Cephas Jr. and the Great War


Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. was stationed in France in 1917, during which time he wrote home to his mother and father whenever he could, letting them know he was safe, and likely, telling them a sanitized — and probably censored — version of what was going on with him and his comrades.

I would have loved to read Ceph Jr.’s letters to his family about his experiences during World War I. But until I establish a connection with a descendant (who, hopefully, still has the letters saved somewhere), I very gladly will make do with this:


A History of the 1st U.S. Engineers Division. Source: University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill archives.

Yes, people, this is the big deal I came across the other day. This is the honest-to-God story of this unit’s experiences, complete with anecdotes, personal reflections, poetry, letters, artwork, homage to fallen comrades who were left behind in the battlefields. There’s nothing pretty or glamorous about the stories of these men who fought in this unit during the Great War: There is honest, thoughtful, and heartbreaking writing in this book.

The birth and infancy of the regiment, page five. This is the story of the regiment, by the men, in their OWN words. This is wonderful!

And check. This. Out:

Ceph Jr.was an ART EDITOR for this book — and — yes, his drawings are in here! Booyah!

NOW can you see why I was so thrilled?

Cephas WAS on the U.S.S. Finland, en route to France from Hoboken, N.J., hadn’t even landed yet, and was fired upon! OMG. Did he write home to his parents about this?

As I said, the men who wrote about their experiences hold nothing back.

Several pages honoring the dead.

Not only do we have the story of Ceph’s time in World War I, but we have samples of his drawings!

It’s a wonderful find, full of excellent details, resources, photos, and — yes — artwork attributed to Cephas Jr. Modestly, he signed them “W.” You can see his cartoon experience reflected in his drawings!

There’s this one:

A humorous drawing by Cephas, Jr.

And this one:

Often too close for comfort, was it?

But this one by Cephas Jr. is most touching:

In my next post, I’ll fill you in on the rest of Cephas’ experiences in France — that is, unless you read this book for yourself (he is mentioned in here!).







Our guy was born today in Hope Settlement, Belize, British Honduras on September 17, 1882.

Emmett, age 8, December, 1890.

Happy Birthday, Emmett!

Cephas Jr.’s Declaration of Independence


Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: 1913 Seminole, University of Florida archive. A handsome, younger version of his father.

By 1917, Cephas Love Wilson, Jr., was probably at the end of his rope, in terms of direction, vocation, and personal satisfaction.

He was 22, still living at home.

College hadn’t worked out for him (law school, likely 100 percent financed by his father, Cephas Love Wilson Sr., until Junior decided it really wasn’t for him). He knew what he wanted to do: His talent was in the arts — music, but mostly photography and drawing — but Cephas Sr. either wasn’t encouraging him to become a professional artist, or perhaps he was overly realistic with his oldest child: If Cephas Jr. wanted to make a decent living, drawing cartoons probably wasn’t going to do it for him. Cephas Jr. was playing the piano to accompany the silent movies that were shown at the Dixie Theatre in downtown Marianna every evening. It was job. It better than nothing, but I have a feeling it was something to simply make a living, and his heart wasn’t entirely in it.

The Wilson house, at the corner of Clinton and Jefferson Streets was getting crowded: His sister Kathleen (1898-1981) was married and living in the family home with her husband Ira Martin, and son, Ira Jr. So, when Cephas Jr. would come home from work, wanting to unwind, to think, to draw, or write, or create, he couldn’t. It was loud and busy at the house where he grew up. He was probably feeling less like this was his home in those days.

On April 2, 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a Declaration of War with Germany.

Four days later, on April 6, Wilson got his Declaration of War.

Two weeks later, on April 20, 1917, Cephas Love Wilson Jr. made his Declaration of Independence:

The Marianna Times-Courier reported that Cephas Jr. went to Jacksonville, Florida, along with several Marianna young men to enlist in the U.S. Army. I often wonder how much of Cephas Jr.’s desire to join the U.S. Army was based in patriotism, or in relief to be away from home. Maybe it was both.

Regardless, Cephas Jr. was finally on his own.

Things began to move fast that summer for Cephas Jr.: He completed basic training within weeks at Ft. Screven, Georgia, then was sent to the Washington, D.C. Barracks, where he was promoted to Corporal, and assigned to 1st Engineers, Company B.

Army Transport List, with Cephas Love Wilson, Jr., en route to France. Source: Ancestry.com

On August 6, 1917, Cephas Jr. was sent to the port at Hoboken, N.J., where he boarded the USS Finland (ID-4543), a troop transport, for Brest, France.

According to the Marianna Times-Courier, when Cephas Jr. arrived at Brest on August 20, he sent his mother a telegram that he had made it safely. His unit remained in Brest for training until about August 30.

I don’t know what Cephas Jr. expected when he enlisted, or what he thought it would be like once he landed in a foreign country — but when he returned to Florida in 1919, when the war was over, he was a completely different man, and he’d earned the respect of his father.

How do I know?

No, I have not found his letters or diaries — I wish — but I found something better! You’ll love it!

Yeah, it’s huge! Not to tease you about it, but it covers a lot of ground, and is deserving of its own post. I’ll have something up about it in the next day or so.


The Junker


Sometimes this damn book reminds me of a guy I knew from my high school days back in Mississippi.

Public transportation back then was laughable, unreliable, and/or nonexistent. Also, teenagers wouldn’t be caught dead riding to school on a public bus or in a car with one’s parents.

Carpools with friends was passable, but the really big deal when I was in high school was having your own car.

So, this 15-year-old guy I knew, who lived in my neighborhood, desperately wanted his own car. His dad told him: We can’t afford it, so if you want your own car, you’ll have to do it all on your own.

The 15-year-old saved up his money from mowing lawns, working nights and after school at the local movie theatre, et cetera, and bought a junker off of an old guy from Rankin County who used to come to the theatre on occasion. The old guy lived wayyyy out in the country. I remember it cost the kid a whopping $150 bucks cash (it was a big deal back then, especially when his dad didn’t hand him any of it, and minimum wage was $3.35 an hour).

The old guy from Rankin County hauled the junker to the 15-year-old’s house and literally dropped it in the driveway.

The dad went ballistic, but there was nowhere else to put it.

I remember the 15-year-old worked on the junker for an entire summer, nonstop. He hunted parts from the junkyard, trying to piece the engine together. He bought parts from the local hardware stores when he could. The whole thing, really, was a piece of crap, but he was dedicated that summer, and determined to, at a minimum, get it running. He’d worry about what it looked like later.

Come September, the junker was abandoned in the driveway. There was a huge grease spot underneath it. Parts were scattered here and there, and the 15-year-old didn’t touch it once school started. It was more than he could handle, I suppose. He lost interest.

The 15-year-old’s dad had to get rid of it. Eventually, another teenager from Tougaloo either bought it off of the dad for $75, or the dad paid the kid $75 to take it. The 15-year-old went back to riding in to school via carpool.

Wouldn’t you know it, by February or March, the Tougaloo teenager had the junker running. It still looked like a piece of crap on the outside, but that’s not the point — the Tougaloo kid stuck with it, and got the junker to run.


Right now, Emmett’s book feels like a junker in my driveway. I’ve collected the parts for the engine, but I’m having trouble piecing it together. I don’t know when I’ll get Emmett’s vehicle running, and sometimes, it feels entirely frustrating.

I can see in my mind’s eye how I want Emmett’s vehicle to come together, but dammit, a lot of the parts are scattered around in my metaphorical yard, tools strewn here and there, too.

The insides of the vehicle aren’t pretty either: The back seat of the gutted insides are sitting under a metaphorical tree, all torn with stuffing coming out of the seat, with a bird sitting and shitting on the broken head rest.

But I’m not going to let it go.

And I’m not going to give it up.

I still love working on this project. I still can see this thing completed in my mind’s eye, but ~sigh~, you know?

Time to put my on my writing overalls and get started.

In Search of Himself


Continuing our story about Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. from here:

We next find Cephas Jr. and his father, Cephas Love Wilson Sr., visiting Emmett in Pensacola:

The roster of the San Carlos for May 11, 1911. From The Pensacola Journal, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Another clue of what’s going on, as reported on page 3 of the May 11, 1911 issue of The Pensacola Journal, from ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Cephas Jr., age 17, should still be enrolled at Marianna High School, but he appears to be clerking in his father’s law firm. It’s a logical leap — at this point, Cephas Sr. still has dreams of living in the Governor’s mansion, and of building a Wilson-family political dynasty. Cephas Sr. and the Florida Democratic party are in the process of moving potential candidates for U.S. Congress around on their chess board. Emmett is being groomed for a Congressional run; and so, why wouldn’t Cephas Sr. decide to groom his namesake for further Wilson family prominence?

But what were Cephas Jr.’s dreams?

Without any of his actual letters or anecdotes from family members, it is hard to tell, but if we observe his actions as they were written about in contemporary media, we see that he loved music, he loved photography, and he was a gifted artist (much like his mother, Lula). We get the picture (no pun intended).

Here’s why I believe Cephas Jr. was clerking for his father (keep in mind by this point, 1912, Cephas Jr. is 18 years old):

Catalog of the University of Florida, 1912-1913. From Archive.org

Cephas Jr. is a junior in the College of Law at the University of Florida in Gainesville — an upperclassman. So, when did he finish high school?

I don’t doubt Cephas Jr. was intelligent. But it is dubious that he’d go right from high school into advanced academic standing that quickly. There were definitely several strings pulled for Cephas Jr., by his father. Cephas Sr. only wanted the very best for his son, and he knew what it took to get there in 1912 — a law degree. It’s natural he’d want his son and namesake to have similar aspirations, and at least similar professional success.

But law school? I sense that was Cephas Sr’s dream, not his son’s, because otherwise, why wouldn’t Cephas Sr. encourage a vocation in the fine arts?

Cephas Jr.’s definitely there, ready or not. Here’s another source listing Cephas Jr. in the junior law class of The Seminole for 1913. Source: University of Florida archive

Cephas Jr. threw himself into campus social activities, also likely at the encouragement of his father. Source: 1913 Seminole; University of Florida archive.

Source: 1913 Seminole, University of Florida archive

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: 1913 Seminole, University of Florida archive.

Compare this photo of Cephas Jr. to his father, below. Striking resemblance, isn’t it?

Cephas Love Wilson Sr., about 1910. Striking resemblance between father and son, down to the bow tie.

As I go through the clips, I get the feeling that Cephas Jr. wasn’t happy at The University of Florida. I don’t believe it had anything to do with his intelligence, or ability to do the work: He just didn’t want to be a lawyer. Cephas Jr. was being pushed to do something he wasn’t ready or willing to do — similar to what happened with Uncle Emmett.

Fast forward to April 1913:

Cephas Jr. is home. Is this when he told his father he wasn’t cut out for law school? April 13, 1913 issue of The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Cephas Jr. moved back home at the end of the Spring, 1913 semester, and apparently got a job with the local newspaper as a photographer. He never finished his degree at the University of Florida, and he spent the next few years in search of a way to market his talents:

Cartoonists Magazine, Volume 2, 1916. Source: Archive.org

And an article in the Marianna Times-Courier for 1917 mentioned that he had a job playing the piano in the local movie theatre. Cephas Jr. is clearly not sitting around twiddling his thumbs; but, he was working in a variety of different jobs to earn a living. It is unlikely he went back to work for his father.

Then — the U.S. entered World War I, and things changed for Cephas Jr.

I’ll continue with his story in a few days.

Why This Is Taking So Long, Part IV


Want to know why writing Emmett’s book has been taking so long?

I submit:

This. The newspaper is filed under the wrong ‘state.’ If you do a state-specific search (as I have been doing), this source would not show up. Doh. Source: http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

I found this during my ‘go back and check databases for updates’ routine. Something I do every other month or so.

The Chronicling America database is huge, which is why one would want to limit the searches to states, or specific newspapers.

It isn’t that I haven’t done an entire sweep of the database this size before, but it can be overwhelming to see thousands of items returned in a large sweep.  I’m glad the database is there — and I’m thrilled to have found this extra source of information. Emmett’s uncles and cousins, and his sister, Katie Wilson Meade, lived in Alexandria and were community/church leaders — there’s wonderful new articles to read about Emmett’s family in this paper!

My concern, as always, is missing or overlooking information that’s out there, but information I’d never find because it is misfiled or mislabeled, or has typos. This is one of the reasons I do regular checks of databases. The effort is completely worth it, but I’d never considered the idea that the newspaper in this particular database would have been filed under the wrong state.

And, of course, this will mean going back into the databases to consider that variable.

Commencing rolling up the sleeves and digging in….





The Puzzler


The next information I have about Emmett’s nephew, Cephas Love Wilson Jr., is dated 1905 — he’s 10 years old — and back in the day, having one’s name printed in newspaper (especially The Pensacola Journal, a paper with a much larger circulation than the Marianna Times-Courier) was a big deal.

CLW Jr. was into puzzles — something I can definitely relate to. For several weeks during 1905, The Pensacola Journal offered a silver dollar to the first person (determined by postmark) who could solve the puzzle each week (a dollar in 1905 is about $27 in 2017).

Ceph Jr.’s first try at the puzzler contests found in The Pensacola Journal. June 4, 1905. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Alas, Ceph Jr. didn’t win the prize. Here were the results of the June 4 contest:

The results of the June 4 puzzler, as reported in The Pensacola Journal, June 11, 1905. Ceph Jr. was a runner-up. (Apologies for the blurry image; you can see the original here.  From ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Ceph Jr. was persistent. I have clips from several of the 1905 edition of The Pensacola Journal where he was listed as a runner-up, and always with the correct answers; always a participant, but never the winner.

Still, I admire and respect the fact he took the time to solve these brain-teasers, all without the benefit of technology, probably always on his own. I can picture Ceph Jr. energetically jumping on the puzzle as soon as his father was finished reading the paper — methodically tracking down the right answers, then rushing off to the Post Office with his sealed envelope, hoping his was the first, hoping to win the silver dollar!

Another ‘also ran’ for Ceph Jr., in the September 17, 1905 edition of The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov