7/04/2013

Why I Spell My Name D-R-Y-E


As they say back home, you can’t hardly throw a rock in the southern Piedmont North Carolina counties of Stanly, Cabarrus and Rowan without hitting someone named Dry. Or Drye.
There are two camps as to how that last name is spelled. I have first cousins who spell it with the “e.” And I have other first cousins who don’t use that “e” and wouldn’t do it at gunpoint.

For the record, both spellings of the last name are a corruption of the German surname, Dörr. The Dörrs came over from Germany to Philadelphia in the mid-18th century. According to research done by one of my late aunts, the Dörrs moved from Philly to North Carolina in 1799.
Somewhere along the way, they changed the family surname to Dry. Or maybe it was Drye. Maybe they changed the family name because that umlaut over the “ö” made their name look too foreign, too Teutonic.

Or maybe somewhere along the way, some anonymous official filling out a legal document misunderstood the name and spelled it the way he heard it pronounced. More about that possibility in a moment.
As far as I know, no one knows why some of the rechristened Dörrs chose to add the “e” as sort of a decorative flourish at the end of their new name. But I guess my family in Misenheimer – which is in Stanly County – considered the “e” superfluous and maybe even a bit too showy, because we spelled the name Dry.

Sometime in the 1930s, my Uncle Joe Dry left the family farm in Misenheimer and moved west to California, presumably seeking all the opportunities for a better life that the Golden State famously offered. He married a California girl, worked hard and prospered and raised a family out there with Aunt Jean.
And he started spelling his name with the “e,” as in Joe Drye. There’s no record that I’m aware of that explains why he made that switch to the other side. Perhaps it was because the “e” gave the name a little more heft and made it look like an actual surname instead of a synonym for dehydrated.

When I was born in late 1949, Aunt Jean and Uncle Joe Drye came back east for the event. They were in the hospital room in Albemarle with my parents when a nurse came in to fill out a birth certificate.
The nurse asked – apparently of no one in particular – how to spell my last name. According to what I’ve been told, Aunt Jean said to the nurse, D-R-Y-E. My parents either didn’t hear what Aunt Jean said to the nurse, or they didn’t think the nurse would take her seriously. But, apparently, they made no attempt to correct the spelling, and that’s what the nurse wrote on the birth certificate.

I have no idea what actually happened. Although I was, of course, present at the event, I wasn’t taking notes and I have no recollection of who said what to whom, and I’m relying on what I’ve been told by older cousins.
Still, it didn’t matter too much what the nurse wrote on my birth certificate because for the first 23 years of my life, I spelled my last name D-R-Y.

In November 1972, I went into the Army. I had to provide a copy of my birth certificate when I started basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Again, I didn’t give much thought to how my name was spelled on that document.
A day or two after arriving at Fort Jackson, I was in line with the other trainees being issued clothing by the quartermaster. As I moved through the line, I was handed my fatigue shirts, fatigue pants, fatigue caps, field jackets, combat boots – and name tags to be sewn onto my fatigue shirts and field jackets.

The name tags had my last name in all capital letters. It was based on the spelling on my birth certificate – DRYE.

I thought the supply sergeant surely would want to know of this mistake. “I don’t spell my name with an “e,” I said.
“You do now,” the sergeant snapped. “Move on.”

To use another back-home phrase, I soon discovered that the Army had me by the short-hairs as far as the spelling was concerned. In order to get paid every month, I had to sign the payroll register. My name on that document was spelled Drye. If I signed my name Dry, I wouldn’t get paid.

It took me a while to get used to it, but by the time I got out of the Army, I was accustomed to seeing my name with the previously extravagant “e” at the end. Legally changing it would’ve been too much of a pain. So I’ve just learned to live with it, although sometimes I’ve wondered if my relatives think I’m putting on airs because of that “e.”
Honest, cousins, I had no choice in the matter.

Note: The photo at the top of this post shows the last surviving name tag that I was issued at the start of Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

7/03/2013

Pickett's Charge: Smoking Shoes And Body Parts

The North Carolina monument at Cemetery Ridge in the Gettysburg
National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.


It’s been reported that the duel between Confederate and Union artillery at the Battle of Gettysburg 150 years ago today was so loud it could be heard in Pittsburgh, 140 miles to the west.

The firing ceased around 2:45 p.m. on July 3, 1863, and after such an awful noise, the silence was decidedly eerie. A few minutes later, Confederate soldiers emerged from trees on Seminary Ridge and, with remarkable military precision, formed in long straight lines. Then, at a rapid, steady walk, they moved down Seminary Ridge and started a mile-long trek across a shallow valley to Cemetery Ridge.

About 12,000 Confederate soldiers were involved in this military maneuver that will forever be known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The name comes from General George Pickett, who was ordered to push about 4,000 Union troops off Cemetery Ridge. Historians have pointed out that the attempt to take Cemetery Ridge should be referred to as the Pickett-Trimble-Pettigrew Charge because the men who took part in the famous assault were from North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia, and most were led by generals other than Pickett.

But Pickett, a native of Virginia, benefitted from the presence of many newspaper reporters from his own state who wrote their stories with a decided slant in favor of their native son.

If the assault had succeeded, it could have broken the Union Army of the Potomac and given the Confederacy such an advantage that it might have been able to dictate peace terms to President Abraham Lincoln and end the American Civil War with a victory for an economic system that relied on human bondage.

Even some of the men who were going to try to kill the Confederates were impressed by the way their enemy arrayed himself. “Beautiful, gloriously beautiful, did that vast array appear in the lovely little valley,” a New York soldier wrote in a letter after the battle.

Author Shelby Foote described what happened after Union soldiers got over the dazzling display of martial precision moving toward them at the rate of 90 steps per minute. The thousands of Union soldiers on Cemetery Ridge “settled down to the task of transforming those well-dressed gray lines into something far from beautiful,” Foote wrote.

Among the 12,000 soldiers making that deadly march was my great-grandfather, William Crooks Dry, a private in the 52nd North Carolina Infantry.

It took the Confederates about 15 minutes to go the first half-mile of the journey. Union cannons were firing at them the entire time, tearing gaps in the precise lines. But the Confederates still impressed their opponents. “The enemy advanced magnificently, unshaken by the shot and shell which tore through his ranks,” said General Henry Hunt, commander of the Union artillery.

My great-grandfather’s unit, the 52nd North Carolina, was commanded by Colonel James K. Marshall. After leading his men about halfway to their objective, Marshall turned to another officer and said, “We do not know which of us will be next to fall.”

After more than 20 minutes, the Confederates were nearing the crest of Cemetery Ridge. By now, thick smoke from the black powder being used in the weapons fired by both sides had created a fog

Thousands of Confederates already were dead or dying, but the survivors pushed on to the low rock wall that protected their opponents. As the 52nd approached the wall, Marshall was urging his men on. Then suddenly, two bullets struck him in the forehead.

At about the same time, a Union artillery commander screamed at his men to fire their cannons point-blank at the North Carolina troops.

Later, the commander wrote in his diary that after the smoke had cleared from the blast, the only thing remaining of the North Carolina troops was “smoking shoes.”

For a few moments, it looked like Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s gamble had succeeded. A few Confederates managed to cross the stone wall that protected the Union troops. But so many Confederates had been killed that they did not have the numbers to push Union troops off the hill. The attack was broken, and dispirited Confederate troops retreated back across the valley to Seminary Ridge.

Fewer than half the Confederates survived the charge. My great-grandfather was among the survivors.

The following day, July 4, Lee’s broken army left Gettysburg in a driving rain, moving south toward Maryland. The Union artillery commander who had fired point-blank at North Carolina troops described the ground in front of his guns as being “black, greasy, and full of body parts.”

Sources for this post included The Civil War: A Narrative, by Shelby Foote; research by Gettysburg battlefield guide Gary Kross; and Wikipedia.

7/01/2013

A Day Of Deadly Surprises

Confederate General Alfred Iverson sent his
troops into a deadly Union ambush during
the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg on
July 1, 1863.
Historians are still debating whether the Battle of Gettysburg was fought over shoes. The legend goes that Confederate generals in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia believed that there was a shoe factory in Gettysburg where they might find shoes for their many barefoot soldiers.

No such factory existed, and neither Lee nor his adversary, Union General George Meade, were looking for a knockdown drag-out fight in southern Pennsylvania on July 1, 1863. But with tens of thousands of Confederate and Union troops drawing closer and closer to each other in the area around Gettysburg, just such a fight was inevitable.

“The first of July is a day of surprises,” said Gary Kross, a guide who took me on a personal tour of the Gettysburg battlefield a few years ago. “You’re never quite sure where your opponent will be coming from. Men are constantly coming in throughout the day from different directions.”

The fighting was already underway when the 5th North Carolina Infantry and the 52nd North Carolina Infantry reached Gettysburg on July 1. My great-grandfather, William C. Dry, was in the 52nd, while his younger brother Thomas was in the 5th.
The 5th North Carolina Infantry was among the units commanded by Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, a Georgian. Iverson’s leadership on July 1 would prove disastrous for his men, Kross said.

Iverson’s men arrived northwest of Gettysburg and were ordered to drive Union forces from Oak Ridge, which overlooked the town.
But Iverson was the wrong man for that job. “At two o’clock in the afternoon, this Confederate general is drunk as a skunk and can’t sit on his horse,” Kross said. “As his men go off to battle he yells out at them, ‘Give ‘em hell, boys!’ But he doesn’t go with them.”

Still, the approximately 1,400 Confederate troops advancing on Oak Ridge thought they had a Union force of about 500 outnumbered by almost three to one. But the Confederate commanders hadn’t bothered to do any reconnaissance of the area to confirm how many Union troops were in the area.
So the Confederates were walking straight into a stunning and deadly trap.

Just behind the crest of Oak Ridge, where the ground starts sloping down toward the town, was a low stone wall about 3½ feet tall. And behind that wall, just out of sight of the advancing Confederates, crouched about 3,000 Union troops.
The Confederate troops weren’t even ready to fire their rifles as they moved toward Oak Ridge in long lines roughly parallel with the wall. They were marching with their rifles across their shoulders, as though they were on a parade ground instead of a battlefield.

The unsuspecting Confederates advanced to about 200 feet from the crest of the ridge. “That’s when the Union soldiers stand up, some four rows deep, level their rifles and fire a volley right into the faces of the North Carolinians,” Kross said. “They never saw it coming.”
The deadly fusillade struck the first line of soldiers. “Hundreds of North Carolinians went down on the first volley,” Kross said. “One Confederate indicated that there were at least 500 men going down on the first volley. If that’s true, that’s incredible. These men were shot to pieces, blown apart.”

One unlucky North Carolina soldier named Eugene Phillips was hit in the head by six bullets, Kross said.

Another North Carolina soldier survived that devastating blast because he was in the second row – or rank – of soldiers. He wrote about his experience later that day.
“He writes in his journal that night that he was sprayed by the brains of the men in the first rank” Kross said.

Somehow Thomas Dry survived the withering fire that decimated the 5th North Carolina Infantry. What he did in the face of that hail of bullets isn’t known. It’s likely that he flung himself on the ground, and perhaps he tried to fire back at the Union troops. But the odds were hopeless, and shortly after that deadly blast of gunfire, Thomas and other surviving Confederates surrendered and were taken prisoner by the Union troops.  

Between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., the 52nd North Carolina Infantry arrived at the west side of Gettysburg, along with the 11th, 26th, and 47th North Carolina infantries. William was perhaps a mile or so south of where his brother’s unit had nearly been wiped out. The 52nd and other Confederate units splashed across a small creek called Willoughby Run west of the town, cursing at the briars and underbrush that tore at them as they began moving up a hill known as McPherson’s Ridge.

In his epic three-volume work The Civil War: A Narrative, author Shelby Foote described what the 11th and 26th North Carolina infantries encountered after they’d crossed Willoughby Run.

“As they started up McPherson’s Ridge ,,, the woods along the crest were suddenly filled with flame-stabbed smoke and the crash of heavy volleys,” Foote wrote

Soon, the Confederates discovered who was shooting at them. They were being met by the Union Army’s famed Iron Brigade, composed of soldiers from Wisconsin and Michigan. Foote described the unit as “made up of hard-bitten Westerners with a formidable reputation for hard fighting.”

But the proud Union unit had been involved in fighting earlier in the day, and was not quite up to full strength. Still, the Iron Brigade had been told to hold their ground at all costs. What followed was what Kross described as “one of the most remarkable fights of the entire Civil War.”

For an hour and 40 minutes, the 11th and 26th North Carolina infantries slugged it out with the Iron Brigade from a distance of only about 60 feet apart.

Finally, the Iron Brigade broke and retreated to a Lutheran seminary at the western edge of Gettysburg.

The 47th and 52nd were more fortunate. They were met by the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry, an inexperienced unit made up of “pretty raw recruits,” Kross said. “They do not put up a very good fight,” he said. The Pennsylvanians soon fell back to the seminary also.

The North Carolinians then were met by a tougher Union unit, the 80th New York Infantry. But the Union soldiers were caught between the 47th and 52nd North Carolina infantries. Still, they might have been able to hold their line if a drunken Union general had not foolishly ordered a charge against the Confederate positions. About one-third of the men were lost. The Union forces were forced to fall back.

Despite the slaughter at Oak Ridge, Union troops got the worst of the fighting that day and were forced to fall back through the streets of Gettysburg. But they still held high ground south of the town, and reinforcements were arriving. The second day of the battle wouldn’t go as well for the Confederates.
Sources for this post included The Civil War: A Narrative, by Shelby Foote; and research by licensed Gettysburg battlefield guide Gary Kross.