The first volley pierced the crown of the captain’s cap, the second the shoulder of the major’s coat; neither found flesh and bone.
The captain — assistant adjutant-general of the Confederate Army’s Alabama Brigade, named Cousins — had co-written a brigade report identifying the 55th North Carolina Infantry Regiment as having failed to protect an artillery piece seized by Federal troops during an evening raid outside Suffolk, Va.
The major, assigned to the 55th, was Alfred Belo.
Belo’s commanding officer, Col. John Kerr Connally, on learning of the allegation, accosted Cousins and his deputy, a captain named Terrell, demanding they retract the offending report. Orders showed the 55th had been positioned elsewhere during the raid, but the Alabamians refused.
“Colonel Connally ... called a meeting of the field officers and captains, stated the circumstances to them, and insisted the honor of the regiment required its officers should demand satisfaction from those who had slandered it,” the 55th’s adjutant wrote, according to the regiment’s official history.
Connally challenged Terrell to a duel, and avowed that his second in command, Lt. Col. Maurice Smith, would deal with Cousins. Smith, however, a Presbyterian elder before the war, morally objected to dueling.
The matter would be settled at 40 paces. But a reprieve was in the works even as Cousins and Belo reloaded for a third round.
“The friends of Colonel Connally and Captain Terrell were engaged in an effort to make an honorable settlement of the affair, and Captain Terrell, who was a gallant officer and true gentleman, became satisfied that he had been mistaken in the report which he had made and which had been the cause of offense, and he withdrew the same, which action prevented any further hostilities.”
No blood was shed that day, but Belo’s soon would flow.
Promotion by blood
At Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, Belo — now a colonel after two battlefield promotions — led a charge at the dug-in Union forces, who unleashed a fusillade of rifle and artillery fire.
The assault came midway through three days of carnage on the Pennsylvania battlefield. An artillery shard struck Belo, ripping apart his leg, a wound that took the better part of a year to heal. When it did, he resumed command of the 55th North Carolina Regiment and on June 3, 1864, led his troops on a similar charge during the second battle of Cold Harbor — with a similar result.
“Colonel Belo was seriously wounded in this charge,” Cooke reported. “Colonel Belo’s wound was in the arm, half way between the elbow and shoulder joint; the bone was shattered and the operation of re-section was performed.”
The round and the surgery rendered Belo’s left arm useless — and ended his war.
“The loss to the regiment was irreparable,” Cooke wrote. “He had been with the regiment in all its hard-fought battles, and had the absolute confidence of every man in the regiment. He was cool and intrepid. … He had a genius for organization.”
Those qualities, that genius, would serve him well in his return to civilian life.
Long way to Texas
Belo’s injury at Cold Harbor ended his days in combat, but not in service; he accompanied Gen. Robert E. Lee to Appomattox, where, on April 9, the Confederate commander surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The war was over.
Belo had heard of opportunity in Texas and set out on horseback, reaching Houston, where in August 1865 the 26-year-old veteran was introduced to Willard Richardson, the owner and publisher of The Galveston News.
Belo’s bearing and service record impressed the publisher, who had ardently supported the Confederacy. He offered the colonel a six-month assignment, paying $500 in gold, to straighten out the newspaper’s delinquent accounts.
Belo in short order collected the bulk of debts owed by subscribers and advertisers and otherwise cleaned up the paper’s books. Impressed, Richardson offered him a share of the company. On March 1, 1866, almost exactly six months after Belo’s arrival at the paper, he was promoted to junior partner in charge of business.
When Richardson died nine years later, Belo bought out the publisher’s heirs and took full ownership of the company, which in 1881 he incorporated as A.H. Belo & Co.
A lasting legacy
Four years later, on Oct. 1, 1885, Belo launched a sister paper, the Dallas News.
His philosophy, handed down by Richardson, reflected his mentor’s commitment to an independent journal.
“A great newspaper must be serenely indifferent to personal likes and dislikes, personal opinions and prejudices inside or outside of its organization, which would interfere with its functions as a faithful collector and disseminator of news; as a voice, an intelligence and a reasoning conscience, to interpret for the reading public the ripest thought and best judgment of the time touching all questions of public concern,” Belo wrote.
He continued to oversee The News, commissioning the architect Nicholas Clayton to design an elegant, solid, three-story building in the 2100 block of Mechanic Street to consolidate the paper’s business offices, its newsroom and composing room and its latest press.
The building opened in 1884, and for the next 17 years The News thrived under the colonel’s command.
Alfred Horatio Belo was born in Salem, N.C., on May 27, 1839, and died on April 19, 1901, while visiting his family’s summer home in Asheville, N.C., where he often traveled in his later years to recuperate from his evermore debilitating war injuries.
Now, 116 years later, Belo is survived both by the paper he founded and by the paper that adopted him.