An interesting bit of history pertaining to the register of deeds office in Sampson County came to light in 1955 with the help of a couple of Northern visitors.
The couple, Mr.& Mrs. R.W. Eager, of Syracuse, NY, had come to Clinton seeking information on Mr. Eager’s grandfather, James Wilson Eager, who served as the Register of Deeds for Sampson County prior to and during the War Between the States.
According to Mr. Eager, when word was received that Union troops were marching on Clinton, his grandfather hid the register’s seal by burying it in a nearby swamp. Several months after the war, the seal was dug up and found to be in good condition. It had been wrapped in oiled rags and placed in a metal container.
Mr. Eager also built strong boxes for the records in his office, carefully labeling them as to content, so that when the order came for them to be removed from the courthouse for safekeeping, all would be in readiness.
As early as 1862, local officials had become concerned as to the possible destruction of the records by enemy troops, and in December of that year, they passed the following resolution:
“We, the undersigned Magistrates of Sampson County, authorize and empower the Clerks of the County and Superior Courts, and the Register of Deeds, to prepare boxes and have them suitably marked for the purpose of removing to a place secure from the enemy. Signed, R.C. Holmes, H.J. Hobbs, R.F. Boykin, and Daniel Ray.”
Later, in early 1865, when word had been received that General Sherman’s right wing of 30,000 Union troops were marching towards Clinton, the magistrates called a special meeting and ordered the records moved immediately moved to a secure place outside of town, and there “well and safely hidden”. It was in late March of 1865, in the waning days of the war, that Mr. Eager buried the register’s seal.
After leaving Fayetteville, both wings traveled in the same easterly direction, at the same pace, on different routes but close enough to each other to render assistance as needed on less than a day’s notice. Sherman’s left wing was also composed of 30,000 troops, with generally twenty miles between the two forces. Protected by each wing, a long wagon train of food and ammunition was situated in the center, and it roughly traveled the route of today’s Highway 13 from west to east. Unknown to the Confederates, the ultimate goal of Sherman’s army was to reach the railroad town of Goldsboro, where fresh supplies and troops would meet them shipped up by rail from Wilmington.
Of course, we know that Sherman’s left wing traveled into Harnett County where it was attacked first at Averasboro. The next day they were ambushed at Bentonville in Johnston County by a smaller Confederate force led by General Joe Johnston.
The right wing was roughly six miles west of Clinton, near Concord, when they heard the news of the Averasboro attack. They immediately turned north, traveling over winding country roads in an effort to unite their superior forces. In route, they made camp in the vicinity of Beaman’s Crossroads and then cut a large swath along today’s Sharecake Road. Both of Sherman’s wings were finally united at Bentonville creating an army of more than 60,000 troops, but by that point Johnston’s outnumbered Confederates were in retreat. It was a smart move by General Joe Johnston, as the Yankee’s numbers were just too powerful. From there, Sherman’s army made its way over to Goldsboro for resupplies and rest.
Fortunately, the people of the town of Clinton were spared the wrath of Sherman’s troops. Many others in the county were not as lucky, as they were robbed of their farm animals, clothing, money, food, spirits, and anything else that resembled anything of value. These were among the darkest days ever for the people Sampson County.
The Eager family lived in Clinton from 1846 to 1866. Six of their seven children, James W. Jr., Catherine, Emma, Charles Edward, Herbert, and Henry, were born here. The family lived on the square surrounding the courthouse, near enough to hear the court crier’s call to court.
Another interesting item revolving around the Eager family concerned the register of deed’s son, James W., Jr. This young man enlisted in the Confederate Army when only sixteen, serving most of the time as paymaster for his company. Once, on his way to headquarters with saddlebags filled with currency to pay soldiers, his horse lost a shoe. Facing a long, fast ride, and in imminent danger of capture by Yankee scouts, the younger trooper found himself in a tough spot.
Finally, he found a blacksmith, who, after much dickering as to a price, agreed to shoe the horse for $25. Young Eager offered to payment in Confederate money, which the blacksmith refused to accept, becoming loud and abusive, and threatening to remove the shoe from the horse.
Luckily, the soldier found a dime-the last of several he had hidden in his boot-and offered it to the blacksmith in payment. He described the blacksmith as literally pouncing on the coin.
The Eager family has been gone from Sampson County for about ninety years, but the actions of James Eager here will never be forgotten.
Source: The Sampson County Heritage Book, 1984.