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