Wayne County’s Oldest Civil War Veteran

WJ Merritt portrait
Photograph taken at A.O. Clement’s studio in Goldsboro, June 1935.  Courtesy Wayne County Public Library

William J. “Uncle Billy” Merritt died in Mt. Olive on October 1, 1940 at the age of 102. He was the oldest living Civil War veteran in Wayne County for many years.

He was born September 29, 1838 in Duplin County. His enlistment date in the Confederate Army is either October 1861 or February 1862; two pension applications (1907 & 1917) list different dates.

Merritt was assigned to the 51st North Carolina Infantry, under the command of General Thomas Clingman. The 51st first saw action in December 1862 at the Battle of Goldsboro Bridge and later fought at Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Bentonville.

His obituary from the Mt. Olive Tribune states that he participated in the firing on Ft. Sumter in April 1861 but this is not accurate. The 51st did fight at Charleston but it was in defense of the harbor in July 1863 at Fort Wagner.

After the war he returned home and spent the remainder of his long life farming in the Mt. Olive area.

The following is his request in 1917 for an increase in his veterans’ pension from the state. Click on either for a larger version.

 

WJ Merritt Civil War pension              WJ Merritt Civil War pension letter

 

Below is his obituary from the Mt. Olive Tribune and grave at Maplewood Cemetery.

WJ Merritt obituary, Mt. Olive Tribune, October 18, 1940               WJ Merritt grave Maplewood Cemetery Mt. Olive

Wayne County History in Maps: Early America through the Civil War

This is part 2 of a three part series. Click here for part 1.

With the defeat of the British and formation of the United States, the North Carolina General Assembly created Wayne County in 1787 from the former Dobbs County. With a new nation came new demand for surveys of everything from national borders all the way down to private property.

While surveyors combed the nation though, the first maps differed little from the maps of the Colonial Era.

Map of North and South Carolina, 1796, by J. Denison
Click for an enlarged version.                                 North Carolina State Archives

Above: Map of North and South Carolina, by J. Denison, published in 1796.

This map does feature counties but does not show any boundary lines, owing to the fact that comprehensive surveys had not yet been completed across the state.

Read more

Flags of Our Something, Something

Kanye West confederate flagThe “Stars & Bars” is not what you think it is

The Confederate flag has been in the news for a while now and wouldn’t you know Kanye West became part of the story. The Chicago rapper has made a career of shocking and cringe-worthy statements; Mike Myers can attest. In an opinion piece for The Week, Matthew Walther proclaims Kanye the last American rock star.

I couldn’t agree with author more, but what caught my eye was the line, “In the middle of an ongoing national conversation about police violence and the legacy of racism, walking around a gas station with the Stars and Bars on his back was a crude gesture calculated to make people upset.”

Here’s the problem: the flag on his sleeve is not the “Stars and Bars”, but the Confederate battle flag. This is the Stars & Bars:

Confederate 1st national flag, Stars and Bars

This is the Confederate battle flag:

Confederate battle flag, square

And so is this:

Confederate battle flag, rectangular

The Stars & Bars, officially known as the Confederate national flag, was designed by German-American artist Nicola Marschall in early 1861. Marschall also designed the gray uniforms of the Confederate military. The inspiration for the flag came from both the US flag and that of Austria.

American flag     flag of Austria

Suffice it to say, there was resistance to the national flag, the primary criticism being that it looked too much like Old Glory. In 1863 the Confederate government adopted a new national flag.

Confederate 2nd national flag

You can probably guess why this one was problematic. It looked all too similar to a flag of surrender, so in March of 1865 the Confederacy adopted a third national flag, though by this time the war was near its end and nobody cared anymore.

Confederate 3rd national flag

What’s the point?

Personally, I don’t care about the argument over Confederate flags going on today. Both sides do little more than scream at one another and the arguments have about as much meat and substance as a diseased squirrel. What bothers me are the all-too-common blunders of what should be basic facts that can be verified almost instantaneously through a simple internet search. Mistakes such as these are like misspellings, and if you’re going to call yourself a professional writer, for the love of God you should be able to avoid these snafus.

 

If you’re interested in the history of Confederate flags and don’t mind a little book learnin’ check out John Coski’s The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, available at Amazon.

 

Pic(s) of the Week: Not war, but murder

The Battle of Cold Harbor

Collecting the dead at Cold Harbor

More photos from the Library of Congress online image collection. This week is one of my favorite photographs and certainly the most haunting. These men are collecting the dead in the aftermath of the Battle of Cold Harbor, one of the bloodiest engagements of the Civil War.

Cold Harbor, near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, was a clash between General Ulysses S. Grant and commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Robert E. Lee. Fought between May 31 and June 12, 1864, the battle resulted in over 18,000 casualties, mostly Union troops, from a brutal frontal assault of Lee’s entrenched forces. Confederate General Evander Law later said of the battle “It was murder, nor war.”

With over 2,500 troops killed, the men above had a monumental, and horrific, task to collect the remains of the dead. Identification of individual men was rare and most ended up in mass graves. (original file here)

The Overland Campaign

Ulysses S. Grant seated at his headquarters, Cold Harbor

Cold Harbor was one of a series of battles in the forty day Overland Campaign, Grant’s effort to wear down and destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant was determined to break Lee and relentlessly threw his men into the fire but despite the terrible losses, the Overland Campaign severely degraded Lee’s army and proved that Union forces could operate and succeed near the Confederate capital.

The image above (original here) shows the general at his headquarters at Cold Harbor. The man to the left is unidentified.

A general needs horses

Horses of Ulysses S. Grant

War is all about movement and positioning so officers need quick and reliable transportation. During the Civil War the only option, at least over shorter distances, was the horse. Grant had several horses during the war and several available at any one time.

This photo, taken at Cold Harbor, shows three of Grant’s favorites, from left to right Egypt, Cincinnati, and Jeff Davis, captured the previous year near Vicksburg, MS from the plantation of Joe Davis, brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. No one can say that Grant didn’t have a sense of humor.

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