Thursday, February 12, 2015

The case of the missing Leonidas: A Genealogical Mystery Solved

Leonidas-what an incredible name. Any Mother who names her baby Leonidas, undoubtedly has huge aspirations for his life.

Paintng of King Leonidas that hangs in the Louvre in Paris
Meaning and History:
From Greek λεων (leon) "lion". Leonidas was a Spartan king of the 5th century BC who sacrificed his life defending the pass of Thermopylae from the Persians. This was also the name of a 3rd-century saint and martyr, the father of Origin, from Alexandria. Like a Lion.
Statue in Greece of Leonidas
King Leonidas was quite the guy, he even has his very own statue in Thermopylae, Greece. He is credited with leading the Spartans in their valiant fight with the Persians. All accounts say that despite the fact the Spartans lost, Leonidas sacrificed his life in the effort. His image has been captured in art, music and literature for centuries.
I was excited to find out that Leonidas was the name of my second great grand uncle, Leonidas Melvin Pentecost. I can imagine my third Great Grandmother, Polly Pentecost, sitting in her hospital bed, looking down into the face of her newborn son and proclaiming, hand and head lifted and gazing towards the heavens, "this child shall be known as Leonidas."  It's quite the "Lion King" moment. The offspring of pioneers, Leonidas  was born in Winder, Jackson, Georgia in 1823, The event of his birth was definitely a source of joy and pride for the young Pentecost family. The only problem with this vision is that Polly Pentecost gave birth to little Leonidas, the third of seven Pentecost boys, in a primitive log cabin in Georgia, and not a modern hospital, not under the most hygienic, private or safe of circumstances.  Surely she and my third great grandfather, John Wesley Pentecost, were thrilled with the gift of another healthy baby boy, and the promise that their lineage would flourish. Whether they knew the story of the Spartan King Leonidas or not, is unknown. (You can read about it at ) What they did know is that they had big dreams for their family, and this newborn son. Would Leonidas Pentecost fulfill the destiny of such a heroic name?
Leonidas Melvin Pentecost would become somewhat of a mystery, but would no doubt fulfill the definition of his name. My genealogist grandparents, Frank and Louise Hay Pentecost, who I've written about on many occasions, would study Leonidas life. Leonidas was one of eight Pentecost brothers. The Pentecost family, led a successful life, with their family home being located on the stage stop in Newnan, Georgia. They ran a profitable mercantile business and from what the census shows, somewhat of a primitive hotel for travelers. John Wesley was a veteran of the war of 1812, and leader during the Creek uprising of 1836. Upon his return from the latter conflict, John Wesley would fall ill and die shortly after his return home, most likely from his injuries. He left behind a wife and eight sons, the youngest, my great, great grandfather, Milford Eugene Pentecost,(you can read about Milford here) had not yet celebrated his third birthday. Nonetheless, brave and beautiful Polly would raise all eight boys, all alone, to adulthood. 
Seven of eight boys fought in the Civil War. Yes, that's correct, SEVEN. Polly would lose two of her sons during that conflict, Most likely breaking her heart. Now, back to Leonidas...Leonidas would graduate in 1855 from Georgia Medical College. 
Red circle shows Leonidas Pentecost name listed as a graduate
As reported by my grandparents in their Pentecost genealogy "There is a Tide Which...", Leonidas would enroll in the "Butler's True Blue's" also know as the 17th Alabama Infantry, Company K in September of 1861, and served valiantly till the end of the civil war. Although no evidence has been found to corroborate,  Leonidas most likely used his skills as a young physician during his time. Battles of Shiloh, Nashville, Franklin and Bentonville were part of the combat seen by the 17th Alabama regiment. In 1865, Leonidas was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain.  Nonetheless, Leonidas disappeared after the war, from all accounts, he never returned home to Polly and Georgia and his remaining brothers. He was assumed dead. 
Roster for Leonidas Pentecost
But alas, Dr. Leonidas M. Pentecost was not dead. Although he lived only a few more years, until 1867, Leonidas set up a new home and worked as a physician in Greenville, Alabama following the Civil war.  How do I know this? Because Leonidas is buried in Greenville, in what is now called Pioneer Cemetery-below is a record on file in the Cemetery office:
Burial Record

So, Leonidas fulfilled the aspirations his bold name offered-he lived the life of a lion, a Greek God, a warrior.He became a doctor, he served valiantly throughout the entire civil war, most likely providing medical care to his fellow soldiers.  However, why did Leonidas go to Greenville? This is a new mystery, and perhaps the stuff legends are made of...
Gate to Pioneer Cemetery, where Leonidas is buried