Onslow County and America's Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Sharpsburg
by Bernie Rosage, Jr.
Our first slumber in three days was rudely put to an end at dawn when me and the boys were awakened by the sound of enemy cannon. In only a matter of seconds the drummer was beating "the long roll" and 1st Sgt. Metts was yelling to fall in on Sgt. Avery. We quickly formed our line and from the general excitement shown by our officers it was quite obvious to us privates that Company "G" was "going to the show". Lt. Quince gave the order, "IN PLACE, REST" as the "Gallant 3rd" was made ready for battle. Many were the thoughts that September morning; Jackson Poole and I were talking about what lies ahead, Isaiah Bell joined in saying how he was itching for a fight, while Josiah Kellum pulled a small Testament from his pocket and began to read quietly to himself. By now haversacks were emptied of "anything that you wouldn't want to get caught dead with" and the ground was scattered with playing cards. John Wenberry laughed saying, "Boys are you 'fraid what dear ol' mother might say if she knew her boy was the gamblin' sort".
Most of us had grown up together and got the bug of patriotism at the same time and I must say those pretty girls of Onslow County gave us boys in bright, polished brass, a send off we'll never forget. Memories of home were soon interrupted by Captain Rhodes... "ATTENTION COMPANY, SHOULDER ARMS, -- FORWARD MARCH!" As we crested the small hill every man saw the gravity of the situation. There to our front, just beyond a corn field, came the enemy in three lines ..... it looked like there was a bluecoat for every stalk of corn.
Sounds like a Ted Turner movie doesn't it? How could anyone have known that the drama that unfolded near the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland over 135 years ago would become a milestone in American history.
The Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) was the culmination of General Lee's first invasion of the north. Fought on September 17, 1862 it was a day of unequaled carnage in which nearly 4000 Federal and Confederate soldiers died in battle. Total casualties exceeded 22,500 making it "the single bloodiest day" in American history. Onslow County participated in the bloodletting with men in four companies from three regiments, including two companies (E and G) of the 3rd Regiment North Carolina State Troops. The regiment carried 520 men into action; by day's end only 190 were accounted for. Figures confirmed a staggering 111 battle deaths; in all 299 men were killed, wounded, or captured, a loss of 57.5 percent.
What became of our real life actors of Company "G"? Captain Edward Rhodes, Lt. William Quince, and privates' Bell and Kellum, were killed in action. 1st Sgt. James Metts was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant after the battle. Sgt. Lewis Avery, Pvt. Poole, and Pvt. Wenberry, were all wounded; Avery being the only one to survive the war.
When the curtain fell on the drama that evening, the 3rd NC suffered more casualties than any other regiment on the field; one out of every six men killed or wounded in the regiment was from Onslow County.