37th North Carolina Infantry Regiment

Descendants Association

 

The Newton Greer Story

 

Newton Greer was born February 6, 1841 in Ashe Co. NC.  On September 14, 1861 he enlisted in the Confederacy at Boone, NC to keep from being conscripted.   He was mustered in at Camp Fisher, NC. on November 20,1841. He was at Hanover Junction and Cedar Run where he was wounded and was on the Roll of Honor.  He was at the hospital in Lynchburg, Va. He deserted on March 27, 1863 and was brought back August 28, 1863.  He was listed as dead twice.

 

He was taken prisoner June 23, 1864 and was sent to Elmira Prison in New York.  One prisoner who was there said, “If ever there was hell on earth Elmira was it.” This prison was on land that was lower than the surrounding country and not easily drained. In rainy weather it was muddy. The drainage of this camp was into a pond inside the prison camp and received fecal matter hourly.  The stench was so bad from the pond and all the prisoners who had not had a bath for six months that many new prisoners would vomit as they entered.   Elmira was very crowded and prisoners coming in from the south would have lighter clothing and would have to stay outside in the open with no shelter and not even a blanket because the prison was so crowded.   Food was very inadequate.  An atmosphere of starvation constantly existed in the camp.   Prisoners would catch rats to eat.  Occasionally a dog would get into the camp as new prisoners were brought in and it was quickly made into a meal.   Many died of smallpox and pneumonia.  Elmira had the highest death rate of all the northern prisons.  This is what my grandfather endured as did many other Confederate soldiers.  He was released at the end of the war on May 19, 1865 after taking the Oath of Allegiance.

 

On October 25, 1863 he married Elizabeth Wheeler.  They became parents of Julia, Sarah Jane, Alice, Larkin, Jasper and Albert.

 

Newton became increasingly crippled from rheumatoid arthritis during his child rearing years and finally became unable to walk.  He would help his family any way he could while setting in a chair.  He attributed his poor health to the conditions he endured during the war.

 

Elizabeth was a strong woman, physically, mentally and spiritually.  She and the children was now the livelihood for the family.  She had to do plowing, planting, hoeing, reaping, caring for the stock, weaving cloth and spinning wool, preparing meals, and doing laundry and she even ironed with a flat iron heated on the cook stove.  The children had to do their part too. No one had idle hands around Granny Liz. If you had visited her in the twilight of evening you would find her kneeling in prayer in her flower garden nestles between the L-shaped porches.  This communication with our Almighty was the source of her tremendous strength.    She still had time from her busy life to help people in the community.  She was a mid-wife and people who knew her said the babies she delivered always lived, because she went a day or two before the baby was to arrive and stay three or four days after the delivery  to see that they were doing well.  We suspect she had some special guidance in this area of her life as well.  She never charged for her services, but if the family had something plentiful she would accept a portion of what ever they had.  While she was away Grandpa Newton (Grandpa Newt) sat by the window patiently waiting to see her dapple grey horse coming up the road with Elizabeth riding side saddled.   He would say, “I see Dinah coming.”  No one knew why he called her Dinah when her name was Elizabeth.  Newton and Elizabeth’s son, Jasper lived with them and never married until after both Grandpa Newt and Granny Liz were both dead.

Grandpa Newt didn’t have a wheel chair.  He sat in a straight back chair and could scoot himself over the floor to get to the table or where ever he needed to go.  Mother remembers that the chair legs were worn off to the first round of the chair from his scooting.  He was crippled for forty eight years before he died.

Grandpa Newt and Granny Liz’s son, Albert, married Bertha Triplett and Bertha died, leaving Albert with seven children.  Albert took the children to his parents.  He built a house near by and remarried after two years.  He then took the children home with him.  Even then some of the children would stay with their grandparents and help them. 

 

Because each one had to do his part and no one could shirk his responsibility, my mother, Edna (being one of the younger ones) was picked by Grandpa Newt to be his hand maid.  She brought him water, combed his hair and helped him light his pipe, which he smoked only once a day, after breakfast.  When she became older and was assigned other jobs she always told about carding wool for quilts and ironing sheets with a flat iron heated on the cook stove.  It was during these times that she heard many Civil War stories.  Grandpa Newt wanted his grandchildren to know about that “Awful War” as he rightly described it. 

 

He told them about being so hungry he would take molded corn bread out of a dead soldier’s knap sack to eat and take the clothing and shoes off the soldier to wear.  Once he was so tired he fell asleep in a corn furrow.   While he slept, it rained so hard he was almost covered over with sand. 

 

Once when they were marching they came upon a spot where a cow had been slaughtered.  They took what was left, the feet, made a fire and put water on to boil them.  Before they were cooked they got orders to march immediately.  One soldier was so hungry he put his hand into the pot of boiling water to get a cow’s foot and received a serious burn. 

 

There was a man from the same community where Grandpa Newt lived that was a fellow soldier.  As they were marching by a dwelling one day they saw a clothes line with under-wear hanging on it.  The fellow soldier grabbed a pair.  The lady of the house came out and yelled, “You will pay for that at Judgment Day.”  He said, “If I have that long I will take another pair.” and he grabbed another pair. 

 

While Newt was a prisoner of war he could look out his cell and see Confederate soldiers set on a coffin and shot.  He ate breakfast with two men who were facing the firing squad.  One ate and said he didn’t care to die.  The other one couldn’t eat and said he didn’t care to die either, except for his wife and children. 

 

Newt and Liz’s daughter-in-law, Bertha was the daughter of a Union soldier. These soldiers of the Civil War lived in the same community in harmony, never arguing about things over which they had no control.  The Union soldier received a pension every month.  Grandpa Newt was fortunate if he received one every three months. 

 

According to church records of Mount Ephraim Baptist Church, where Grandpa attended when he was able to walk, he ordered a clock from Sears-Roebuck Catalogue sometime between 1900 and 1910 and presented it to the church.  This clock still hangs in the church (2011) and is still telling the correct time. 

 

Newton Greer was laid to rest on February 26, 1934 in the same cemetery where his father and probably grandfather and great grandfather were buried.  His great, great grandfather, Benjamin Greer was a Revolutionary Soldier and is buried in Kentucky. 

 

 

 

 

 

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