11/29/06 — Civil War battlefield will get its due

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Civil War battlefield will get its due

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 29, 2006 1:45 PM

DUDLEY -- In December 1862, Confederate soldiers clashed with 12,000-plus Union troops in Wayne County.

Their aim was to prevent the destruction of the Goldsborough Bridge, an important link along the Wilmington-Weldon Rail-road -- and the Confederate supply chain.

But their efforts failed. By early evening on the day of battle, the bridge was burned by Union Gen. John G. Foster.

Local historians, county officials and members of the public will gather Dec. 17 off Old Mount Olive Highway at the site of the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge, to honor their struggle -- and the accomplishments of those who have worked to preserve the site over the past 144 years. Invitations to the 2 p.m. celebration are expected to go out Thursday.

Two days after the bridge burned, more than 20,000 Confederates arrived at the site, Goldsboro Bridge Battlefield Association president Randy Sauls said -- too late to save the construct, but just in time to help rebuild it.

"They slowed down the flow of supplies, but they didn't completely stop it," he said.

In the weeks it took to rebuild the bridge, troops stopped each train, unloaded the supplies onto a wagon that carried them up the river and carried them down the bank to an empty train that would take them to Virginia.

But when the fighting stopped, their struggles were seemingly forgotten, Sauls said. Grass and weeds grew high, the land was used by farmers and, in time, the battle that had ensued there was buried by nature.

It wasn't until 10 years ago that, with a group of volunteers from across the county, Sauls began an effort to preserve the site -- and all the history made there. Before that time, hurricanes, floods and a general lack of interest contributed to poor upkeep around the bridge.

"The time was never right," Sauls said.

Then a couple of years ago, he and his makeshift group of preservationists caught a break. The bridge was to be recognized with a Civil War Trails marker.

"After that, it was a natural progression to develop the battlefield," Sauls said.

Shortly thereafter, he founded the Goldsboro Bridge Battlefield Association.

In September, he and 10 others installed a period fence. They acquired 22 signs, including four historical markers and a number of informational signs that lead Civil War observers through a walking trail that surrounds the battlefield.

Help also came from the owner of the property -- the Wayne County government-- Sauls said.

The dedication ceremony and official opening of the battlefield site have been a long time coming, he added.

A color guard of Union and Confederate soldiers will kick off the event, scheduled to run at almost exactly 144 years to the minute after the battle ensued 2 p.m.

"You'll almost be able to hear the gunfire," Sauls said.

After the ceremony, the association will host events throughout the year. But those who like to enjoy learning in solitude will be able to walk the trail and go on a self-guided tour of the battlefield as they wish.