Tag Archives: North Carolina

Benjamin Merrill and the Battle You Never Heard Of.

Benjamin Merrill

1731-1771

When I first heard the Battle of Alamance, I thought of France and WWI.  Alamance Creek actually runs through North Carolina. In the book, Captain Merrill and the Merrill Family of North Carolina , I learned about an important  Revolutionary War battle that preceded the battle of Concord and Lexington (April, 1775) by four years. Boston, site of the Boston Massacre in 1771, is thought to be the fuse that lit the fire under colonists to finally break from the British. But the same sort of harassment occurred in North Carolina around the same time, and concluded with an actual battle that later dropped from history books.

Why have we forgotten the Battle of Alamance the site of the first American blood spilled in the War of Independence? In the aftermath of the American Revolution, people numbered that battle among the important events in winning freedom. After the Civil War, Northerners tended to erase the South from history books, and their participation in the Civil War ( with a few exceptions like the Battle of New Orleans) disappeared. Not only did the winners write the history of the Civil War—they went farther back and rewrote the history of the Revolution as well. Today, the story is told differently, and I will meld the two versions as I tell the story.

BENJAMIN MERRIL, FARMER, SOLDIER

Benjamin Merrill was born in New Jersey. We share common 8 times great-grandparents—Richard and Penelope Stout. His mother, Penelope Stout (Jr.),  married into the French Huguenot Merrill family. According to a book called A Merrill Memorial, Penelope’s son Benjamin moved to North Carolina to an area called “Jersey Settlement” because a group of people from New Jersey, including his brother William, moved there. The move would have occurred about 1750, because his second son Andrew’s birth is recorded in North Carolina.

Benjamin was a farmer and a gun maker. He became the deacon of the Jersey Settlement Baptist Church, and a Captain in the militia.

Living in western North Carolina meant he was a frontiersman and fought battles with indigenous people still populating the area. The Jersey Settlement had more in common with neighboring Tennessee than with Eastern North Carolina with its elite plantation owners and businessmen. The local government operated on wild west principles—Sheriffs and Judges representing the English Crown, running rough-shod over the rights of the farmers.

According to a DAR application, Benjamin had a son named John born in 1750 in New Jersey. According to some sources, he married in 1753, which would have been after he moved to North Carolina, but I have not researched further to try to locate documentation. (John later lived in Georgia and in Monroe County, Mississippi.) According to most other sources, Benjamin had a total of 7 sons, including: John, Andrew (b. 1757 in North Carolina and continued to live there), Charles (b. 1761, later lived in S. Carolina), Elijah/Eli (b. circa 1763), William, (b. circa 1763), Jonathan (b. 1765), Samuel/Azariah (b. ?) and two daughters: Penelope (b. 1759), Nancy/Anna (b. 1760) .Some accounts list Samuel as the oldest son. In fact the information about his children is sketchy, and I have not rigorously  researched them. A tax record in 1757 also lists a Negro girl, Phyllis.

Apparently, Benjamin Merrill, tended toward independent thought early on. In 1756, he defied an order for “going out against a man who committed misdemeanors.” However, in 1759, he was among militia sent out on an alarm to aid a man attacked by Indians.

THE REGULATORS

Farmers in North Carolina, frustrated by corruption and excessive taxes and fees, formed an organization called The Regulators. This was in April 1767. They objected to local enforcement of English law rather than to the King’s rule. The same ambivalence shows up in documents about colonists in the north during this period. They wanted to be good British citizens. But they wanted fair treatment. They shied away from the idea of breaking with England.

An example of the abuse they suffered: By law a marriage license cost $1, but local officials charged $15. (Note, accounts I read said dollars, but I assume it was actually English pounds.) At first the Regulators tried by peaceful petition and argument to get more equitable treatment.

‘FIRE AND BE DAMNED“

However, making no headway, the Regulators turned to refusal to pay taxes, disruption of court proceedings, threats against officials, and vandalism. The ranking King’s officer, Governor Tryon, finally called together the militia to march against the Regulators after giving warning to the dissidents. Their reply–”Fire and be damned.”

May 14, 1771, Tryon’s 1000 militiamen were heading toward the Alamance Creek, about five miles away, where a ragtag, ill-armed and poorly-organized group of about 2000 dissidents assembled. A man representing the Regulators approached Tryon to talk, but as he turned away, the Governor shot him in the back.

Apparently some of the militia were sympathetic with the Regulators, because when the Governor ordered them to fire, some hesitated. He commanded the troops, “Fire on them, or fire on me.”

Tryon’s militia easily won the May 16 Battle of Alamance (also called the Battle of the Regulators). The King’s militia lost nine soldiers and had 61 wounded. The losses on the Regulator’s side is unknown.

The victorious Governor issued a proclamation that those who would swear allegiance and pay their taxes would be forgiven, except Captain Merrill and five others. The Governor declared them outlaws who would be hanged, drawn and quartered. Tryon took 15 prisoners, including Benjamin Merrill, who was not actually present on May 16. All but 6 escaped execution.

CAPTAIN MERRILL’S ROLE IN THE BATTLE

About May 12, Captain Merrill was heading toward Alamance with his company of 300-400 men, when he encountered General H. Waddell, who commanded a component of the King’s forces. Merrill took the General’s men prisoner and General Waddell fled to Salisbury.

Merrill and his men proceeded toward Alamance, but when they were within a day’s march, they heard the battle and a scout informed them of the Governor’s victory. Merrill released his troops and returned to his home in Ronan County. The Governor’s men arrested Merrill in short order, and took him to Tryon’s camp on June 6, 1771. The captors put Merrill in chains and dragged him through the countryside to Hillsborough where on June 19, 1771, a judge proclaimed the official sentence.

(Warning: The following contains explicit language that can be quite unsettling.)

The Judge’s sentence concluded:

“I must now close my afflicting Duty, by pronouncing upon you the awful sentence of the law; which is that you, Benjamin Merrill, be carried to the place whence you came, you be drawn from thence to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged by the neck; that you be cut down while yet alive, that your bowels be taken out and burnt before your face, that your head be cut off, your Body divided in Four Quarters and this be it his Majesty’s Disposal and the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

When allowed final remarks on the gallows, Merrill asked for mercy for his widow and ten children and that they be allowed to keep some of his property. The Governor later signed an order fulfilling that wish. Then Merrill, professing some doubts about having rebelled against the King, and professing his own faith in God, went to his death singing a Psalm.

THOUGHTS ON ALAMANCE

It is interesting to note that Merrill’s final statement refers to ten children, but the Governor’s order refers to eight children, and a later document refers to nine children.

As for the Regulators, one account I read speculated that had Merrill reached Alamance in time, the result could have been much different. That writer believed that Merrill was a better military leader than any of the men involved at Alamance. He certainly seemed to have no trouble subduing the branch of the King’s militia led by Waddell.

Although the Battle of Alamance did not prove to be the beginning of the Revolution, coming five years before the Revolution started in earnest in Massachusetts, it certainly illustrates the long simmering resentment of English government in the colonies. The Regulators were using the same arguments later used in Philadelphia by the crafters of the Declaration of Independence. And their struggle had tangible results in North Carolina. Of the 47 sections of the state constitution that was adopted in 1776, ¼ of them—thirteen sections— were reforms sought by the Regulators.

While I have written extensively about my New England ancestors in the American Revolution, this July 4th, I want to turn my attention to the North Carolinians who were the first to fight the British in actual battle, and to my relative, Benjamin Merrill, who became a martyr for the cause five years before the Declaration of Independence.

Henry Butts’ Civil War Letter 3: Swamp Water Up To Our Nees

Camp near Goldsboro, N.C.

March the 23, 1865

Dear Wife,

Civil War swamp battlefield


Image from page 29 of “The soldier in our Civil War : a pictorial history of the conflict, 1861-1865, illustrating the valor of the soldier as displayed on the battle-field, from sketches drawn by Forbes, Waud, Taylor, Beard, Becker, Lovie, Schell, Crane, 1893

The third surviving letter from Henry Allen Butts to his wife Annie was written only a day after the 2nd letter.

In letter two, he had referred to a long march, and now he tells about it. First he repeats what he said in letter two–his joy at finally receiving letters from home and he explains:

“…it is now three months since we had a chance to write. wen we was on the raid we could not send eny letters for we had no comunication. You must not think that we can write a letter and go to the post office like we do at home. We must wait till we get to a place that we can send a letter.

The 43rd Ohio Volunteers, part of Sherman’s army, have joined the armies of other generals and a total of 90,000 men are camped near Goldsboro.

Pvt. Butts has been  fortunate, but has experienced some horrendous situations.

Now i will give you some history of our march through confidercy. We left beaufort on the 13 of January and we have bin marching ever since up to this time. About 75 miles this side of beaufort is wear Stull (Jerimiah Stahl) was killed. The fight comenced on the 2 of febuary. That is the day that Col. Swayne has his lague shot off. He was about fifty yards from me wen the canon ball hit him.

Civil War Officer

Lt. Col.Wager Swayne, who lost his leg at the Battle of Rivers Bridge

Col. Swayne is Lt. Col. Wager Swayne, a Yale graduate. By the end of the war, he had been advanced to Major General of Volunteers and Brevet Major General in the regular army. He won the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. for an earlier battle, Corinth, Mississippi. Quoting from the web site Lybarger’s Civil War:

“A lieutenant colonel in the 43rd OVI during the second Battle of Corinth that mortally wounded Col. Smith, Swayne became its colonel after Col. Smith died. On Feb. 3, 1865, Swayne was severely wounded while crossing the swampy Salkahatchie River in South Carolina. While helped to an ambulance wagon, he kept repeating, ‘The Lord sustains me.’ He was successfully evacuated to New York City, losing his leg but surviving.”

The battle was the Rivers Bridge part of  Campaign of the Carolinas , and General Sherman had divided his troops, 5000 strong, with those under Swayne circling through the swamp to flank the 3000 Confederate Troops who were trying to prevent the Union Army from crossing the Salkahatchie River. Besides a vivid and gruesome account of what it was like to be in this battle, Henry Allen returns to the subject of the death of Jerimiah Stull/Stahl.  Henry Allen’s mother was Esther Stahl Butts, so there is a strong possibility he was related.

We marched on the skirmish line and thear we had to stand in the swamp in water up to our nees till about 12 o’clock at night wen we was releved. The next day being the 3(rd) we was ordered to charge the battery.

We charged it about three o’clock in the evening. That is about the time Stull(Stahl) was killed.  We had to charge up a road through the swamp and thear was water on boath sides of the road. Stull was at the side of the road wen he was shot and he fell in the water.  The ball hit him in the side and went through him.

Wen he fell I was about 20 steps before him. Wen he fel all he said ‘help me out’. Thear was one of our co(mpany) boys by the name of Short close to him wen he fel. He helped him out. He was dead. He was bured on a hill. Him and five others was bured side and side. I did not see him after he was killed.  he is under the sods of South Carolina and I hope he is at rest. Tell Mrs. Stull (Stahl) he was bured as dessent as we could bury him. Tha made a box for him.

His brother William was not with us wen he was killed. He is at Hilton Head, S.C. in the hospital tending to the sick. I don’t no weather he herd of it or not.

An account I read of the battle said that soldiers tending to the wounded had to hold their heads up so they would not slip into the water and drown. It was a morass of blood and death. And Henry Allen, who had twice closely missed being shot, escaped at least one more time.

Obid Underwood was close beside me wen he had his arm shot off. He was sent back to Beaufort. I have not herd wether he is living or not.  I suppose you no more about it than I do my Dear.

We had a hard time since we left Beaufort. I seen more than I ever want to see agane. We have seen hard time. We marched five hundred miles. Some of was bare footed, others nearly naked. We was the hardest looking set of men you ever seen, but now we have plenty of clothing and plenty to eat.

He closes once again saying that he will write when he has a chance. They have been told that they will stay here for some time. The Army marched north to Richmond to join with Grant’s army at the beginning of April.

Obid Underwood is Obediah (Obed) Underwood who was in Henry Allen’s Company. He did survive the war after having his arm amputated at the shoulder.

Obidiah Underwood

Obediah Underwood with arm amputated. Photo provided by National Archives to South Carolina State Parks Service.

According to the web site Lybargers Civil War , there was a Grand Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Mt. Vernon, Ohio in 1897. Since that was very close to Henry Allen’s home, he very well might have been there. Lt. Col. Wager Swayne, who Henry Allen saw injured, was in attendance.

This year (2014) is the Sesquitennial of the North Carolina campaign, and North Carolina has a great website to mark the occasion.  You can get pictures, anecdotes and a detailed timeline at the North Carolina Civil War 150 website.

Henry Allen Butts Letter #2: After a Long March See Henry’s Letter #4: Henry Loses His temper, here.

Henry Butts’s Civil War Letter 2: After a Long March

This is the 2nd Civil War letter home from Pvt Henry Allen Butts, my great-grandfather and Union Army soldier, to his wife in Ohio. I have added some punctuations and paragraph breaks, but otherwise present the transcription as I received it. Note: I believe he is confused about the dates, because the troops would still have been engaged in battle on March 21 and not reached Goldsboro yet. And in his next letter, dated March 23, he refers to the letter he wrote “yesterday”

Goldsboro N.C.
March the 21, 1865

Dear wife, after a long march I am permited to anser your ever kind and welcom letter which came to hand yesterday.

Henry definitely plays down the fighting he is involved in. Following is a documentary showing what the 43rd Ohio, and Henry Allen Butts’ Company K were doing in addition to marching. After the Sherman march to the sea, they turned north and marched across South Carolina toward North Carolina. To get there, they had to take a crossing called River Bridges on February 23. You can see a documentary on YouTube explaining the River Bridges defense and showing you what the area looks like today.

i was glad to hear that you and Allen was well. your letter found me well and in good spirits. i was glad to hear from you once more for it has been a long time since i herd from you. you must not think hard wen you don’t get a letter from me for we have bin in such___ that we could not write and wen we___sent a letter we___out one we have bein out___from communication for ___three months but know we can send letters once more and we are all good you may bet.

On the three days preceding this letter, fierce fighting had taken place around Bentonville, as the troops moved toward Goldsboro, N.C. After Sherman’s Army had completed their march across Georgia, capture of Savannah, and battled their way north across South Carolina, you can imagine how relieved Henry Allen was to finally hear from his wife and get that tobacco he had requested in his previous letter.

i recieved letters from you yesterday. i got the shirt and tobacco.  i em very much—to you for them. i will give you a good kiss wen i come home for them. i hope that day will soon come.  send the other shirt as soon as you can. My dear, i can’t write much this time. the mail is going out at 8 o’clock and it is all most that time now.

On the three days preceding this letter, fierce fighting had taken place around  as the troops moved toward Goldsboro, N.C.  The men in Company K, the Ohio 43rd Volunteer Infantry Regiment were friends and neighbors from Knox County, Ohio.

i suppose you___herd before this time that Lary(?) Stull [Stuhl] was kiled. he was killed on the third of february about three o’clock in the evning. i em very sorry for his wife but it can’t be helped. i___he is at rest. i will—i em sorry i can’t write more. i will write tomorrow or next day and give you all the news.  i think we will stay hear some time. i hope we will. then i can write often. i will write wen ever i can. i hope theas few lines will find you and Allen and all the rest well. ___ _____ i will write her a letter. good by hoping to hear from you.

Love,

your husband and friend Henry A. Butts.

To my dear wife A. M. Butts. excus this for i wrote it [in] a hurry. the next letter i will tell you all about our travels thro South C. and North C.  Send me a fine comb. you can send it [in] a letter. 

“Allen” referred to in the first paragraph is his infant son Giles Allen who was born just before he left for the war. I believe the transcriber mistakenly says “Larry” Stall, when it should be Jerry, for Jeremiah Stahl, who is a member of the company.  Henry Allen’s mother’s maiden name was Stahl, so they may be cousins.

I am imagining that he needs a “fine comb” to get lice out of his beard by this time. All this marching and fighting (December through March), with probably no changes of clothing have turned the soldiers pretty grungy.  But you don’t hear any routine soldierly griping from Henry Allen. Indeed, he makes it sound like he’s been on a little vacation and he is going to share with his wife “our travels through South Carolina and North Carolina.”

I am also imagining what has been going through Anna’s mind back home since she has not heard from him since the end of 1864.  Particularly, if she has been getting word about deaths of men and boys from other families. Henry Allen, by the way, is no boy.  He was thirty when he re-enlisted, and since his birthday is late November, he is now 31.

The roster of the 43rd Ohio can be seen here.

Some anecdotes and interesting stories plus the calendar of actions of the Ohio 43rd can be found at this web site. That site is also the source of the following picture, taken around 1900 at a reunion of Henry Allen’s old company K.  Wonder if he was there?

Civil War Veterans

From the Lybargers Civil War site. Four old soldiers from Company K, 43rd Ohio, photographed in 1900. The one on the far right is a Blubaugh, a family that marries into the Butts family.

Photograph taken @ 1900. From left: EDWIN L. LYBARGER (enlisted 11/25/61 at age 21), JAMES DIAL (enlisted 11/4/61 at age 26), FRANCIS LOGSDON (enlisted 11/1/61, age 20), LEO BLUBAUGH (enlisted 12/12/61 at age 18). These Ohio veterans enlisted together at Camp Andrews (near Mount Vernon, Ohio) in late 1861, in a Knox County company being raised by William Walker, who served as captain until spring 1862. Company K joined the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and left Ohio in Feb. 1862. With 3 other Ohio regiments, they formed the “Ohio Brigade,” commanded by Col. John Fuller. They served for the duration of the war, mustering out together on July 13, 1865.PHOTO from LybargersCivil War

See Henry’s first letter “Dear Wif”, here. See Henry’s Letter #3: “Water up to Our Nees,” here.