“TEN CENT” BILL YOPP
By Scott B. Thompson, Sr.
Bill Yopp was born in Laurens County, Georgia. Like his parents he was a slave belonging to the family of Jeremiah Yopp. Bill was the fourth of eight children. The Yopp family owned two major plantations. One was located in the western part of Dublin centered around the Brookwood Subdivision. A second was located along the eastern banks of Turkey Creek near the community known as Moore’s Station. Other small plantations were scattered over the county. Jeremiah Yopp assigned Bill to his son, Thomas. Bill later said that he followed Thomas like “Mary’s little lamb.” The two instantly became friends. They fished, hunted, and played together. Bill’s childhood, while stifled by slavery, was molded by education and religion within the plantation, which included regular church services.
On January 16, 1861, Jeremiah Yopp attended the Convention of Secession at the capital in Milledgeville. Laurens Countians voted to side with the Cooperationists who favored remaining in the Union. Yopp, the largest plantation owner in western Laurens County, was joined by Dr. Nathan Tucker, a wealthy plantation owner from northeastern Laurens County. Dr. Tucker, a northerner by birth, voted to remain in the Union. Yopp cast his vote with the majority who voted for secession.
The first company of Confederate Soldiers in Laurens County were organized on July 9th, 1861 as the Blackshear Guards. The company eventually became attached to the 14th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Thomas Yopp was elected First Lieutenant. Nine days later Thomas Yopp was promoted to Captain when Rev. W.S. Ramsay was elected Lt. Colonel of the regiment. Bill wanted to join Lieutenant Yopp. Bill enlisted in the Blackshear Guards as the company drummer. In those days the position of company drummer was not an easy assignment. Marching in front of company going into battle was not the best place to be. The company went to Atlanta for training and then to Lynchburg, Virginia, just after the Battle of the First Manassas. The company was sent to West Virginia in August where they fought under the command of Gen. John B. Floyd, a former Secretary of War in the Buchanan Administration. Gen. Robert E. Lee was in overall command of the West Virginia campaign.
Bill often found himself between the battle lines. He often said “I had no inclination to go to the Union side, as I did not know the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers I did now, and I believed then as now, tried and true friends are better than friends you do not know.” On several occasions Private Yopp was sent out on foraging missions. Bill ceased to forage for food because his Captain and friend found it to be “wrong – doing.” Bill obtained a brush and box of shoe blackening and shined the shoes of the men of the regiment. He soon began performing other services for the men. Bill charged ten cents, no matter what the service was. The nickname of “Ten Cent Bill” was penned on Bill. Bill often had more money than anyone in the company. His fellow company members took delight in teaching him to read and write and when he was sick, took care of him. Bill had a case of home sickness. Captain Yopp paid for his trip home. Bill realized that his place was back with Captain Yopp in Virginia. During the winter of 1861 the company became part of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The first battle of the peninsular campaign of 1862 took place on May 31st. The 14th Georgia under the command of Gen. Wade Hampton got into a bloody fight with the Federal forces. Four Confederate Generals were wounded or killed. Captain Yopp was also wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines. Bill comforted Captain Yopp and accompanied to the field hospital and after a short stay in a Richmond Hospital, Bill went back to Laurens County with the Captain. Capt. Yopp recuperated from his injury and went back to join the company by the fall of 1862.
At the bloody siege of Fredericksburg, Captain Yopp fell when a shell burst over him. Again Bill was there coming to the aid of his friend. Captain Yopp recovered during the winter. The company saw Stonewall Jackson being carried off to a field hospital at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Bill witnessed the pure carnage of Gettysburg from the company’s position on Seminary Ridge. The Blackshear Guards missed most of the fighting those three days in July, 1863.
On August 31, 1863 Capt. Yopp cashiered, or bought out his commission. He returned to the ranks as a private until April 2, 1864. Captain Yopp then transferred to the Confederate Navy on board the cruiser “Patrick Henry.” Bill was not allowed to go with Thomas Yopp.
By some accounts Bill returned home until the close of the war. By others, he was present at Gen. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. In May of 1865, he learned of Captain Yopp’s return home. He left just in time to see the wagon train of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in his attempted escape through Laurens County. Times were hard – for people of both races. Bill worked as a share cropper until 1870. Bill went to Macon taking a job as a bell boy at the Brown House. There he became acquainted with many of the influential men of Georgia. Bill accompanied the owner of the hotel back home to Connecticut. After his duties were finished Bill was given train fare to return home. Bill became fascinated with New York City and worked there for a short time. In 1873 Bill returned home for a short time before taking a position with the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. Bill fell ill with yellow fever and returned home to recuperate and spend some time with Captain Yopp.
Bill returned to New York where he worked as a porter in an Albany Hotel. There he again met the influential men of the state. He briefly served a family in California. In his travels, Bill visited the capitals of Europe. He worked for ten years as a porter in the private car of the president of Delaware and Hudson Railroad. Bill then worked for the United States Navy aboard the “Collier Brutus”. His travels amounted to a trip around the world.
Bill then realized that old age had crept upon him. He returned home. He shortly found his friend Captain Yopp in poverty. Captain Yopp was about to enter the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Atlanta. Bill took a job on the Central of Georgia Railroad. During World War I, Bill was given a place to live at Camp Wheeler near Macon. He made regular visits to the Soldier’s Home providing Captain Yopp with some of his money along with fruits and other treats. Bill won the admiration of the officers at Camp Wheeler, who presented him with a gold watch upon his departure.
Bill’s generosity toward Capt. Yopp soon spread to all of the soldiers in the home. He enlisted the help of the editor of ” The Macon Telegraph ” for aid in a fund raising campaign. Bill and his friends were able to raise funds for each veteran at Christmas time. The campaign became more successful every year. ” The Dublin Courier Herald” contributed to the campaign in 1919 when the amount given to each veteran was three dollars. Bill took time at each Christmas to speak to the veterans in the chapel of the home. The veterans were so impressed they presented him a medal in March of 1920. Bill had a book published about his life. The books were sold with the proceeds going to the soldiers in the home.
By this time, Capt. Yopp was failing. The Board of Trustees voted to allow Bill a permanent place at the home. Bill stayed at his friend’s side, just as he had done in the muddy trenches of Virginia nearly sixty years before. Captain Yopp died on the morning of January 23rd, 1920. Bill, now in his eighties, gave the funeral address. He reminisced about the good times and his affection for his friend.
Bill was a popular member of the Atlanta Camp No. 159 of the United Confederate Veterans, who held their meetings every third Monday at the capitol. Bill died sometime after the 1933 reunion. He was buried with his fellow soldiers at the Confederate Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. After the body of Amos Rucker was disinterred to be laid next to the body of his wife, Bill became the lone African – American soldier of the Confederate Army to lie in the cemetery. His gravestone provided by the State of Georgia reads:
DRUMMER BILL YOPP, CO. H, 14TH GA. INF., C.S.A.
SOURCE MATERIAL: History of Bill Yopp, R. de T. Lawrence, Atlanta, Ga., 1920; The Forgotten Confederates, by Charles Lunsford, “The Confederate Veteran,” Nov./Dec., 1992, pp. 12 – 15, Dublin Courier Herald, January 27, 1920, p. 4.