The county-by-county exploration of North Carolina and the War is not going as fast as I hoped. Maybe we will be able to wrap up by the end of the sesquicentennial. I thought today we would turn our attention to Onslow County.
Onslow County, a part of North Carolina’s Costal Plane, was formed in 1734 from New Hanover County. It was named for Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons in the British Parliament. The county seat is located in Jacksonville, which was incorporated in 1843 and named for President Andrew Jackson. Onslow County is probably best known for these two things: the birthplace of Otway Burns, a privateer during the War of 1812 and later a member of the state house, and Camp Lejeune Marine Base.
In 1860, Onslow County had a population of 8,856 people, including 3,499 slaves and 159 free persons of color. In 1861, the men in Onslow County cast 781 votes for Breckinridge, 153 for Bell, and 24 for Douglas. In February 1861, the county cast 631 votes for calling a convention to consider the question of secession, and 89 votes against. Dr. G. W. Ward was their first elected delegate. Ward hailed from New Bern, but had spent some time in Mississippi. He was educated at UNC Chapel Hill, and later in Philadelphia. Ward served as a magistrate, County Superintendent of Public Instruction, and chairman of the county medical board. He resigned to enter the Confederate Cavalry and was replaced by Andrew J. Murrill, a farmer, magistrate and chairman of the board of county commissioners. Murrill later served in the state house and senate.
Men from Onslow County served in Companies E and G, 3rd NCST; Company B, 24th NCT; Company A, 35th NCT; Company H, 55th NCT; Company K, 61st NCT; Company I, 66th NCT; Company H, 67th NCT; Companies B and H, 3rd NC Cavalry; and, Company F, 8th Batt. Partisan Rangers.
Onslow County saw limited action during the war. In April 1862 there was a night-time skirmish at Gillett’s Farm, with the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry attacking a portion of the 103rd New York. On November 23, 1862, Lt. William B. Cushing, aboard the Union gunboat Ellis, arrived off the coast of Onslow County and destroyed salt works, then captured and burned a vessel loaded with turpentine and cotton at Stone’s Point. Cushing later captured the town of Jacksonville and captured two more schooners at Wantland’s Landing. The Ellis later grounded on the shoals across from Traps Bay and was attacked by the Confederates. The Federal Tars abandoned the vessel.
There is not much more to mention on Onslow County and the War. A visitor might learn more by visiting one of the local history museums – the Onslow County History Museum is in Richlands, and there is the Museum of the Marines on the base in Jacksonville. Louis H. Manarin wrote a small book entitled “Onslow County during the Civil War” back in 1982, but I do not have a copy and could find only one in a library in the state.