On June 23, 1864, the Wilmington Journal printed the following heartfelt tribute from “One Who Loved Him” to Private Joel P. Atwood, Company C, 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops:
“Young and ardent, impelled by no motive but honor and zeal for the Southern cause, he has fallen, like many other noble spirits of the day, in the front rank of soldierly duty. He is gathered to his rest but not to his people. J. P. A. was a native of a Northern State, where his parents still reside. He came to North Carolina about six years ago, and until the commencement of hostilities, resided at Magnolia, Duplin County, where his amiable qualities endeared him to all his acquaintances. His fidelity to the Confederate flag is now sealed with his life-blood, and surely “greater love than this hath no man,” that he lay down his life for the cause he thinks right. The report of his death will be a severe trial to his bereaved parents; but “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” and may it prove, at least, a mournful consolation to that grief-stricken family to know that their son leaves behind him the record of a gallant young soldier, a comrade well esteemed, – a name unsullied by reproach in the social circle of which he had been an ornament; in short of a young man whose memory will always be fondly cherished by those, and they were many, who had the opportunity of knowing him best.”
So who was this soldier, this “brave boy and true patriot?” Joel P. Atwood was born circa 1845 in Hartford, Connecticut. In the late-1850’s, he moved to Magnolia in Duplin County, North Carolina. Atwood went to work as a clerk at Merriman and Newberry, a store owned by his uncles Leonard Merriman and Franklin Newberry. He continued attending school while he worked at the store.
In February 1862, Duplin County attorneys William Allen and Samuel Stanford began recruiting for a company of infantry. Atwood was one of the first to enlist. He was the tenth private to sign up for Captain Allen’s “Duplin Stars.” The young patriot was only 17 years old when he enlisted on February 26, for the war.
The Duplin Stars mustered into service on April 8, 1862. The unit was assigned to the 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops as Company C immediately after mustering in. Joel Atwood apparently impressed his superiors in the new regiment. In September 1862, he was promoted to Sergeant Major and transferred to regimental staff.
After six months as part of the regiment’s staff, Atwood was demoted to private and returned to Company C. In March, 1863 he was detached to brigade staff. After a brief stay in a Wilmington hospital for rheumatism, Private Atwood rejoined his company in May 1863.
Joel Atwood was present and accounted for during the next twelve months. He survived the assault on Battery Wagner and the subsequent trying stay in the Charleston area. He was with the regiment during its difficult march on New Bern and the reconnaissance in force toward Suffolk.
Our young warrior, Private Joel P. Atwood, finally met his Maker at Drewry’s Bluff. Accounts of his death in battle list three different dates for when he was killed: May 14, 15, and 16 1864. He was likely shot during the heavy skirmishing prior to the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff on the 16th of May. He was 18 years old when he was killed.
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