Civil War history, battlefields are all around us

Published 11:04 am Saturday, July 9, 2011

by Volpe Boykin

Editor’s Note: This column is part of a series of local, historic articles written by members of the Urquhart-Gillette Camp 1471 Sons Of Confederate Veterans in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Few Southampton and Isle of Wight County residents think of our home as a War Between the States battlefield.

We ride past quiet fields and drive across rivers every day that once reverberated with the sounds of troops camping, and yes, the sounds of rifle and cannon fire, and soldiers giving their all for what they believed in.

I will mention a few of these places.

Downtown Franklin was but a few buildings in 1862, but an important base for transportation. On Oct. 3, several heavily armed Union gunboats attempted to come up the river and destroy Franklin.

They were fought off by the local Confederate forces after much heavy fighting and forced to retreat down the river.

The next time you stand in front of Fred’s restaurant, remember that in October 1862, you may have dodged Yankee cannon balls.

Leaving downtown Franklin and traveling down Route 58, you may want to stop at the 7-Eleven for a snack. When you do, listen closely.

You may hear the hoof beats of the charging Union Calvary and the bugle call of the charge. Be careful because behind you on the small hills behind the convenience store are Confederate infantry and cannons firing fiercely, turning back the Union Calvary.

Head further on Route 58 toward Carrsville, and be very observant. When you come to Carrsville Elementary School, look around.

In May 1863, this was the area between the battle lines of Union and Confederate infantry and artillery. Shot and shells are flying fiercely as neither side wants to give an inch. Reinforcements for the Confederates come from Franklin, and Union reinforcements come from Suffolk.

You may even hear the screams of pain from Union Pvt. Anson Thurston of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry, who is severely wounded in the hip and thigh. As Thurston begs for help, he hears the anguished cries of his father, Joel Thurston, of the same regiment, who stays behind to take care of his son. Both are taken prisoner as Union forces retreat.

Both are removed to Franklin, where Anson Thurston dies and is buried in the yard of a nearby home, and his father is taken to a Confederate prison in Richmond.

Then travel to the scenic Blackwater River. As you go down Joyner’s Bridge Road and begin to cross from Isle of Wight County into Southampton County, slow down.

The Confederate forces guarding the bridge will probably check your identification. Do not argue with them because they are backed up by a cannon on the Southampton side and pointed right at you as you sit on the Isle of Wight side.

Also to your left is a large trench fortification full of Confederate infantry ready to back up any trouble the cannon crew might have.

When you leave the Joyner’s Bridge and travel to Joyner’s Bridge and Blackwater roads, stop and listen carefully. You may hear hundreds of voices and see the tents and campfires along with the smell of bacon frying. Confederate soldiers are camped there so they can quickly go to the bridge or nearby fords across the river that the Yankees may try to cross.

After leaving that intersection, slow down because you are approaching an area that has a lot of traffic. Army wagons and farmers that took the shortcut across the Blackwater at Lawrence’s ford are coming out of a path.

While you are stopped for the wagons, don’t be alarmed at the cannon and rifle fire coming from the ford. The pesky cavalry from a Pennsylvania unit is trying to force its way across again.

Not to worry, Capt. Lewis Webb and his 13th North Carolina Artillery unit are at the ford in stout earthwork fortifications with plenty of infantry backup. There is some pretty hot firing for a while, but when Webb’s artillery starts to throw canister shot across the river at the Pennsylvania boys, they take off back to Suffolk.

As you go down the road and pick up speed, slow down at Black Creek Church. There are Confederate troops camped all around.

Remember in your daily travels, you are where they lived and fought. You don’t need to travel to Gettysburg to see a War Between the States battlefield.

VOLPE BOYKIN is a member of Urquhart-Gillette Camp 1471 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He can be reached at 287-3309.