Yadkin County residents and family descendants of Col. William Henry Speer, a Confederate veteran of the Co. I 28th North Carolina Troops, gathered Saturday afternoon on the 150-year anniversary of Speer’s death, which occurred after he was mortally wounded at Reams Station in Virginia, while command leader.
Participants in the reenactment, most from the Yadkin Stars, who formed in 2006 for the purpose, were dressed in period costumes as were some guests in attendance. Some women wore dresses with crinolines, bonnets and carried fans on the hot September day.
Brian Duckworth of the 28th NCT conducted opening ceremonies, and spoke on the importance of gathering to celebrate Speer’s life and heritage. He joined the group in leading the singing of old songs, such as “Dixie Land.”
Gordon Meyers of the 28th NCT played “Ashokan Farewell” on the fiddle. Terry Rose played bagpipes with the songs, “Way Faring Stranger,” “Amazing Grace” and “Father Now Our Meeting is Over,” echoing throughout the family graveyard.
Some attending contemplated the inscribed words of the local Civil War colonel’s tombstone. On it a quote reads “After lifes fitful fever, he sleeps well.” The quote is taken from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” During the service, descendants placed a wreath on the colonel’s tombstone.
One relative held the colonel’s personal sword throughout the memorial service.
Dr. Allen Paul Speer, author of “Voices from Cemetery Hill,” quoted William Faulkner in his public address about the Confederate colonel stating, “The past is never dead.” In his book, Speer gives accounts of Col. Speer in the form of Civil War diary excerpts, reports and letters from 1861-1864.
Speer read the audience a statement the colonel had penned once during the deadly fighting of the Civil War. “I am perfectly resigned to my fate,” the colonel had stated in the tumultuous days.
Speer asked, “Was the statement a sentiment reflecting the colonel’s sense of resignation, or was it related to his faith, courage or simply an impending sense of doom?”
An account written by the colonel’s cousin reflected a fear there would be nobody left to speak of them, years later with many in the family and the North Carolina infantry dead.
Yet, said the author to the listening crowd, “here we are 150 years later,” quoting writings and Speer’s war time contributions and efforts.
Quoting Faulkner again, Speer said, “When the last ding dong of doom has sounded, our puny inexhaustible voices will still be talking.” Several in the audience nodded their heads in agreement.
The author said the public learns from the colonel the power of place, the love of home, and the colonel’s sentimental affinity for apple trees, garden fields, meadows, the Blue Ridge and Pilot Mountain.
Speer spoke of the colonel’s deep love of his family, their high education and noted their diverse views regarding the war.
In his book, Speer describes the colonel as a man opposed to secession who favored emancipation, and yet afraid to tell his father that view. He was a man who is proud to be a “Southern Patriot,” according to Speer.
Beside Speer’s tombstone was placed a Maltese cross; the Confederate flag; and a regimental flag of the 28th North Carolina Troops.
The North Carolina 28th Infantry flag was eventually captured by federal troops at the Battle of Malvern Hill, where Speer was in command, said Speer.
William Henry Asbury Speer enlisted in the 28th Infantry Regiment at age 30, Co. I 28th North Carolina Troops on Aug. 13, 1861.
His body was brought back to the Speer family cemetery, located off Speer Road, in Yadkin County after his death on Aug. 29, 1864.
The 28th Infantry Regiment had members were from the counties of Surry, Gaston, Catawba, Stanley, Montgomery, Yadkin, Orange and Cleveland.
The unit moved to New Bern and was ordered to Virginia in May 1862, assigned to General Branch’s and Lane’s Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia.
Other collected readings penned by Speer during the Civil War and read by Duckworth spoke about the incredible loss of the North Carolina soldiers’ lives during the bloody battle of Gettysburg that will long be remembered, he said.
Some of Speer’s excerpts from the battle of Gettysburg on July 10, 1863, read: “The tale is too awful to be told…I went into the fight with 326 men with guns and could only muster the next day 100 men, the balance killed, wounded or missing.”
In another except, Speer added, “The charge was almost the last hope…The three days of July will be long remembered by the people of North Carolina as the North Carolina troops did nearly all the fighting that day and have nearly been destroyed.”
Col. Speer went on to say in diary letters, though the North Carolina regiment came into the battle with 1,200 men, it finished only being able to “muster 200-300 men.” Out of 38 officers, only 17 came out of the battle, wrote Speer.
The 28th NCT performed a 21-gun salute and the 7th NC Cavalry Artillery shot a canon volley on the knoll just above the cemetery to honor Speer.
Tanya Chilton may be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TanyaTDC.