It was a cold February day in
1864 when 26-year-old Charles Cuthrell, under the orders of Gen George
Pickett, was executed in Kinston for desertion from the Confederate Army.
Charles was born and
raised on upper Broad Creek in Craven County North Carolina not far from New
Bern. He was the son of Thomas and Matilda Roe Cuthrell. Thomas Cuthrell
was a good man and worked hard on the land that his family had farmed for
more than a 100 years. He and Matilda raised a large family of eleven
children. It was no secret in the community that the Cuthrell Families of
upper Board Creek, as were many of their neighbors, were Union sympathizers
and had little use for the war.
In 1860 Charles married Celia
Searle. They were a young couple
with a lifetime of dreams ahead of them. But none of those dreams were to
become a reality. The Civil War made sure of that. They had one child who
died in infancy. Their marriage was doomed forever on a fateful day in
January 1862. Confederate soldiers came to the neighborhood where the
Cuthrell family lived to conscript men into the army. Charles was taken by force
to a camp of instruction at New Bern and was placed in Captain Alexander C.
Latham’s Battery, 3rd North Carolina Artillery. A family friend later
recalled that Charles insisted, as did his father and four brothers, that
they were Union men. Charles told the soldiers “that if compelled to go into the Rebel service
against his will, he would be of no service to the Confederacy, as he would
not fire upon the flag of his Country.
Cuthrell was only in the Confederate service for two months when
in March 1862 the Battle of New Bern took place. The Union forces won and
occupied New Bern for the remainder of the war. Cuthrell made good his
previous intentions and refused to fire on the Union and took the first
opportunity offered for escape.
Charles went home and helped his family with the crops. Little did
they know that it would be the last time he would ever work on the farm?
After the harvest was over Charles heard that the 2nd North
Carolina Volunteers was being organized. In December he went to New Bern
Less than two months later Cuthrell was on picket duty at
Bachelors Creek in Craven County. Gen. Robert E. Lee had given orders that
New Bern be captured and taken back under Confederate rule. Gen. George
Pickett led the attack but was unable to capture New Bern. However, they
did capture a number of soldiers at Bachelors Creek. The prisoners were
marched to Kinston where they were tried. Twenty-two of the prisoners were
determined to be deserters from the Confederate Army and were ordered
hanged. Most of the men had been in the Home Guard from Jones County and
not really the Confederate Army. The Union felt the men should have been
tried as prisoners of war and not deserters of the Confederate Army. There
was a lot of controversy about the hanging and that controversy still exists
to present times. Gen. Pickett left the country after the war for fear that
he would be charge with war crimes because of his actions concerning the
Kinston Hangings. Charles Cuthrell may have been the only one of the 22
that truly was a Unionist and had served in the Confederate Army.
After Cuthrell and the other men hanged on February 15 were cut down from
the gallows, they were stripped of their blue uniforms, which were given to
the civilian hangman -- a strange, cross-eyed, nameless man from Raleigh --
as he had demanded the garments as part of his pay for accomplishing the
feat of mass execution. The bodies, some totally naked, were left lying by
the scaffold until claimed by relatives, who had to provide their own
transportation to carry their men back to their family burial plots. The
army would not provide any of its wagons. Those not claimed by kin were
simply buried in the sandy field by the gallows. It is likely that Charles
Cuthrell was one of those buried in that fashion. No tombstone has ever
been found in Craven County to mark his grave. The family lived more than 40
miles away, and it is doubtful his young 19-year-old wife, Celia Searle
Cuthrell or his father and brothers, could have traveled that distance
through Union lines to recover his remains even if they had been aware of
Celia Cuthrell had lost a child and a husband. The war had left
her with broken dreams and a life that would always have a void she would
never be able to fill. Celia never remarried nor had children. She made a
living as a seamstress and died in 1920 in New Bern.
say, at times, there are strange and unaccounted sounds around the
area of where the hangings took place. Could it be the ghost of
some of the men that were hanged on that cold February day? No one
knows for sure but the people that have heard the sounds know it is nothing
of this realm.