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What more can be written about the Civil War? Conceivably, it is the most studied conflict ever. Here, we do not attempt an overall history. That would be presumptuous. However, we do hope to provide some insights into how Caswell County participated in, and was affected by, the Civil War. Writing about the Civil War from a Caswell County perspective is difficult because there is no single viewpoint, there are many. Moreover, like much of North Carolina, Caswell County was reluctant to leave the Union. This was the position held by influential Caswell County resident Bedford Brown (1795-1870). However, once the decision was made, Caswell County produced its share of troops, including the Yanceyville Grays, the Milton Blues, the Leasburg Grays, the Caswell Rifles, the Caswell Rangers, and the Caswell Boys. The Bank of Yanceyville helped finance the Confederate efforts, being one of the best capitalized banks in North Carolina before the Civil War. Caswell soldiers fought in all the major engagements of the war, and Caswell native John Baptist Smith (1843-1923) invented for the Confederate navy a signaling device that was proved much more effective than the old system and allowed blockade-running ships to more successfully avoid enemy ships. Leasburg's Jacob Thompson (1810-1865) served the Confederacy in serval capacities, the most notorious of which involved covert activities in Canada and on the Great Lakes. Of course the Civil War devastated the South, including and arguably especially, Caswell County. This was a difficult past to overcome. And, while the post-war reconstruction period is not covered in this article, that difficult time may have prolonged recovery. Some argue that Caswell County never recovered from the Civil War and continues to live in the past. On the Square in Yanceyville is a Confederate Monument, a lone Confederate soldier looking northward, still on guard.
Caswell County historian William Powell is best looked to in an effort to understand what was happening leading up the Civil War, and the consequences of the decision made to abandon the Union. Much of he following is from When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977), supplemented with archival material and excerpts from The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985):
Even though Caswell was a county of many slave owners, most of whom held a comparatively large number of slaves, her people were not among the advocates of disunion over the question of the admission of "free states." Caswell, nevertheless, was one of sixteen counties in the state having a larger slave than white population. In the 1840s and 1850s, a period of high feeling on the question of slavery and states' rights, Caswell was in the Fifth North Carolina Congressional District and represented by men who were opposed to the destruction of the Union. Abraham Venable, in fact, was counted a friend of the Union and opposed to radicals on either side. John Kerr, Jr. and others felt that the dissolution of the Union would be fatal for the South. Their best security lay in stability and the maintenance of the status quo. Kerr, however, was thoroughly Southern in his sentiments and resented efforts to deny the South her constitutional rights as those rights were then understood.
The voice of North Carolina spoke the same sentiments. The love of the United States of America, so long expressed by Bedford Brown (1795-1870), Willie P. Mangum, and a host of other Tar Heels, was genuine. They felt that adjustments could be made and that reasonable men would prevail. This, however, was not to be. Events outside North Carolina and certainly beyond the control of her leaders dictated that this state would follow the lead of her more volatile neighbors.
The election of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, to the presidency in November 1860, by a minority of the total popular vote although by a clear majority in the electoral college, alarmed North Carolinians. Raleigh newspaper editor William Woods Holden (1818-1892) urged the people of the state to "Watch and Wait." After the war, Holden would become governor. Many states' rights Whigs, claiming that the right of revolution was one reserved to the states, agreed with William A. Graham that "the necessity for revolution does not yet exist." In an address to the state legislature on November 20, Governor John W. Ellis said that Lincoln's election did not at that time pose a threat, but "an effort to employ the military power of the General Government against one of the Southern States would present an emergency demanding prompt and decided action on our part. it can but be manifest that a blow thus aimed at one of the Southern States would involve the whole country in civil war, the destructive consequences of which to us could only be controlled by our ability to resist those engaged in it."
Ellis was an ardent secessionist, and he anticipated that force would be used to hold the Southern states in the Union. He therefore advised that preparations be made to resist this force. But when he urged the calling of a state convention for that purpose, he was moving faster than public opinion warranted. During November and December mass meetings were held in more than thirty counties in which petitions adopted and the speeches made represented every shade of opinion. The secession of South Carolina on December 20, 1860, caused an outburst of secession enthusiasm in many towns in North Carolina, but two days later when the legislature recessed until after Christmas, no agreement had been reached on the calling of a convention.
There was nothing to do but "watch and wait," as Holden advised. The legislature reassembled on January 7, 1861, and two days later word came that Mississippi had followed the example of South Carolina, with Florida and Alabama withdrawing from the Union on the 10th and 11th, then Georgia on the 19th. The secession of Louisiana and Texas in the final week of January took all of the Deep South out of the Union. When representatives from these six states gathered at Montgomery, Alabama, on February 4, 1861, and adopted a constitution for confederated cooperation, the process for achieving a separate "nation of the South" was completed. This meant that on the south, North Carolina now bordered the Confederate States of America, and it was no longer possible to avoid a decision one way or another.
Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861. On the 15 March 1861 Senator Stephen A. Douglas from Illinois offered a resolution calling for the withdrawal of United States troops from all of the forts in the seceded states except at Key West and Tortugas, and North Carolina Senator Thomas L. Clingman introduced a similar resolution. Reports circulated, and Lincoln did not deny them, that the forts, including Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, were to be evacuated. presidential advisors prevailed upon him to reconsider, however, and when word reached South Carolina that federal ships and troops were en route to Charleston, Fort Sumter was fired on on April 12 and fell to state forces.
In Yanceyville,just a few days earlier, a "Southern Rights" meeting was held. The Milton Chronicle on April 12, 1861, concluded that all hopes of "reconstruction" of the Union was lost. A "Jeff. Davis Club of Southern Rights men of Caswell" was formed and an official constitution drawn up. The Milton paper concluded that "it is time to stop 'watching & waiting' and ACT." The editor observed that "up to this time, we have been battling for compromise and ultimatum and have advocated the 'Watch and Wait' policy; but blacker clouds continue to gather, and as the gloom deepens our hope dies out; day by day we are more clearly convinced that delay is impolitic . . . . Henceforth then we cease to preach from the 'Watch and Wait' text, believing that it only inspires the Republicans with impudence to insult and disgrace us. They have forced upon us this position, for our love for the old Union is deep rooted and hard to unfix, and it is not without a heavy heart, that we throw a sod upon our Country's grave and raise a cry for secession."
Two days after Fort Sumter was secured, Lincoln called on the governors of all the states still in the Union to provide militiamen to aid in restoring the Union. Southern conservatives who had been shocked by the attack on Fort Sumter were now fired with sectional patriotism by this threat to uphold federal authority by military coercion. The prospect of invasion by federal troops welded the South into a unit in defense of the states' rights to resist such force.
The governors of all the border states refused to comply with the request from Washington. In his reply to the Secretary of War, Governor Ellis stated that he regarded the levy of troops "as in violation of the Constitution and as a gross usurpation of power." He declared: "You can get no troops from North Carolina." On April 17, 1861, Virginia passed an ordinance of secession and Arkansas did the same on May 6, 1861. The Tennessee legislature adopted an alliance with the Confederacy on May 7, 1861, and passed an ordinance of secession which was later approved by a popular majority.
North Carolina was completely surrounded by Confederate states and on April 17, 1861, Governor Ellis called a special session of the General Assembly to convene on May 1. The first act of the legislature was to set May 13 as the day for an election of delegates to assemble as a state convention on May 20.
On May 4, 1861, the Caswell County Justices called a session of the Caswell County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions to appoint judges to hold an election on May 13, 1861, to select delegates for a state convention to meet on May 20, 1861. Caswell County candidates for election to the convention were: Hon. Bedford Brown (511 votes); Capt. John A. Graves (493 votes); Dr. J. E. Williamson (448 votes); Hon. S. P. Hill (155 votes); and Richard I. Smith, Esq. (136 votes). Brown and Graves were declared elected, but it was reported that the returns from Dr. Williamson's own precinct were not received in time to be counted. The Convention remained in existence until the Spring of 1862 and held four sessions. Captain Graves resigned on May 23, 1861, to accept a commission in the army, and a new election was held to which Williamson was chosen as his replacement. The Caswell County Court had, on 25 May 1861, ordered "judges to held an election on June 3, 1861, to elect a member to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Captain John A. Graves in the State Convention." The new delegate took his seat on June 10, 1861.
The convention met on May 20, 1861, considered, and rejected a nine-paragraph ordinance setting forth the reasons and the principles that justified secession, not as a constitutional right but in reaction to the unconstitutional and coercive policy of the Lincoln administration. Instead of taking this path out of the Union, the convention chose to pass an ordinance simply repealing the ordinance of 1789 by which North Carolina had joined the Union in the first place. The assembled delegates then asserted that North Carolina was once again a completely sovereign, free, and independent state. This was done unanimously. Bedford Brown, John A. Graves and other former supporters of the Union reluctantly concluded that there was no place for North Carolina in a nation that would deny sovereign states their constitutional rights and that would call on one state for troops to force the compliance of other states with clearly unjustified directives. Many old Unionists found Jonathan Worth expressing their own sentiments. he thought that the ultimate end of the secession would involve a series of sectional governments that would require "the cartridge box instead of the ballot box" to preserve them. Although he disliked the idea of secession, Worth denounced the provocative course taken by the Lincoln administration. Lincoln, he maintained, "showed want of common sense in adopting the course he did" in reinforcing Fort Sumter. Although Worth, and with him others of like sentiment, disliked extremists on both sides, he could not now hesitate to support his own section. "Lincoln," he said, "has made us a unit to resist until we repel our invaders or die." He confessed to a member of his family, however, that "I think the South is committing suicide, but my lot is cast with the South and being unable to manage the ship, I intend to face the breakers manfully and go down with my companions."
Worth was perhaps applauded by others of like mind when he concluded that if Lincoln "had withdrawn the garrison of Fort Sumter on the principle of military necessity and in obedience to what seemed to be the will of Congress . . . this state and Tennessee and the other states which had not passed the ordinance of secession, would have stood up for the Union." Instead, at this very crucial time, Lincoln ordered the fleet to Charleston harbor. "All of us who had stood by the Union, felt that he had abandoned us and had surrendered us to the tender mercies of Democracy & the Devil."
Four days after North Carolina seceded, Joseph J. Lawson, of the Bank of Yanceyville, wrote to his long-time business associate in New York, Lucius Hopkins, asking for his views on the problems facing the nation. Lawson pointed out that "you must know the South is only contending for her rights, and no unprejudiced mind could say truthfully that there was anything wrong in that. . . ." But the lines of communication were already broken, and Hopkins perhaps never received the letter from his Southern friend.
Caswell County Companies
As of May 20, 1861, Caswell County no longer was part of the Union and war seemed inevitable. Men from Caswell County volunteered for service at once and by early summer six companies were in training camps. Later conscription acts took into service some who were less eager to fight, but one way or another the following units were formed composed wholly or in significant measure of men from Caswell County:
- Company I, Fifth Regiment
- Company H, Sixth Regiment (Caswell Boys)
- Companies A, C, D, Thirteenth Regiment (Yanceyville Grays, Milton Blues, Leasburg Grays)
- Company G, Twenty-Second Regiment (Caswell Rifles)
- Company C, Forty-First Regiment (Caswell Rangers)
- Company I, Forty-Fifth Regiment
- Company H, Fifty-Sixth Regiment
- Company B, Fifty-Ninth Regiment (Mitchell's Partisan Rangers)
- Company G, Seventieth Regiment (First Junior Reserves)
- Company F, Seventy-Seventh Regiment (Senior Reserves)
- Company K, Second Regiment, Home Guards
Milton Blues. The Milton Blues, a company in existence as early as 1819, came forward first and entered Confederate service on or about 24 April 1861, as Company C, Thirteenth Regiment. The Milton Blues left Milton on April 26 for Fort Macon on the coast in Carteret County and arrived the same day. The fort had been occupied just twelve days before by a volunteer corps from the Beaufort area, but by the 26th it had received so many troops from the interior of the state that its capacity was taxed to the utmost. Governor Ellis issued orders sending many of the men to other camps, and the Milton Blues departed on the 29th for Raleigh. On May 23 they were sent on to Garysburg in Northampton County where the were assigned to the Thirteenth Regiment.
The captain of the Milton Blues (Company C) was James T. Mitchell, thirty-three, formerly a mechanic. When the regiment was reorganized in April 1862, he was not re-elected captain, so he transferred in rank to Company B, 59th Regiment, also composed of Caswell men. Mitchell was succeeded by Leonard H. Hunt, 26, former druggist, who served until June 1863, when he was promoted to major and assigned to the staff of Major General William D. Pender. William W. Rainey, twenty-four, former farmer, became captain of the company in 1863 but was fatally wounded at Gettysburg. Drillmaster Thomas C. Evans, twenty-four, was elected to succeed Rainey and was with the company at the Appomattox surrender in 1865. Lieutenants of Company C were:
There were 138 enlisted men. Three members of the company were promoted and transferred to regimental headquarters. Jasper Fleming recently promoted to first lieutenant, was appointed Adjutant on 3 June 1861, but had to resign his commission at the end of 1862 because of typhoid fever. Private William C. Stephens was promoted to second lieutenant when he was transferred and made Assistant Surgeon. Private Henry Walker was made Sergeant Major and at the resignation of Lieutenant Jasper Fleming, Walker was commissioned and made Adjutant. Private Charles D. Hill was made Quartermaster Sergeant on 3 June 1861, and in September, with the rank of captain, he became regimental Quartermaster.
- William T. Brandon
- William B. Chandler
- Champion T. N. Davis
- Jasper Fleming
- Eustace Hunt
- John P. Rainey, Jr.
- William G. Stephens
- Samuel R. Thornton
In July 1861, Caswell County authorized payment of $327.95 to the Milton Blues for amounts already expended (apparently before the 20 May 1861 secession date).
Yanceyville Grays. The Yanceyville Grays also saw a bit of the state before joining the regiment with which they would serve throughout the war. On May 4, five days after enlisting at Yanceyville, the unit was ordered to Weldon and then to Raleigh where it remained until the 23rd before returning to Weldon. Shortly afterwards the Yanceyville Grays moved a very short distance across the Roanoke River east of Weldon to Garysburg where they became Company A of the Thirteenth Regiment. The captain of Company A (Yanceyville Grays) was 38-year-old John Azariah Graves (1822-1864), a lawyer, who served until the following April when he was promoted to major and transferred to the 47th Regiment. Graves was promoted to lieutenant colonel in January 1863. He was wounded and taken prisoner at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and died in Johnson's Island Prison in Lake Erie on March 2, 1864. His body was returned to his family in Caswell County, and he is buried at the First Baptist Church of Yanceyville. Elijah Benton Withers (1837-1898), twenty-five, also a lawyer and an 1859 graduate of the University of North Carolina, succeeded Graves as captain of the Yanceyville Grays. In 1863, Withers was promoted to major and transferred to regimental headquarters. He was succeeded as captain by Ludolphus B. Henderson, a 28-year-old former dentist. In 1864, Withers was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Lieutenants in the Yanceyville Grays were:
There also were 154 noncommissioned officers and privates in the company. Five of the enlisted men were tapped for service at the regimental level: Private John Henry McAden was made Assistant Surgeon and later Surgeon, after which he was transferred from the regiment to brigade headquarters; Private John William Williamson was made sergeant major; and Private Robert D. Lawson and Sergeant Daniel C. Hill were made Quartermaster Sergeants. Nathaniel K. Roan enlisted as a sergeant but on 1 July 1861, was promoted to Ensign (Color Sergeant) for the regiment.
- Henry B. Fowler
- George W. Gunn
- David S. Lockett
- Bartlett Y. McAden
- Marmaduke Williams Norfleet
- Felix L. Poteat
- Wiley P. Robertson
- James N. Williamson
- Walter S. Williamson
Leasburg Grays. The Leasburg Grays were able to settle down more quickly. Having enlisted at Leasburg on May Day, the men departed for Raleigh and arrived on May 2. on the 23rd they left for Garysburg and assignment as Company D, Thirteenth Regiment. The captain of the Leasburg Grays (Company d) was John T. Hambrick, thirty-eight, a merchant in civilian life. When the regiment was reorganized in April 1862 he was not re-elected captain, yet soon afterwards he was promoted to major and transferred to regimental headquarters. In October he resigned his commission because of serious illness. Former teacher Henry A. Rogers, twenty-seven, succeeded Hambrick as company commander but he too was promoted to major and transferred to regimental command. William G. Wood, twenty-one, formerly a student, succeeded to the command of the company and in 1863 was promoted to captain. Wounded and captured at Gettysburg in July, he was held until the end of the war. The next company commander was Thomas J. Stephens, a twenty-four-old former teacher, who had enlisted as a sergeant, been commissioned in 1862, and was a captain by the end of the year. Lieutenants in the company were:
There were 122 enlisted men in the company. As part of the Thirteenth Regiment, the three Caswell County companies engaged in fighting at, among others, the following:
- John W. Allen
- Thomas J. Chambers
- Emory Brock Holden
- Daniel W. K, Richmond
- William Q. Stephens
- Robert A. Williams
When Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 9 April 1865, he was accompanied by 216 men of the Thirteenth Regiment.
- Williamsburg (March 1862)
- Seven Pines (May-June 1862)
- Seven Days' (June-July 1862)
- Second Manassas (August 1862
- Harper's Ferry (September 1862)
- South Mountain (or Boonsboro) (September 1862)
- Antietam (September 1862)
- Fredericksburg (December 1862)
- Chancellorsville (May 1863)
- Hagerstown (July 1863)
- Bristoe Station (October 1863)
- Spotsylvania Court House
- Cold Harbor
- Appomattox Court House
Caswell Boys. Next to enter service after the three companies discussed above was a unit known as "Caswell Boys." It was enlisted 6 June 1861 and sent to a camp on instruction near Company Shops (now Burlington). It soon became Company H, Sixth Regiment North Carolina State Troops. Captains at various times were:
Lieutenants were: Quintin T. Anderson, William Fleming Covington, Samuel P. Hill, Monroe Oliver, and Levi Hardy Walker. There were 192 non-commissioned officers and privates in the company. The combat history essentially parallels that of the Thirteenth Regiment described above. However, this was the only regiment from North Carolina that was "hotly engaged in the First Battle of Manassas, went through the most important battles of the war, and when Lee surrendered at Appomattox this regiment was there, and of perhaps 2000 men whose names had been on the roll, only about 143 answered the final roll call."
- Alfred A Mitchell (druggist in civilian life)
- William J. Durham
- Thomas J. Ruffin
- Jeremiah A. Lea (imprisoned at Johnson's Island)
One of the most famous of the Caswell Boys was Sergeant Bartlett Yancey Malone from the Hyco Creek community of southeastern Caswell County. He enlisted 6 June 1861 when twenty-two years old and kept a diary that covered December 1861 through March 1865.
Caswell Rifles. Company G, Twenty-Second Regiment, known as the "Caswell Rifles," became part of the regiment when it was organized at a camp near Raleigh in July 1861. Before formally entering Confederate service the company had been formed with Captain Edward M. Scott in command, but he soon transferred to another regiment and was succeeded by J. A. Burns for a few months. John Williams Graves (1836-1872) became company commander in October 1861, and later Stanlin Brinchfield was also a captain. Lieutenants were, in order of the date of commission: O. W. Fitzgerald, James T. Stokes, Peter Smith, J. A. Burnes. J. T. Stokes, J. N. Blackwell, B. S. Mitchell, and Martin H. Cobb. There were eight noncommissioned officers and 137 privates, at least fifty of whom were from counties other than Caswell. Beginning with the Williamsburg and Yorktown campaigns, this regiment saw very much the same service as the Thirteenth Regiment discussed above.
Caswell Rangers. Company C, Forty-First Regiment, known since 1849 as the "Caswell Rangers," served originally as an independent cavalry unit with similar units on scouting and picket duty from the Cape Fear River north to the Blackwater River in Virginia. The Caswell Rangers had been on duty most recently in Lenoir County when the companies were drawn together between September and November 1862 to for the regiment which also was known as the Third Regiment, North Carolina Cavalry. Hannor W. Reinhardt, 29, became the company captain in February 1862 and served until he resigned in September 1864, to be replaced by John W. Hatchett. Lieutenants were Thomas Williamson Farish, Nathaniel S. Henderson, Stephen A. Rice, and James A. Williamson. There were 144 enlisted men in the company. Headquarters for the new regiment were in Kinston. In December 1863, the Caswell Rangers participated in the defense of the bridge across the Neuse River at Goldsboro, North Carolina, and the following February it was one of six regimental companies sent north for service in Virginia. There it was used to protect rail lines in various places, but in October 1863 most of the companies of the regiment, including Company C (Caswell Rangers), were called into camp below Kinston from which they were used against the enemy around New Bern. In the spring and summer of 1864 the regiment was used by Lee's Army of Northern Virginia for screening its movements and for observing Union forces in its front. The Forty-First Regiment did not accompany the army when it moved into the North but instead remained to protect the rail lines of the Confederacy in Virginia. When General Lee returned, the regiment again became active within his army and participated with credit in a number of encounters. It was with Lee at the surrender of Appomattox Court House in April 1865.
Company I, Fifth Regiment. This company, composed of a large number of men from Caswell County, was organized at Camp Winslow, Halifax County, North Carolina, 20 June 1861. John Willis Lea, twenty-three, was the company's first captain, but in 1862 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and transferred to regimental headquarters where he became colonel in 1864. He was succeeded as company commander by Captain John E. Bailey. Several of the lieutenants were from other counties, but among those from Caswell County were James Weldon Lea, 27, a private in Company A, Thirteenth Regiment, when he was elected lieutenant of the company in 1863; Willis M. Lea; James F. M. Travis; and James H. Womack. There were 152 enlisted men in the company, of whom at least 38 came from Caswell. The regiment's field of action was in Virginia, and it was present on almost every occasion when the Thirteenth Regiment saw action. It was at the Battle of Chancellorsville that the great Confederate leader Stonewall Jackson fell from a bullet wound. The doctor who rushed to attend Jackson was from Caswell County, Dr. Calvin Lea of Leasburg, who kept close watch over the fallen soldier and administered the "last dose of medicine to this noble and brave man."
Company I, Forty-Fifth Regiment. This company was organized at Camp Mangum on the North Carolina Railroad four miles north of Raleigh in the early spring of 1862, with Colonel Junius Daniel, a West Point graduate, as commanding officer. The Rev. E. H. Harding of Caswell County was regimental chaplain. Captain Thomas McGehee Smith, a 28-year-old Milton lawyer who had studied at the University of North Carolina commanded the company until June 1863 when he became a major. He was killed in battle near Richmond in 1864 while commanding the regiment. Captain Samuel H. Hines succeeded him. The Milton Chronicle for 12 February 1863 printed an advertisement inserted by then First Lieutenant Hines who had come home seeking recruits for the company. He appealed "to every man who is worth calling a man & who has a spark of patriotism burning within his bosom -- who would not see his Country subjugated -- his house burnt -- his property stolen -- his female relatives insulted and outraged . . . ." Other officers of the company in order of the date of their commissions were: John L. Irvine; William Paylor, Jr.; and J. Glenn Jeffreys. There were nine noncommissioned officers and 97 privates of whom 40 were from Person and Rockingham counties and from Virginia. When Captain Smith became a major, he was transferred to regimental headquarters; others from Caswell County in Company I who moved up to headquarters were J. Glenn Jeffreys, formerly a student at the University of North Carolina, who became Sergeant Major but who was commissioned second lieutenant in January 1863, and returned to company duty; A. J. Harrison who succeeded Jeffreys as Sergeant Major; and J. M. Long, Ordnance Sergeant. The Forth-Fifth Regiment had its initiation into battle at Mechanicsville and elsewhere in Virginia for a short while in the summer of 1862 and was then ordered to Kinston. From that base it served between Kinston and New Bern and around Washington until 1863, when it was ordered north as a part of the invasion that ended at Gettysburg. The regiment participated in that battle and afterwards was with Lee in Virginia until surrender at Appomattox.
Company H, Fifty-Sixth Regiment, was formed at Camp Mangum in the spring and summer of 1862 of men from Alexander, Caswell, Orange, and other counties. The first company commander was Captain T. C. Hallyburton of Alexander County, commissioned in April, but he was appointed Assistant Commissary of Subsistence in August and was succeeded by First Lieutenant William G. Graves. 24, formerly a private in Company A, Thirteenth Regiment (Yanceyville Grays). All of the other officers of the company were from other counties, but three noncommissioned officers were from Caswell: Sergeants Sterling Gunn and Sidney A. Thompson, and Corporal James B. Page. None of the regimental officers were from Caswell. Of the 105 privates in Company H, only 17 were from Caswell. In the summer of 1862 and much of 1863 the regiment served well in eastern North Carolina, particularly around such places as Goldsboro, Wilmington, Tarboro, Williamston, Weldon, and New Bern. Raids through the region by Union forces based along the coast were countered. In the early spring of 1864 the regiment participated in the successful campaign to retake Plymouth,and then it was called to Virginia to help defend Petersburg and Richmond and was present the following spring at the Appomattox surrender.
Company B, Fifty-Ninth Regiment. This outfit was enlisted at Yanceyville beginning in July, 1862. Within less than a month it was accepted into Confederate service as Captain James T. Mitchell's Company of Partisan Rangers, but soon afterwards it was called over to Garysburg and was designated as Company B, Fifty-Ninth Regiment which actually was the Fourth Regiment of North Carolina Cavalry. Other officers were lieutenants E. Brock Holden, Robert T. Jones, and Henry S. Thaxton. There were 182 enlisted men in what must have been a rather mature company as only ten of those for whom ages are recorded were below twenty. Most were in their late twenties and thirties. Three enlisted men were assigned regimental duties: Danie W. Richmond as Quartermaster Sergeant, Thomas R. Long as Ordnance Sergeant, and William G. Bradsher as Musician. What influence an advertisement in the Milton Chronicle on February 12, 1863, had is unknown, of course, but Lieutenant E. Brock Holden identified himself as a recruiting officer offering $100 bounty to recruits, regular pay, and the guarantee that they might keep anything taken from the enemy. The Fifty-Ninth was employed during the summer and fall of 1862 in southeastern Virginia where the enemy was cleared out of about 150 square miles of the coastal region. During the winter the men returned to North Carolina to help contain the enemy who had taken positions along the coast. Drives to Kinston and Goldsboro made by Union General J. G. Foster were opposed by these troops. In the spring of 1863 they were called to Virginia to join General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia on the Gettysburg campaign and they remained with him until the surrender at Appomattox.
Company G, Seventieth Regiment. As the war drew to what seemed to many its inevitable conclusion desperate efforts were made to fill up the ranks of the units that had suffered dreadful losses in their brave attempts to drive out the invaders. The Confederate Congress in February 1864 altered the act defining the age for military service. Heretofore only men between the ages of 18 and 45 had been eligible; now the limit was lowered to 17 and raised to 50. Youths of 17 and those just turned 18 were enrolled in units that came to be known as Junior Reserves. There seem to have been few young men of these years available in Caswell County; many 18-year-olds were already in service. Nevertheless, Company G, Seventieth Regiment (First Junior Reserves), was composed of a captain (the company commander), at least two lieutenants, one noncommissioned officer, and some privates from the county. Most seem to have come from Stanly County, however. Unfortunately, the published roster presently available does not identify these men by county. Most of the young men were enlisted in June 1864 and the regiment was organized on July 4. Thomas L. Lea was captain of Company G, and two of the four lieutenants, J. G. Denny and L. Eudy, were from Caswell. Among the names of the 124 privates are such names as Anderson, Bartlet, Deece, Fuquay, Gatewood, Harrelson, Murphy, Poteat, Ray, Stephens, Saunders, Strayhorn, Thompson, and Yancey, some of which surely represent Caswell County families. W. P. Ray, who enlisted on June 18, was certainly from Caswell County, as his name appears among the faithful at Confederate Veterans' affairs through 1932. The regiment served well along the Roanoke River guarding bridges, in the fighting between Kinston and new Bern, and at the Battle of Bentonville in March 1865, where the good order and effective service of its men was highly praised. They passed through Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and the Regulator Battleground in Alamance County before receiving word of the Confederate surrender at the Bennet House near Durham. On April 26 every man in the regiment from highest officer to private was paid $1.25 in silver after which they quietly departed for home. Colonel Charles W. Broadfoot, lieutenant colonel of the regiment, recalled at a later time: "We suffered, we fought, we failed, it has pleased some to call us rebels because we had done our duty, but history will record the names of the gallant, bright-faced boys of the North Carolina Junior Reserves on that page where only those of heroes are written."
The following is from The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 15-17 ("Caswell County in the War Between the States" written by Mary Oliver Kerr in 1927):
The prisoners from Caswell County at Morris Island were: Capt. S. H. Hines and Lieut. W. B. Chandler. Those at Johnson's Island were: W. M. Taylor, W. G. Woods, M. W. Forfleet, John A. Graves, J. T. Burton, and J. A. Lea. While these soldiers were in prison at Johnson's Island, Governor Vance made a speech at Wilkesboro, a copy was sent to these prisoners. Its sentiments were approved and endorsed so highly that they held a meeting and wrote Gov. Vance an interesting letter of praise. The chairman of the committee to write the letter was Samuel P. Hill of Caswell County. The surgeons from Caswell County who served in the war were: J. H. McAden, C. C. Lea, John Wilson, Bedford Brown, Jr., W. G. Stephens, and Dr. Jordon.
The only record of a Chaplain from Caswell County is N. H. Harding, D.D., a Presbyterian minister. He was active and earnest for the spiritual welfare of the soldiers.
No nobler band of men ever offered their all at the request of the sovereign state to which they owed allegiance. Few of them, if any, there were who, when all was over, might not have said in the words of St. Paul: "I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith." And to those of the regiment that larger regiment by far, who sleep their last sleep where at duty's calling laid down their lives on the plains and hillsides of Virginia and Maryland from Appomattox to Antietam is gladly rendered the fullest need of grateful praise. Their fidelity and devoted service shall be celebrated in song and story, and shall be borne in loving memory while time shall last.
"Lament them not
No Love can make immortal
That span which we call life;
And never heroes passed to Heanen's portal
From fields of grander strife."
Life on the Home Front
While its soldiers were away life continued in Caswell County as its residents adapted to the realities of war. Until the new North Carolina constitution of 1868, counties in North Carolina were governed by a Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions made up of Justices. One of the first acts of the Caswell County Court after North Carolina seceded was to levy a tax "to furnish the [military] volunteers in the county and to support the indigent families of the same." The county already had spent $5000 preparing for war and authorized obtaining a loan of $10,000 from the Bank of Yanceyville or the Bank of the State of North Carolina (which had a branch at Milton). At the July 1861 court session the following action was taken:On motion it is ordered by the Court that James M. Neal, Joseph C. Pinnix, and William B. Bowe be appointed a committee to aid and provide for the families of such soldiers as have volunteered to serve in the War against Abe Lincoln's scoundrels."Thus, there was little doubt where the court members stood. And this was just the first of many appropriations by the Caswell County Court to support the war effort and to care for those families remaining at home without a provider.
At the October 1861 session the court appointed certain persons "to hold elections for electors to vote for President and Vice President of the Confederate States of America; also to hold election to elect members of the next Congress of Confederate States."
Runaway slaves apparently had become a serious problem. In January 1862, the Caswell County Court took the following action:Patrol for Yanceyville to act in squads: 1st squad: A. Slade, A. A. Patillo, Joab Robertson, and Jno. Kerr; 2nd: N. M. Roan, Jacob Doll, R. W. Hamlett, S. Corbett, Wm. Bryant, Jr.; 3rd: T. J. Brown, S. Fels, Wm. H. Childs, _____ Aikens, T. P. Riccard; 4th: W. A. Shelton, J. J. Lawson, Samuel H. Mason, J. L. McKee, Dr. George Gunn; 5th: A. G. Yancey, J. Graves, Jr., Abram Fels, Dr. Allen Gunn, James A. Owen; 6th: C. D. Vernon, Jas. M. Neal, Yancey Jones, S. T. Sparks, Thom. D. Johnston; 7th: T. B. Atkins, S. Crowder, H. W. Reinheart, Benjamin A. Lawson, and A. A. Mitchell.
Salt supplies must have been a major concern for the county. At the time sale was more than a seasoning, it was used to preserve meat. Apparently, the state was in some fashion rationing salt. On March 17, 1862, the Caswell County Court took the following action:Twenty-two justices met for the purpose of considering and adopting measures to procure a supply for the sue of the people of said County. The Chairman read a "curcular" letter of Commissioner Worth subject to matter. The Court ordered James L. McKee appointed agent for the county to apply for the needful supply of salt and that he be instructed to apply for 8100 bushels and to inform the State Commission of the calculation on which this is asked for, to wit: population of sixteen thousand ______ hundred and estimate a half bushel to the head is necessary to supply that population rating the bushel to the commercial standard of 56 (lb) to the bushel. McKee to procure delivery at any depot on any railroad he deems convenient and at least possible cost and that he take steps to procure transportation from the railroad to Yanceyville and that he take care of and distribute it to people of the county. Agent to draw upon county trustee for funds to carry out the purposes. County trustee to pay such drafts or borrow funds from the Bank of Yanceyville or elsewhere to pay same. McKee to execute bond of $10,000 and he should receive reasonable compensation for his service.It may be that the County Treasurer at the time was Thomas Donoho Johnston, who also was President of the Bank of Yanceyville. Apparently the Justices had no problem instructing him to borrow money from his own bank. Note that the court was forced to deal with the salt issue throughout the war.
At the July 1862 session the court conducted the following business:A majority of the Justices being present and the following ordered: that the clerk of this court be directed to inform the proper authorities both at Richmond and Raleigh or whoever else the said authority may be, that the justices of this court on behalf of themselves and the people of Caswell relinquish all claims to be reimbursed out of the monthly pay volitions from this county now in the army of the Confederate States for monies advanced by the County of Caswell to clothe and other use and furnish supplies to said volunteers when they were first called into service, and it is further ordered that the sum of $1300.00 heretofore paid the county by Capt. Hambrick on account of commutation pay for clothing for the Leasburg Greys be refunded to the said company of Leasburg Greys and it is further ordered that the amount paid by Capt. James Mitchell in the Bank of Milton be refunded to the Milton Blues to be by them redistributed among themselves as they may direct and if the said sum of money has not been paid into the Bank as aforesaid but has been paid over to Samuel B. Holder or any other person then in like manner the said Holder or other person is hereby directed to refund the same as above stated to the said Company of Blues to be distributed as aforesaid. It is further ordered that a copy of this order properly authenticated be transmitted by the Clerk to the Bank of Milton and to the said Samuel B. Holder and any other whom it may concern. That the sum of $3000 be set apart for the support of the wives of the Volunteers that is now in the service of the Confederate States or have been during the War.The full import of the foregoing is not totally understood. However, it does appear that Caswell County instructed the authorities not to pay it with funds that otherwise would be paid to soldiers. The order also reimbursed funds that had been paid to the county with respect to the Leasburg Grays and the Milton Blues.
Appointed a Central Committee, composed of Dr. N. M. Roan, Dr. Allen Gunn, and Yancey Jones, to take care of the wives of the above soldiers in Caswell County.
Ordered that the Chairman of this Court together with two other Justices of the Peace of this county be authorized to approve the Sub Committee to aid in furnishing the wives of the soldiers in the several districts of this county.
Ordered that 98 bushels of salt now in the possession of J. L. McKee that belongs to the county be held for the Poor House and the county indigent families of the soldiers of this county.
Unfortunately the minutes of the Caswell County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions for the period January 1863 - July 1866 were lost or destroyed. This is unfortunate as these records would have helped researchers understand more about the Civil War as it affected Caswell County.
Of course, as the war wore on it was not only salt that is was in short supply. Many of the necessities of life were scarce in the South, including bcon, pork, beef, corn, meal, flour, wheat, shoess, leather, hides, cotton, cloth, and yarn and woollen cloth. Speculators often profited while ordinary citizens went without.
Surrender and Aftermath
The Civil War effectively ended with General Lee's surrender in April 1865. The South was devastated. Professor William Powell summarized the situation in Caswell County:Events of the brief span of time between 1861 and 1865 completely changed the course of the history of Caswell County as it did for much of the state and the South. What the effect was of the price paid with the life of so many young men can never be determined, of course. The loss of many thousands of dollars invested in slaves was regarded as significant only briefly; mere dollars were soon forgotten in the face of more pressing concerns. The totally changed pattern of life throughout the county, however, was a different matter. For blacks it meant freedom from the bonds of slavery, a brief period of rejoicing, and then a resumption of a life of hard work. For many whites it meant the abandonment of the familiar plantation life style; for the previously poor small farmer it meant even greater poverty; and for the whole county it meant a reduced standard of living all around, abandoned land, and a public revenue inadequate for the services that governments ordinarily were expected to provide. The character of the county underwent a metamorphosis that perhaps would not have surprised Bedford Brown, Willie P. Mangum, or Jonathan Worth had they lived to recognize it; but most people were stunned by what had happened, and they lost the pride and the spirit that had made Caswell a leader among counties for so many years.