SUBMITTED BY: Penny Beasley
Whilst being reared down on the Custawhiskey Creek on the Northampton/Hertford County line near Woodland, North Carolina, James Thomas “Tom” Baggett learned to fish, trap, and hunt. Tom helped his parents around their farm; the old log buildings stood tall among the cotton fields. That was home for this boy who was born to a mother being assisted by a midwife on a hot, steamy day in late August 1843. As he matured into a young man, Tom grew strong and well with smarts, knowing more about survival than having good book sense, but he knew how to manage money, handle crop rotations, calculate the guano needed to grow good crops, and make a little Apple brandy for the occasional evening drink. At the same time, tensions were growing with the northern states, so Tom, at eighteen-years-old, joined up with the Confederacy o’er in Garysburg, N.C. He knew conscription was imminent, so he just went on and signed up. Tom was in Company F of the 1st Infantry (North Carolina).
Shortly after his enlistment, Tom was sent north to Virginia. He fought in some less-than-major battles. All the while, he wanted to get home to tend to the animals, to help his folks draw in the crops, to cut some wood for winter, and to pick the fruits and vegetables for canning and drying that would sustain his family through winter. Eventually, he ended up in Spotsylvania, VA. Tom found himself in a sheer war-torn Virginia, just a few hours northwest of his home in North Carolina. While there, earthen works were dug: Berms that were about four miles long and a salient known as the Mule Shoe were established to protect those boys from musket shot and cannon balls. During the battle, Tom had laid down in the Mule Shoe but ran to edge of the woods when the earthworks were breached. Tom sought refuge behind a pine. As treetops fell all around him, he held his musket rifle clenched to his knees and crunched low as Grant’s forces busted through the earthworks. A Yankee fella, having seen a glimpse of Tom, popped around the tree, stuck his gun up to Tom, and ordered him to lay down his weapon. Tom, many years later, told his grandson, Andrew March Futrell (my grandfather), that he instantly went grey haired on the left front side of his scalp during those few tense moments while that Yankee soldier held him at gunpoint. Then, Tom was grabbed and taken as a prisoner. Tom was still a very young man at that time.
Tom was confined at Point Lookout in Maryland but was transferred to the Elmira, New York Prison Camp upon its completion. Tom was tough, and he survived “Hellmira,” as that prison came to be known due to the abysmal conditions endured by its inmates. When the war was over, Tom began his slow journey home, back to northern North Carolina. Since almost all the railroad bridges had been destroyed, the railroad was of little use to Tom. He walked home, taking refuge in people’s barns at times, eating whatever he could find from hunting and foraging, sometimes depending on the good nature of other people. When Tom finally made it home, he found out his mother had died while he was held prisoner in New York. Tom picked up where he left off: he tried to help his dad and siblings make ends meet after the war had destroyed the value of land, farms, and crops. Tom made shake shingles; he sent them to Norfolk, Virginia on consignment but got a letter stating that the market was saturated and that his shipment would be returned. Times were tough during reconstruction, but Tom married, raised his own family and lived until 1918. He was buried beside his wives and one of his daughters on his farm. His two other daughters and his sons-in-law were buried within a two-mile radius of the grey-patched Tom Baggett. It was decided later, since his granddaughter had a patch of grey hair in the exact same place as Tom’s was, that it was more of a genetic trait than sudden fear. Or maybe it was from that fateful day on a battlefield in the Virginia wilds…