Up Front: May 2008

Marching on

The story-tellers of the Highlands are as varied in their subjects as are literary men and women everywhere. One is a historian narrating events simply and concisely; another is a historian with a bias, colouring his narrative according to his leanings. One is an inventor, building fiction upon fact, mingling his materials ... .

— from Alexander Carmichael’s introduction to Carmina Gadelica: Ortha Nan Gaidheal (Hymns and Chants)

Looking up information about Lexington’s past while fact-checking this month’s cover story, I Googled the name of my great-great-grandfather. Ebenezer (or Ebenzer, maybe Ebanezer, depending on whichever record is right) B. (for what, I have no idea) Kinney had lived just north of there. Born in 1835, he died in 1886, age 51. One of his nine children was David Franklin Kinney, my great-grandpa, the name same as mine.

All this I already knew, but I also came across a reference to a service record, sparse though it be: On Aug. 27, 1862, Ebenezer B. Kinney, age 27, a farmer from Davidson County, had been enlisted as a private into Company C of the 61st North Carolina Infantry. On Jan. 1, 1863, he was listed as having been “left sick on road” at Goldsboro. His name was dropped from the company rolls five months later.

I could but wonder. The Civil War was well into its second year when he went in, leaving behind a wife and two small children. Only a few months earlier, the Confederacy had enacted the first general military draft in American history. I suspect he was a reluctant rebel, coming from that part of the Piedmont, called the Quaker Belt, where the “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” never had been popular. The state, too, had been reluctant, the last to leave the union, but would pay a heavy price for secession. With one-ninth of the Confederacy’s white population, it provided a sixth of its fighting men. Of the 120,000 who served, a third would die, more than half from disease. One of every four Confederates killed in action was a Tar Heel.

The 61st fought its first battle while he was with it, part of a 2,014-man force trying to check a thrust by more than 10,000 federals from New Bern at the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad near Goldsboro. In marches preceding the action, more than 100 of the regiment tramped through snow barefooted. In one company, 10 of 13 without shoes died. After some skirmishing, the 61st and Gen. Nathan Evans’ South Carolina brigade awaited the advance, their backs to the Neuse at Kinston, as Dec. 14 — a Sunday — dawned.

Evans was West Point, a professional soldier. He also liked his liquor. Commanding from the other side of the river, he would order the 61st to advance after it had run out of ammunition. He directed artillery fire on trenches he thought his men had vacated but still held. Finally, flanked and outnumbered, they withdrew to find he had set the bridge on fire. “Here we lost several of our men and it is truly miraculous that half of them at least were not killed or burned to death,” Capt. N.A. Ramsey of Company D wrote. “God was with us on this beautiful, lovely Sabbath day.” The regiment reached Goldsboro Dec. 17 and returned to Wilmington Jan. 2.

In a sad way, I see the furniture workers Senior Editor Amanda Parry writes about in this issue as comrades of these men. They, too, are victims of forces beyond their control, pawns in a game controlled by politics and economics. The fate of many, I fear, is to be left on the road.

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