09/04/06 — Sutlers sought for next battle at Goldsborough Bridge site

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Sutlers sought for next battle at Goldsborough Bridge site

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 4, 2006 1:49 PM

At the next reenactment of the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge, there will be more than gunfire and cannon sounds.

Soldiers and visitors will be able to experience a little of what shopping was like in the 19th centry.

Waynesborough Historical Village is looking for sutlers to sell 1800s wares during the upcoming third annual reenactment of the battle.

Events Committee Chairman Harry Wood said sutlers were retailers on wheels, camp followers who sold their goods to the soldiers on both sides during the Civil War.

And the sutlers will be selling their wares again, he said, this time to the public and to Civil War re-enactors before and after reenactments of the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge. The battle will be fought on Sept. 23 and 24 at Waynesborough, 801 S. U.S. 117 on the west side of Goldsboro. The village gate opens from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, and the battle will be fought at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Spelled Goldsborough at the time of the Civil War, the young little town had already replaced Waynesborough as the Wayne County seat in 1847. Waynesborough had become a ghost town by 1865, when Union soldiers torched a couple of remaining warehouses in Waynesborough and occupied the town of Goldsborough. River traffic had dried up, and the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge was fought over rail service, which had replaced the river barges and was running through the middle of Goldsborough.

Vendors close to the Waynesborough Visitor's Center on Sept. 23 and 24 will have items like rib sandwiches, barbecued chicken Blackjack Church style and funnel cakes. The village's Country Store will also have hotdogs and drinks for children.

But back past the split rail fence, nothing will be sold that's any newer than 1800s style, even the food. One sutler, the North State Haberdashery, has already signed up for the two-day event. Reenactor Rex Hovey lives in a rural area near Charlotte and sells authentic 1860s military and civilian clothing, he said.

He said the sutlers generally had to gain favor with the commanding officer to be allowed to follow the troops.

"(The commander) got to choose who got to follow. It was kind of like a franchise," said Hovey, who has been running the haberdashery for about six years. He has been a reenactor since 1986 as a major in the 13th N.C. Field Hospital. The reenactors set up a tent and an amputation table and instruments.

"We have about 24 in the group. I do all the makeup and decorate the wounds. We do not use ketchup. The sugar attracts ants. We use theatrical blood."

But during the Battle of Goldsborough, his group will strictly be salesmen.

"It's hard to do both," he said. "As a sutler, I have a postal station, too."

The sutlers would collect the letters from the soldiers, who were prolific writers, sometimes writing up to three letters in one week. Packages would come into camp, too. The sutlers would also sell stationary, "writing sticks," which were pencils without erasers, and stamps. Stamps for letters that went up to 500 miles cost a nickel back then, and if the mail was going more than 500 miles, the stamps were 10 cents each. Stationary was small, about the size of a 3-by-5-inch index card.

"Paper was a short commodity, especially toward the end of the war," he said. "They'd use wallpaper, anything they could, because paper was in short supply."

Sutlers were a common sight in the camps of both armies, said local historian Randy Sauls. He said the camps of the Union armies probably had more sutler activity because they had access to more goods to sell and had a larger pool of customers. He compared the Union sutlers to traveling salesmen, following the army as it campaigned in the South.

"Although this occurred among the Confederate armies, too, Southern sutlers were more likely to take the form of local merchants who might visit a nearby camp when they had something to sell," said Sauls, who often gives presentations about the battle dressed as Union General John G. Foster.