Onslow County at the
Battle of Gettysburg
by Bernie Rosage, Jr.
July 1st through 3rd of every year our country commemorates the anniversary of the epic Battle of Gettysburg, often referred to as the turning point of America's Civil War. Thousands of people will converge on the small Pennsylvania town once again, not to do battle, but to remember. Lincoln put it best when he said, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here".
The anniversary embodies many special events, highlighted by reenactors clashing in battle reenactments of familiar names like; The Railroad Cut, The Wheat Field, The Peach Orchard, Devil's Den, The Bloody Angle, Little Round Top, Cemetery Hill to name a few. All done not to glorify war but to remember history and honor th men who fought and died.
This story is about the men of Onslow County, Company H of the 55th North Carolina Infantry in particular, who where there over 135 years ago to witness the historic event first hand.
The company, known as the "Alexander Boys," was raised mainly in Alexander and Onslow counties in March - April, 1862. It was mustered into Confederate service at Camp Mangum, near Raleigh, on May 31, 1862, and assigned to the 55th Regiment N.C. Troops as Company H.
The 55th NC, commanded by Colonel John K. Connally, was assigned to General Joseph R. Davis' Brigade (the nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis) in the spring of 1863 where it remained until January of 1865. During the Gettysburg Campaign, Davis' Brigade consisted of the 2nd, 11th, and 42nd Mississippi regiments, along with the 55th NC and was part of Henry Heth's Division, A.P. Hill's III Corps, in Robert E. Lee's famed Army of Northern Virginia.
Heth's Division is given credit for starting the battle of Gettysburg. Heth wanted to procure some shoes for his barefoot troops and had heard there was a large supply in the town. Initially thinking Union General John Buford's cavalry was only Pennsylvania militia, he continued to push towards Gettysburg. Ironically the South entered town that day from the north and the North entered from the south. More and more troops from both sides were drawn to the sounds of fighting and on July 1, 1863 the great battle had begun.
The 55th NC formed the extreme left of Davis' Brigade, and owing to the nature of the ground was the first regiment to come into view of the enemy, and received the first fire in the battle. A volley from the 56th Pennsylvania Regiment of Cutler's Brigade. From the beginning, the fighting was fierce and as the regiment advanced, Colonel Connally seized the battle flag from a fallen soldier and rushed several paces in front of the regiment where he fell badly wounded in the arm and hip. Major Belo rushed up and asked him if he was badly wounded. Colonel Connally replied: "Yes, but pay no attention to me; take the colors and keep ahead of the Mississippians."
After driving Cutler's Brigade, Davis' units took shelter in an unfinished railroad cut to regroup. The "shelter" turned out to be a death trap because along much of its length, the walls of the cut were to deep for men to fire out of. The 6th Wisconsin and the Iron Brigade Guard, about 450 men total, took advantage of the situation and charged the cut, killing and wounding hundreds, and taking 232 of the brigade prisoner.
Onslow County was there --- John S. Meadows was killed in action; Abraham T. Autaway was wounded in the face, captured, and died in a Gettysburg hospital; Michael Rawls and Thomas Simpson, Jr. were captured and sent to Point Lookout --- to mention a few. Thomas' brother, Curtis Simpson, was furloughed home sick and missed the battle. (Curtis' son, the late Walter Caden Simpson --- 1894-2000, resided in Onslow County in the Back Swamp district. He was Camp 1302's "Real Son". See tribute link REAL SON on homepage for his story.)
The 55th NC including Company H, suffered dearly on the first day's battle. The battle that would swell into a terrible three-day struggle, one in which 160,000 Americans would contest for supremacy within 25 square miles of ground and carve into history the greatest battle on American soil resulting in over 50,000 casualties. Day one wasn't the end for the "Alexander Boys" --- they still had to make one more grand charge!