Wild Times in “The Wilderness” of Spotsylvania


My paternal great grandfather was Edward “Bud” Vincent Bowling/Boling (1872-1946). He was born in Parker, Spotsylvania County, Virginia. According to the 1880 Census, “Vincent,” as he was called at eight years old, lived on a tenant farm with his father Lawrence T. Boling (42), and his mother Sara Elizabeth Bettie Tapp (45), and his sisters Trifeny (19), Ophelia, and Irene (5). In fact, his family lived on Ely’s Ford Road, just off of Orange Plank Road, next to the Chancellorsville Battlefield and the area known as The Wilderness Farm. Edward didn’t travel very far in life as he is buried in the Ely’s Ford Baptist Church Cemetery among  other family members. Unfortunately our Boling extended family during those days was not close.  I never got to meet this part of the family.  And, Edward passed away six months before I was born.

Edward’s mother, Sarah Elizabeth Bettie Tapp, was the daughter of the former Catharine Elizabeth Dempsey, also known as “The Widow Tapp,” of The Wilderness Forest, which was about five miles east of Ely’s Ford Road. The 1900 Census shows also that 40-year-old “Phenie,” Eliza Frances Tapp and her mongrel daughters Madosha (18) and Mary Catherine (3) were the Boling’s neighbors. Also listed on this census sheet were neighbors with other surnames of Boling relatives like “Chewning,” “Dempsey,” “Morris,” et al. It was typical in those days for relatives to live close to each other.  That is, until they totally moved away to other parts as my grandfather, Jesse Burton Boling, and several of his brothers, did.

But, one of the stories, besides those infamous Civil War Battles of Chancellorsville, Mine Run, and The Wilderness (with their massive losses of life among these forest and farmlands), was “Phenie’s” story.  Phenie was my great-grand aunt, daughter of Sara Elizabeth Bettie Tapp, who married my second great-grandfather Lawrence T. Boling in 1868 when Phenie was eight years old.  And here’s where the story gets interesting. It seems that Sara Elizabeth Bettie Tapp and her neighbor Thomas R. Pulliam (1830-1876) were widowed around the same time.  By the year 1859, Thomas  (29 years old) and 25-year-old Sara Elizabeth were having an affair. The child born of this relationship in 1860 (just prior to the beginning of the Civil War) was Eliza Frances known now in history as Phenie Tapp of The Wilderness. 

So, these facts lead me to believe that my second great-grandfather, Lawrence T. Boling, (30 years old at the time) had to have been aware of Sara Elizabeth Bettie Tapp’s history prior to entering into a relationship with her.  Yet together, they bore nine children over a  40-year-marriage.  Lawrence lived until  February 18, 1910 when he died of congestive heart failure, (back then known as “dropsy”).  Sara  died in 1900 at age 66–just 12 years after giving birth to her last Boling child, Lizzie!  

I wish I could fill in more of the blanks in their life’s story, but this is all I know and relatives who might have known them better, or more about them have long since passed. There is, however, an interesting and in-depth story about Phenie Tapp that you might want to read in a blog by C. W. Belle “Drama and Scandal in the Wilderness: The Phenie Tapp Story.”

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