Monday, December 19, 2016

First-Person Account of Captains J.A. Turrentine and Randolph Shotwell At End of Civil War, 1909

“A New Light on Hero Shotwell” by J.A. Turrentine of Burlington, N.C., from The Farmer and Mechanic newspaper, published in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 28, 1909

A Personal Friend Writes of His Last Days…Ruined in Federal Prison…An Interesting Story of the Famous Editor’s Return from the War, Fatigued Nigh Unto Death, the Only Time in His Life When He Gave Up, Captain Turrentine Writes

In your North Carolina Review, I read with much interest your story of Capt. Randolph Shotwell, as he was a great friend of mine, this friendship growing for many years until his death. I went to Raleigh to view his remains as they lay in state in the Capitol.

Our acquaintance came about this way, and as I have not made it public it might be lost to history, for many valuable things have been lost for the reason that so many people dislike to go into public print. I served through the Civil War in Stuart’s cavalry. I got home on the 15th day of April, 1965, on a sore-back, broken down horse. I was but little better than my horse, clad in rags with not a penny of a change of clothes, with a young wife and not a day’s rations or a bed to sleep on. We got a log cabin and re-commenced life. I went over to the railroad and asked for work, offering to take anything.

They made me a conductor and I started out. One of my father’s old negroes gave me a soldier’s jacket and a new pair of pants, which had been given him. The soldiers were packing every train, trying to get home, which continued for quite a while as many of them were left in prison no small number being sick in hospitals, and wounded. I was in sympathy with them and did all I could for them.

As I was coming out from Raleigh one afternoon on reaching Morrisville station, the agent called my attention to a sick soldier on the side track, and asked me if I could not do something for him. I told him I could take him on the train if that would help him, as I had nothing to give him, for I was as poor as he. I called to the man to get aboard if it would help him in any way, which he did. He was very weak and thin; had a bad case of jaundice. After we got under way and I had a few minutes to spare, I took a seat beside him and asked where he wished to go. He said he was trying to get to Western North Carolina, where he had friends that might take care of him until his health should be restored; that he had just been released from prison and managed to get as far as Raleigh. He had started on foot and got as far as that station, when his strength gave out. He said he was in the North at school when the war commenced and left to join the Southern army. His father, he said, was a minister of the gospel. He said he had capacity for business if he only had health. He took from his pocket a package of papers which showed he had been promoted for gallantry on the field of battle, all properly made out with the signature of the commanding officer. I told him I would do what I could for him. I gave him into the hotel at Burlington and gave him his supper, then to Salisbury and smuggled him through to keep the Yankee soldiers, who were there in large numbers, from cutting the buttons off his coat, which they often did. I got the railroad people of the Western Railroad to take him and he gave me his name as Randolph Shotwell.

I thought no more of the man, as similar occurrences were frequent. Some months later, can’t recall how long, as I stepped off my train at Goldsboro, a handsome looking well-dressed gentleman rushed toward me and took hold of me rather violently, saying, “My good friend. I am indebted to you for my life, and I am here on purpose to thank you. I owe more to you than to any one living.” I said, “My friend, you are mistaken in the man. I haven’t saved any one’s life that I am aware of.” He said, “Stop and hear my story. I will make you remember. You took me on at the station above Raleigh on a siding. I was sick and nearly dead, and would have died but for your help. You took me to Salisbury and provided for me there Capt. Turrentine. I am Randolph Shotwell, the poor, sick soldier whose life you saved. That was the first time I ever gave up."

He was always giving me marked attention as long as he lived. When he returned from the United States prison in New York, he was greatly changed; not the same man, unless you met him in his office or in his room. He often talked to me about it. He was completely changed. He had forgotten how to talk, had lost his voice and his teeth. In the Federal prison he had not been allowed to speak, nor to look around, and had become so accustomed to look straight ahead that he passed his friends on the street and did not notice them, which gave him much pain. I have a good picture of him. He often spoke of coming to my house to visit me.
            --J.A. Turrentine, Burlington, N.C., Dec. 18

No comments:

Post a Comment