AUTHOR: Ruth C. Couch (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
Both my husband and I have Orange County, North Carolina, Couch family roots. I had always heard that my great-great-grandfather had fought in the Civil War and died without seeing his twin sons—my grandfather, William Pressley Couch, and his brother, John Wesley Couch. This was part of my motivation to become involved in genealogy. I thought my children could better appreciate history if they knew their great-great-great-grandfather had been at Gettysburg and been a part of the Civil War.
My great-great-grandfather, William H. Couch, was the son of Leigh and Sally Couch. He married Sarah Fowler on July 2, 1857, and they welcomed a baby girl, Eugenia, in February of 1859. William worked in Chapel Hill with his brother-in-law, Alvis Daniel, as a cabinetmaker. In August of 1860, William and Sarah’s daughter, little Eugenia, died and was buried in the old Chapel Hill Cemetery. A few months later, on April 6, 1861, William H. joined the Confederate Army, serving in D Company, 1st Volunteers Infantry (North Carolina) as a private. He mustered out as a corporal on Nov. 12, 1861 and returned home to his wife. He reenlisted on July 15, 1862, serving in Company G, 11th Infantry (North Carolina), and his twin sons were born on August 1, 1862. The family appears on a list of soldiers’ families in Chapel Hill with two children. He was captured on Oct. 27, 1864 at Burgess’ Mill, Virginia, and confined at Point Lookout, Maryland, a few days later. There, William confronted starvation, overcrowding, and a lack of shelter and clothing. He succumbed to dysentery on April 24, 1865 and is buried in a mass grave there. (Photograph of the memorial at Point Lookout is at right. Corp. W. H. Couch is named as one of the Confederate soldiers buried there.)
Back in Chapel Hill, Leigh Couch, William’s father, supported the war effort by selling chickens and at least twenty-two bushels of corn to the Confederacy. Records exist of transactions that occurred in Sept. 1861 and in Oct.1864. He also used his skills as a “nurse of sick” at Camp Fayetteville, Virginia, from June through August in 1861 and at Camp Starr, from August through October of the same year. The files of these transactions were sent to me by my second cousin, Linda Barbee Thompson, who volunteers at the Latter-Day Saints Family History Center in Florida and is a professional genealogist.
On June 24, 1861, Chesley Page Couch (grandson of Isaac Couch and son of Elijah and Mary Warren Couch) and William Couch (grandson of Isaac, son of Thomas and Delilah Browning Couch, and Chelsey’s cousin) enlisted in the Confederate Army. They both served in B Company, 6th Infantry (North Carolina). William Couch was twenty-one when he joined the army in June, and he deserted almost a month later, on July 10, 1861 at the North Carolina Railroad.
Chesley P. was twenty-three years old when he enlisted. He was wounded in the hand on June 27, 1862 at Gaines’ Mill, Virginia. A little over a year later, he was wounded in the knee at Gettysburg, on July 1, 1863, and taken prisoner. He was sent to the hospital at David’s Island, NY Harbor, then exchanged on Sept. 16, 1863. On March 25, 1865, Chelsey was captured at Fort Stedman, Virginia, and sent to Point Lookout, Maryland, where he was confined until he took the Oath of Allegiance on June 26, 1865. Chelsey was then released, and he returned home.
In February of 1862, Chesley‘s brother, Thomas J. Couch, enlisted in A Company, 66th Infantry (North Carolina). According to his regimental records, Thomas was killed on Jan. 23, 1864. David Warren Couch, their oldest brother, also enlisted in the Confederacy and served in Company A of the 66th Infantry (North Carolina), but records for him are incomplete. Family lore claims that David died in April 1866 from a fever contracted during the war.
On Oct 5, 1861, William Couch, son of William and Dicey Couch and grandson of Thomas Couch III, was appointed by the sheriff to open the polls and hold the election at William Trice’s precinct on the first Wednesday in November next for elections of President and Vice President for a member of Congress to represent the 5th Congressional District of North Carolina.
After the election, on November 20, 1861, the brothers William, Nathan, and John Will Couch joined the Confederate Army. William enlisted as a corporal. George H. Couch and William Gaston Couch, brothers who were the cousins of William, Nathan, and John Will, also enlisted on that same November day. George and William Gaston were sons of Harden and Sally Warren Couch and also grandsons of Thomas Couch III. All five Couch men served in Company A, 13th Battalion Infantry (North Carolina). They were all transferred to the 66th Infantry (North Carolina) on Oct. 2, 1863. George and Gaston were close, and the 1860 census shows the two brothers living with their sister, Susan Couch Redding.
John Will Couch was engaged to Julia Shields during the war years, and he wrote poetry and letters to her. He referred to the war as inhuman and wrote, “I‘m so tired of this war. It has brought grief and sorrow.” On April 19, 1864, he wrote, “I am inclined to think there is 10 chances to die where there are one to live in this dreadful war.”
Back at home in Orange County at the war’s end, the Union Army seized animals and food for their men. Dicey Couch filed a complaint with the Southern Claims Commission for a horse, a mule, and bacon. (See submission titled “Dicey Couch’s Petition to the Commissioners of Claims: The Orange County Woman Sought Compensation for a Horse, a Mule, and Bacon”)
Edward and Mary Couch had a grandson, Wesley Daniel Couch who served in the Confederate Army, too. Wesley was the son of John Couch [mother unknown] and was residing in Chatham County when he enlisted on April 1, 1864. He was a private in G Company, 5th Cavalry (North Carolina). Wesley died of typhoid on July 18, 1864 at the hospital at Goldsboro, North Carolina.
In summary, the Civil War had grave consequences for the Couch family of Orange County. In all, at least eleven Couch men served the Confederacy, and unfortunately, all of them did not return to their homes afterward.