There is something special about Jared K. White from Austin County, Texas, something that has kept his memory alive through the years. He represents every brave soldier who left home at age nineteen to serve his country. He represents every brave soldier who gallantly fought for his cause suffering the horrors that is war. He represents every brave soldier who died giving the last full measure of devotion to the people back home who were proud of him and grieved for him when he died. He represents every brave soldier who lies in a distant grave, his service honorably done. He is what Memorial Day is all about.
Jared K. White was nineteen and a farm boy from east Texas when he joined the favored 8th Texas Cavalry, the brave band of hard riding Texans who fought for four years as Terry’s Texas Rangers. Their name was so honored that when the war was over, the first statewide law enforcement agency in Texas would take their name.
White and his fellow Rangers fought their way across the South from 1861-1865. When there was nothing left but the dream of the Confederate States of America, when Robert E. Lee was trapped by U. S. Grant at Petersburg and when Johnston was trapped by Sherman at Goldsboro, when the Confederate States of America was nothing more than a slice of two battered states, Jared K. White was still riding hard in eastern North Carolina.
The war would end three weeks later but on March 20, 1865 on the banks of Nahunta Creek near Goldsboro, young White still had a job to do. The Texas Rangers were on patrol near Goldsboro when four men, including White, came across a band of Union foragers stealing food from a young Wayne County mother who was at home alone with her child and a young servant girl. The Rangers, as they had always done when faced with the hated bummers, did not hesitate. They attacked and killed the foragers, looping ropes around their boots and dragging their bodies behind their horses and dumping them in sinkholes in the woods. One of the bummers was alive and escaped back to Union headquarters to report the Rangers were still fighting in the area. Sherman sent out a patrol to trap the Rangers and the two sides met at Nahunta Creek near what is now Fremont. A group of Union infantrymen were marching up a small road when the Rangers who were lying in wait attacked them. Another group of Union cavalrymen rode up the creek itself and in that first volley from the Confederate rifles, fourteen of the Federals fell. White repeatedly dashed from his cover to fire at the Federals and on his last dash, he was shot to death in the saddle. Another Ranger, his horse killed by the same round that killed White, lept into White’s empty saddle and the battle continued until the Federals withdrew.
His Texas comrades wrapped White’s body in his horse’s blanket and buried him under a large Oak tree on a hill overlooking the small and since forgotten battlefield. They built a sturdy wood fence around the grave and asked William Benjamin Forte, who owned the land, where the battle and burial took place, and a slave named Durden Forte to see that it was never disturbed. Durden Forte was given the Ranger’s saddle to seal the bargain.
William B. Forte, the elder Forte’s son wrote in 1904, “often times while walking over the old homestead, I would wander by the Ranger’s lonely grave beneath the whispering pines and wonder if loved ones in far off Texas would ever learn the fate of the dear soldier boy missed by the family fire”.
The war moved on from Goldsboro and Nahunta Creek. Three weeks later it would all end for Lee at Appomattox and for Joe Johnston at Bennett Place near Durham. The Texas soldiers who fought would be going home and some of them would be passing by the grave of their comrade left behind at Goldsboro.
William B. Forte, on whose farm the young Texas soldier fought, died and was buried, was concerned that his family in Texas know what happened to him. In 1904, he recalled what happened.
Fate soon solved the problem as there came in the neighborhood two Texas soldiers on their way home down in Texas from Appomattox driving a double team to a buggy. Hearing of these Texas soldiers, I drove over to Nahunta and met them. I found one of them to be Colonel Hooks who came by the Hooks neighborhood to visit some of his father’s relatives, his father having years before emigrated to Texas. I informed Colonel Hooks of the death and burial of Ranger White and he said he knew White and his family, as they were neighbors. The colonel said he would inform the White family upon his arrival home. Months after Hooks made it back to Texas, Forte was sitting with his bother and father on their front porch one day when a buggy with two men drove in the yard and it was followed by a hearse. One of the men was Jared White’s brother. He had ridden a horse from Texas to North Carolina with instructions to make sure the dead boy was indeed Jared, if so to re-bury him in the Confederate cemetery in Goldsboro.
All of us proceeded to the grave after taking along with us Durden Forte who assisted in the burial of the Ranger. When the body was exhumed and after unfolding the army blanket from around it, his brother said he could swear to those two family rings upon his brother’s fingers. Young White placed those rings in his pocket to show his parents that they were the same rings that were placed upon his dead brother’s fingers when he left to join the 8th Texas Cavalry.
After placing the body in a beautiful casket, they carried it to Goldsboro and re-buried it in a lot apart from the beautiful monument erected by the Goldsboro Rifles to the eight hundred Confederate Heros who bivouacked beneath it.
Young White had a marble slab erected at the head of his brother’s grave and built a substantial iron railing around the grave before he left. He informed me that his family requested that our family should look after his hero son’s grave.
Here was a young man who rode two thousand miles from home on horseback to fight for what he believed in. He fought side by side with Tar Heel boys. I would like to think that if a Tar Heel boy died in Texas, good people there would take care of him.