09/19/09 — Mount Olive living history delves into religion, role of black troops

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Mount Olive living history delves into religion, role of black troops

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on September 19, 2009 11:43 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The grounds outside the Mount Olive Museum were turned into a small Civil War camp Saturday as the town's Historical Society held its second annual living history event to mark its involvement in the great war.

The day featured lectures by three speakers -- on religion in the war, the contributions made by black troops and the Union cavalry raid on Mount Olive in 1862 that was part of the Union thrust east in effort to cut the railroad that ran from Wilmington to Virginia.

Society member and history buff Austin House spoke on the attack on the town, society President Jerilyn Lee discussed the role of black soldiers in the war and Dr. Alan Lamm, chairman of the History Department at Mount Olive College, spoke on religion in the war years.

House, a member of the society, said he based his remarks on readings of the history of the 3rd New York Cavalry, the unit that sent 400 men at full gallop from a Union column of troops moving its way through Wayne County to capture the town of Mount Olive, or as it was known at the time, Mount Olive Station. The main body was en route to Goldsboro from New Bern. It had already captured Kinston and skirmished with the Confederates at Seven Springs, then known as Whitehall.

The troopers arrived out of the clear blue at about 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 1862, catching town residents going about they daily business, House said.

"People were out shopping, doing what they do," House said. "They placed the town under arrest and burned the (train) depot and several warehouses and cotton piled on the docks."

Detachments of soldiers then went both north and south of the town for a few miles to exact more damage. A contingent struck Confederate militia guarding a trestle in Goshen Swamp and there was a short fight, before the outnumbered rebels retreated. About three miles north of Mount Olive, at the small community of Milton, the Union unit ran into a mail train that they shelled but did not pursue.

Lee said many black men from Wayne County, both free and slave, served in the war as soldiers. After Gen. William T. Sherman captured Goldsboro, local black men and many others who had been following Sherman's columns joined the Union Army, Lee said. Her great-great grandfather, Nelson Walker of Four Oaks, became a member of the 14th Heavy Artillery, U.S. Colored Troops. Throughout the war, slaves were able to escape and join the Union army whenever forays by Union cavalry into the countryside looking for food gave the slaves a chance to get away, she explained.

The addition of thousands of black troops enabled the North to bring the war to a quicker end. Even the Confederacy eventually saw the need to use black men in the ranks. There were 179,000 black men who served in the Union Army, she said, and 14,000 who wore the Confederate gray.

And Wayne County was part of the "underground railroad" that operated in eastern North Carolina, with slave hidden in tunnels off William Street in Goldsboro to help them slip out of town during the night, Lee said.

Lamm talked about the division the issue of slavery created in most major American religions in the years leading up to the actual fighting.

Baptists, Methodist, Presbyterians and other denominations splitd ahead of the coming conflict over whether it was morally right to own another human being. Lamm also talked about the chaplains who served in both the northern and southern armies and the religious awakening the war sparked in both the troops in the field and at home.

House, who helped organize the event, said he was pleased with the turnout both this year and last. The society hopes to keep it a yearly annual event, he said.

Ken Dilda, the director of the museum, said the museum's next public event would be its antiques appraisal in October.