AUTHOR:  Donald Reaves

Robert Reaves was my 3rd great uncle and older brother to my 2nd great grandfather, David Reaves of Wolfscrape District of Duplin County.  David Reaves served as a 1st Lieutenant in Duplin County Home Guard.  Their youngest brother and my 3rd great uncle, Timothy Reaves was a private in the Confederate Army.

This is first of several Reaves Family stories whom provided several sons to the Confederate Army during the civil war.  This particular story is about the toll and tragedy Robert Reaves family experienced.

Robert Reaves (1814 – 1881) was a farmer, turpentine harvester, husband to Lucy Lewis Reaves and fathered ten children leading up to the Civil War campaign.  He tended like any god serving man during that era, a 425-acre farm growing food and raising various livestock southwest of Faison North Carolina in what is now known as Bowdens, NC.  A farm as vast as 425 acres required a large family to tend.  It is doubtful he owned slaves.

Robert Reaves was steadfast against the war for moral causes yet forced to become involved impacting his family dramatically.  Prior to the war, Robert Reaves already suffered great tragedy. He eldest son died at birth in 1836.  A second son, age fifteen died 1860.

At the wars outbreak in 1861, Robert Reaves had four sons age 18 and over, all fit and qualified for service. A fifth son was age fifteen.  The following notes three sons whom served the Confederate Army, several of which died during this conflict.

Loami Reaves (1838 – 1862), helped farmed and manage the family turpentine operation.  He was 24 years of age when conscripted in to the Confederate Army July 16, 1862 as a private in Company B, 3rd Regiment of North Carolina Infantry. He was mortally wounded in or near the horrific skirmish of The Cornfield, the single bloodiest day in American History during the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.  Of the 25,000 union and confederate soldiers who confronted one another that morning in the cornfield for thirty minutes, almost 8,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in and around the cornfield alone.  Loami Reaves was captured by Union troops the same day in Sharpsburg Md. He died weeks later on November 6, 1862, He is buried at Mt Olivet Hospital Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland.

Jesse Reaves (1843- 1863), tended the farm and when age 19, was conscripted into the Confederate Army, October 1, 1862 as a private in Company B, 52nd Regiment of North Carolina Infantry. He was wounded in battle at Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg Pa, July 3, 1863.  The following day, July 4, 1863 he was captured by the Union Army in Cashtown Pa.  Records note he died from typhoid pneumonia December 31, 1863 at General Hospital No. 9 in Richmond Va. His belongings consisting of a knapsack and uniform were forward to his father October 26, 1864.  He’s not listed as being buried amongst the five Richmond cemeteries supporting confederate dead.

Stephen James Reaves (1839 – 1900). Like his brothers, Stephen James Reaves tended the family farm.  No specific Civil War record for a Stephen Reaves from Duplin County exists however Stephen Reaves from Cumberland and James Stephen Reaves from Lumberton regions do exist and each survived the war. We also see a Stephen Reaves from Harnett County by means of his widow’s application for pension.

What we know is Stephen Reaves of Duplin County survived the war. My genealogy research led me to a surviving cousin now living in California whose genealogy research notes he’s a 2nd great grandson of Robert Reaves and great grandson of his son, Stephen James Reaves of Duplin County.  Per an 1870 census, it appears Stephen J Reaves settled in Minnesota immediately after the war, soon married, had two daughters, ages 3 and 3 months.  An 1875 territory census shows Stephen J Reaves in Minnesota and about the same age as one whom was born around 1839.  Both censuses note Stephen J Reaves originated from North Carolina.

With help of a civil war researcher friend, this is what we suspect happened using James S. Reaves of Lumberton district who may have been Stephen James Reaves of Duplin County.  Keep in mind, record keeping in those days was fairly good but subject to error.  These records note he was assigned as a private in Company H, 1st Regiment North Carolina Infantry, later deserted, then captured and assigned to Union POW Old Capital Prison in Washington DC in January 1864.  Records note he received his Oath of Amnesty March 15, 1864 and released to Philadelphia where on March 17, 1864, two days later James Stephen Reaves enlists in Company ? of 163rd Regiment, 18th Calvary of Union army. When the war ended, Stephen Reaves knew if he returns home he’d face death for desertion, possibly by hanging. Instead he retreated to Minnesota, married, raised two daughters and died in 1900.

Confederate desertion was common for many causes.  They included poor equipment, constant illness and disease, poor food and nourishment and fact they were conscripted to fight against their moral judgement and will.  The quality of life, food and battlefield care during the war was horrific.  Some returned home to help their family farm, tend to sick ones, and protect their loved ones from outliers, bushwhackers in what was becoming a lawless county.  Many rejoined their ranks after weeks of absence.  Confederate Virginians desertion rate was between 10 -15 percent compared to Union desertion rates of 9 – 12 percent.  Prior to mid-1862 desertion was punished lightly but following the Confederate Conscription Act of April 1862, punishment included execution, possibility the family farm be destroyed even his father being jailed and hanged for harboring a deserter.  Knowing his father’s brother, David Reaves, was 1st lieutenant of Duplin Home Guard and charged with administering desertion policies, it’s clear why Stephan never returned home.

Having never seen nor heard from Stephen ever again, Robert Reaves truly believed and swore under oath to Commissioners of Claims, three sons died during the war.  In addition, his claim notes Brigadier General Alfred Terry’s Union army raided his Duplin County farm multiple times.  After his troops conquered Fort Fisher near Wilmington, General Sherman’s Carolina Campaign advanced deeper into North Carolina. Troops under General Terry’s command took control of Faison using Isham R. Faison’s home as their headquarters.  During their stay, suppressing the Faison Depot rebellion, and prior to heading north towards Mt Olive, Newton Grove and later Bentonville, General Terry’s troops often raided local farms for food and supplies and sometimes killed landowners in the process.  Per Robert Reaves claim, in March 1865, General Sherman’s troops visited his farm several times between March 18 and April 1865, taking property consisting of cattle, horses and carts/buggies hauling thousands of lbs of bacon, flour, corn and livestock feed.  As part of the claim, Robert provided three signed affidavits from neighbors supporting his case.  In conclusion, Robert Reaves was awarded $1,706 of his $2,191 claim.

While food and other provisions could be replaced, his sons couldn’t.  Robert Reaves’ journey ended in 1881.  His wife Lucy died in 1870. The family suffered much, but perhaps the course made him stronger till the end. Surviving were three sons and four daughters including Stephen James Reaves. After much research with assistance from a close friend, the true toll and tragedy the civil war campaign had on Robert Reaves Family can be shared.  His tragedy is remindful of the Jimmy Stewart 1965 civil war movie, “Shenandoah” where a simple farmer and his family hoped to avoid the war but instead it found them.  Knowing the family history, I’ll view Shenandoah movie much closer.  The movie truly hits close to home.

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