This Civil War story doesn’t conclude with a Hollywood actor with a phony southern accent, making a grand exit while uttering a memorable movie line. This one is about a North Carolina man who enlisted in the Confederate Army somewhere around the age of 44. Why would a poor, old farmer with twelve children enlist? Did he own slaves? No. Did he have some patriotic duty to preserve the Confederacy? I doubt it. The old saying applies, “Follow the money.” The drought of 1862 devastated the crops, leaving the farmer and his family starving. One day the old man received an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse. A rich property owner whose son was being conscripted into the Confederate Army paid him to enlist in his son’s stead. Those agreements were legal back then. Transactions like that reinforced the belief that it was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
I think he believed the money would enable his family to survive, and give him a leg up after the war. It was mid-1862, just a little over a year since the Confederates fired on Ft. Sumter. Any information people got about the war was, at best, word of mouth. Based on the rosy assessments from the secessionists, I’m sure everyone believed this “little dust-up” would bring the North’s aggression to a halt.
According to Company B, 5th North Carolina Infantry Confederate Army muster rolls, the old man left Stanly County on August 8,1862. Since there was no basic training in those days, I can only assume he immediately joined them. September 17,1862, the 5th NC Infantry Regiment, led by Col. D. K. McRae and Capt. Thomas M. Garrett was part of Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. They met General George McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac along the banks of Antietam Creek outside Sharpsburg Maryland. Early that morning, over 130,000 men from both sides came together. By nightfall, there were almost 23,000 casualties with over 3,600 killed and 17,000 wounded. The North called it the Battle of Antietam, and the South called it the Battle of Sharpsburg. No matter the name, it was the bloodiest single day in American military history.
The old man survived that battle but died of measles in Richmond on October 26, 1862, less than ninety days after leaving his family. Months later his remains were buried in Stanly County, just a stone’s throw from where he grew up. How do I know this? He is my Great, Great Grandfather.