Mount Olive and the Civil War



EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared in the Mount Olive Tribune on Sept. 7, 1979, in an edition commemorating Wayne County’s 200th anniversary. Except for a few grammatical changes and changes to account for the difference in time between publications, the article is reprinted as it first appeared.

In December 1862, General Foster ordered a march of federal troops on Kinston with the objective of taking Goldsborough where the Atlantic and New Bern, Wilmington and Weldon and the North Carolina railroads met. This was a prime target, for splitting North Carolina could mean a split in the Confederacy and ultimately a victory for the North. When word of the inland invasion reached the Confederate forces, troops were dispatched to meet the Federals.

A battle was fought below Kinston and the Confederates fell back to the north side of the Neuse at White Hall (now Seven Springs) where another large engagement was fought. On Dec. 16, 1862 Major Jeptha Garrard of the 3rd New York Cavalry was ordered to march on Mount Olive Station and, there, break the rail line so that supplies could not enter Goldsborough from Wilmington, which was still an open port for the Confederacy.

He marched on Mount Olive with two guns of Ransom’s battery, 23rd New York Artillery and five companies of the 3rd New York Cavalry. There were about 500 men involved. The Yankees reached the village about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 16th and surprised the station agent who was selling tickets and arrested the agent and passengers who were on the platform waiting for the train.

Union soldiers burn Mount Olive Depot

The Federals then broke the track at the station, which was a small log building that stood next to the track at the present junction of Center and West Pollock streets. After breaking the track at the depot, the soldiers went down the line to the Goshen Bridge, destroyed the bridge, broke the track in five places and returned to Mount Olive, where they then burned the depot. They left the village as they had entered it, on the White Hall road that went up the rail line for about a mile, and as they passed the John D. Pearsall house, a large white house about 2 miles from the village, they burned it before returning to Foster’s forces at White Hall.

The Federal force did not get into Goldsborough, but they did come close to the town, so close in fact that the Confederates burned the covered bridge over the Neuse River to prevent easy access. Suddenly and surprisingly, Mount Olive found itself in a war.

What had seemed far away was now quite close at hand. The trains that rang regularly up and down the railway line brought news of the military engagements in Virginia, where most of the local boys were fighting.

During 1863 the station house at Mount Olive was rebuilt with a warehouse and the bridge over the Goshen Swamp was repaired. Also during the year the Federals raided the Dudley Station and burned it to the ground together with its warehouse and water tower. Men and munitions passed on the trains, and occasionally a soldier from the area would return on furlough, sick or wounded. They often came home in a coffin to be buried in a family graveyard in a field near their home.

Many times soldiers, who died in the major engagements, were buried on the battlefield in common graves. The daily lives of the people went on, adjusting to circumstances that were all too often too horrible to fully comprehend. The end of bloodshed and ruin was not over.

Sherman’s army invades

During early March 1865, the army of Gen. William T. Sherman entered North Carolina from the south. What had been considered impossible and unthinkable, had happened. The state was invaded by a military force larger than any in her history and by an army that was intent on total destruction of anything that would enable the South to make war.

As Sherman reached Fayetteville, the word of the destruction that came in his wake spread through the countryside. His objective was known to be the railway junction at Goldsborough, and between Goldsborough and Sherman was the army of Gen. Joseph Johnston, and a few companies of county militia.

On March 19, the armies of Sherman and Johnston clashed at the village of Bentonville near the Wayne County line in Johnston County. The war was now to close for any comfort. Fear spread through the countryside and valuables and plantation stock were quickly hidden. As Johnston’s army retreated toward Raleigh to protect the state government, the road to Goldsborough lay open.

The only military protection the area had was part of the Wayne County Militia, under the command of Capt. David Henderson Bridgers, and part of the rear guard of Johnston’s army. These were hardly a match for an army the size of Sherman’s.

17th Corps reaches Smith Chapel

Already the right wing of Sherman’s Army was on its way, even as the battle at Bentonville was raging. Mount Olive Station was in the path of the invaders. On March 19, the 3rd Division of the 17th Corps reached Smith’s Chapel, only 5 miles from Mount Olive. Raiding parties plundered the plantations in the area.

Gen. Terry was at Faison’s Depot on March 20 and Gen. Schofield was marching on Goldsborough from Kinston. Both Schofield and Terry had promised to be in Golsborough by March 21. Suddenly, Mount Olive was in the path of one of the largest armies in military history.

On March 22, 1865, Sherman met Gen. Terry at Cox’s Bridge in west-central Wayne County. They rode into Goldsborough together. Here they met Gen. Schofield and, in so doing, affected the junction that they had long desired. North Carolina’s days in the Confederacy were numbered.

Most Goldsborough citizens did not flee the city. There was really nowhere to go. In 1862, when New Bern fell to the Union, many prominent families fled to Goldsborough where they remained during the rest of the war. After the Garrard raid on Mount Olive Station and the Dudley raid of 1863, there were a few plantation families in the lower Wayne area who moved to the countyseat for protection, but this did not always prove to be wise.

An interesting episode is the case of the Flowers sisters, Elizabeth and Sarah, who fled to the home of their cousin, Clarissa Kornegay Alford in Goldsborough in 1862. They returned to their home at “Flowery Dale” plantation near Smith’s Chapel in 1865, just in time to host the 3rd Division of the 17th Corps of Sherman’s army on its way to Goldsborough. Had the sisters stayed on in the home of their cousin, they would have been in Goldsborough when Gen. Slocumb made the Alford house his headquarters after the surrender of the town. There was no escaping the war.

Everyone realized that the end had come. John Spilman, editor of the “Goldsborough State Journal,” did flee the city and in doing so probably saved his life, for his views were radical and his hostility to the Yankees were well-known to them.

Sherman held a grand review of his thousands of troops in honor of his generals, Schofield, Terry and Cox. The review was a failure — the men were weary, ragged and the ranks were depleted — and after two regiments had passed, Sherman stopped the review. The effect on the local citizens was the same. They were a conquered people.

Kilpatrick’s Cavalry in Mount Olive

On March 24, Kilpatrick’s cavalry regiment moved into Mount Olive and Gen. Terry moved back to Faison from Goldsborough. Brig. Gen. Hugh Hudson Kilpatrick was in command of Sherman’s cavalry.

Most of Sherman’s officers were men of high character. Kilpatrick was a notable exception. He had two nicknames, “Don Juan” and “Little Kil’.” He was noted for his immorality and rapacity. He set a very bad example for his men and they followed it. He had numerous affairs with white and black women…

Sherman had a high opinion of his military abilities and, in turn, Kilpatrick was devoted to his chief.

There is a long standing story in Mount Olive that when Nannie Loftin Kornegay served Kilpatrick a meal (his headquarters were in the Kornegay house at the time), Kilpatrick made her taste each item to see if it was poisoned. We can say for sure that it was not for Kilpatrick lived to a ripe old age and so did Nannie Kornegay.

First troops to reach village

The first troops to reach the village were those of Col. Thomas J. Jordan of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Lt. Charles Blanford, commanding Howitzer Battery also arrived on March 24 with Jordan. On March 25, the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry arrived to be followed the next day by Gen. Kilpatrick, himself. The 3rd Kentucky Cavalry arrived on March 27.

The 2nd Kentucky Cavalry took up position on the Goldsborough Road partially on the farm of Bennett Millard whose house sat near the site of the Southern Belle Motel in 1979.

Of Sherman’s cavalry, the first brigade, in its entirety, stopped in Mount Olive and set up headquarters. Gen. Kilpatrick and his staff took over the Lemuel Kornegay house and the home of Willis Cherry, “The Elms,” and his former home, “The Oaks,” were used for officers billet, according to sustained local tradition.

The Elms was said to have also served as a hospital, though there was a large hospital tent erected near the junction of Southerland and College streets on what was then the road to Thunder Swamp Meeting House and Smith’s Chapel. The vast numbers of soldiers were cramped in huge tent cities all around the village and at nearby Faison’s Depot the 2nd and 3rd brigades of the cavalry were camped along with Gen. Terry’s men.

Sherman’s campaign of the Carolinas, which began at Savannah, after his more publicized March to the Sea, ended at Goldsborough in Wayne County with every unit making an official report. There are many reports with a Mount Olive postmark. It was the village’s longest moment in history, but the times were too devastating for the local residents to know it.

‘Bummers’ made life a nightmare

The army foraged from the land and the land was generally plentiful, but the Federal general, Morgan, wrote of the army:

“I regret that I have to except anyone from praise and credit, but I have some men in my command… who have become under that name highwaymen, with all of their cruelty and ferocity and none of their courage; their victims are usually old men, women and children and Negroes [sic] whom they rob and maltreat without mercy, firing dwellings and outhouses even when filled with grain that the army needs and sometimes endangering the trains by universal firing of fences. These men are a disgrace to the name of soldier and the country. I desire to place upon record my detestation and abhorrence of their acts.”

The foragers were called “bummers” and these men made life a nightmare.

Life around Mount Olive must have been dull for the soldiers. Even the urban center of Goldsborough held little interest for the Federals. One soldier wrote in his diary, the “town don’t amount to anything.”

An officer in comparing Fayetteville to Goldsborough said Fayetteville was a “gal durned” handsome town which completely knocked “the socks all off from it (Goldsborough).”

Sherman had promised the troops rest and relaxation and pay. When he arrived at Goldsborough, he found no paymaster or supplies. He found instead that the railroads from New Bern and Wilmington were not repaired so no supplies would arrive.

Sherman set out again from Goldsborough on April 10to march on Raleigh. On the night of April 12 he learned that Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army of Northern Virginia and the push to defeat Johnston’s army of the Tennessee was renewed.

On April 17, 1865, Sherman met with Johnston at Bennett’s Farm in Durham County: the rest is well known. Johnston surrendered his army and the Civil War, which had been one of the bloodiest in human history, came to an end.

Briefly, but surely, the sleepy little village of Mount Olive was a part of it all, and the final days of this great conflict the citizens of the village had seen only too closely.

Mount Olive settled down to tend its wounded, mourn its dead and never forget them and their sacrifice. In the process, the village began to grow and prosper and what had begun around a railroad crossing when the great Wilmington and Weldon railway had come through in 1837, less than 30 years earlier, would – in 5 years – become an incorporated town. It was already well incorporated with a rich history.


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