Friday, April 21, 2017

Project Updates

How about a few updates!
General's Lee's Immortals: The Battles and Campaigns of the Branch-Lane Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia is set for release on December 3, 2017. I'm really looking forward to getting the proofs this summer. More details about ordering signed copies and maybe about scheduling a visit to your area, will come later this year. I am really looking forward to seeing this project in print. The story has been part of my life for over 20 years.



Kirk's War: The Civil War Along the North Carolina-Tennessee Border (proposed title) is what my winter (and now spring) project has been. It's been interesting diving into some local history and folklore, trying to capture the War as it raged across the border area. I hope to wrap up the battle of Red Banks next week and move on to 1865. This book is being published by the History Press.






And then there is project X - which I'm not talking about yet, but which concerns the Army of Northern Virginia.  



And lastly... earlier this year, I submitted a grant proposal to the North Caroliniana Society for assistance for a new project, one focusing on the life of North Carolina Chief Justice Richmond M. Pearson. It is my belief that he is the most influential North Carolinian of the 19th Century. The number of governors, US Congressmen, fellow judges, state representatives, etc., who studied at his Richmond Hill Law School is staggering.  The North Caroliniana Society awarded me the travel grant, and I'll be hitting the libraries this summer. This project will take a while to complete, as there is a wee-bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, I started reading law and researching the subject a year ago; I even have my own set of Blackstone's Commentaries.


Friday, April 07, 2017

Has Paul Cameron been lost to history?

Paul Cameron
Do you even know who Paul Cameron is? In 1860, he was considered the wealthiest man in North Carolina. He reportedly owned 30,000 acres, and up to 1,900  slaves. According to the 1860 census, his real estate was valued at $195,000, and his personnel property at $72,000 (which is probably low). He also had plantations in Alabama and Mississippi. Cameron was born in 1808 in Orange County  and inherited a considerable fortune. But he was not an idle aristocrat.  He attended the University of North Carolina and eventually graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut. Cameron studied law, but according to one bio, never practiced. He devoted himself to managing his plantations. He was also interested in railroads,  helping to promote the North Carolina Railroad, and was a director of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and the Augusta Air Line. He also owned considerable stock in two different banks, and in several textile miles. Cameron married Anne Ruffin in 1832. She was the daughter of Thomas Ruffin, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Only once did Cameron run for office, serving in the North Carolina Senate in 1856 and 1857.

If you have ever visited Historic Stagville, near Durham, you might have heard of Cameron. It was the house in which he was born, and one of several that he later owned.

Recently, I visited Stagville for the second time. It was on a Friday afternoon, and according to the sign, we had just missed the last tour of the day. I had been to the site a year earlier, and the tours were running a little later, and had managed to catch the better part of that tour. On this trip, we had to content ourselves with looking over the displays in the visitor center and walking the grounds about the house.

Stagville
In the visitor center, there was not one single mention of Paul Cameron. Now, having caught most of the tour last year, I know that he is mentioned there, as owner of the house, but every single exhibit in the visitor center was about his slaves. Now, don't get me wrong, slavery is an important part of our National story. Without slaves, who would have built out courthouses and universities, or provided the counties and states where their masters lived the money from taxes to take on these capital projects? Without slaves, who would have picked the cotton the fired the industrial revolution in the North? Without slaves, there would not have been the need for the massive amount of textile mills, who were turning out "negro cloth" in huge numbers to clothe the slaves in the South. Slavery is, unfortunately, a part of the history of us. And it needs to be interpreted and understood as a complex and many-faceted academic topic as well as a real human concern that affected the lives of real people with their own unique, often tragic, stories.

However, in my opinion, to totally expunge the story of Paul Cameron (and his ancestors) out the equation, is inexcusable. What were Cameron's contributions to the War? I see a brief mention of some of his slaves being conscripted to work on costal fortifications. And there is a mention of Federal forces raiding the Stagville (and others, I assume) for supplies towards the end of the war. Give us one board (with photos) tell us about his life, and the role of the community during the War years. Did Cameron sell foodstuffs to North Carolina or to the Confederate government? While Cameron himself did not serve (too old), and his sons were too young, how about other people in the community? Or, other members of his extended family? Did he have overseers who resigned and headed off to the war? I read someplace that Cameron was a Whig prior to the war. Did he even support secession and the Southern Confederacy? The Southern Historical Collection has the Cameron family papers. Surely somewhere in those 33,000 pieces are the answers to a few of those questions. The general public wants to know more.

PS: If you work at Stagville, it is usually common courtesy to break away from the computer and at least acknowledge visitors when they show up. Yes, it was about 3:30 on Friday. But, well, you never know who might walk through that door.   It might just be a family killing time between science fair competitions, or it might be an award-winning author and historian hoping to ask questions and learn more about your site. It our case, it was both, which you might have noticed if you had bothered to say hello or even make eye contact while we were in your visitor's center.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Richmond Pearson and the Twisted History of North Carolina in the Civil War.

Friends - I'll be speaking at Lees-McRae College this Thursday evening, April 6, at 7:00 pm, in the Evans Auditorium. Topic is Richmond Pearson and the Twisted History of North Carolina in the Civil War.  Please come on out and join us! (Free!)

Friday, March 31, 2017

The "Old Red Fox" (No, the other one).

If you go to Google, and type in Old Red Fox, the image and story of East Tennessee Unionist Dan Ellis pops up. The Carter County native piloted dissidents through the mountains for most of the war, only joining the 13th Tennessee Cavalry in the last months of the conflict. He wrote about his exploits in a widely quoted book The Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis. The book was published in 1867, just two years after the war ended. Many of the events were still fresh. However, many of the events that Ellis write about cannot be substantiated through other period sources.

Ellis was often called the "Old Red Fox." The Carter County Historical Marker talking about his life is even listed as "The Old Red Fox."

This past week I stumbled upon a North Carolina version: John Quincy Adams Bryan. He was also known as "The Old Red Fox."

Bryan's obituary (he died in 1905) states that he was "one of the most interesting characters that ever figured in the political history of the State." Bryan was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina, on October 10, 1833. There is not much to go on regarding his pre-war life. I believe I did find him in the 1860 census, still living at home and working as a farmer, but with $500 in real estate and $450 in personal property. Bryan was undoubtedly conscripted into Confederate service, but given the commonness of his name "John Bryan," I was not able to find him (yet).

The other "Old Red Fox": John Quincy Adams Bryan.
We know that Bryan was serving as a guide through the lines. In early November 1863, he was in Wilkes County recruiting for the 10th Tennessee Cavalry (US). It was Bryan who started with the group and wound up in the front yard of Doctor Bell's home in then Carter County on November 19, 1863. Confederate cavalry burst upon the scene, and out of the group of 57 men, seven were killed, plus Doctor Bell's brother James. Bryan escaped, and the party continued to work their way west. Bryan was officially enrolled in Company H, 10th Tennessee Cavalry, on February 12, 1864. He was mustered in as a first lieutenant. He is listed as present on all but one of the remaining muster roll sheets. At the end of the war, he was promoted to the rank of captain. An account from 1897 states that Bryan was "severely wounded and was for some time confined in the officer's hospital at Nashville." His wounding was placed in the battle of Nashville time period, but his compiled service record says nothing about the matter. Bryan was mustered out on August 1, 1865.

After the war, Bryan was elected to serve in the 1865 Constitutional Convention, and again in 1868. He also served under Kirk during the Kirk-Holden War, was an officer in the Grand Army of the Republic, and was assistant assessor in the Revenue Department and deputy collector. He also served in the General Assembly.

But how about the claim that he was "The Old Red Fox"? Turning again to his General Assembly biography, we find these details: "In 1863, when piloting recruits to the Federal lines, they disobeyed his commands and ventured into the valley near Lime Stone, Tennessee. Here they encountered a band of Confederate scouts (cavalry) and were quickly surrounded and most of his men captured and put to death on the spot. Seeing that he would not be treated as a prisoner of war, he cut his way through the ranks of the enemy and retreated to the mountains near by, pursued by several cavalrymen. Fighting doggedly as he retired, several saddles were emptied and more than one 'boy in gray; bit the dust as a result of too close contact with the desperate Unionist. During the war the soldiers of both armies gave him the sobriquet of "Old Red Fox," because of his skill in eluding the Confederate spies and Home Guards, who were hunting him down, and in the successful piloting of recruits through the mountain fastnesses to the Federal lines."

I could find no other mention of Bryan ever piloting men through the lines.


Bryan died in 1905 and is buried in Wilkes County. Unlike Dan Ellis, there is no state historic marker commemorating the life of John Quincy Adams Bryan.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Fleeing to Statesville

We don't seem to talk much about Statesville and the War. And to be honest, not that much went on there during the conflict. Or, maybe we have just not researched it out that much. Stoneman's cavalry visited the town on April 13, 1865, and set fire to the military stores stockpiled near the railroad depot, along with the depot itself.

Statesville's other claim to fame, in the grand scope of North Carolina and the War, deals with Governor Zebulon Baird Vance. As Sherman approached from the South, Vance sent his family to Statesville. When Stoneman's men approached, Hattie and the children fled to Lincolnton, but returned after the crisis had passed. Vance arrived on May 4. He had attempted to surrender himself, but was told that there were no orders concerning governors. That changed on May 8, when Grant issued orders to General Schofield to arrest Zeb. Federal troops, some 300 of them, as the story goes, arrived in Statesville on May 13, Vance's thirty-fifth birthday, surrounded the house, and arrested the governor. The following day, Vance was on his way to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C.

Landon Carter Haynes
Vance was not the only official to flee to Statesville. Confederate Senator Landon Carter Haynes was also there. Haynes was elected to the Confederate senate in 1861. He was from Carter County, a Tennessee county containing a large number of Unionist and overrun with violence. When the Confederate government fled Richmond following the breakthrough of lines below Petersburg, Haynes fled as well, eventually making his way to Statesville. Unlike Vance, he was not arrested, but after President Johnson's amnesty proclamation of May 29, 1865, Haynes submitted his letter asking for a pardon. Haynes would eventually relocate to Memphis, Tennessee.

So who else was in Statesville? A quick search of North Carolina and Tennessee Confederate Congress and Senators showed no other applicants from Statesville. That's not to say that other officials were not with Haynes, and then decided to move further on, or maybe back to their homes, where they wrote their own letters to Andrew Johnson.



It would be nice to be able to track the individual Confederate senators as they left Richmond and made their ways back to someplace else. Given the tight grip that the Federals had on the land, I'm pretty sure that most of them would have passed through the Piedmont section of the Tar Heel state. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why didn't they stay?

   On September 1, 1863, Joseph Grubb, a private in the 4th Tennessee Infantry (US), made a recruiting sweep through the Laurel community of Madison County. He was looking for men for a new company in the 8th Tennessee Cavalry (US). Grubb enrolled some 74 men for this new company. Maybe half were actually from Madison County. The others appear to have been hiding out.
   While there are undoubtedly more, I was able to identify seven of the 74 who were Confederate deserters: George Franklin, William Gentry, Tilmon Landers, Peter McCoy, Hackley Norton, Martin Norton, and Roderick Norton. All seven enlisted in Company G, 64th North Carolina Troops in July 1862. Records are not clear if they volunteered, or if they were literally forced in (the grace period ran out in August for voluntarily enlistment). All seven would desert the Confederate army. George Franklin and William Gentry were gone prior to November 25, 1862; Tilmon Landers and Peter McCoy were gone on November 3, 1862; Hackley Norton was declared a deserter in February 1863, but he likely never returned from a sick furlough; Martin and Roderick Norton were gone in August 1862. With the last two, it might be that they were enrolled, and then never joined their command when it moved to Knoxville.
   As Grubb came through the Laurel community, these seven former Confederate deserters joined the  Federal army. However, they apparently had as about as much use for the Federal army as they did the Confederate army. George Franklin was declared absent in June 1864. He apparently went home sick in November 1863. He did return to his regiment by early 1865.
   William Gentry also left out in November 1863. His family stated he was sick, but others, in his widow's pension claims, refuted this. When Federal soldiers were sent to round up deserters from the 2nd NCMI, Gentry said he would join them, but never did. He was found hiding in a cave (or thicket), and killed by some Confederate scouts.
   Tilman Landers deserted on November 3 (or maybe November 4). He never returned.
   Peter McCoy deserted on October 25, 1863. He returned in April 1865. McCoy had obviously heard of Lincoln's amnesty offer for Federal deserters.
   Hackery Norton was declared a deserter on January 2, 1864, or, the records state he was sent off on a "scout" about that same time. One other record found states that these scouts were to last about 30 days. When Norton did not return, he was declared a deserter. One further card in his file states that he was killed by the enemy at Camp Vance on June 28, 1864.
Roderick Norton is also reported as being absent on recruiting service, and then absent without leave on February 29, 1864, and finally as a deserter on June 1, 1864. A card in his folder states that he was "killed by the Rebels while on recruiting service Dec 15 1863."

   Of the 74 men who are enrolled in Laurel on September 1, 1863, 45 are later declared absent without leave or deserters. Of that number, only 18 return, the vast majority after Lincoln's proclamation to grant amnesty to those absent from their commands. So I propose the question: why didn't they stay in the Federal army? Was life better living in that cave or laurel thicket, constantly having to evaluate each sound coming through the woods?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

My Gettysburg Top Ten

   As spring and summer approach, I seem to find myself talking more and more about Gettysburg. People stop me and want my take on what to see on their visits. It seems odd to me, considering most of these people are my age and have never visited Gettysburg (I was 16 on my first trip there. My wife was 6), but better late than never! So, here are my top ten (or so) things to do in Gettysburg.

General Longstreet
1. If you have never been before, then the Visitor Center on the battlefield is the place to start. There is a film, museum, the Gettysburg Cyclorama , a gift shop, and you can get info on ranger-led tours. There is a fee, but, if you have never been before, it is well worth it. Check out this link to learn more.

2. If you have never visited before, consider one of the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides. These fantastic men and women will hop in your car and drive you all over the battlefield. They can do general tours or more specific tours. Becoming one of the Guides is harder than becoming a doctor. These fellows know their stuff inside and out. You can learn more about them here

3. My favorite parts of the field? If it is your first time, try and soak up as much of the overall battlefield as possible. If you are a repeat visitor, or know about an ancestor's regiment, then it is possible to follow in a soldier's footsteps. I don't know how many times I have been to Gettysburg, but when I do go (about once a year), I tend to follow specific regiments or brigades around. There are a few places I do visit almost every time - the North Carolina monument on Confederate Avenue; the famous Copse of Trees on the opposite side; the 26th North Carolina Monument on Meredith Avenue; the position of the Rowan Artillery on the far Confederate right (Warfield Ridge area); East Cavalry Field (almost no one there, even on peak days). Honestly, you will need to find your ideal spot on the field.
A part of my Gettysburg collection. 

4. Before you go, do a little reading. If there is a regiment you are interested in, look for a regimental history. Or, if it is a person, look for a biography. My overall favorite book on Gettysburg is Edward Coddington's The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command but that is probably a little much for first-time visitors. You might want to check out Stephen Sears's Gettysburg  (2004) or maybe Allen Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (2014). There are literally books on every aspect of this battle - the Confederate advance, the Confederate retreat, each of the three days, and books on various parts of each day. There is even a magazine devoted to the battle.

5.  So what time of year is the best time to go? Hmmm... I've been three of the four season - (dead of winter is the one season I've not tramped the fields). I've been to the re-enactment twice (1988 and 1998 - 1998 was the largest reenactment ever held). I've been Memorial Day weekend; I've been in October. June is a pretty incredible time of year - the lightning bugs are amazing. Personally, I would say spring or fall. Summer can be pretty crowded and really hot.
North Carolina Monument

6. Where do I stay? Probably my favorite is the Comfort Suites on Baltimore Pike. But I've also stayed at two or three other places in town, and even out of town, in Emmittsburg for example. I like to be in town, like the Quality Inn or one of the bed and breakfasts.

7. Where to eat? If it is your first time, the Farnsworth House is a must. I also have enjoyed O'Rourke's, the Reliance Mine Saloon, the Appalachian Brewing Company, Gettysburg Eddie's, and yes, even General Pickett's Buffet. The Sunset Ice Cream Parlor is a nice treat, too, especially for the kids.

8. Shopping - I honestly don't do a lot of shopping in Gettysburg. Sometimes we might walk down Steinwehr Avenue and go to the Regimental Quartermaster store, the American History Store, or the Irish Brigade Gift Shop (and Abraham's Lady with the Mrs., but they closed the brick and mortar recently and went totally online). But, I'm really there to have boots on the field, and I will often spend from sunup to after dark on the field.

26th North Carolina Monument
9. Ghost tours? Sorry - I've never been on one and don't have any plans to go. My opinion is that any self-respecting ghost goes and hides from the tours.  If you want to get in touch with the spirits here, just sit quietly in an out-of the way spot on the field somewhere, take a few deep breaths, imagine what the soldiers were experiencing there, and be respectful of their lives and deaths.

10. Other Civil War sites nearby? If you have a couple of extra days, hit the Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, and Harper's Ferry, both in Maryland. I've probably explored along the banks of Antietam Creek as many times as I have Gettysburg, and I actually like the area better - no T-shirt shops or Ghost tours.  


So there you have it, my top ten for first-time Gettysburg visitors.