Walter Caden Simpson
Walter Caden Simpson, 105, of the Back Swamp community in Onslow County, died Jan. 14 at Onslow Memorial Hospital. A funeral service was held Sunday night at Jones Funeral Home in Richlands. Burial was Monday at the Simpson Family Cemetery. He was preceded in death by his wife, Gertrude Bell Fountain Simpson; and a daughter, Nannie Loriane Simpson Fountain. Survivors include his daughters, Mabel Simpson Futral of Back Swamp and Cora Lee Simpson Ervin of Richlands; sons, Edwin Caden Simpson and Ervin Alsea Simpson, both of Back Swamp; 14 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren and 32 great-great grandchildren.
The death of Real Son Walter Caden Simpson is a great loss not only to his family, but to our Camp as well. He was a real inspiration to those of us who knew him, as he was our last link to the soldiers we honor by being members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Although we deeply regret his passing, we were honored to participate in the services at his funeral. Several members of his family told us that he was very proud to be a member, and was very proud of his Real Son Medal. In fact, when he was taken to the hospital, he was wearing it at the time.
J. Roger Alvis
When I think of Mr. Walter Simpson, I think of his warm smile. The first time Tami and I met him was on January 15, 1996, he and his entire family made us feel as if we were part of their family. It was January 15, of this year when I got word of his passing. Two days later, I had the honor of commanding the Honor Guard at his burial. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him on every one of his birthdays from 1996 on. He was 101 years old when I met him.... I never knew anyone personally who was over 100 years old. The stories he shared about his father will forever be imprinted in my memory. But who Mr. Simpson's father was is not what made him special in my eyes... it was who he was. A fine, Godly man who loved his family, friends, and life. I consider myself honored to have known him even though it was only a fraction of the time he spent here on earth. As Sons of Confederate Veterans we often get caught up in who our ancestors were. Sometimes to the point of hero worship. We could all learn a lesson from our "Real Son", Mr. Simpson. Even though his family (past and present) were of the utmost importance to him.... he was an adopted son of the Father who counts most.... our Heavenly Father. His and my belief in Jesus Christ give me the assurance that I will see Mr. Simpson again.
Bernie Rosage, Jr.
The following essay is a reprint of an article written by Kim Kimball which was printed in the February 1996 issue of "The Confederate".
We have reprinted it in its entirety for those members who have never read it and also as a tribute to a man who touched our lives in such a special way, ... Mr. Walter C. Simpson.
Interview with Mr. Walter Simpson.
By L.J. Kimball
Of the more than 1000 men from Onslow County who served North Carolina in the armed forces of the Confederacy during the Civil War, none remain. The last, a Mr. Isaac Taylor from the Parkertown area, joined his comrades at rest in 1939. Only one "true son" of a Confederate Veteran survives in the county today to carry on the living heritage of that great conflict. Mr. Walter Caden Simpson of the Back Swamp community wears that distinction with pride and, at 101 years of age, may well be the oldest resident in Onslow County.
Reposed comfortably in a wing-backed chair on his ancestral farm where four generations of Simpsons still till the soil, Mr. Simpson regards the world through sparkling blue eyes and talks with laughing good nature of his rich full life and the blessings bestowed by his close-knit family. According to Mr. Simpson and the younger of his boys, Ervin, their family began here with the arrival of Thomas Simpson, a hardy Scot, in the White Oak River area. After marrying and beginning a family which would eventually number eleven children, the senior Thomas moved in 1846 to the Back Swamp area, where he had acquired over 500 acres of mostly pine forest. With him came two sons, Thomas Jr., five years of age, and Curtis, age two. Curtis would become Mr. Walter Simpson's father.
North Carolina during this period of time was one of the largest producers of naval stores in the world and Thomas Sr. harvested his share of the bountiful long leaf pines assisted by his sons. With the coming of the war Thomas Jr. set aside his farming implements and responded as had many of Onslow's sons before to his state's call. Curtis, all of 17, accompanied his older brother to Richlands where they enlisted on 27 March 1862 in a company called the "Alexander Boys" and claimed a $50 bonus offered as a special inducement. Mr. Simpson chuckled, " My father figured Thomas wasn't going anywhere without him, he said he just couldn't do without his brother".
Their company, consisting of men primarily from Onslow and Alexander counties, hence the name, was designated as Company "H" and assigned to the 55th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, an infantry unit consisting of 10 companies enrolled atypically from eleven different counties throughout the state. Thomas and Curtis learned their basic soldiering at Camp Mangum, near Raleigh, and were considered trained by time the regiment received its baptism of fire on 7 August 1862 near Kinston. Thomas, at home on furlough to assist with the family harvest, missed this initial engagement. Curtis, however, was present at this one sided skirmish which consisted primarily of three Federal vessels, which were conducting a reconnaissance of the upper Neuse River, shelling their positions on shore. One of these was, ironically, the gunboat Ellis, which would be destroyed in Onslow County later in November of that same year on the New River by Confederate artillery.
The 55th, ably led by Colonel John Kerr Connally, a former U.S. Naval Academy midshipman, displaced from Kinston and after a stint of guard duty at Petersburg joined Lt. General James Longstreet at the siege of Suffolk in April, 1863. Life was much more difficult in those days. The undernourished and poorly clad southern soldier was more likely to die from pestilence than combat. Thomas was hospitalized at Petersburg with influenza, known variously as "intermittent" or "remittent fever", for two months late in 1862. Shortly after his return Curtis was more seriously stricken and furloughed home to recover after a period of hospitalization. Curtis' recovery kept him out of General Robert E. Lee's great invasion of the North but Thomas and the remainder of the 55th began their momentous movement on 3 June which would culminate in Pennsylvania at the decisive battle of Gettysburg.
Jefferson Davis' nephew, Brigadier General Joseph Davis, commanded the Mississippi brigade to which the 55th was assigned. It further fell under Heth's Division, III Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. On 1 July 1863, Davis' Brigade advanced cautiously toward Gettysburg as part of Heth's much storied search for footwear, bringing on an undesired and unplanned general engagement between rapidly converging corps from both sides. In the swirling maelstrom the 55th was decimated in the infamous "Railroad Cut" by the Union Iron Brigade but upon regrouping swept forward with the III Corps to drive the Federals off Seminary Ridge, through the streets of Gettysburg, and onto their defensive "fish hook" position on Cemetery Ridge. The 55th fought in four separate engagements and suffered heavily that day, losing its commander and all its field grade officers. Among those wounded and captured was Private Thomas Simpson of Company H.
For Thomas the war was over but not the suffering. He was taken as a prisoner to Fort Delaware then to Point Lookout which was located in southern Maryland at the juncture of the Potomac River with the Chesapeake Bay and was the largest Federal prisoner-of-war camp. There he contracted and barely survived smallpox in April 1864. Tragically, Thomas Sr. contracted smallpox during the same time at Back Swamp but did not survive; his death at 59 unbeknown to his two sons far away.
At Gettysburg the 2nd of July found the 55th recovering in reserve. The 3rd of July brought it immortality. It stepped out of the McMillan Woods and advanced across 1300 yards of coverless ground toward the distant Federal position and into the annals of military legend. Its participation with 41 other regiments in Longstreet's final assault on the Union line, or Pickett's Charge, arguably the most famous charge in U.S. history, would alone guarantee its place in the parthenon of Southern Heritage. North Carolina proudly boasts that her sons were "First at Bethel. Farthest to the front at Gettysburg and Chickamauga. Last at Appomattox". The most advanced point attained by any assaulting unit at Gettysburg and the place identified thereafter as the high-water mark in the struggle for Southern independence was achieved by the 55th North Carolina. Therein lies its unique claim to glory, but the cost was horrific.
Curtis rejoined his depleted regiment in time for the inconsequential Bristoe and Mine Run campaigns of late 1863 before the army settled into quarters for a long difficult winter. Succumbing once again to the virulent influences of camp life, he was hospitalized in Richmond during February 1864 and furloughed home, to rejoin the 55th in March. Spring and Union General U.S. Grant arrived simultaneously to free them from the misery and inactivity of these camps. With a single-minded dedication not seen before in a Union commander, he set his forces implacably in motion toward Richmond with the intention of destroying the Confederate Army.
On 5 May 1864 General Lee delivered the Army of the Potomac a bloody check in its southward drive at the Battle of the Wilderness. The 55th, holding a critical position in the center of the Confederate line along the Orange Plank Road, suffered over 50% casualties but did not break. General Grant sidestepped Lee to the southeast and the armies clashed again beginning May 8th at Spotsylvania Court House. The 55th, on the Confederate right, was not heavily engaged. Checked again he moved to his left to be confronted by the Army of Northern Virginia at the North Anna River on 22 May then at Cold Harbor on 1 June. Curtis and the 55th found themselves in reserve on 3 June during Grant's disastrous assault and did not participate in the grim affair.
After reevaluating the situation Grant next threw his army across the James River towards Petersburg in a brilliant masterstroke to cut off the lifeline to the Confederate capital and Lee's army. Lee rapidly responded and by July the armies faced each other from roughly parallel fortified lines running continuously from Richmond to Petersburg. The 55th went into the line on 5 July 1864 and the siege of Petersburg had begun.
Curtis absented himself without authority on the 10th of July. The records do not indicate the reason for his departure, when he returned, or what punishment, if any, he received. He was, however, definitely back with his unit by 1 November. Such informal desertions had become increasingly common during the later stages of the war. Soldiers were torn between loyalty to their units and comrades and to their families, whose suffering was no less poignant. It is reasonable to believe that having learned of his father's death and with Thomas in captivity, Curtis felt the responsibility to return to Back Swamp to comfort his mother, assist with the summer harvest, and otherwise ameliorate the family situation.
During his absence the regiment participated in several sharp engagements as the Union army inexorably extended its reach toward the southern railroads south of Petersburg. At the beginning of the new year it was transferred within the Division to Cooke's NC Brigade and took up its final position southwest of Petersburg. On 5 February 1865, Curtis and the 55th successfully counterattacked a Union thrust toward the Boydton Plank Road near Hatcher's Run but by now the end was inevitable.
The final assault against Petersburg began on the 2nd of April with a massive attack against the overextended and undermanned Confederate line. The 55th, attempting to delay the Union advance while falling back to Southerland Station on the Southside Railroad, was overrun. The cheering Federals swept over the field and around the Confederate flank. On this dark day General A.P. Hill fell mortally wounded, Jefferson Davis abandoned the capital, and Robert E. Lee began his heroic retreat with the remnants of his army toward Appomattox Court House. The official records state no member of the 55th was killed on that day, 59 were captured, and the only man wounded was one of the captives. That soldier was Pvt. Curtis Simpson.
Mr. Simpson apologizes for not being able to recollect his father's reminiscences better. Like most of the men that were in the war, his father and uncle weren't inclined to discuss their experience. "Uncle Thomas said it was so rough he didn't even want to talk about it". Mr. Simpson does recall his father telling of his capture. "He was in a foxhole", he told him, "the Yankees surrounded and captured the Confederate breastworks to his rear and started shooting at him, a bullet struck his hat band and dented in his skull. You could lay your finger in it. It was a right smart dent, the holes in the hat were four inches apart. It didn't break through the skull but bled considerably. My daddy thought it was his brains coming out". His father, dazed and cut-off, surrendered. "He waved his hat and they came a running up and captured him", said Mr. Simpson.
Curtis, like his brother before him, was sent to Point Lookout. By this time Thomas had been paroled from the camp and on 21 February had been exchanged. Putting the war behind him, Thomas returned to the family farm at Back Swamp and turpentine farming. He settled down and married Kitsey Fountain, sired seven children, and lived a rich and fruitful life. But for Curtis the trials weren't over yet. "He told me he had it pretty tough", Mr. Simpson relates, "18,000 prisoners on 23 acres of land".
According to family history, conditions got so bad in the camp that Curtis and the other prisoners were without food on one occasion for three days. On the third day raw fish was thrown into the compound. Unable to satisfactorily cook the fish which were only half-scaled and half-cleaned, they ended up eating them raw because of their hunger. After that, fish became a regular part of their diet and they became accustomed to eating it raw.
Ervin, Mr. Simpson's youngest son, tells another story told to him by his grandfather. One of the prisoners hid wooden boxes that crackers came in. They had access to the Chesapeake Bay for swimming and bathing and when he had saved enough boxes he built himself a canoe and buried it in the sand on the beach. The day of his escape, just before the prisoners had to return to the compound, he had them gather in a bunch so the guards couldn't see what was happening and bury him in the sand also. By the time the evening roll call detected his absence he was well away in the dark using small paddles he made. The guards decided not to pursue him that night figuring there would be plenty of time the next morning but when they looked for him at first light through their glasses he was already on the far shore drawing his boat up behind him. That, according to Ervin, was thought to have been the only successful escape from Point Lookout.
Curtis was finally released on 20 June 1865 and found his way back to Back Swamp as his brother Thomas had done before him. He took up where his father had left off in the turpentine way of life. Turpentine farming, as it was called, stands out in Mr. Simpson's recollections because it was his father's vocation during his childhood as it had been with his grandfather, Thomas Sr., before him. "My daddy loved the woods", Mr. Simpson fondly recalls.
Settling down on the family farm, Curtis took over the sand-floored log cabin built by his father in a field near the Juniper Swamp, about fifty yards south of the Cypress Creek Road from Catherine Lake. He married Nancy Ann Williams on 13 March 1873 and proceeded to raise a family of nine children. In 1880 they moved into a new house which still stands next to Mr. Simpson's present day residence. Walter Caden Simpson, the youngest of Curtis' children, was born there on the 14th of February, 1894.
"My first memory", Mr. Simpson says, "was plowing with a blind horse". "He raised his turpentine and let me do the farming, I remember that right good". Turpentine was obtained from the living tree by wounding the tree and collecting the rosin in a box cut into the base of the trunk. "He'd cut boxes in the trees right down to the ground and when the sap went up each box would hold about a quart. When they got full he'd dip them and fill barrels. I'd known him to have ten barrels, each one holding around 250 pounds". The turpentine had to be transported to a distillery for processing into spirits of turpentine and pitch. "When his barrels were full", Mr. Simpson continues, "he'd call Bill Cox from Catherine Lake or George Parker from Chinquapin to send out a four-mule wagon to load it up and carry in". "He got $2.75 a barrel".
Curtis tried tobacco in 1899 when the demand for naval stores was waning. Mr. Simpson recalls, "he had fertilizer sent out from Catherine Lake but it got caught in a thunder cloud". "The fertilizer dried hard and his crop failed. That broke him from raising tobacco for a spell but later on he had right good luck".
Mr. Simpson recalls his first trip to Jacksonville with his father when he was about six. "Daddy'd go in to trade some or when he needed something, it was a rarity for a boy like me to be carried there". "The trip took almost a half-day there and a half-day back over the dirt roads with little time to spend in town". "There wasn't much there", Mr. Simpson remembers, "just a few wooden stores and one of brick, the Hinton and Koonce store".
"I remember the cold weather when I was growing up", he chuckles, "seems to me we had snows after snows". "I declare that was the biggest change. The snow was so deep it'd roll into a 15 inch boot top". "Summers were milder then", Ervin adds, "and wetter". "We had to worry about catching something called "ground-itch" from the wet soil", but, Mr. Simpson interjects, "it still was hot aplenty".
He grew up strong and healthy in the arms of his loving family, taking over the tobacco farming and other chores at the young age of 15 as Curtis and Nancy grew older. Nothing but the normal bouts with childhood diseases troubled his early years and he points with pride to his diploma from Sand Hill School where he graduated at the age of 20. At manhood he began to court Gertrude Belle Fountain, one of their favorite dates being a picnic to the popular resort of Alum Springs. On 23 October 1918 they were married. Curtis and Nancy continued to live with them and their growing family until first Nancy, on 15 February 1922 and finally Curtis, on 2 March 1928, went to their reward.
Mr. Simpson continued to till the soil with his beloved Gertrude and witnessed the century of both man's greatest achievements and most tragic failures. He was nine years old when the Wright Brothers first took to the air at Kitty Hawk and 75 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. He was helping his father in the fields during the administration of Onslow County's own Daniel Lindsay Russell, governor of the state of North Carolina at the turn of the century and now interred in Hickory Hill Cemetery along the White Oak River. The Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam passed with little impact on their remote community in the tranquil back waters of western Onslow County. He was drafted for World War I but was deferred to look after his feeble parents.
They moved into the house where Mr. Simpson now resides in 1934. "When I was just big enough to drive a mule", adds Ervin, the youngest of their five children. Electricity came to Back Swamp around 1939, Mr. Simpson recalls, "I was so proud of it. This man comes by and says for $10, I'll give you a meter and electric lights. In two or three weeks they came through surveying and in short order they had the line put up". The telephone didn't come until the 1980's.
Tobacco was their cash crop but corn, peanuts, soy beans, and even a little cotton were grown there over the years. In 1990 at the age of 95 Mr. Simpson finally laid down the plow, his farm now in the capable hands of Edwin, the older son, and Ervin. Gertrude, his loving wife and constant companion for 64 years passed away on 30 July 1993 leaving him bereaved but not alone. Between the two of them they have enriched their world with 5 children, 17 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren, and 20 great-great-grandchildren. And, one of the latter will soon be presenting him with a member of the sixth generation. Six generations of Simpsons will be living on the same farm.
Mr. Simpson is unique in many respects but in others gratifyingly common. He is startling close to having lived in three different centuries and can talk of events first hand that most of us have only read about. His father fought in one of the most defining events in American history, the great war between the North and the South. He's heard of momentous battles, individual heroism, and intolerable suffering from the perspective of an actual participant. Yet he is also a man of the soil; sturdy, hard working, caring, and willing to accept his lot in life without complaining. A man of deep beliefs, strong family loyalties, and unshakable faith. A worthy representative of the class that added so much that is great and good to the American character.
Mr. Simpson gives considerable credit to his beloved wife, Gertrude, for the full and rich life he has enjoyed. When asked to what he attributes his long life, he responds with a twinkle in his eye, "I can't lay it to no one thing, only the good Lord".
HOW DO YOU LIVE YOUR DASH?
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on his tombstone
From the beginning...to the end.
He noted that first came his date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That he spent alive on earth...
And now only those who loved him
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars...the house...the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard...
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more,
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile..
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy's being read
With your life's actions to rehash...
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
Anyone who knew Mr. Simpson,
knows that he spent his "DASH" well!
We will miss our fallen comrade...
there is a "Vacant Chair".