Rounding Up Deserters in Robeson County

In early February 1863, a Mr. Swann of Lumberton wrote a letter to General Whiting in Wilmington requesting military assistance in Robeson County. Bands of deserters, hiding in the swamps, were terrorizing the county’s citizens. Local militia seemed unable to protect the residents or their property.

Whiting ordered General Clingman to send an armed force to Robeson County. Clingman selected Company D, 51st North Carolina, for the task. The company was raised in Robeson County, and the soldiers new the people and geography of the county. Before Company D could depart on their assignment, Clingman’s Brigade was rushed to Charleston in response to Yankee activity threatening the port city.

The Fifty-First returned to Wilmington on the night of May 2, 1863. A week later, Colonel McKethan sent a letter to Captain Edward White, Clingman’s adjutant. The letter contained an application to form a detail to round up deserters in Robeson County. “Three of the men jumped off the cars as we came on from S. C. and declared their intention not to return until they were brought back,” wrote McKethan. Other deserters had been absent for six months or more.

At 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon on May 14, a detail consisting of Company F, 51st North Carolina and Company D of the 8th North Carolina arrived in Lumberton. Captain William Norment of Company E commanded the detachment. Norment was charged with arresting deserters and conscripts who had failed to report for duty.

Norment split his small force into three groups. He sent two of the groups to search the lower parts of Robeson County, “where most of the deserters are.” The third group remained with Norment and operated in the upper part of the county. Norment’s men captured one conscript that day and put him on a train for Wilmington.

On May 17, Norment sent seven deserters and four conscripts to Wilmington. Private Wiley Brinkley of the 8th North Carolina was wounded the previous day while trying to capture a “notorious” deserter. Norment had received a list of 127 conscripts who were in Robeson County. Another 75 deserters were thought to be hiding in the county. “The militia officers in this county have been very negligent,” Norment wrote.

On May 22, Norment sent another three deserters and one conscript to Wilmington. Benjamin Britt, a deserter from the 46th North Carolina, turned himself in. He told Captain Norment that he was very anxious to go immediately to his company. Norment placed Private Britt under arrest and sent him to his unit.

Norment shipped nine more deserters and two more conscripts to Wilmington on May 25. Five additional conscripts were handed over to Captain Willis Pope, commanding Company E of the 51st North Carolina.

No other reports from Norment’s expedition exist. He captured at least 33 men, maybe more. The duty was arduous and dangerous, but Captain Norment had some measure of success.

You can view Captain Norment’s reports HERE.

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