Saturday, February 4, 2012

Unraveling The Story Of A Soldier With An Attitude, And Young

Following a convoluted paper trail, I’ve learned more about one ancestral Confederate cousin than I know about most of my living blood relatives. From various Civil War military documents I know, among other things, that Private Robert McFarland Welborn:

- Stood 5 feet 10 inches and had dark hair and blue eyes;
- Mustered into the 1st Regiment, Co. F, of the N.C. Junior Reserves on May 30, 1864;
One side of the original letter that my ancestor, Robert
McFarland Welborn, wrote to his father Joseph
in late summer 1864 from Halifax County, N.C. A
family member punched the holes in the letter, written
in pencil on a folded sheet of paper. For entire letter,
go to LETTERS page. 
- Had passed his 17th birthday by just 25 days when the Confederacy drafted him;  
- Left his father’s Randolph County farm in May 1864 for duty at Camp Holmes near Raleigh;
- Served in east-central N.C.’s Camp Weldon, home of Wayside Hospital #9 and a prison.

And from a letter home, I know Robert:

- Suffered an illness in the summer of 1864 that sidelined him from service;
- Had attitude.

Of course Robert had attitude. He was the youngest of widower Joseph Welborn’s 10 children and was only five months old when his mother Parthena died. I think it's possible, under the controversial "birth order" theory that youngest siblings learn exceptional competition skills to get attention and resources, Robert probably was a scrapper.

Here's what teenager Robert wrote to his father from Camp Weldon:

Aug the 5th 1864
My Dear Father

. . . if the war lasts and they don’t get us kilt you may have my hat       if we ever go into battle with them it will not last long       i heard several of the boys say they would kill (them) as quick as they wuld a sheep-killing dog and I would not stand back much . . .

Robert’s bring-it-on attitude likely made up for many losses. In 1863, his older brother, Lyndon — the protagonist of my book-in-progress, Dear Father I Am Sorry To Tell You   died in battle while defending Richmond, the Confederate capital. Then the Confederacy drafted two other reluctant brothers, even as father Joseph objected to secession and the war.
North Carolina map shows location
of the town of Weldon in Halifax County,
 home to a Confederate fort, a prison
 and a hospital during the Civil War.

Robert probably realized that by late 1864, the Confederacy was running out of steam and just about everything else it would take to win. Federal forces were scoring key victories in the Western Theater, things were souring in the Eastern Theater, and Sherman was about to tighten a noose around the South after taking Atlanta.

But just how much could Robert see of the war’s big picture from his outpost in a Halifax County, N.C., near the border with Virginia, where battles raged?  Was his youthful bravado an effort to survive by believing something was possible despite evidence to the contrary? Seems to me that sentiment fortified Confederate fighters right up to the end.

In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey asserts that to be successful, a person must begin something with the final outcome in mind. We must visualize what we can’t yet see, then follow our mental vision with physical creation. With an optimistic outlook, a person maximizes his ability to get through adversity.

So it was with Confederate warriors still hanging in the fight to the end, I imagine. So it was with Robert, despite illness, debt, hunger and homesickness. More from his letter, written in pencil on a folded sheet of paper, full misspellings and lacking punctuation:

 View today of the Civil War cemetery
near the site of Camp Weldon in
northeastern North Carolina. Photo,
N.C. Division United Daughters
of the Confederacy, Chapter 22.
. . . i have got my resicnation (resignation) and I do not hav any thing to do        our doctor relived (relieved) me from duty    i have not done any duty sinse I resinad (resigned)

the doctor says he will send me to camp holms (Camp Holmes in Raleigh, N.C.) befor long to be examined again      he says i am not any count in service and i think he is about haf right

we get one pint of corn meal and it is not sifted and hardly ground      the grains is cracked       we often find whole grains      we git some kind of a houn (hound*) meat a day     i am in debt $17 and know hopes of drawing any money to pay it  

             i would like to be at home to eat beans and rosten ears (roasted ears of corn)      i am going to try to get off every day but i think it will be a hard chore
                                                                                         your son R M Welborn

Despite personal hardship and the Confederacy's long-shot chance of victory, it seems Robert still imagined giving the Yanks a whoopen'.  Maybe a spoonful of optimism helped him survive the war.

Robert applied for a soldier's pension in July 1918 and died seven years later on Aug. 16, 1925, at age 76. He was buried in the family cemetery in Randolph County, N.C., near his father Joseph and his fallen older brother, Lyndon.


* NOTE: I take Robert's reference to "houn meat" to mean the meat of deer or other animals tracked down by bloodhounds as food for the soldiers. The Confederacy also used bloodhounds to help guard prisoners.  If you can enlighten me about Robert's reference to "houn meat," please go to the COMMENTS page and post a message.

SOURCES:  North Carolina State Archives; Weymouth T. Jordan, Jr. and Louis H. Manarin,"North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, A Roster," 1985; U.S. Census;  Cadia Barbee Welborn Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC at Chapel Hill; Welborn family genealogical documents

COMING SOON:  Private Robert McFarland Welborn's account of an incident at Camp Weldon prison. See PREVIEWS page.