AUTHOR: William Smith
My Great-Grandfather, Ben Casey, served in the 3rd NC Heavy Artillery during the Civil War. He was from Indian Springs, NC in Wayne County. He enlisted in 1862 and was stationed at Southport, NC where he served as a boatman – one of a crew that rowed between forts and ships at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. He spent most of the war there, but was also in the Battle of Honey Hill, SC.
He was captured at Fort Fisher, and was evacuated to Point Lookout, MD. From there he was taken by train with others to Elmira, NY. He survived extreme exposure, malnutrition, and disease in a camp where 3,000 prisoners died in less than a year. He took the oath and was released in June, 1865. He and 72 other frail prisoners were put-out and left to their own devices to get home. They walked back to NC. 48 of them died on the way home.
According to my Grandmother – who knew him quite well – when he returned home, he weighed under 100 pounds. This was remarkable because he was actually considered to be a large man – part of the reason he was a boatman. His mother made him undress and take a bath in the yard, while they burned his clothes and cut his hair to kill the lice.
He recovered, and lived to be an old man. Grandmother remembered him coming to her grade-school class to talk about the Battle of Fort Fisher – and him using his cane like a rifle to reenact his stories.
I heard two of these stories from my Grandmother. The first was about sitting down for breakfast the morning of the surrender of Fort Fisher. The Union soldiers had not eaten for many hours. He remarked that it was strange for the fighting to suddenly end, and then everyone immediately started cooking breakfast. Then, exhausted Confederate and Union soldiers sat down and ate together.
The second was that during breakfast the fort’s magazine exploded and several men were killed. Confederate prisoners were made to locate and dig-up mines around the fort.
Casey is a common name in eastern Wayne County. In my research, I have found literally dozens of Ben Casey’s, including a few buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Elmira. I have some photos of him later in life, but none from the Civil War.