War Comes to Nash County: 20 July 1863


“On July 20, 1863, Tarborough, Edgecombe County, Rocky Mount, and Nash County were raided by a regiment of Federal cavalry.  Coming from New Bern, they burned Greenville the day before.

The following account of the raid was taken from articles in the May 14, 1967, and July 17, 1949, editions of THE ROCKY MOUNT SUNDAY TELEGRAM:

The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, which ran directly through Rocky Mount, was still being used in supplying Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  The main instruction to the invaders was to destroy “. . .the bridge over the Tar River, at Rocky Mount, a station on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad between Goldsborough and Weldon.  .  .”

July 20, 1863 at 3 A. M., the Federal Major Jacobs was detached from Tarborough.  His command consisted of Companies A, E, G, L, D and I of the Third New York Cavalry.  They moved towards Rocky Mount.  It was dark, but the sound of horses’ hooves and the clanking of canteens struck fear into every person within earshot.  This was their darkest hour, an invasion.  Friendly soldiers of the Confederacy had been absent from the area for some time.  They had been busy in other parts of the State in the battle areas.

Just before arriving at Rocky Mount near daybreak, they intercepted a train leaving for Tarboro.  The enemy, in the person of Private White, dashed off after the locomotive, catching it and  jumped aboard, placed a gun at the engineer’s head, and order him to reverse the engine and return to Rocky Mount.

On the train were Confederate soliders — 5 officers, viz. 1 Captain, 1 Second Lieutenants and 10 Privates, who were taken prisoners.  At the station in Rocky Mount, the Yankees began their nefarious destruction.  First, they destroyed the train of cars and then burned the depot and telegraph offices.

They then proceeded to their primary objective, the railroad bridge.  They also blew up another bridge and all the trestle work of the railroad bridge.

After carrying out their main order, they proceeded to burn and destroy anything and everything which seemed of value to the Confederacy.  Going west, they came upon a cotton mill built of stone and 6 stories high.  It was Rocky Mount Mills.  They had the good graces to evacuate employees, 150 white girls.  Then they burned the mill and its contents.  This mill was indeed a prize for the enemy; for not only was the cotton valuable for making the much needed bolts of cloth, but cotton was also used in the manufacture of ammunition.  The storerooms full of staple cotton and manufactured goods were burned.  The office would have been destroyed but for the superintendent’s pleading that it be left standing.  It was not harmed.

The troops moved back towards the still burning depot on their way back.  They set fire to one flour mill destroying 1,000 barrels of flour and large quantities of grain, a great loss to the Confederate Army.  From there they proceeded to a machine shop filled with war munitions; it too, met the torch.  One can only imagine the sound and fury of it all.

The Federal troops by now are becoming fatigued, it is said; but this only spurred them on to more destruction.  Government wagons loaded with all manner of stores and supplies for the CSA “came next into their possession.”  Several southern soliders were captured here and taken prisoners.  Thirty-five wagons were collected and burned.

By now it was afternoon and the march back to Tarborough began.  They stopped here and there to burn and loot.  At least one house on the way back was saved from the torch by the bravery and thoughtfulness of the three young daughters of Frederick Proctor.  The house was on Tarborough road.  All the men of the family were away serving in the Confederate cause.  The mother, who was sick in bed upstairs, and the the girls were the only family at home.  When the troopers announced that they planned to burn the house, barns, and cotton gin, the girls pleaded with them and told them if they would not burn the plantation, they would fill every canteen with brandy.  The Yankees agreed.  They did take some supplies from the farm; but sparing the building, they rode off with their canteens clanking.

No one living at the time in the Nash-Edgecombe area ever forgot the terror of that horrible day of destruction [20 July 1863].  However, the people rallied and continued bravely to survive.”

from:  “1863 Union Raid on Nash and Edgecombe,” in BY FAITH AND HERITAGE ARE WE JOINED: A COMPILATION OF NASH COUNTY HISTORICAL NOTES; A BECENTENNIAL TRIBUTE, edited by T. E. Ricks, compiled and published by The Nash County Bicentennial Commission. 1976, pages 96 – 97.  This article was edited and supplemented by T. E. Ricks.