Moss: ‘This place belongs to everybody’

86-year-old Navy vet cares for 5 Union soldiers’ gravesite 

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — I had a charged-up camera, a new-to-me pick-up truck (with 263,000 miles on the odometer) and a few minutes to spare — all the ingredients needed to snap a quick photo of a gravesite of five Union soldiers from the Civil War.

I had no idea I was about to embark on one of my best days in journalism over my 20-year career.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com William "Roy" LeRoy Moss, 86, drives his John Deere tractor a few hundred yards away from his home to a secluded grave site, the final resting place for five Union soldiers from the Civil War.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
William “Roy” LeRoy Moss, 86, drives his John Deere tractor a few hundred yards away from his home to a secluded grave site, the final resting place for five Union soldiers from the Civil War.

After a few Google searches, a description of the location accurate enough to the right property led me to Roy Moss Drive, a few miles west of Rockingham. I knew the dirt road was before Zion Church Road.

I found the dirt road and turned left off Highway 74, past the county animal shelter, onto the dirt road. Immediately I faced a choice; make a soft left or forge straight ahead. I chose the latter, and followed the single-track trail through an oasis of pine trees. The sounds of the nearby highway were quickly erased by the peace the land offered.

The peace, though, when I crested the small hill and two homes came in sight. Up from the left, two shepherd-malamute full-grown dogs eyed me warily, barked once or twice at my intrusion on the boredom of their day, and followed me. I creeped along at a few miles per hour, glancing to my left and right for what I hoped would be the tell-tale sites of five marked graves.

Less than a quarter-mile further it was clear I could go no further. There was a brown single-story rancher on the right side of the path, situated over a large pond. Two vehicles were in the driveway, so I slowly opened my truck door. I figured if the dogs were hungry, this was there chance. They quickly approached … and I found that I’d just made two new friends. I was about to make two more.

I knocked on the door and an older woman answered. I introduced myself and somewhat awkwardly conveyed my reason for being there, my search for the five Union soldiers’ graves.

“Hold on, lemme get my husband,” she said.

William “Roy” LeRoy Moss came to the door. He set his walker aside and sat down in a comfortable chair on the front porch. I still stood, not sure what type of response I was about to get.

Before his mouth opened, his eyes did — I swear I saw a gateway, a foreshadowing of what was to come.

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know about them soldiers,” Roy said. “The graves are right over there, right through those trees.”

I didn’t have my glasses on. Roy did, and he could see just fine through the dozens of pine trees to the five marble-white markers the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid for (with some urging from the Richmond County Historical Society).

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Roy Moss points out the rocks that he believes have marked the graves since being found by Daniel Lassiter, whose family owned the property for nearly 100 years before Moss purchased it in the 1970s.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Roy Moss points out the rocks that he believes have marked the graves since being found by Daniel Lassiter, whose family owned the property for nearly 100 years before Moss purchased it in the 1970s.

Roy said he’d take me over, but first he had to get the John Deere tractor out. His knees and back no longer worked like they used to during his 35 years as a lineman in the railroad industry. He prefers to ride wherever he goes now.

He started the tractor up and led the way through a dense thicket of tall pines. I walked several yards behind him, not wanting to get lost and not wanting to miss a minute of the isolation the trees offered.

As he pulled into the small open space that hosts the five graves, I commented to that effect. This place, I told him, seemed to be peaceful and filling.

Roy smiled knowingly. There’s a reason he’s bought up all the land you can see from this spot.

“Everybody who comes out here tells me that,” he said.

He pointed out the markers, installed a little more than four years ago when descendants of some of the Union soldiers were able to be present. All five soldiers were identified through work from volunteers at the Richmond County Historical Society that began in 2008. Resting before me were:

* Cpl. Reid Alcorn;
* Private Matthew Ross;
* Private David Woods;
* Private Calvin Simpson; and
* Privat Henry Stennett.

The freshly dug graves were found by Confederate soldier Daniel Lassiter. Lassiter placed rocks above each grave as markers and pledged they would remain undisturbed. He and his family kept that promise for roughly 100 years until Roy bought the property in 1974.

All five were killed March 7, 1865, barely a month before the Civil War came to an end on April 9 — a fact Roy still seems slightly unable to accept as justifiable death. Then again, Roy knows war is difficult to accept. He comes from a military family.

His great-grandfather, James Berrygrove Moss, was killed in the Civil War in Virginia in 1864 at the age of 41. Roy and his five brothers — Henry Robert, Bobby Carroll, Billy Harold, Franklin Don and Wylie Berry — all served in the U.S. military during between World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Roy said Berry, the youngest, was wounded three times in Vietnam and killed by incoming mortars as he was being prepped to return stateside.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

“We were all volunteers,” Roy said proudly.

Roy said he has tended to the grave sites for more than 30 years. Though his land is harvested for timber, there is a deliberate “do not disturb” zone he places around the five graves. He keeps the area cleaned up in respect to the fallen, and in hopes that other family members, and anyone else, will come to visit to learn more about the true cost of combat.

“They’re very welcome,” he said of the general public. “I feel like this place belongs to everybody.”

Roy never graduated high school. In fact, he left at the age of 11 to enjoy all the creature comforts that three and a half decades of being a lineman for the railroad had to offer.  He worked with his hands — evident by the vise-like handshake he offered when I left.

I’ll come back, I told him.

“I hope you will,” he said.

My timetable has long since been busted. It wasn’t an ordinary photo shoot, what I call a “quick hit.” It was anything but quick, and I wouldn’t change it at all for even a single second.

Kevin Spradlin is managing editor of The Pee Dee Post. In 20 years of journalism, this is one of those experiences he won’t forget. 

Additional coverage
* March 8: Wake of the attack
* March 7: ‘This place belongs to everybody’
* March 7: ‘I wuz not afraid of de Yankees’
* March 6: The caring for 5 Union soldiers’ graves
* March 6: Clashes
* March 5: History is full of ironies
* March 4: Sherman on the march

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, Opinion

You might like:

GAP program fills a hole for ‘hands-on’ experience GAP program fills a hole for ‘hands-on’ experience
Sit back for an ‘interesting story’ Sit back for an ‘interesting story’
Cash available for crime-solving tips Cash available for crime-solving tips
Rotruck sues Town of Summerfield Rotruck sues Town of Summerfield
© 2020 The Pee Dee Post. All rights reserved. XHTML / CSS Valid.