AUTHOR: Herb L. Poole (edited and vetted by Cheri Molter)
(Publisher’s note: Click on this link — Pictures and Records of J B Pool and Family — for more information)
“As they left that morning and took a last look back and saw a golden haze which, even at the moment of looking, they knew they would never see again. They tell how the birds were singing, and how the warm scented air came rolling up the river valley, and how they noticed things like wildflowers and the young green leaves, and they speak of the moving pageant which they saw and of which they themselves were part. Everything was bright and blowing. It would never be like this again, and young men who were to live on to a great age, drowsing out the lives of old soldiers in a land that would honor them and then tolerate them and finally forget them, would look back on this one morning and see in it something that came from a dream.”
~ Bruce Catton
The patchy fog and dark clouds that had been there in the early morning had burned off. The sky was clear except for a few cumulus clouds building in the afternoon heat of the July day. For the past two hours, the earth in the rolling southern Pennsylvania countryside had shook as Confederate artillery had bombarded the Union positions on Cemetery Hill. The acrid smell hung in the air, but the smoke from the artillery barrage that had clung close to the ground had lifted like a rising curtain that would herald the opening drama about to unfold. 1st Lt. James Pool, at a quick measured pace, had moved out of the woods and onto the field toward the Federal positions about a mile away. His slouched hat was pulled low on his brow with his shoulders hunched as he moved forward with the men of Company G. “Press on, boys.” It had been almost two years since he had left the farm in western Alexander County. The worn, gray homespun uniform hung loosely on a body that had grown thin and wiry from the long marches that led from New Bern, to Manassas, to Fredericksburg, to Chancellorsville, to a field in Pennsylvania. He smelled of the campfire smoke and stale sweat of clothes worn from week to week. His dark, penetrating eyes hung deep in their sockets. His shoes were worn, but he had heard that there may be replacements in the town of Gettysburg. The heat and humidity of the day was beginning to build, and the afternoon sun shown down on his back as the men of Company G continued their arduous journey across the field. He could see the great mass of Pettigrew’s Division in front, advancing in superb order, line after line, red battle flags, row on row. He passed smoldering ruins at the double quick, across fences, ditches, and other obstacles. Then it seemed as if every musket and every cannon in this part of the Yankee line opened at once. The ripping sounds of grape and rifle fire from the Federal batteries surrounded the men. There was the occasional grunt as the men were hit and fell, but on they went, too much enveloped in smoke and dust to permit them to distinguish their lines of movement. Great gaps were being torn in the Confederate lines. “Press on, boys.”
As James Pool moved forward amid the carnage, time slowed, and he focused inward: He remembered the rolling hills and wandering branches of western Alexander County at the foot of the Brushy Mountains. He thought of his friends and family, the unbreakable bonds that they shared because of their ties to the land, the wagon trips to Taylorsville to trade and catch up on the latest news and gossip, and the students at the small country school where he taught before the war. He thought of his elder brother, Nathan, who had taught him how to hunt rabbits and squirrels and to fish in the waterways nearby, and his younger brothers, one of whom was also serving in the Confederate Army. He remembered his pioneering grandfather, Jesse, who had died just a month before the war began. He remembered the farm at the foot of the Brushy Mountains just west of Lambert’s Fork of the Little River. He imagined he saw a vision of his mother’s face, heard his father’s stern voice, smelled the aroma of freshly baked bread, felt the warmth of sunshine, and heard the muted sounds of rain on the roof, the cry of a newborn babe, and familiar voices calling, “Goodnight!” His mind took him to a refuge, a haven…home. Around him, the battle raged.
James Benjamin Pool was born on 5 April 1841 in Caldwell County. (In 1847, Alexander County was formed from the counties of Wilkes, Caldwell, and Iredell counties with the county seat situated in Taylorsville.) He was the seventh child of William and Mary Pool. He grew up on a farm located between Lambert Fork and Beaver Branch, about a mile east of All Healing Springs. From his earliest age, he was expected to help on the farm, tending to animals along with planting and harvesting the crops. There was still time for hunting and fishing and swimming in the Lower Little River with his brothers and sisters, though. His father, due to his lack of formal education, encouraged James to pursue his schooling. He attended a one-room school near Ellendale for three months each winter. Eventually, his love of learning led him to teaching others when he was still in his teens; he taught at the schoolhouse of District 32 in what became Center School at Ellendale. James also attended classes at The United Baptist Institute.
In 1860, James attended the Institute while continuing to teach at the school in Ellendale. Life was good, and his father’s farm prospered. However, black clouds were gathering on the horizon. Tensions had been growing worse between the northern and southern states over the issue of the expansion of slavery. (The only member of the Pool family who owned enslaved individuals was James Pool, James Benjamin’s uncle.) Eventually, relations between the southern states and the federal government deteriorated to a point in which South Carolina seceded from the Union, and President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion. In May 1861, North Carolina followed her sister southern states and succeeded from the Union, issuing a call to arms. On May 16, 1861 James’ older brother, Nathan, joined the Confederate Army as a 1st Lieutenant. He was commissioned into Company K of the 7th Infantry of the North Carolina Troops. On Oct. 9, 1861, James B. Pool gave up his life as a farmer and teacher, and like many of his contemporaries, he volunteered for service. A little over a month later, on Nov. 20th, James mustered into Company G, 37th Infantry of the North Carolina Troops.
When North Carolina called for troops in 1861, twenty-year-old James B. was attending the Baptist Institute in Taylorsville while teaching school in Ellendale during the winter months and helping on his father’s farm. He had a wiry build and was 5’10” tall. He had gentle eyes with the beginnings of a widow’s peak and had a full beard. Like many North Carolinians, James B. volunteered for service. A regiment usually consisted of ten companies lettered from A to K, and a company contained from sixty-four to one hundred men. These companies were normally comprised of men from the same local community—brothers, fathers, friends, and neighbors. Enlistment day was generally a day of excitement: Local folks supplied a dinner and presented company flags. Speeches were made, and the new soldiers elected their company officers. James B. Pool was enrolled for active service as a private for a period of one year.
For many young men, this was their first time away from Alexander County. Instruction in company drills was one of the most important aspects of a soldier’s life, and the volunteers drilled five hours a day. Camp life was an abrupt adjustment for the men. Personal freedom had always been something these men took for granted. These freedoms were now supplanted by the highly regulated duties of a soldier’s life. Typically, reveille was at daybreak, breakfast at 6:30 a.m., squad drill from 8 to 9 a.m., company drill from 10 to 12 noon, dinner at 12:30 p.m., battalion drill from 3 to 4:30 p.m., dress parade at 5:30 p.m., Tattoo at 8 p.m. and Taps at 8:30 p.m. Their diets consisted of flour, bacon, sweet potatoes, and cabbage.
The 37th Infantry departed from Camp Fisher on December 27, 1861 and moved by rail to Camp Mangum, near Raleigh. There was a shortage of food and water and the cooking utensils had not yet arrived. Tents lacked plank floors and there was no straw for bedding. Many of the men had spent their entire lives on farms and had never been exposed to many ailments, such as mumps and the measles. These and other diseases wreaked havoc on the troops throughout the war. As many as one-third of the 37th were out sick during this time. The 37th spent sixteen miserable days at Camp Magnum. They were transferred to New Bern afterward, and on January 9, 1962, they boarded the train for their next destination.
On January 12, 1862, the newly trained soldiers arrived in New Bern. The men of the 37th were armed with 1842 percussion muskets, which were smooth-bore and had a limited range of 150 yards. Each soldier was issued 40 to 60 rounds ammunition. Victuals were much better at New Bern—oysters, bacon, sugar peas, and molasses. By January 19th, they had moved to Camp Tadpole, which was located about three miles east of New Bern on damp, boggy, low lying land. By February 20th, the 37th had relocated to Camp Lee. They continued to work on the fortifications around New Bern. The Union assault on New Bern began early in the morning on March 14th, and the 37th took up position in the breastworks. The heavy artillery fire from the Federal gunboats, heavy thunderstorms, and the cold weather made the day even more miserable. With things not going in the Confederates’ favor, the 37th was ordered to retreat and move on toward Kinston. James B. Pool and the rest of the 37th were transported by train from New Bern to Kinston.
In April there were new officer elections. James was promoted to 1st Sergeant on April 1, 1862. Many Confederate officers resigned in the middle of April because they were not willing to serve for three years, and on May 1st, James was promoted to 3rd Lieutenant. After reorganization, the regiment was re-supplied because most of their blankets and clothing had been lost in the hasty retreat from New Bern. Many received clothing and other items from family and friends. The 37th spent the next six weeks in the vicinity of Kinston. This brought the return of routine to the soldiers’ lives. They drilled for up to five hours a day with fully loaded packs of gear and ammunition. However, nothing could prepare them for the experiences that awaited them.
Next, the men of the 37th boarded a train in Kinston and moved to Goldsboro. From there they made their way north via the Weldon Railroad to Gordonsville, which was northeast of Charlottesville. They arrived on May 4th. The 37th was ordered into western Virginia to join Ewell and Jackson and drive the Union forces north. Hanover Court House was a strategic vantage point for both the Union and the Confederacy. On May 27, 1862, the Union and Confederate forces collided in battle. The 37th was ordered to assault the right and center of the Federal line, but they were more than the 37th could handle, so they had to retreat. Several men of Company G were killed, including three brothers from Alexander County—Joel B., John C., and William P. Robnett [also spelled Robinett].
Afterward, the 37th camped on the Chickahominy River where they remained until June 13th. They were hungry, without tents or clean clothes, and hundreds of miles from home. The regiment suffered greatly from sickness and disease. They moved to a camp near Richmond about a week later. On June 24, 1862, they were ordered to draw two days rations and be ready to march toward Mechanicsville, northeast of Richmond. While traveling toward Mechanicsville, the Federals put up an ineffectual resistance as the brigade crossed the Chickahominy River. That began the Seven Days campaign.
They found the Federals entrenched on high ground behind Boatswains Creek, a thirty-foot-deep, wooded ravine that some called a swamp. The 37th arrived on the field of battle when it was thick with smoke, and their visibility was limited. Branch’s position was between two roads, not far from Gaines’s Mill. That afternoon, Hill ordered the attack. Once the 37th entered the thick brush, all semblance of order was lost: They fell back across the creek and ran into a wall of their own troops. After the 37th reformed they charged again, and a bloody engagement ensued. Around 9 p.m., the Union forces were driven from the field. Exhausted, the 37th bivouacked on the field that night. The next day started out the same: They were up early and on the road in sweltering heat.
The men of the 37th ended their first month and a half of service in the Army of Northern Virginia with many of its men killed, wounded, or captured. Since its transfer to Virginia, 42 men had been killed, 140 were wounded (of which 33 died), and 169 had been captured. By July 1862, the 37th was well beneath regimental half-strength.
On July 7th, the 37th moved out from the vicinity of Malvern Hill and camped about 13 miles east of Richmond. The men made their flour into dough on oil cloths and baked it into cakes on pieces of staves, around sticks. They roasted beef and bacon on sticks. On July 27th, they received new marching orders. They were to join “Stonewall” Jackson’s command. On the morning of August 8th, Branch’s brigade marched with A.P. Hill’s Division. Jackson’s plan to relieve some of the pressure on Richmond was to destroy a portion of the Federal army located near Culpeper Courthouse. On August 9th, the high temperature was 98 degrees, and that was the day that the Battle of Cedar Mountain began. The 37th was deployed to the left of the Culpeper Road in the woods. Fierce fighting continued throughout the day. As the Federals retreated under heavy artillery fire, Branch, along with the other brigades, launched attacks. By darkness, the 37th had helped to push the remnants of the Federal forces away. However, James B. Pool was wounded that day and was out of action until August 15, 1862.
Lee decided to move troops further to the south, across the Bull Run Mountains, and the men were ordered to leave behind their knapsacks and were issued sixty rounds of ammunition. After a forced march, Branch’s brigade arrived at the Federal storehouses of Manassas on August 27th. Soon the depot was in flames. Branch’s brigade moved across the Bull Run toward Centerville, halting around daybreak, and then resuming their march about midday to rejoin Jackson’s main force. On Thursday, August 28th, the 37th was near the field of the first battle of Manassas, and they could hear the clatter of musketry in the distance. That night, Branch was ordered to shift to the far left of the Confederate line to support Gregg. The next morning, on August 29th, Gregg was heavily engaged with the Federals, and the 37th rushed to bolster Gregg’s line; however, its right flank was exposed to enemy fire. In a report describing the events, one company captain wrote, “In a few minutes two thirds of my company had been struck.” The fire was so great that the individual companies of the 37th began to give way and fell back. They reformed and fought again, but by nightfall, both sides were completely exhausted. Branch’s brigade was withdrawn that night from the front lines. During that 2nd Battle of Manassas, 3rd Lieutenant James B. Pool was wounded again. He was sent to a field hospital near the Sudley Church where his wounds were treated. According to his military records, he rejoined his company on Oct. 15, 1862.
On September 24, 1862, the 37th received a much-needed boost to its numbers with the arrival of new conscripts. All men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five were then forced to join the Confederate Army. The 37th received a total of 346 new conscripts. The command of the 37th was in disarray because of the number of officers who had been killed, wounded, taken prisoner, or were ill. Fortunately, October was a quiet month for the regiment, which was stationed near Winchester, Virginia. There was, of course, picket duty and occasional forays into the countryside to search for food. They had been put on reduced rations and limited to one-fourth pound of beef, but the area abounded with fruit. Promotions were also made that month. James B. Pool was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, and William Barbour was promoted to Colonel. Colonel Lane was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of Branch’s brigade.
On November 22nd, the 37th broke camp and headed south. The weather was bitterly cold, and many of the men were without shoes or coats. By early December, they were about five miles south of Fredericksburg. On December 13th, James B. Pool was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Arriving at Fredericksburg, the 37th assumed a position along a wooded ridge at the south end of town. The field in front of them, along the railroad lines, was exposed and easy to defend against a frontal assault. On December 15th, the Union forces bombarded the Confederate positions. Thereafter, the Union troops began to charge across the open field under intense fire. The 37th was on the right flank and Lane’s orders were to hold the line at all costs as the Federals came pouring over the railroad. Col. Barbour ordered the companies on the right flank (G, A, and F) to curve back so they faced the flank rather than the front of the Union charge. The 37th held the Federals back for a time but suffered serious casualties of their own. Lt. James B. Pool was struck in the head.
The Federals advanced once more and overwhelmed the thin lines of the 37th, forcing them and the 28th, to retreat into the woods where they reformed and engaged the Federals once more. Several of the 37th were captured. After dark they were re-supplied with ammunition, and they returned to the line where they spent time reinforcing the breastworks. About 10 A.M. the next morning, the 37th moved to the rear to rest and then on with the rest of Jackson’s troops to Front Royal. At Fredericksburg, the 37th suffered 19 killed and 82 wounded; as noted earlier, Lt. Pool was wounded.
In mid-January, Lt. James B. Pool was granted a thirty-day furlough to go home to see family and friends and recover from his wounds. He walked to the nearest depot and traveled via the Danville Railroad to Salisbury and then to Statesville. From there, the 25-mile journey home was made by foot or by wagon. After experiencing the hardships of the past 18 months—after having seen so much death and being wounded twice—it must have been a joyous relief to see his family again, eat good meals, and sleep in his own bed. In February, he left Alexander County and headed back to his regiment. He did not see home again for over two years.
By mid-April, the long, dreary months of inactivity for the 37th were ending. Union forces had concentrated around Chancellorsville, near the confluence of the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, and Union General Hooker had planned a double envelopment of the Confederate forces, attempting to strike Lee’s forces in the rear. On Friday morning, May 1st, the 37th, along with the rest of A.P. Hill’s division, moved down Plank Road towards Chancellorsville. General Hill sent Lane’s brigade to reconnoiter the Orange Plank Road. Skirmishes broke out between the Federals and the Confederates, but darkness halted the fighting. The 37th bivouacked near the junction of Orange Plank Road and Furnace Road. The next morning, the 37th moved out on the flanking march of Stonewall Jackson. Colonel Barbour reported the 37th Regiment’s part in the battle during the evening of May 2 and on May 3 as follows:
“After a rapid march, we gained the enemy’s right flank on Saturday evening [May 2], and a running fight ensued between the advanced troops of our army and those of the enemy. Moving rapidly by the right flank, we soon gained a point near Chancellorsville, where the enemy had several batteries in position, which did us considerable injury that evening. After sunset, my regiment was deployed to the right of the road, behind a small breastwork which the enemy had abandoned. Skirmishers were thrown forward, and my regiment rested for the night.
Early next morning, I received orders to advance in line of battle and assail the enemy’s works in my front, my left resting on the road. I immediately put my regiment in motion, and advanced steadily under a murderous fire of grape, shell, and Minie [sic] balls. After a desperate struggle, I succeeded in carrying the breastworks in front and in capturing a number of prisoners. About this time I received a wound in my right arm, which compelled me to leave the field. I am informed by my senior captain, commanding the regiment, that the regiment continued to advance upon the enemy’s second line of entrenchments, but, in common with the whole brigade, was compelled to retire by an enfilade fire from the enemy’s artillery and infantry. (Official Records, Series I, Vol. XXV, pt. 1, pp. 923-924)
The brief time the 37th spent in battle on that day was one of the regiment’s worst fights of the war. Lt. James B. Pool was once again wounded. The total casualties for the 37th were 19 officers wounded, 35 men killed, 175 wounded, and 8 missing. At that point, the surviving soldiers of the 37th were tired, hungry, dirty, and mourning the loss of many of their brothers. On May 7th, they returned to their winter quarters at Moss Neck. Unfortunately, rations were in short supply and food was always on the minds of the soldiers. Flour, bacon, field peas, and rice became the daily staple. The men were mustered and paid. Many took the opportunity to go home. The regiment’s time was spent was on and off picket duty. They were entrenched on the heights overlooking Fredericksburg, keeping a wary eye on Hooker’s army and determined to prevent any move toward Richmond. Lt. Pool healed from his wound and returned to serve with his company on June 15, 1862.
After the death of Stonewall Jackson, Lee reorganized his army into three corps: Longstreet’s, Ewell’s, and A.P. Hill’s. The 37th was placed under Major General William Pender, who operated under A.P. Hill. At that time, there were about 24 men in Company G. On June 22nd, Lee ordered Hill’s corps to cross the Potomac. They averaged 15 to 20 miles traveled per day and advanced on Hagerstown on the June 24th. On the morning of June 27th, Hill’s corps arrived at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and turned east. They had marched 157 miles in twelve days. They rested in Fayetteville until June 29th when Hill’s corps was ordered to Cashtown, about twelve miles east of Fayetteville. On the evening of June 30th, Hill arrived at Cashtown with Pender’s division and decided to advance on the town of Gettysburg, about seven miles away. Pender and Heth’s division advanced on Gettysburg the next morning. Heth sent a brigade of Pettigrew’s to Gettysburg to search for supplies. Pettigrew’s division ran into two Federal Calvary brigades on the outskirts of town. Pettigrew reported this to Heth and Hill, “neither of whom believed the North Carolinian” (Michael C. Hardy, The Thirty-seventh North Carolina Troops: Tar Heels in the Army of Northern Virginia, pg. 145).
The men of Company G awoke to a light drizzle on July 1st. By afternoon it was in the mid-70s, cloudy and humid with a slight breeze. The 37th began the march about 8 A.M. along the Chambersburg Pike, toward Gettysburg. As the morning wore on, they heard the fighting of Heth’s division, which had advanced on Gettysburg early that morning. Engaged in fierce fighting, they succeeded in driving Federal soldiers back to a line along Seminary Ridge. Heth was wounded, and Pettigrew took command of the division. The 37th, under Lane, was shifted to the right of Chambersburg Pike. A gap developed between the brigade’s right and left of the trailing skirmish line. To fill this gap, Col. W. M. Barbour of Company G, 37th N.C., was ordered to deploy 40 of his men to be skirmishers on the line of the N.C. 7th. The Union Army’s 8th Illinois Cavalry moved to Lane’s right flank. Lane ordered Company G of the 37th to attack this force. They advanced, and the men of Company G “gave a yell, and rushed forward at the double-quick, and the whole of the enemy’s force beat a hasty retreat to Cemetery Hill” (Lane’s Brigade at Gettysburg–Summary of Reports by Lane, 1892, Auburn University Archives and Manuscripts Department, ff.108a). Lane was ordered not to advance further by Pender. Under a Federal artillery barrage, the 37th pulled back and took cover behind the stone wall they had taken earlier in the day. Pender’s division, along with Ewell’s corps, pushed the Union forces back through town and onto Cemetery Hill, just south of Gettysburg. Hill’s forces, including the 37th, occupied the northern end of Seminary Ridge as night fell. They were given twenty-four hours to rest before they took part in another attack – the assault on July 3rd.
Patchy fog and dark clouds greeted the men of the 37th on July 3rd. Lee had decided on a new plan of attack: The battle plan was comprised of two wings. Heth’s division, under Pettigrew, constituted the first line of the left wing. Behind the right side of Heth’s line were two brigades from Pender’s Division. With Pender out of action, General Issac Trimble was in command of the division. Half of Pender’s division was commanded by General Lane, who was ordered to move to the right with two brigades to support Longstreet. About noon, the 37th moved into position to the rear of Marshall’s brigade of Heth’s Division. The leading lines of men stretched about 6,000 feet. At 3 P.M, they moved forward at a common time. Lane’s Brigade, including the 37th, moved out of the protection of the woods, down the slope of Seminary Hill, and made the arduous journey across the field behind Pettigrew’s Division to become part of what later became called Pickett’s Charge.
Almost as soon as the first distant lines marched into view, the Union batteries opened fire. Shells exploded, then gaps appeared. Lt. James B. Pool saw smoke rolling across the top of the hill as a whole new set of batteries opened up; there was no counter fire from behind. The men slowed; some stopped to fire. The neat lines were gone, and there was growing confusion as flags dropped and men fell. “The smoke was so dense and at times I could not see my own men,” noted a Tarheel officer. Soon, Lane’s left flank was exposed to direct Federal fire. Pettigrew’s Brigade charged up the slope from Emmitsburg Road. The Union skirmishers fell back to Cemetery Ridge and fired when the Confederates got to within 100 yards of the Union infantry. Pettigrew’s Brigade was shredded by this volley. Lane moved ahead without halting and took a position on the left of Pettigrew’s troops only to meet a similar fate. Lane attempted to re-organize his forces, but confusion ensued. As the North Carolinians finally reached the Emmitsburg Road, they were raked from both the front and the left. In the smoke and confusion, many of the men laid down, waiting for reinforcements that never arrived; others kept moving. Part of the 37th, the right-wing containing Company G, continued to advance to their front. They rushed for the stone wall; however, the rest of Lane’s Brigade was forced to retire form the field. With his company decimated and overrun by Federal troops, Lt. James B. Pool surrendered at the foot of Cemetery Ridge. For him, the fighting was over.
Lt. James B. Pool and the other captured Confederates were marched three miles to the rear. Near midnight on Saturday, July 4th, they were awakened, and they marched until about daylight before halting to rest. Everyone suffered from fatigue and thirst. As the day wore one, the heat became oppressive. About noon, they reached Westminster, Maryland, which was crowded with Federal soldiers and wagons filled with their sick and wounded men. On July 5th, the captured soldiers were loaded on a train that took them to Baltimore. At Baltimore, they were escorted to Ft. McHenry. They arrived on July 6th; then that evening, they boarded the steamer Kennebec near the mouth of the Patapsco River. On Tuesday, July 7th, they traveled to their dreaded destination, Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island. There, the captured Confederates were searched, contraband was confiscated, and they were marched to their barracks. The captured officers were all confined together in one portion of the barracks.
Fort Delaware is located on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River just above the entrance to Delaware Bay. After Gettysburg, the prison’s population surged to more than 11,000. While the facility was ill equipped to house the number of prisoners who came to the island, Fort Delaware was not as cruel or deadly as some other Civil War era prisons. Even though disease and poor nutrition were issues at Fort Delaware, the mortality rate was not as bad as it was elsewhere. Confederates were given wooden bunks in barracks. Two meals a day were served in the dining room, which was filled with long tables that looked like work benches, on which they ate hard bread and some beef. The accommodations differed very little from their guards’, who were also housed in similar quarters. Overcrowding and the swampy nature of the island led to infestations of lice, rats, malaria-infected mosquitoes, and other vermin. Dysentery, smallpox, and other diseases were common. Some Union guards, usually those with the least experience, meted out cruel punishments, but others, usually combat veterans, were fair and considerate. Their contact with families was limited to single-page letters due to the overwhelming volume of mail that had to be screened by clerks.
A couple of weeks later, Lt. James B. Pool was transferred to Johnson’s Island Prison, located on Lake Erie in Ohio. On July 18, 1863, the men left Fort Delaware; four hundred-thirty men, all officers, embarked on a steamer and proceeded up the Delaware River, past the city of Wilmington. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Confederates boarded a train for their passage to Pittsburgh. On Sunday, July 19th, they arrived at Pittsburgh, where people attempted to catch a glimpse of the prisoners. Here they changed trains, then traveled all night, arriving at Lyons, Ohio, on Monday, July 20th. After reaching Lyons, they switched trains, and after another ride on a steamboat, they arrived at Johnson’s Island that evening.
In 1861, Johnson’s Island was chosen as the location of a prisoner-of-war camp for captured Confederates. Army-style, two-story barracks, a hospital, and two mess halls were built, all surrounded by a high, wooden fence. The compound was designed to hold about 2,500 prisoners. Summers there were humid but mild; winters were harsh with cold, damp winds blowing off Lake Erie. The prison housed mainly Confederate officers. Roll call was held twice each day, in the morning and evening. All were expected to be in their quarters after retreat. After taps, no lights were allowed on, and if lights were not extinguished after being told to do so, the guards could shoot prisoners for disobedience. For breakfast rations, bread, meat, and weak coffee were provided. For dinner, they got rice, hominy, or peas, a piece of bread, and sometimes beef or hog meat. Mail call was always the most anticipated moment because they could receive one-page letters from home.
As prisoners of war, they had to decide how they were going to cope with their situations, deciding whether to resist, to survive, or to assimilate by taking the Oath of Allegiance. Many rallied their courage and morale by holding debates, writing plays and poems, or giving French or music lessons. They created clubs and networked with the other prisoners. Those who contemplated escaping spent time planning and preparing for it; whether they disguised themselves as guards and walked across the frozen lake into Canada or tunneled out from a latrine, every idea took careful planning and time to orchestrate. Some prisoners used their time, talents, and limited resources to carve rings, broaches, and other jewelry out of hard rubber, bone, and shell. Reading newspapers was an important pastime, so they could keep informed of the latest war news, government actions, and exchanges. Lt. James B. Pool made the best of a bad situation. He sought to improve himself by continuing his education, taking courses in Latin, Greek, and astronomy.
Prisoners received packages and mail, but it was inspected, and the parcels were searched before the prisoner received them. Consequently, prisoners often relied on the sutler store to buy sewing supplies, ink, stationery, clothes, food, combs, toothbrushes, etc. These items could be purchased there for most of the war; however, toward the end, food and some other items were no longer sold to prisoners.
Lt. James B. Pool spent about twenty months confined at Johnson’s Island. In March 1865, he traveled to Cox’s Landing on the north bank of the James River. There, an exchange of prisoners took place: The Confederate flag-of-truce boat approached with the Confederate flag flying at the stern and towing a barge filled with Union prisoners for exchange. On March 22, 1865, he began his journey home.
The Confederacy collapsed as Grant pushed Lee westward in Virginia and Sherman pushed northward from Fayetteville. Trains ran irregularly, but Lt. Pool made it to Salisbury, North Carolina, and then to Statesville. From there, he traveled the final 25 miles on foot, walking to his home and family. He arrived back on the banks of Lambert Fork shorty before the war was over. Against all odds, the Pool brothers made it home.
With all prospect of completing his education being lost, James B. Pool engaged in farming and became involved in local governmental affairs. He was elected coroner, is first elected office, in 1865. Most people had no money then; inflation was rampant, and there was a shortage of goods. However, the Pool family was better off than a lot of others in the post-war South. They had always been dependent on the land, so that spring, William and his sons prepared the fields and planted crops and started rebuilding their lives.
The summer of 1865, they celebrated the safe return of the Pool brothers with a family reunion. Shortly thereafter, sadness befell the Pool family: Mary Pool, James’ mother, died on August 4, 1865. About two weeks later, though, on Aug. 22nd, James married Elizabeth Jane Teague. The couple made a life for themselves among friends and family on the rolling hills at the foot of the Brushy Mountains.
James and Elizabeth lived in a house on 50 acres of land that he purchased in 1866 for $300 from Thomas Barnes, Jr. That plot was next to William Pool’s and William S. Teague’s plots on the west bank of Lambert’s Fork of the Little River. Later, that house was occupied by Elizabeth’s sister, Eleanor, and her husband, Robert Phillip Tuttle. On December 30, 1871, James B. Pool acquired 36 additional acres from Robert S. Barnes.
On June 15, 1866, James and Elizabeth had their first child, Mary Enola. On Oct. 29, 1868, Oscar Fabian Fitzhugh Pool was born. Their third child, Iva Mae Pool was born in August 1871, but her life was short: She died in June 1873, two months before her second birthday. On Feb. 24, 1874, The Pools had their fourth child, Osmund Fairworth Pool. However, on Oct. 7, 1875, Mary Enola, at only 9 years old, died. Four years later, on Oct. 10, 1879, another daughter, Effie A. Pool, was born. The Pool children were fortunate to be reared in a home that was devoted to their church, community, and learning. They had daily chores, like chopping wood, feeding the animals, carrying water, and tending the garden. They lived across from the Partee Post Office where many vehicles passed on their way from the western areas of the state heading east. Covered wagons filled with apples, lumber, and other goods made their way to markets and pulled through muddy ruts on the ford at Lambert Fork.
On Sundays, they probably saw dandy buggies with brightly varnished wheels that flashed in the sunlight. Trips to Taylorsville must have been an adventure for the Pool children, too. Farmers and professional men stood about the courthouse square discussing current events, all the while maintaining their chews of Colonel William Byrd’s tobacco. (Expectoration was a “fine art” and usually preceded any important announcement.) If the children were good, they might have been rewarded with a piece of candy from the general store. Those trips provided times to play with other children, to see old friends, and to meet new ones.
James B. Pool was a farmer, but during the winters, he took up the profession that had been cut short by the war. He taught in the Ellendale Community at a log house school. Later, he taught at Center School, which burned down on Sept. 11, 1875. In 1879, two acres of land were donated to build a school near the site of the present Ellendale School. James taught at that school until he was elected Clerk of Court in 1890. However, James was appointed as a Trustee of the Union Baptist Institute, a position he held for the duration of his life.
There were fewer public schools then, due to the turmoil in the state. Typically, children attended school for about three or four months during the winter months when there were fewer chores to be done on their families’ farms. The school day usually started at 9 a.m. and ended about 4 in the afternoon. The curriculum consisted primarily of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Lunch was one hour, and children brought food in a metal pail. Students frequently attended school until they were about 13 years old. High school was an option only a few chose.
Of all the Pool brothers, none were more involved in politics than James. After he returned from the war, James served in various elected offices until the end of his life. During Reconstruction economic activity was limited and Black men’s right to vote was officially acknowledged nationally. Black men and carpetbaggers gained political power throughout the state, which infuriated many white people in the south, and some refused to allow Black men to hold elective offices. In 1869, Grant and Congress ordered southern legislatures to stop discriminating against Black men and admit them into a variety of offices. The political offices of Alexander County weren’t affected much by those social changes because only a few previously enslaved people lived there before or after the war, and there wasn’t much there to interest carpetbaggers.
James was a member of the Democratic Party, and on Feb. 3, 1866, James and his father, William, were appointed magistrates and bondsmen for Alexander County. In November 1866, James was elected coroner on the Democratic ticket. The following year, in 1867, he was elected Justice of the Peace. In November 1868, James was elected Alexander County Commissioner. In 1870, he was elected as Register of Deeds, an office that he held for ten years. In November of 1880, James was elected as a representative to the North Carolina Legislature on the Democratic ticket. He served for two years, until 1882. In 1884, James was elected County Commissioner, and he serve in that capacity until 1890. In July of 1890, he was elected to the Democratic Executive Committee of Ellendale Township.
After the war, James, like his father and three brothers—Christopher, Daniel, and Alexander—was called to the ministry. His first sermon was preached in Bethlehem Baptist Church in September 1869. In 1872, he was ordained by Antioch Baptist Church to the full work of the gospel ministry, in which he was engaged until failing health later in his life compelled him to resign his pastorates. He spent those years preaching and organizing Baptist churches throughout Alexander County.
Typically, a minister was the pastor of several churches and services were conducted only once a month at each church. Those services were all-day activities, starting early on Sunday morning, breaking for “dinner on the grounds,” followed by more preaching and singing until late in the afternoon. In July 1876, he became the minister of Antioch Baptist Church, which was one of the oldest churches in the Alexander County, organized in 1781, on land had been donated by William Austin, James Pool’s great-grandfather. In 1881, he became minister of Pilgrim Baptist Church. In August 1886, James helped to organize and became the minister of Lebanon Baptist Church. In April 1888, he became minister of Dover Baptist Church. The Alexander County Baptist Association was organized on September 30, 1887 at Macedonia Baptist Church. James and two of his brothers, Christopher and Daniel, were some of the ministers who formed the association. According to the stories told, James delivered some powerful sermons to the flocks that he ministered. His preaching was said to be strong and logical, carrying with it a conviction of true piety and an earnest desire for the salvation of the world. He rose awareness of the Baptist cause to the old Brushy Mountain Association and in the Alexander County Association, in which he took an active part as its historian.
During the 1890s, James lectured throughout the county for the Farmer’s Alliance. The Farmer’s Alliance was a statewide organization that had been formed in 1887. It sought to ameliorate debt, poverty, and low crop prices by educating and mobilizing rural men and women, engaging in cooperative economic organizing, and asserting their power in electoral politics. The Alliance was formed in response to monetary deflation and falling commodity prices after the American Civil War. Deflation had resulted in wide-spread debt among farmers, and many had lost their lands because they were not able to obtain high enough prices for their goods. The new Alliance was initially designed to be purely economic, rather than political. The economic premise behind the Alliance was that individual farmers, through voluntary cooperation, could form agricultural cartels to eliminate middlemen and to market their goods at higher prices to larger commodity brokers. The political activism of the Alliance gained strength in the late 1890s.
In November 1890, James B. Pool was elected Clerk of Court. Interestingly, three Pool brothers—James, Nathan, and William Alexander—held that office at different times. That was James’ last elective office, which he held until 1898. After being elected to that office, James chose to retire from teaching and moved his family to Taylorsville, which was the county seat of Alexander County. After the Pool family moved into town, George C. Teague moved into James’ old house across from Partee Post Office. Later, after George Teague moved to Taylorsville, James’ sister-in-law, Eleanor Teague Tuttle, and her husband, Robert Tuttle, moved into the Pool’s house. That old house was torn down around 1900 when Tuttle built a new house on the site.
In 1891, James B. Pool was made one of the charter members of the Confederate Veterans Association of North Carolina. This association was incorporated under the name “Soldiers’ Home Association.” On January 17, 1896, the sword of Lt. James B. Pool, CSA, was presented to the Historical Society of Trinity College (now Duke University) by Professor R. L. Flowers.
In the last years of his life, James was afflicted with rheumatism and catarrh. According to his obituary, “[h]e bore his suffering with sublime patience and Christian fortitude, never complaining.” On Saturday afternoon, October 7, 1899, he died quietly and peacefully. His obituary states that his remains were laid to rest at Antioch Baptist Church with Masonic honors in the presence of the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people who gathered to honor his memory. The services were conducted by his pastor, Elder J. A. White of the First Baptist Church in Taylorsville.
By Herb L. Poole
Osmund F. Pool
William Romulus Poole
Ann Watt Poole
Opal Watts Harrington
Laura Pool Martin
Olin Macklin Pool
Wade Hampton Pool
Rev. Daniel Wilson Pool
Lorene Pool Puckett
Bill Tom Adams, Jr.
Helen Pool Campbell
Pearl Barnette Stickel
Jean Millsaps Harpe
W. N. (Red) Watt
Rev. Walter L. Beach
William W. Barnes
Tressie Pierce Fletcher
Rev. Darryl Poole
Peggy Puckett Hamilton
The Autobiography of William Alexander Pool, DD – William Alexander Pool
A History of Alexander County Schools – T. Green Teague
A History of North Carolina Baptists – George Washington Paschal
Alexander County 1850 Agricultural Census
North Carolina State Archives
The Heritage of Alexander County – Genealogical Society of Alexander County
Prologue, History of Alexander County – Pen Lile Pittard
A Brief History of the Brushy Mountain Association – Mrs. H. G. Duncan
A History of Alexander County – Prof. William E. White
The Story of Three Forks Baptist Church
Early Cotton Factories in North Carolina & Alexander County – W.N. Watt
The Thirty-seventh North Carolina Troop: Tar Heels in the Army of Northern Virginia (2003) – Michael C. Hardy
A Stillness at Appomattox: The Army of the Potomac Trilogy (2010) – Bruce Catton
The Watts Family – Cub Watts
The School of the Prophets – Daniel Pool
Official Records, Series I, Vol. IV, p. 719
North Carolina Troops 1861-1865 Vol. IX – Jordan
The Mountain Scout
The Alexander County Journal
The Taylorsville Index
The Taylorsville Times
The Landmark of Statesville, NC
The Tahian – Taylorsville High School Yearbook
The Raleigh News & Observer
Declassified: 50 Top-Secret Documents That Changed History – Thomas B. Allen
Worthy of Record – The Civil War & Reconstruction Diaries of Columbus L. Turner
Also for Glory – Don Ernsberger
Mead’s Breakthrough at Fredericksburg – Don Ernsberger
Close to the Land: The Way We Lived In North Carolina, 1820-1870 – Thomas H. Clayton