Tuesday, March 3, 2015

'Tomorrow at 12 o'clock I have to die'

Divided loyalties cost Joseph Honeycutt his life.
     Stoneman's Raid was part of Ulysses Grant's plan to hasten the end of the Civil War. Gen. Grant knew that every day Gen. Stoneman was delayed, more men would die in vainon both sides. 
     It's hard to imagine a death more pointless than that of Joseph Honeycutt, a 41-year-old father from the Oakboro community of Stanly County, N.C. He was a cobbler in the Confederate army and part of the 7th North Carolina Infantry, commanded by Gen. D.H. Hill, Stonewall Jackson's brother-in-law. Their unit was based in Petersburg, Va., until Hill had a falling-out with Robert E. Lee. On February 26, 1865, they were reassigned to High Point, N.C., primarily to hunt down deserters. On April 12, they were among the rebels who tried to defend Salisbury against Stoneman's Raid.
     A few days after they arrived in High Point, Honeycutt and D.M. Furr left their unit, intending to go home to Oakboro, 35 miles south of Salisbury. They were caught, court-martialed, and executed as a warning to other deserters.
     One hundred and fifty years ago, Honeycutt wrote this farewell letter to his family:
March the 3rd, 1865
My Dear Wife:
I have to state to you the sad news that tomorrow at 12 o'clock I have to die. I have to be shot to death for starting home to see my wife and dear children and was arrested and brought back and court-martialed and am to be shot at 12 o'clock. Me and D.M. Furr have to die, but thanks be to God, I am not afraid to die. I think when I leave this world I shall be where Mary and Martha are. Dear wife, don't grieve for me. Try and not. I dreampt last night of seeing you, but I shall never. You shall see your hubby no more. I want you to raise my children in the way that they should go. My dear son, Julius, this is my last order to you. I want you to be a good boy and try to serve God and be a good man. Farewell, Julius, I must leave this world. And my son, Ephraim, try and be a good man and serve God. My dear daughter, Haseltine, I bid farewell to you. Be a good girl and go to preaching. Farewell my dear son, Joel. You have no daddy now. Be a smart boy and mind your mother. My dear Nancy, I bid farewell to you. I want you to keep what things I have and pay my debts. And I want Julius and Ephraim to have my tools and I want them to take good care of them and remember me. I have a little looking glass that I want to send to Rebecca. I want her to remember. I have a good blanket I will get and send home. Will send my things with Lefler and try and get him to send them home if he will and I have 25 or 30 dollars and I shall spend $5 of that in the morning before I suffer. Dear wife, that is four months service. I can't write like if I was not in trouble. I don't mind death like I do to leave my family for I have to suffer so much here that I don't fear. I don't want you to grieve for me, for I feel like I am going home to die no more. I hope I shall be with shining angels and be out of trouble. I have a little book I want Joel to have and remember me. It has some pretty lines. I want you to send the children to school, and son Julius, I can't hear from you any more. I sent him a letter, but got no answer. I pity poor Julius, for he has had no chance. I have got no chance to write for I have to close my letter.
March the 4th, 1865
A few lines to Daniel Lefler and Jane Lefler. I bid farewell to you and my dear mother; I bid farewell to you and fathers and brothers and sisters. I must leave this world. Farewell, Julius my dear son; farewell, Joel, my dear son. I want you all to meet me in Heaven.
(signed) Joseph Honeycutt
To Nancy Honeycutt, farewell, farewell.
PSI want to have my funeral preached at Pleasant Grove. I want Columbus Foreman to preach it and sing "I Am Going Home to Die No More." This is the 4th day of March at nine o'clock. I must soon be in eternity. I don't desire this, but I am not afraid to die. I want you to get all of the children's funerals preached that are dead. Nancy, I want to see you one more time if I could, but we can't meet anymore. I want you all and the children to meet me in Heaven.
     I haven't been able to find out much more about Joseph Honeycutt, and some doubt the authenticity of the letter. I found it in a 1960 book called the Civil War TreasuryAs far as I know, the letter first appeared in the Oxford (N.C.) Public Ledger in 1908.
     There are a number of Honeycutts buried at the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Oakboro, but I haven't found a record of Joseph among them. His son Joel (1856-1942) is buried at Oakwood Cemetery near Concord. The preacher he mentions is Christopher Columbus Foreman (1828-1890), who is buried at Silver Springs Baptist Church in nearby Norwood. 
     It's quite possible that Joseph Honeycutt was loyal to the Union but was drafted into the Confederate army.

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