The following speech was written by Compatriot L. J. "Kim" Kimball for the ceremony at Montford Point on Confederate Memorial Day, May 1997. Mr Kimball read his speech for the ceremony where Camp 1302 marked over 20 Confederate graves with CS headstones. The Montford Point Cemetery is the largest graveyard for Confederate Soldiers in Onslow County (29 total). The General Lewis Armistead conducts a memorial service there every Confederate Memorial Day to pay honor to those buried there and all those who served the Confederacy.
Onslow County in the Civil War
by L.J. Kimball
9 March 1997
By the summer of 1861, the flames of the conflagration that were ignited at Fort Sumter had spread to the sounds and waterways of eastern North Carolina. The great American Civil War, spawned by the friction of generations of contentious regional issues between the industrial, now Republican North and the agricultural, largely Democratic South, swept over the land. Onslow County and its almost nine thousand souls found itself on the frontiers of the Confederacy.
The landed aristocracy, small planters, sturdy yeomanry, tradesmen, laborers, and slaves, men and women alike, of this previously insular and peaceful county saw their initial hopes, naive dreams of glory, and patriotic euphoria supplanted by the harsh realities of total war. Today, as we honor twenty-nine of Onslow's sons who dedicated their very lives in a fervent belief of the justness of their cause, it is important to reflect on the broader scope of Onslow County's participation in this most sanguine conflict. One of the most important resources with which we are blessed is a rich and unique heritage. This heritage must be preserved.
Hardly had the cannon smoke dissipated from Sumter's battered ramparts before North Carolina reluctantly threw its lot in with the nascent Confederacy. Although supported in this decision by the majority of its white citizens, it was not an easy choice for the Old North State. It was either to fight with the Union, or against its neighbors. Onslow County voted in favor of secession by a count of 631 to 89. There was little in the sense of national identity we enjoy today and the Federal government was a distant entity. The average citizen's only contact with this remote central authority came, if at all, through the occasional letter in the U.S. postal system.
Patriotic gatherings spontaneously sprang up in communities throughout the county. Three companies enlisted even before the state formally separated herself from the Union, and four more followed, the last before the end of the second year of the war. But these seven companies, five infantry and two cavalry, only tell of part of Onslow's contribution. For, besides joining the Confederate Navy, Onslow Countians enlisted in considerable numbers in the infantry, cavalry, and artillery companies organized in neighboring counties; the primitive road network making access sometimes easier to these places than those within their own county.
Onslow's roll of honor included the Onslow Greys, the Onslow Light Infantry, the Onslow Guards, the Onslow Rough and Readys, the Gatlin Dragoons, Humphrey's Troop, and the Koonce State Guerillas. These martial-sounding and fearsome titles belonged to Companies E and G of the 3rd NC Regiment, Company B of the 24th Regiment, Company A of the 35th Regiment, Companies B and H of the 3rd NC Cavalry, and Company K of the 61st Regiment. But, Onslow Countians also fought in smaller numbers in such other units as the Bladen Stars, Newkirk's Coast Guard, the Tecumseh Scouts, the Duplin Rifles, the Alexander Boys, and the Southern Rights Infantry, to name a few.
At all points of the compass, from Pennsylvania to South Carolina and eastern North Carolina to West Virginia, Onslow's sons fought in the desperate struggle to establish a southern nationhood. Yet, they were still Americans. And, debilitated by disease, plagued by malnutrition, frozen and baked in turn by the relentless vicissitudes of the weather, and decimated by continuous campaigning, they gained such laurels for themselves that now, even after one hundred and thirty years, they have a place of honor in the pantheon of American military heroes.
At Malvern Hill, in the Seven Days Battle, we came closest to breaking the Union lines. We were at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and at Chancellorsville, where we carried Stonewall Jackson's broken body from the field, and at Gettysburg, where we fought in the company that marked the high water of the Confederacy. We fought in the maelstrom of the Muleshoe at Spottsylvania, came within sight of the capital dome with Jubal Early, closed the gap at the Crater at Petersburg, and, at last, with our proud, battered, regimental colors in tatters, stacked arms at Appomattox and Bennett's Place, and came home.
Yet, there was another war whose heroes have gone unsung. This war was fought on the home front, and it too lasted five years. Seventy percent of Onslow's voting population joined the regular armed forces, over one thousand soldiers and sailors. In addition, many of the remainder served in the 21st Regiment, 5th Brigade, of the State Militia, subsequently the Home Guard. But what of the women? By the first year of the war, Union landing parties were already harassing Onslow's vulnerable littoral flanks. By the second year they had secured the Outer Banks and were operating out of enclaves between New Bern and Morehead City. Onslow County became a no-man's land of constant skirmishing between Union patrols operating out of those enclaves and Confederate forces headquartered at Wilmington. Offshore, the Union Navy's North Atlantic Blockading Squadron's ships ranged up and down the coast, raiding at will. One of the most daring single ship raids of the war, by Lieutenant William B. Cushing of the Union gunboat Ellis was against our own county seat of Jacksonville.
In this environment of anxiety, with the once fertile fields shorn of life's necessities by the rapacious commissaries of both sides and the depredations of Union patrols, and with the clash of arms on their very thresholds, the women of Onslow stepped forward to keep the fabric of southern society from unraveling. Two-thirds of Onslow's households were without slaves. It was the women who tilled and fed the children from the meager remnants in the fields, comforted the increasing number of widows and orphans, protected the hearth, and lent moral support to their men on the on the far-flung battlefields of the southern armies. All honor to these daughters of the Confederacy. In these sacred gardens of stone, as you reverently contemplate the markers of the Confederate veterans and consider their sacrifices, look to the right and left, and consider too that there repose their wives, their mothers, daughters, and sisters, and that they, no less than the men, gave their all to the Cause.
Our history is not yet complete. Three thousand and five hundred of Onslow's inhabitants, forty percent of her population during this great struggle, were black and enslaved. You will find no gravestones or monuments to their sacrifices in this cemetery, but that is another story. Their contributions to our heritage have gone vastly unrecorded. If we are to honor the heroes of that distant conflict, we must remember that they also served. In the final consideration, most of Onslow's Confederate veterans fought in order to defend their homeland. For the black, the decision wasn't so easy. Torn between allegiance to families and farms that had been home to them and their ancestors for generations and the beckoning call of possible freedom, many sought to escape. Onslow's trackless forests and miles of coastline offered refuge and a means of access to the maritime underground railroad. The majority, voluntarily or involuntarily, remained to work the fields and the pine orchards. But there were undoubtedly others who shouldered their muskets and fought alongside of their masters. These veterans, too, must not be forgotten.
Onslow's last known Civil War veteran died fifty-eight years ago. We are privileged to still have on our muster roll, though, one of the last true sons of the Confederacy, Mr. Walter Simpson, who was one hundred and three years old on Valentines Day. But, in our minds and hearts, these aged warriors will never die. The very land on which we stand was home to the Montfort family, for which it is named, and a scion of which, William J. Montfort, was the Lieutenant Colonel of the 21st Regiment, NC Militia. He and the Regimental Colonel, Edward Fonvielle. are buried in this cemetery. It is up to us to ensure that the memories of these proud veterans, and the contributions of all citizens during the Civil War, white or black, and those of their families, are never forgotten. Our heritage is a precious jewel and should be carefully guarded. But let us not hide it away. Let us preserve it to be shown with pride to the future generations of Onslow County.