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Osborne, Edwin Augustus

by Dorothy H. Osborn, 1991

6 May 1837–12 Oct. 1926

A retouched photograph of Edwin Augustus Osborne from Clark's Regimental Histories. Image from the Internet Archive.Edwin Augustus Osborne, Civil War hero, Episcopal priest, and founder of Thompson Orphanage, was born in Moulton, Lawrence County, Ala., one of eleven children of Ephraim Brevard and Nancy Smith Osborne. He was named for his father's brother, Edwin, and for General John Augustus Young. Thought to have descended from a family who emigrated from England to New England as early as 1645, his great-grandfather, Alexander, was born in New Jersey but moved to North Carolina about 1754, first settling in Salisbury and later in Iredell County; a colonel of the militia for Governor William Tryon against the Regulators, he was also a justice of the county court and a leader of the rangers to protect settlers from Indians. His grandfather, Adlai, was appointed clerk of Rowan County by the Crown, an office that he held throughout the Revolution and afterwards until 1809; a good friend of education, he was one of the first trustees of The University of North Carolina. His father, a physician who fought with Andrew Jackson, was one of the few to escape the Indian massacre at Fort Mims and was with Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Originally from North Carolina, Ephraim moved to Alabama and practiced medicine for a time; from there he went to Arkansas and later to Hill County, Tex., where he died a successful physician and a wealthy slave owner. Osborne's youngest brother, Polk, was a member of the North Carolina state legislature and started the streetcar lines in Charlotte. Nancy Smith Osborne was the daughter of a rice planter who moved to Virginia early in the nineteenth century. Her brothers were well-to-do slave owners in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas.

Born in Alabama in a double log house, Edwin Augustus Osborne grew up accustomed to slaves, but he recalled that as a ten-year-old in Arkansas he "witnessed savagery and brutality toward slaves never before seen." Said to have been a delicate youth, Osborne was an avid reader, especially of the Bible. He first attended a small school in Texas five miles from home and boarded with a family related by marriage. His chances for further education were very poor; his plan was to study at home, work for a while, and then go to school. He became an expert horseman, breaking and training wild horses and helping herd cattle. After working at various jobs and traveling in the state, Osborne appealed to his widowed Aunt Peggy, Margaret MacWhorter Davidson, who owned a large plantation in Mecklenburg County, N.C. Noted for her generosity, she immediately invited him to her home, arranged for him to enter a preparatory school, Statesville Military Academy, and paid for his education there. He entered the academy in 1859 and remained until the Civil War broke out. When he joined the Confederate army, his aunt gave him money to buy a good horse and saddle as well as a valuable slave boy.

Elected captain of Company H, Fourth Regiment, North Carolina Troops, Osborne fought at Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Seven Pines, where he was wounded in 1862. In the Maryland campaign, he saw action in the Battle of South Mountain and at Sharpsburg, where he was wounded again. His regiment then proceeded to Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spottsylvania and the Wilderness, where he received another injury, and Appomattox. Promoted to major, lieutenant-colonel, and finally colonel, he left his regiment only to recover from his frequent wounds. In 1865, during one of those periods of recuperation, he met and married his second cousin, Fannie Swann Moore, a descendant of colonial governor James Moore of South Carolina and General Maurice Moore of Revolutionary War fame.

A few weeks after the wedding, while attempting to rejoin his regiment, he learned that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered. The Fourth Regiment had earned a fine reputation in the war, especially at Sharpsburg and again at the Battle of Seven Pines, where Osborne exhibited exceptional personal courage and gallantry. Awaiting support that never came and facing evident destruction, Company H, the "Hunting Creek Guard" from nothern Iredell, under Major Osborne, charged the enemy with such determination that the entire regiment followed, driving back the enemy and capturing six pieces of artillery. Wounded within a few rods of the breastworks, Osborne forced a Union soldier to carry him beyond the breastworks to the point where his troops had advanced. Many observers witnessed his valiant behavior in battle on various occasions. On 19 May 1864 at Spottsylvania Court House, as commander of a division line of pickets against two enemy lines, he led his men out of a difficult situation; while charging and repulsing the Federalists, he was shot through the right hand, losing two fingers. At the end of the war he was left with nothing but his horse. Ill with fever, he went to Statesville, where his wife was staying with her mother.

After the war Osborne taught school in Statesville and subsequently in Charlotte, where, having studied law, he was admitted to the bar. In 1867 he was appointed clerk of the superior court. Known for his ability, industry, and efficiency, he was reelected twice, holding the position for ten years.

In 1874 he left the Presbyterian church, became a member of the Protestant Episcopal church (the denomination of his wife), and decided to enter the ministry. Ordained deacon on 3 June 1877, he was named rector of Calvary Church, Fletcher. Osborne remained in the mission area of Henderson, Buncombe, Rutherford, Polk, and Haywood counties until his ordination as priest on 29 May 1881.

In 1884 he was appointed to the charge of St. Mark's mission (in Mecklenburg County) and St. Paul's (Monroe), neither of which had a church building. Under his leadership, two churches were constructed and both congregations prospered. He also added a black congregation, St. Michael's and All Angels, in Charlotte. Shortly after returning to the Mecklenburg area, Osborne conceived the idea of establishing an orphanage. The rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, the Reverend B. S. Bronson, held in trust the deed to some property formerly used by a private school that had failed; he donated the property to the diocese, stipulating that it be used as an orphanage and that Osborne be appointed its first superintendent. Visiting groups around the state at his own expense, Osborne appealed for funds. As a result of his efforts, on 10 May 1887 the Thompson Orphanage and Training Institution opened its doors with ten children. It was named for Lewis Thompson, who had given money for the failed school.

When war broke out with Spain, Osborne—thinking that his war experience would be of special use—resigned his position to serve as chaplain of the Second Regiment of North Carolina Volunteers. He remained on active duty throughout the war.

After the conflict, he became secretary of the Executive Missionary Committee of the diocese and for a short time was chaplain of St. Mary's School in Raleigh. From 1899 to 1902 he served as archdeacon of the Diocese of North Carolina and then, when the diocese was divided into two convocations, as archdeacon of the Charlotte Convocation. He was a deputy to the General Convention from 1907 to 1910 and for a time served on the diocesan committee on canons. Osborne's particular interest was the mission field rather than the pastorate of established congregations. In 1908 he was appointed chaplain to the bishop and attended the Pan-Anglican Congress in London.

Noted for his gentle spirit, chivalry, bravery, and idealism, Osborne gained the affection and esteem of the community. Very much affected by his Civil War experiences, he wrote poetry in a diary that he had kept during the war. Years later he reflected that one year, on the first day of July, he had noticed a feeling of sadness coming over him, then remembered that it was the anniversary of Gettysburg. For a time Osborne was the chaplain of the Mecklenburg Camp of Confederate Veterans.

The Osbornes had six sons (Alexander Duncan, James Walker, Adlai, Francis Moore, Edwin Augustus, and Ephraim Brevard) and two daughters (Mary Lloyd and Josephine Ashe). Fannie Swann Osborne died in 1925 shortly after their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Edwin Augustus died at age eighty-nine after a period of declining health. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Charlotte.

References:

Samuel A. Ashe, "Edwin Augustus Osborne," in Charles L. Van Noppen Papers (Manuscript Department, Duke University Library, Durham).

Charlotte Observer 7 May, 13 Oct. 1926.

Margaret Davidson Will (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

Diocese of North Carolina, Journal (1927).

"History of Thompson Orphanage," Messenger of Hope of Thompson Orphanage 7 (May 1930).

Weymouth T. Jordan, comp., North Carolina Troops, 1861–1865: A Roster, vol. 4 (1973).

Edwin Augustus Osborne, Diaries and Autobiography (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

William S. Powell, "N.C. Church History," North Carolina Churchman, September 1952.

Prominent People of North Carolina (1906).

John G. Young Diary (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

Additional Resources:

Osborne, Edwin Augustus. Fourth Regiment, N.C.S.T. [Raleigh, N.C.? E.M. Uzzell, printer?]. 1901. http://archive.org/details/fourthregimentnc00osbo (accessed November 26, 2013).

Ramsey, Emily D. "Survey and Research Report on the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Rectory." Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. August 1, 2001. http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/Surveys&rstmarksrectory.htm (accessed November 26, 2013).

St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Huntersville, N.C.) Records. J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. http://library.uncc.edu/manuscript/ms0084 (accessed November 26, 2013).

Downey,Brian. "A full and eventful life: E. A. Y. Osborne." behind AotW:the backwash of a digital history project (blog). October 3, 2006. http://behind.aotw.org/2006/10/03/a-full-and-eventful-life-e-a-y-osborne/ (accessed November 26, 2013).

Image Credits:

"Fourth Regiment: 5. E. A. Osbourne, Colonel." Histories of the several regiments and battalions from North Carolina, in the great war 1861-'65 vol. 1. Raleigh: E.M. Uzzell, printer. 1901. 228-229 Retouched photograph. http://archive.org/stream/01300611.3314.emory.edu/01300611_3314#page/n265/mode/2up (accessed November 26, 2013).

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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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