Revisiting a Memory: William Garrison Reed

Following the war, soldiers from North and South returned to civilian life, but many could not forget their military service. Veteran groups such as the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans held annual encampments, reenactments, tours, and memorial events throughout the country for decades after the war. Published regimental histories also became extremely popular, as veterans sought to both document and validate their role in the war.

William Garrison Reed, an amateur photographer and veteran of the 44th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, returned to North Carolina in 1884 to retrace the movements of his regiment. The 44th had been stationed throughout eastern North Carolina, fighting in and occupying parts of New Bern, Goldsboro, Kinston, and Whitehall. As he left home to return South for the first time, Reed recalled having “feelings hard to describe,” as “it seemed almost as though I was again ‘going to war’ … I could not picture New Berne without plenty of soldiers moving about, the old forts bristling with cannon, war vessels on the river.” When he arrived, he discovered “great changes,” as North Carolina’s towns had been rebuilt and expanded in the years following Union occupation. Reflecting on his trip, he noted that, “Those who had been in the Southern army were particularly cordial, and anxious to do all they could to make our trip agreeable. All were hospitable, and hoped that more of the boys who wore the blue in North Carolina would pay them a visit.” Reed’s essay in the 44th's regimental history and his accompanying photographs offer a unique perspective on North Carolina’s recovery from the war.