Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pitt County


I’ve been undecided about which county to do next in our little study. I was in Rowan and Cabarrus County on Tuesday, and there is a small write-up about Mitchell County in today’s Asheville Citizen. I finally decided to move a little further east and look at Pitt County.

Pitt County is located in the Coastal Plane area of eastern North Carolina. The County was formed in 1760 from portions of Beaufort County and named for the earl of Chatham, William Pitt. Prior to European settlement, the area was inhabited by the Tuscarora Indians. The county seat, chartered in 1771, was originally known as Martinsborough, in honor of North Carolina’s last royal governor, Josiah Martin. In 1786, the name was changed to Greensville in honor of Patriot general Nathanial Greene.

In 1860, the County had a total population of 16, 080 including 3,743 slaves. In the 1860 presidential election, Pitt County was practically tied. The residents cast 731 votes for Breckenridge, 710 for Bell, and eight for Douglass. While their presidential ideas were split, their belief in secession was not. When the vote came in February 1861, they voted 986 for, with 177 against the convention. Their representatives for the convention were Fenner B. Satterwhite and Bryan Grimes. Grimes resigned and was replaced by Pryton Atkinson.

Numerous Confederate companies came from Pitt County. These included Companies E, G, I, and K, 1st Battalion Local Defense; Company G, 8th NCST; Company C, 17th NCST (1st Organization); Company K, 17th NCST (2nd Organization); Companies E and H, 27th NCT; Companies C, D, and I, 44th NCT; Company E, 55th NCT, and Company F, 61st NCT. One of the first Confederate battlefield fatalities, Henry Wyatt (battle of Big Bethel, June 1861), had spent a number of years in Greenville. It was estimated by a local historian that 1,376 Pitt County men served in the Confederate army.

Military action came early in Pitt County. On June 5, 1862, “Col. Robert Potter [US], garrison commander at Washington, North Carolina, ordered a reconnaissance in the direction of Pactolus. The 24th Massachusetts under Lt. Col. F.A. Osborne, advanced to the bridge over Tranter’s Creek, where it encountered the 44th North Carolina, under Col. George Singletary. Unable to force a crossing, Osborne brought his artillery to bear on the mill buildings in which the Confederates were barricaded. Colonel Singletary was killed in the bombardment, and his troops retreated. The Federals did not pursue and returned to their fortifications at Washington.” Total losses on both sides were estimated at 40. You can read a fuller description of the battle here.

Two additional incursions took place in October 1862. The first was a raid toward Haddock’s cross road, resulting in the capture of several Confederates. The other raid was on Greenville itself, and the town was captured with the death of one Federal soldier.

In July 1863, Federal General Edward Potter raided through the area. You can read a full account here. There is also a driving tour, part of the North Carolina Civil War Trail Markers program, that you can view here. The raid was to disrupt Confederate supply routes in the area. Federal soldiers entered Greenville the afternoon of July 19. Local residents said that during their short stay, the Federals looted homes and destroyed Confederate supplies. At Otter Creek Bridge, near Falkland, a group of 150 Confederates, with artillery, stopped a portion of the raiders, and forced them to find another rout. Yet another small skirmish occurred at Scuffletown, on the Pitt/Greene County border.

In November of 1863, another raid took place through the county. The Federals involved were the 1st North Carolina Volunteers (African-American), which captured a portion of the 67th North Carolina Troops near Haddock’s Cross Roads. A fight, involving a portion of the Federal army and North Carolina and Virginia soldiers, took place at Red Banks Church on the night of December 30. Both sides retreated, with the Confederates losing a piece of artillery.

By 1864, most of the county had been raided, looted, and burned, and large-scale military action dropped off.

Following the war, a Confederate monument was erected on the courthouse grounds in 1914. Last year, an individual or two asked that the monument be removed. So far, the county commissioners have been unmoved.

Pitt County is doing a great job of marking and interpreting its Civil war sites. They have seven of the North Carolina Civil War trial markers, including three recently put up. You can learn more about the new markers here.