Greyhound, a fast Confederate blockade runner. Submitted photo

Across the thirteen or so decades since “the Late Unpleasantness” passed on into history, one of its most fascinating legacies has remained substan­tially under a shroud of mystery. The issue over who were the youngest military figures to have rendered plausible or direct service to the Confederate States Army or to the Union Army has often been broached, and has sporadically been treated in far-flung articles by a variety of freelancers and historians-some of real prominence. These chroniclers have commonly attempted to present convincing articles and stories on one or several youngsters, either from their own local or from a wish to extend recognition to them. In the century and a half now concluded, these worthy chroniclers have produced a body of interesting “literature” about the youngest on each side; however, these writings have always been widely scattered and in varied periodicals, usually rather brief, and, though of merit, inclined to draw erroneous conclusions.

Quite understandably, any serious, book-length effort to discover and draw conclusions on this challenging facet of American studies has largely been”written off’ as impossible to achieve. The wistful rewards of such a study have been unfairly equated to the proverbial failure one may anticipate while looking for a needle in a haystack. Such dismal prospects spawned by this defeatist attitude toward our wide open field for so long explain the until now non-existence of any reference book or comprehensive tabulation on the child soldiery of the war. The idea itself is old, has been lying fallow a century, originated a century before me. But the responsibility for pioneering a major exploration of this virgin territory has fallen to me. And I accept. Keenly aware that whatever contribution I make will fall short, that little known discoveries will later surface, that some worthy child soldiers ( especially those who died early of wounds or disease) will never be known, I harbor no pretensions about being definitive. Nor ought we to consider that to be the goal. I can only candidly hope to be comprehensive enough to be meaningful, or to permit Americans today an opportunity for amply appreciating the extent of the great contribution made by youngsters during our saddest period, the Civil War.

The youngest in this list was William Orlanda Newbold Lea of Hampstead, NC. Born Sept 17, 1855 in Georgia, he was the son of William Pell Lea and Sophonia J. Carter Lea. He was six years, five months and 20 days when he enlisted as a cabin boy on the GREYHOUND. The almost-new steamer Greyhound was placed on the Boston – Charlottetown run in 1865. She had been built at Port Glasgow on the Clyde in Scotland only two years before. The sleek 201 foot, 460 ton vessel, built by Kilpatrick. McIntyre & Co., carried a full set of sails but was an iron screw steamer with compound engines by Caird and Company, and became a Confederate blockade runner.

Willam survived his young enlistment and married Eliza L Gaskill. They raised a family of seven children. They were William Henry Lea, (1888-1936); Joseph Hampton “Hamp” Lea, Sr.(1891 – 1971 responsible for starting “J.H. Lea and Sons Seafood” fish house in Hampstead in the early 1920’s). William and Eliza were grandparents to Joseph Hampton Lea, Jr. (born June 29, 1916 and died Aug 1, 1978 and was a WWI veteran); William’s other children were Beaulah I. Lea (1894 – 1970); James F. Lea (1897-1973); Sefronia Lea, (1904-1992); Mamie I. Lea (1906 – 1976) and Eva M Lea (1910-1994).

Professor Jay Hoar, Temple

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