He Didn’t Have to Go, but
This story was told to me as a youngster in the 1950s by my great-aunt, Kate Dixon Murdock. When I was older I verified it through these soldiers’ individual Confederate Army records and other research. Aunt Kate said that when the Civil War broke out her grandfather, Daniel Vestal, and his brothers, Oren and Jack, all joined the Confederate cause. Their father, Nathan Vestal, aunt Kate’s great-grandfather, although too old at age 52, decided to join also, “to see the thing through.” Nathan was killed in the first battle, Aunt Kate related, shot in the forehead. His son Daniel and others tried to bury him on the battlefield, “but the Yankees were pressing them” so they had to leave him, “arms and legs sticking out” of the makeshift grave. Later, Aunt Kate said, Daniel was wounded in the ankle. The bullet, or shrapnel, stayed in his ankle until he died years later. Oren, she said, told of a giant explosion, after which black Union troops swarmed into the hole left by the blast. She said the Confederates shot them “like fish in a barrel.” Aunt Kate also said that near the end of the war, a neighbor announced that Sherman was coming. Kate’s family hurriedly buried their silverware and other valuables under a pile of rocks. When the scare was over they went back to recover the items and found that they were missing. They always blamed the neighbor for stealing them. Civil War records show that Daniel and Nathan Vestal joined Company G of the 48th North Carolina Infantry. Daniel signed up on April 17, 1862 and Nathan on May 7, 1862. Oren had joined earlier, on August 31, 1861, enlisting in Company E., 26th N.C. Infantry, at Cartersville. Jack joined the cavalry. Nathan Vestal indeed died in the first battle he fought in, a skirmish later called the Battle of King’s Schoolhouse, near Richmond, on June 25, 1862. A New York regiment charged the 48th, which was in a good defensive position behind a fence. The 48th, so excited to be in its first battle, stood up and charged the Union soldiers. Nathan’s records say “killed June 25, 1862 in a battle near Richmond, VA — fought with marked bravery.” Daniel was later wounded at Fredricksburg and was released from service. Oren fought through the entire war. He was wounded once at Bristoe’s Station. The explosion Aunt Kate referred to was the Crater at Petersburg. Daniel, Oren and Jack Vestal all died in their later years in Chatham County.