While perusing the John J. Wilson letters last week at UNCW, I came across a list of students who attended the “school taught by W. R. Bell in district No. 30 from July 13th 1857 to March 17th 1858.” (District 30 was located near Magnolia.) This list was the first time I had seen any indication that Walter Raleigh Bell had been a schoolteacher. Intrigued, I decided to dig deeper into Bell’s history.
Walter Raleigh Bell was born in Sampson County on May 17, 1829. According to one of Bell’s descendants, Wayne Jordan, he was born a bastard child. In 1850, he was living with his single mother and grandmother in Duplin Roads. Bell was a “laborer,” while his mother and grandmother had no occupation. Jordan states that they were living in the county Poor House. [Jordan’s bio of W. R. Bell]
Bell taught school for at least a year in 1856/1857. In 1860, he was listed as a merchant in Warsaw, with a personal worth of $1200. (Bell’s store was located at Bowden’s Station, about four miles north of Warsaw.) Bell had married Sarah Eliza Herring sometime between 1850 and 1860, and they had a one-year-old son.
In 1862, Bell and fellow merchant Caleb Hobson formed the “Warsaw Sampsons,” an infantry company. The company was mustered into service on April 2, 1862 and assigned as Company B, 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops two weeks later. Eight of Bell’s former students enlisted in the company.
Captain Caleb Hobson commanded Company B, with W. R. Bell as first lieutenant. Bell’s brother-in-law, Thomas J. Herring, served as third lieutenant. In April 1863, Hobson was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the 51st Regiment. Bell was promoted to captain of Company B.
Captain Bell distinguished himself as commander of Company B, garnering praise from Colonel Hector McKethan for the company’s performance at Battery Wagner: “Captain W. R. Bell, Company B, was among the first to get his men in position when the order was given. He and his entire company fought well.”
On May 31, 1864, Captain Bell was wounded in the left arm at Cold Harbor, Virginia when the 51st North Carolina clashed with Yankee cavalry. Bell was severely wounded, and surgeons amputated his arm. He returned to Warsaw and was soon retired to the Invalid Corps.
After the war, Walter Bell settled in Warsaw, where he resumed life as a farmer and a merchant. During this period, he was appointed administrator of Caleb Hobson’s estate. (Hobson was killed at Fort Harrison, Virginia.) He became embroiled in a lawsuit with Joseph Jackson, formerly a private in Bell’s company. The suit drug on for five years before Bell prevailed and recovered $420.78 for Hobson’s estate.
Walter Raleigh Bell died on May 18, 1885 and is buried in Pinecrest Cemetery, Warsaw.
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