen, Crystal Tatum wrote an article about the Middlebrooks Family Cemetery and our work there. You can read the article online by clicking this link.

To see what the UsGenWeb says about the cemetary, please click here for their report on the site.

An Important Discovery & A New Mission

In September 2011, at Camp Wheeler’s monthly membership meeting, Mr. Len Strozier of Omega Mapping Services was the guest speaker. He gave a very interesting presentation on his services, particularly with ground penetrating radar and how he uses it to survey grave sites where he constantly discovers unmarked graves that have not been documented. Prior to the membership meeting, Mr. Strozier met with Camp Commander Joe Underwood at the Middlebrooks Family Cemeteryfor a short demonstration of his equipment and abilities. While there was the potential to discover an unmarked grave, no one was  prepared for what was found.

Inside the stone boundaries of the gravesite, Mr. Strozier discovered unmarked graves and at least one "site of interest" where some large unknown item is buried. While this was a very important discovery, no one was prepared for what was to come. Mr. Stozier discovered a large number of burials had taken place just outside the stone boundary of the cemetery. There are five structured rows that appear to have a huge number of unidentified and un-recorded graves. While some have a stone or rock at the head or foot of graves, many do not even have that. There could be 100 or more individuals buried here. 

Who could all these people be? To be honest, we will never know for certain exactly who these folks were. Yes, most likely a good number of these lost souls are most likely Slaves but there could also be indigent White people as well. As I said, we will never know exactly.

As Mr. Strozier explained it to us, unlike how Hollywood depicts it in the movies and TV, after 50 to 75 years most bodies that are buried, even in coffins, decompose and return back to the soil. After 100 years or so, even the largest bones are almost totally decomposed. Should a bone or two still remain it is impossible to extract enough DNA from which any form of identification could be made.

There are no burial records for the Middlebrooks Family Cemetery, so there is no recorded data to help identify these graves. While this is total speculation, our best guess is that the unmarked graves within the cemetery boundaries are most likely close friends and neighbors of the Middlebrooks or possibly highly thought of and beloved Slaves. We simply will never know because of the lack of recorded data. 

While it is the mission of Sons of Confederate Veterans to watch over the graves of Confederate Veterans, even though these unmarked graves are most likely not the resting places of Confederate Veterans, we felt that with being charged as the current caretakers of the Middlebrooks Family Cemetery, we had to do what we could to at the very least identify the locations of these unmarked graves. In order to do that, we had to to have performed a complete formal survey of both the known cemetery and its surrounding area. In order to do that, the area where the burial sites are located will had to be cleared much like we did with the known cemetery site so Mr. Strozier could access the site with his equipment. 

Mr. Strozier submitted a proposal to perform a formal survey of the cemetery and surrounding area for $1,800. Camp Wheeler begun a fund raising project to raise the funds needed for the project. After over a year's worth of hard work, the Camp raised the funds. At the Camp's annual Lee-Jackson Dinner, Mr. Strozier was presented with a check

Mr. Strozier and his crew along with Camp Wheeler compatriots assisting performed the cemetery survey in mid March 2013. When a grave was located, its GPS coordinates were recorded and a small flag placed in what was thought to the middle of the gravesite. While considering the entire site surveyed, there were two small areas that the equipment was not able to cover. 

Once the two-day survey was completed, Mr. Strozier returned to his office to compile the results.

The Results

Mr. Strozier returned to Camp Wheeler to give his report to the camp at its April open house membership meeting. In attendance was Ms. Debbie Autry, a Middlebrooks family descendent. All told, 93 full graves were located along with one location that has the appearance of being a cremation remains (cremains) urn. All told, 94 souls who final resting places that had been lost are know known.

This information will be passed on to Newton County, where the cemetery is located, so this information will be officially recorded and become publicly available. It will also be report to the Middlebrooks family organization that keeps in contact with the Middlebrook's descendents around the world.

Imagine yourself being the ancestor of someone that lived this area. This could be the missing link for a number of people to potentially locate the resting place of their ancestors. As I've repeated said, while the remains will never be identified, if someone had an ancestor that lived in that area, this could be their final resting place. That's important!

Below are links to the two maps Mr. Strozier produced of the site in Adobe Acrobat/Reader pdf form. One is on a blank background, while the second, much larger pdf image has been overlayed on top of a Google Map image take from Space.

Click here to see the plain image.

Click here to see the overlaid image from Space.

Legend: To avoid any confusion, let me explain Mr. Strozier's use of dots and blocks. The peach-colored dots are the locations of the un-marked burial sites. The small blue dot is what he believes to be the cremated remains of someone. The green dots are trees. The tan-colored squares are the known burial sites that have some form of headstone or burial markers. The large rectangle surrounding the entire are the boundary of the cemetery area. We believe it once was indentified by a low stone wall that encompassed the entire grave site.

Note: The over-laid satellite image of the cemetery is over a year old. As you can see in the sat map, at the lower right-hand portion of the cemetery, there was a pile of stones that had been dislocated from the wall. This image was taken prior to any of Camp Wheeler's work on the site and the entire area has been substancially cleaned-up. However, there are still loose stones that remain in that location and because of this, that area was not fully charted. There well could be more remains in that spot.

Note: If you wish to save these images, you can right-click on the above links to "Save Target As", or open the link then click on the Acrobat menu to save the file to your computer.




On March 1st, nine Camp Wheeler Compatriots plus Middlebrooks family member Debbie Autry gathered at the Middlebrooks Family Cemetery to continue our work. 1st. Lt. Commander Jerry New has been working diligently to create 100 cement markers for the unknown souls that are in their final repose at the cemetery. The major goal was to set as many of these markers on this day as well as performing some clean up work around the cemetery.





Everyone showed up around 8am on a chilly morning to begin work. As the markers were being installed, Commander Underwood performed some chemical cleaning on the existing grave markers with a bio-degradeable solution designed to remove black and green moss from monuments.



At the end of the day all 100 markers had been installed and it was a very productive work session. It turns out Jerry needs to make an additional markers to mark 20 additional graves.


2011 Memorial Ceremony

On June 4, 2011 Camp Wheeler celebrated its work on the cemetery with a memorial ceremony that was attended by Middlebrooks descendents Debbie Autry and Shirley Middlebrooks McKinney. At the time, Shirley was the oldest surviving Middlebrooks at the tender age of 88. (Web Master's Note:  Mrs. McKinmey has since passed on March 11, 2012.)

Click here to view the memorial ceremony's event program.

The following photographs of the memorial service were taken by Camp Wheeler Historian Dan Bass.












The following oration was given by Gene Wade, Camp Wheeler's Geneologist, at the memorial cemermony.

An Oration Honoring Confederate Soldiers

2nd Sgt. Zere P. Middlebrooks & Private James Christian


ZERE PENDERGRASS MIDDLEBROOKS
Feb 7, 1843 – July 3, 1862


Zere Pendergrass Middlebrooks was born in Newton County, Georgia on February 7, 1834 to Zere Middlebrooks and Sophia Weston Shell Middlebrooks. Both of Zere's parents are buried here in Middlebrooks Cemetery.

Zere Pendergrass Middlebrooks was born the tenth of ten children and married Penelope J Walker in 1857.

Zere enlisted early in the war. He enlisted at age 28 at Covington, GA for a three years, or the duration of the war, in Captain Mercer's company on March 4, 1862. He received a fifty dollar bounty. Zere was evidently held in high regard in the community because he was elected or appointed as 2nd Sergeant in Captain Mercer's company on or about March 20, 1862.

Captain Mercer's company became Company E of the 42nd Regiment, Georgia Infantry and was also known as the “Harper Guards”. The 42nd soon reported to Camp McDonald, located at Big Shanty (Kennesaw), and received five weeks of training and was officially mustered into the Confederate Army on April 11, 1862. Unfortunately, Zere soon became ill with the measles and was left to convalese at home in Newton County on April 15, 1862 on indefinite sick furlough.

Zere evidently recovered to some extent because he was next known to be at Loudon, Tennessee. He perhaps participated in the June 1862 battles that took place around Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. It was known that “Unionists” had been plotting to burn the railroad bridges from Knoxville to Nashville. Elements of the Georgia 42nd were detailed to guard the railroad bridges on the Tennessee River from Knoxville to Chattanooga. On July 3rd, 1862, Zere died of “Congestive Chills” at Loudon, Tennessee while assigned the task of guarding the railroad bridge.

Although Zere's service was relatively short: only 4 months, the fact remains that he gave his life in his service to the Confederacy. Disease caused more deaths than musket balls during this deadly war. His widow Penelope received $93.56 for accumulated pay that included $25.00 reimbursement for clothing and $68.56 for his pay based on his rate of pay of $17.00 per month. Zere was survived by his wife Penelope and children Sallie Emma Middlebrooks and Pendergrass Elijah Middlebrooks. Sallie and Pendergrass were ages 4 and 2 respectively when Zere died..

Zere's wife Penelope never remarried and is buried next to Zere. Also buried here is their infant son George F. Middlebrooks who died April 4, 1862 at the age of 9 months; 3 months before his father’s death. One can only imagine the torment that Penelope endured in losing a son and then a husband in a three month period. Penelope later applied for and received a Confederate widow's pension from the state of Georgia.

The Federal Census reports that Penelope was living in the family household with her children Sallie and Pendergrass in 1870. Ten years later, in 1880, Penelope was still living there with her son Pendergrass, who by then was 19 years old. Since the 1890 census were destroyed by fire in 1921, the next census report in 1900 reported that Penelope was living in Texas with a family member. By the time the 1910 census was performed, Penelope had returned to Rockdale County and was living by herself. The 1920 census was the last census report that included any mention of Penelope. She was still in Rockdale County but was now living with her son Pendergrass, now age 59, along with his wife and her grandson William, who was 26 years of age.

 


JAMES D. CHRISTIAN
Dec. 2, 1819 – Jun. 1864.


James D. Christian was born December 2, 1819 in Georgia. His parents were Isaac Christian of Virginia and Mildred “Milly” White of Georgia. James married Mary Middlebrooks, a sister of Zere Pendergrass Middlebrooks, about 1828. According to the 1860 census and family researchers, James and Mary were blessed with nine children. The census also indicated that the James and Mary Christian family lived next door to the Zere Middlebrooks family.

James is listed as J. Christian/Cristian in Company A, 2nd Battalion Inf (State Guards) as stated on his headstone. This unit was organized in August 1863 for local defense. James enlisted as a private in this unit on August 1, 1863 for a period of six months by Captain McCall. Unit muster rolls indicate he was present through the rest of 1863 but Confederate records on this soldier after that date no longer exist.

The members of this battalion were employees of the Atlanta Arsenal. They had the understanding that they would be available for conscription if need be. The arsenal was set up at the racetrack outside of the city's western limits. It produced percussion caps as well as artillery and small-arms ammunition.  In 1863 to 1864 the Atlanta Arsenal employed nearly 5,500 men and women.  Because of the advancement of Union troops and the impending attack on Atlanta, the arsenal's machinery was moved to Macon and Augusta about the end of June 1864.

According to family historians, James died in June 1864. The circumstances surrounding his death were not recorded in any surviving records. Family genealogists state that he died of Smallpox in June 1864. According to some other researchers, James died of Measles.

After James’ death, his widow, Mary, was left with nine children. She eventually married Milton Waldrop in 1868. Mary Middlebrooks Christian Waldrop died on May 11, 1895 and is buried in the Middlebrooks Cemetery.