Every good story deserves an audience

by | Jul 17, 2016 | News

Snippets from a war story:

     Being outnumbered and flanked on our right (Sherman’s left), we fell back in good order to Line No. 3, hundreds of yards from Line No. 2, and there Hardee’s entire corps, so far as I could tell, held the enemy in check until night.

     By continuous sharpshooting and an occasional charge on some part of our line, chiefly near the swamp and creek on our left, our boys were constantly falling dead or wounded all during the day. Some pieces of artillery were used effectively against us, particularly along a road that crossed the part of Line No. 3 that was occupied by the regiment of which I was a member…

     We received orders, most quietly given all along our line, to build fires in the rear as if going into camp for the night, then to get down, stooping or on ‘all fours,’ to withdraw, not speaking above a whisper. The sharpshooters of the enemy kept on hurling bullets at our men after dark, popping the pine trees above our heads…

     In retreating, we plodded all night, March 16 (Thursday), all day on Friday, camped on Friday night in the piney woods, then went on to a place called Elevation by noon on Saturday. There we remained until early on Sunday, March 19, when we were moved by rapid tramping on to Bentonville to re-enforce General Johnston there for the three-day battle of March 19, 20 and 21.

     From Thursday till mid-day Saturday, we were without any rations, save a very small slice of raw bacon to each man. (T)he tramp from Averasboro to Elevation was about the worst we had in the whole stretch, rambling on foot for over five hundred miles, covering the period of time between the evacuation of Charleston to the surrender at Greensboro – namely, February 17 to April 26, 1865.

How much of this in-the-thick-of-it history would exist if ex-private Robert W. Sanders hadn’t bristled at a postwar sneer at the Battle of Averasboro as “but a skirmish,” and sat down to relate four and a half typewritten pages of first-person narrative? Would anybody know, today, that a tattered company of Tenneseeans “fought gallantly” alongside Sanders’ unit despite having been reduced to “only one commissioned officer, one non-commissioned and only two or three privates”? Would the Confederate army, post-Bentonville and soon to be disbanded, even have possessed a record showing that the 17-year-old had been hastily pulled away from the big guns at the coast and finished the war as an infantryman?

Governments typically try to do their best by their fallen warriors. So do burial details and graves registration. Thirty-one soldiers from seven secession states and Illinois, most of them Averasboro casualties, lie buried at Thomasville. From Allen to Ziegler, they’re identified by last name, first initial, unit and, except for privates, rank. But that isn’t a story; it’s data.

Data can be valuable, but you can find more in North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster. Thorough and authoritative, it’s highly regarded by Civil War scholars and enthusiasts. (Body builders might like it, too; just one of its volumes runs about 600 pages. That and its price can force the issue of how much of a Civil War buff you want to be.) But check the state Department of Archives and History website for bargains before plunking down $50 per volume at that other place.

The mother lode, though, is largely concealed from public view, buried in letters, diaries, old newspapers, official records, photos, and preserved memories scattered, like most things American, from coast to coast.

Even if a clipping is neatly framed and left in plain view on a hall table, that’s a gap in North Carolina’s account of itself. Moreover, our history isn’t all about soldiers and soldiering – not even our war history. The Civil War had a prelude and an aftermath, and the home front was its context. A story doesn’t have to be book-length or earthshaking to merit retelling.

Those stories can be brought home to be shared with, inform and educate others as they add detail and perspective to the state’s saga – all without surrendering ownership or parting with originals.

The North Carolina Civil War History Center is actively scouring the state for material from the second half of the 19th century to incorporate into a statewide resource unlike any other. If you prefer to eliminate the middleman, visit www.nccivilwarcenter.org. Take all the time you want touring the site. But that share-your-story portal isn’t a decoration. It’s ready whenever you are.

The N.C. Civil War History Center Blog

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