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Charles Cuthrell

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 and enlisted.
            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 his hanging.
            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. 

Some 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.

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