08/17/06 — Historian tells story of occupation of Goldsboro

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Historian tells story of occupation of Goldsboro

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 17, 2006 1:48 PM

A local historian is working to shed light on a unique, but little-known period in Wayne County's history.

Emily Weil is writing a book about the Union Army's occupation of the city during the Civil War.

Goldsboro was taken over by federal troops in 1865 following the Battle of Bentonville, and remained under martial law for several years afterward while the South was going through Reconstruction.

Mrs. Weil said she is about 50 pages into her book, which will document the experiences of families in the city during the occupation. All of the profits from book sales will go to the Wayne County Historical Association.

There were about 1,200 people living in Goldsboro when Gen. William T. Sherman's army marched in with nearly 100,000 soldiers, Mrs. Weil said. Goldsboro was a railroad center and had been Sherman's objective when he left South Carolina. At Goldsboro, his troops teamed up with Union commands that had marched inland from the coast. Within a month, the war was over.

Mrs. Weil said she is still researching the period and would welcome any help from Wayne residents who might have heard stories about the occupation that would have been passed down through the years. Diaries or photographs from the period would be especially helpful, she said.

She said that researching the subject has given her a chance to learn a great deal about 19th-century Goldsboro, or Goldsborough, as it was originally spelled. The city's personality was forever changed by the experience, she said.

"I have learned so much more than I ever expected about the period. It does affect us today, the attitudes and the problems," she said.

She said the way the federal government handled the rebuilding of the South helped set a pattern for the way the government operates today. North Carolina did not have its own government for 10 years, but was under the control of a military governor. Many men who had been community leaders before the war were disenfranchised and not allowed to vote nor hold office. Citizens could be detained by authorities for no reason. The region's economy had been destroyed and many people lived in poverty while others profited from the radical changes.

"I don't know what the right way to deal with it was, but I don't think they handled it right," Mrs. Weil said. "It was a bad time, a bad system."

For former slaves, freedom came with want, and responsibilities that they often had to learn, she said. It was a new world for everyone.

Mrs. Weil's research took her to the state archives in Raleigh.

She has received help from several sources. Among them are state historian Jeff Bockert at Waynesborough Park, Civil War re-enactor Randy Sauls, who has written a book about the Battle of Goldsborough in 1862, retired physician Bryson Bateman, who has done research on the period, and Charles Ellis, who she described as Wayne County's resident historian. She also gleaned material for her book from John Joyner, who gave a presentation last year at the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace.

The military and political aspects of the occupation are well documented. Mrs. Weil said she wants her book to describe the personal lives of Goldsboro residents at the time -- how they felt, how they managed through such a difficult time. Those are the stories she wants to tell. She said she hopes Wayne residents will help.

"If they don't mind my using it in the book, I would like to have as much personal history as possible," she said.

As an example, she said, she is using a journal kept by a Wayne County woman, Fannie Thompson Latham, as one of the foundations of the book.

"I make her as narrator for part of the book. But I need more stories. That's what gives it character and depth, not stuff I made up, but things that really happened."

Mrs. Weil can be reached by calling 734-1111, ext. 229, or by writing her at P.O. Box 2063, Goldsboro, N.C. 28533. Her e-mail address is emily@weilent.com.