I was nervous when I dialed the phone. It’s not every day that I have a reason to call FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Come to think of it, this was only time I have ever called FBI headquarters!
I was calling because a friend had told me about an FBI agent who was an expert on the Confederate cavalry. I was writing a book about North Carolina cavalrymen in the Army of Northern Virginia, so I had to talk to this expert. (Stuart's Tarheels: James B. Gordon and his North Carolina Cavalry was released in 1996.)
The phone rang. My heart beat faster and my palms sweated a little more when someone answered the phone. “Horace Mewborn, please,” I said, half expecting to be shaken down over the phone. But no challenge came, and in a few minutes a man came to the phone.
It was Horace. I shakily introduced myself and explained why I was calling, and he could not have been more gracious or helpful. In his deep eastern North Carolina voice, he gladly offered suggestions and agreed to check his files for me. As if it was perfectly natural for a stranger to call the FBI office out of the blue to talk about Civil War history.
So began a friendship that lasted until December 14, 2019, when Horace passed away after a battle with cancer.
Horace Mewborn was born May 7, 1941, in Kinston, North Carolina. After graduating from Campbell College, he served for seven years in the U.S. Army. Commissioned second lieutenant upon graduation from OCS at Fort Benning in September of 1966, he went on to Airborne School, Special Forces School, Language School and Ranger School. He served two and one-half tours in Vietnam as part of the Fifth Special Forces Group, earning a Combat Infantryman's Badge, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star in the process, among other awards. During his last tour in the Republic of South Vietnam, he was assigned as the personal escort for Martha Raye, who became his life-long friend.
After leaving the army, Horace graduated from East Carolina University with an accounting degree and then joined the FBI. Among his assignments with the FBI were tours of duty as a domestic terrorism specialist in New York City, Washington D.C., the Hostage Rescue Team, and FBI headquarters. He retired in 1990.
Horace was indeed the Confederate cavalry expert he was touted to be, and he was particularly knowledgeable about John Mosby, the "Gray Ghost." He wrote several books and articles on various cavalry-related topics, including Stuart’s ride around the Army of the Potomac, Mosby’s Rangers, and the Beefsteak Raid of September 1864. He was a frequent speaker at symposiums and Civil War Roundtable meetings, and also a regular guide on many battlefield tours. He was also instrumental in starting New Bern's Civil War Roundtable and played a key role in the preservation of the New Bern Civil War Battlefield.
I spent many a pleasant hour talking with Horace. He told me about his Green Beret days; in my mind's eye, I can still see the period photo of Horace and his fellow soldiers hanging in one of his bedrooms. He said less about his days in the FBI, but I know he worked some very tough cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing.
But most of all, Horace and I talked about Civil War history. He was an unflagging supporter of my own work. He read my manuscripts, offered research suggestions, invited me to speak at events, and provided a place for me to bunk on research trips to D.C. or eastern North Carolina. (The archives was a second home for him as no one could out-research that man.)
Horace was a humble, quiet, and friendly. A man with a runner’s body who always ate a healthy diet, he was always there for me (not to mention countless others). We spoke just a few days before he passed away, and in our conversation Horace was more interested in me and my family than his own plight.
Here’s to a good man, who served his country and helped us remember. Rest In Peace, my friend.
Donations in Horace's memory can be made to the preservation of the New Bern Civil War Battlefield, c/o New Bern Historical Society, 511 Broad Street, New Bern, NC 28560.