Friday, October 21, 2016

George N. Folk and the raid at Fish Springs.

We tend to write and talk a lot about Tar Heel regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia. And rightfully so. That is where the bulk of North Carolina soldiers served. I am "guilty" of this myself, having written a regimental history of an ANV regiment, a history of a Virginia battle, and an ANV brigade history as well, along with several articles.

There are, however, many exploits to be explored concerning Tar Heel soldiers outside the ANV and Virginia theater of the war. Here is one.

George N. Folk was a Watauga County lawyer and representative in the General Assembly when the war started. In early 1861, he resigned his seat in Raleigh, and spent some time in Asheville before returning to Boone and raising a company for Confederate service. The Watauga Rangers became Company D, 1st North Carolina Cavalry in August 1861. Folk resigned on May 9, 1862. On September 12, 1862, Folk was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 7th Battalion, North Carolina Cavalry. The 7th battalion was composed of seven companies, including two from Johnson County, Tennessee.

On September 26, 1862, Folk was ordered to move from the Asheville area, with three companies, into Johnson County, Tennessee. Folk's orders read in part: "a body of disloyal men who are reported by the Governor of North Carolina to have escaped from that State and are believed to be organizing in the vicinity of Stone Mountain for the purpose of resisting the authorities of the Confederate States and joining the enemy in Kentucky. Should you succeed in capturing them they will be sent under your guard to Salisbury, N.C., and turned over to the provost-marshal at that place."

   Due to the ongoing unrest in eastern Tennessee, various Confederate regiments were sent into the area from time to time in an attempt to curb the violence, and to shut down the routes used by those coming from North Carolina, headed toward Union lines in Kentucky. In September 1862, Lt. Col. George N. Folk, commanding the 7th Battalion, North Carolina Cavalry, moved three companies from Asheville, into Johnson and Carter Counties. His orders were to capture or disperse "a body of disloyal men" from North Carolina, who were said to be organizing themselves into a group to resist "the authorities of the Confederate States and joining the enemy in Kentucky." Captured North Carolinians were to be sent to Salisbury, while Tennesseans were sent to Knoxville. 

1904 map of Fish Springs
   Chief on the most-wanted list was a Jos. Taylor, reportedly a captain in the 2nd East Tennessee Cavalry. According to one story, Taylor had been captured, escaped, and made his way into east Tennessee. He was preparing to take others into Kentucky. However, there does not appear to be a Captain Taylor in the cavalry from Tennessee. William Penland, a member of the 7th Battalion North Carolina Cavalry, wrote in January 1863 that Taylor had collected 70 men, and for some time had "been capturing soldiers, stealing and plundering from the citizens in the counties of Carter and Johnson." This was just the type of rogue that Folk was sent to find. On January 23, Folk was out patrolling along the Watauga River with about 40 of his men. Folk spied the members of Taylor's group on the other side of a river. He ordered his cavalry to swim across. When Taylor's men saw they were being surrounded, they abandoned their camp and moved further up the mountain, positioning themselves on a bluff. As Folk moved in, Taylor's command opened fire.   Thomas Newman, a private under Folk's command, was struck and killed. It is possible that another private, David Wagner, was also killed in the skirmish.

   As Folk's men dismounted and started up the hill, the bushwhackers fled. Taylor was spotted, shot, and killed on sight. Samuel Tatum was also shot while trying to escape, although one account states he feigned death and survived the war. Three others were captured. Two of them, George W. Kite and Alexander Dugger, were quickly tried, found guilty, and hanged on the spot, while a fifth man, just a youth, was sent to Knoxville. There were undoubtedly others who escaped, and several of Folk's men reported that shots came close enough to produce holes in their clothing. It would have been better for Folk to have sent all the guilty parties back to Knoxville. Folk and several others were indicted after the war for murder. However, Unionists sent to Knoxville had a way of being set free by the authorities, and the depredations committed by Taylor seemed greatly to allow him a chance of immunity.

   Folk's 7th Battalion was eventually combined with the 5th Battalion North Carolina Cavalry into the 6th North Carolina Cavalry, and Folk was promoted to the rank of colonel. The 6th North Carolina Cavalry was transferred out of the western theater and spent the remainder of the War along the east coast of North Carolina.

Monday, October 03, 2016

So what's next?

A couple of folks have messaged my lately wondering "what's next?". So, here is what I've been working on since turning in the Branch-Lane manuscript.

Living in western North Carolina and doing a host of interpretive programs (and fielding a host of questions) in North Carolina and Tennessee has shown me a need for a book about the War along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. We have a couple of books about each side, like Inscoe and McKinney's The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War, and Fisher's  War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee. However, there is not a book that really ties these two places together. For example, everyone is familiar with the actions in the Laurel community of Madison County, North Carolina, in January 1863. Did you know that these actions are just one of three movements by troops in western North Carolina-East Tennessee that month? And another - Kirk's raid into western North Carolina in June 1864 is just one of two Union raids launched from Greenville, Tennessee, on the same day.

George W. Kirk is the ribbon that will run through the text. But, he is just one of many cast members on a stage of unequal bloodletting in the 1860s in the mountain counties of North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. There were no winners in this war.

I've already approached  the History Press about publishing this book, and they have agreed. I'm looking forward to sharing with you more of my findings, and frustrations, as I tackle this new project. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What Happened to North Carolina's US Representatives and Senators During the War?

On the verge of the conflict in 1861, North Carolina had eight representatives in the US House, and two in the US Senate. Every state has two senators, but house numbers are determined by population. What happened to these men during the war?

William Nathan Harrell Smith was born in Murfreesboro, NC, in 1812 and graduated from Yale University in 1834. He returned to Murfreesboro to practice law. He held several local political offices before becoming a member of the both the NC House and Senate. Smith was elected as an Opposition Party candidate to the 36th Congress, and ran unsuccessfully for the speakership. He went on to serve in the Confederate Congress. After the war, he served as council for W. W. Holden during the 1871 impeachment trial, and as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, from 1878 to 1889. He died in November 1889 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.

Thomas Hart Ruffin was born in Louisburg, North Carolina, in September 1820. He was a graduate from the law school at the University of North Carolina in 1841 and practiced law for a time in Missouri. In 1853, he was elected as a Democrat to the US Congress and represented NC until March 1861. He served as a delegate to the provisional Confederate Congress in 1861. Ruffin raised a company of cavalry out of Wayne County, and was elected captain. That group became Company H, 1st North Carolina Cavalry. In June 1863, Ruffin was promoted to the rank of major and transferred to the field and staff of the 1st Cavalry. A month later, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In the meantime, he suffered a saber blow to the head at Gettysburg. Sometime around September 1863, Ruffin was promoted to colonel of the 1st Cavalry. At a skirmish at Auburn Mills, Virginia, on October 15, 1863, Ruffin was mortally wounded and captured. He died on October 18, 1863, and is buried in Louisburg, North Carolina.

Warren Winslow was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1810. He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and then studied law, practicing in Fayetteville. In 1854, Winslow was elected to the state senate, and elected as speaker. When Governor Reid accepted an appointment to the United States Senate, Winslow became acting governor, and is recognized as the 33rd governor of the state. Winslow then served in the US from 1855 to 1861. When Governor Ellis became ill, Winslow was a part of a three-man board appointed by the governor to advise him on military and naval matters. Winslow went on to represent Cumberland and Harnett Counties in the 1861 convention. Winslow died in Fayetteville in August 1862, and is buried at Cross Creek Cemetery.

Lawrence O'Bryan Branch was born in November 1820 near Enfield, Halifax County. He lived in Tennessee for a brief amount of time before being adopted by his uncle, John Branch. John Branch had already served in the General Assembly, and as governor of North Carolina (1817-1820). When Lawrence joined his uncle, he was living in Washington, D.C., serving as a United States Senator, and then later, as Secretary of the Navy under his friend Andrew Jackson. Lawrence grew up in Washington, D.C., and was tutored at one time by Salmon P. Chase. Lawrence attended the University of North Carolina for a while, eventually graduating first in his class at Princeton. He studied law in Nashville, Tennessee, where he also owned a newspaper. Branch was admitted to the bar in Florida, but married and moved back to Raleigh in 1852, practicing law and becoming president of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Company. Branch was elected as a Democrat to three terms in the US House, starting in 1855. He was not running again in 1860. He also declined a position of Secretary of the Treasury by President James Buchanan. Once North Carolina joined the Confederacy, Branch served as Quartermaster General for North Carolina, and then as colonel of the 33rd North Carolina Troops. He was appointed a brigadier general in November 1861, and in April 1862, his brigade joined the army in Virginia. Branch was killed at the battle of Sharpsburg on September 17, 1863. He is buried in the Old City Cemetery in Raleigh.

John Gilmer was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, in November 1805. He studied in local schools, taught school, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1832. Gilmer was a member of the State Senate from 1846 to 1856, and in 1856, was an unsuccessful Whig candidate for governor. He served in the US House from 1857 to March 1861 as a member of the American, and later Opposition parties. He was considered by Lincoln for a cabinet position. Gilmer served in the Secession Convention. In November 1863, he won an uncontested race as a representative to the Second Confederate Congress, and was chairman of the Committee on Elections. He opposed many of the laws that advanced the powers of the central government, and was an active peace advocate, persuading Davis to send a delegation to Hampton Roads to talk to Lincoln. Gilmer supported Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction program after the war. He died in Greensboro in May 1868, and is buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery behind the Greensboro Museum of History.

James Madison Leach was born in January 1815 in Randolph County, North Carolina. He attended the Caldwell Institute in Greensboro, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1838, going on to study law. Leach practiced law in Lexington, North Carolina, and served in the General Assembly from 1848 to 1858. In 1859, Leach was a representative in the US House. Once the war commenced, he served in the 21st North Carolina, and then as a member of the Second Confederate Congress. Leach is probably the most famous peace advocated in the Confederate Congress. According to one sketch, Leach "fought all administration programs. He voted to override every presidential veto and approved resolutions declaring Secretaries Benjamin, Memminger, and Regan incompetent... by April 1865, he was urging North Carolina to begin separate state negotiations." After the war, Leach served four terms in the NC Senate, and in 1871 to 11875, in the US House. He died in Lexington on June 1, 1891, and is buried in Hopewell Cemetery.
Francis Burton Craige was born near Salisbury in March 1811. Craige graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1829, edited the Carolina Watchman, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1832, and served in the NC House before being elected as a Democrat to the US Congress, serving from 1853 to 1861. Craige was a delegate to the secession convention in May 1861, introducing the Ordinance of Secession. He was also a delegate to the Confederate Provisional Congress, supporting the central government in their effort to win the war. He declined to run for the regular Confederate Congress, and apparently retired from public life. Craig died in Concord on December 30, 1875, and is buried in the Old English Cemetery in Salisbury.

Zebulon Baird Vance was born in Buncombe County May 30, 1830. He was the youngest of the North Carolina delegation sitting in the US House in March 1861. Vance was educated at Washington College, and then at the University of North Carolina. He began practicing law in Asheville in 1852, and was elected county solicitor. He served in the NC House  in 1854-1856, and in the US House 1858-1861. Vance was elected captain of a company from Buncombe in May 1861, and then colonel of the 26th North Carolina Troops, in August 1861. He led the 26th Regiment through the battle of New Bern and Seven Days. On being elected governor in August 1862, Vance resigned his commission and led the state through the war years, until being arrested on his birthday in Statesville in 1865. After the war, he practiced law, again becoming governor of North Carolina (1876-1878), and then serving in the US Senate from 1878 until his death in Washington, D.C., in 1894. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville. Vance is North Carolina's most honored politician, with a state historic site, several monuments, and a host of biographies.

In the US Senate were Thomas L. Clingman and Thomas Bragg. Surprisingly, both had only served a couple of years prior to the start of the war.

Thomas Lanier Clingman, the "Prince of Politicians," was born in 1812 in Yadkin County, North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1832, and began practicing law in Huntsville in 1834. Clingman was elected to the NC House in 1835, and then a year later, moved to Asheville. In 1840, he represented the area in the NC Senate. He was elected as a Whig in 1843 to the US House, but was defeated for re-election in 1845 (possibly having something to do with his duel with William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama.) Clingman again served in the US House from 1847 to 1858, and in 1858 to 1861, in the US Senate. At the start of the War, Clingman was elected colonel of the 25th North Carolina and later commanded a brigade composed of the 8th, 31st, 52st, and 61st Infantry regiments. His brigade bounced around between the defenses in eastern North Carolina and those in Virginia. Clingman never regained public office after the war, although he was frequently in Washington D.C, sitting in the visitors' gallery in the Senate. He worked as a tireless promoter of western North Carolina, and mined in the area, looking for silver in present-day Avery County. Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is named in his honor. Clingman died in Morganton North Carolina in 1897, and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, not far from the grave of Zebulon Vance.

Thomas Bragg was the older brother of Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Thomas was born in November 1810 in Warrenton, and studied at a military academy in Middleton, Connecticut, now known as Norwich University. He was admitted to the bar in 1833 and commenced practice in Jackson, North Carolina. He served a term in the NC House (1842-1843) and was elected governor for two terms (1855 to 1859), before being appointed to the US Senate, serving from 1859 to 1861. Jefferson Davis appointed Bragg as Confederate attorney general in 1861, and he served until 1862. Bragg continued to practice law until his death in 1872. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Remembering Robert B. Vance

Today, I had the opportunity to attend the unveiling of a marker remembering Robert B. Vance in Crosby, Tennessee. The marker was installed by the Maj. James T. Huff Camp 2243, Tennessee Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

We seldom remember Robert Brank Vance. He gets lost in the shadow of his younger brother, Zebulon Baird Vance. Robert was born in 1828. He was a merchant in Asheville, a farmer, and a clerk of court in Madison and Buncmbe Counties. On September 11, 1861, Vance was appointed colonel of the 29th North Carolina Troops. The regiment moved from Asheville to Raleigh in October 1861, and then after the bridge burnings to Jonesboro, Tennessee, in late November 1861. The winter months were spent in Cocke County, Tennessee, and then along the East Tennessee and Georgia and East Tennessee and Virginia Railroads. On February 20, 1862, Vance and the entire 29th were ordered to Cumberland Gap, serving there until late April, and in east Tennessee until Bragg's Kentucky campaign. The 29th Regiment fought at Murfreesboro in December 1862/January 1863.

Vance was promoted to brigadier general on March 4, 1863. When the Department of Western North Carolina was created, Vance was tapped as its commander. Around the end of 1863, Vance was ordered to Raleigh. Before he left, he was ordered to make a demonstration into Tennessee, hoping to distract Burnside who was looking to engage with Longstreet. Vance and his command captured a supply train, but on their return and after a small skirmish near Crosby, Tennessee, Vance was captured. He spent time in the prisons at Nashville, Louisville, Camp Chase, and Fort Delaware. Vance was finally paroled on March 14, 1865, and returned to North Carolina.

After the war, Robert Vance served in the General Assembly and in the US House of Representatives, and then in the patent office. He was married twice: first to Harriet McElroy, and then in 1892, to Lizzie R. Cook. He died at his farm near Asheville and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville. His grave is right in front of that of his brother.

If you are heading down US321, towards Gatlinburg (from the east), take a moment, pull over, and learn a little more about the life of Robert B. Vance, and the skirmish at Shultz's Mill.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Branch-Lane brigade book off to the publishers...

Well, it's gone. I emailed the Branch-Lane manuscript to Savis Beatie this morning. No, I have no idea when it will be published. It took longer to write than I thought. But I think it is good. Detailed. And it’s even under my 150,000-175,0000 word estimate (just barely). Twenty years of research went into that one.

I can't really put my finger on just when I commenced my research into the brigade. Of course, it began when I started working on the history of the 37th NC regiment. That was my first book. But I don't have an actual date. It was in Boone, in the Belk Library at Appalachian State. And it was probably something like, "hey this regiment was local (two companies from Watauga County), and hey, there is no book about them." So, I set out to tell their story.

Given all the years that I have spent as an interpreter and reenactor, like the book on the 37th NC the Branch-Lane brigade history is written from the soldiers’ perspective. It is not a top-down approach, looking at grand maneuvers and the theories of war. Instead, it comes from the smoke-filled trenches and vermin- infested winter quarters that the soldiers shared with family and friends. As I've said all along, it is their story. I'm just trying to fill in the pieces surrounding them as they tell it.

Over twenty years, I've collected thousands of pages of material, many that never got used. When I started working on the 37th NC book, I found and photographed as many graves of members of that regiment as I could. I think I used two, maybe three in the final manuscript. So I've got maybe three hundred photos of graves that never made it. I took all of the primary source material that I collected and put it in six three-inch notebooks, one for every regiment, and one for the brigade. This does not include books of letters or diaries, like Harris's book on the 7th NC, or Speer's 28th NC letters which was published several years ago. At some point, I'll probably break down those notebooks, moving the contents to other notebooks for future projects. For now, they'll probably stay here next to the desk, the same spot where they've been for two and a half years.

But then, this project is more than just words. It's been a part of my life. I've visited every field where they fought, save Ox Hill (figured I'd probably just get arrested). I really can't tell you how many times I have driven Jackson's flank march, or stood next to the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg, looking across that field (Lane's brigade was to the left of that piece of bronze and stone). I've been to the graves of Branch in Raleigh, and Lane in Auburn, and countless other cemeteries like the ones in Winchester and Spotsylvania. I've had the chance to portray members of the brigade at reenactments and living histories, like Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, Petersburg, and seemingly countless other sites. And, on a few occasions, I've given tours, speaking about the brigade and its members at New Bern, Hanover, and at Pamplin Park.

It's kind of odd, sitting here, able to see the top of my desk. I've still got some filling away to do, but almost everything is back in its notebook. There they sit, waiting for me to pick it up, and trace down some source that I had jotted in my notes.

I'm going to take a little time off from the ANV. Not too much, but a little time. I've already got another ANV project on my mind, but I need to go and write something else in between (that is the ADHD in me). And when I get started on this new ANV project, I'll be building upon my research in the Branch-Lane brigade, it will be the foundation stone for this new idea (you'll probably not hear anything about this one until the first of the year).

Friday, September 02, 2016

Hard times after the war.

Recently, I was looking through the records of the African-American Freedmen's Bureau, attempting to flesh out my knowledge of a local family who were Unionists, and slave owners. While that quest was unfruitful, I did find an interesting piece.

Like most of the South, North Carolina was in a state of flux after the war. People were trying to figure out and adjust to whatever the new normal was. I often tell the story of Harvey Bingham, former member of the 37th NCT, and after mid-1863 major in the 11th Battalion, North Carolina Home Guard. Bingham did such a good job after the war, rounding up deserters and conscription-dodgers, that he was forced to move from the area. He relocated to Statesville and opened a law school. While looking through the Freemen's Bureau records, I found another case, albeit from a different angle.

On May 19, 1866, Lt. P. E. Murphy, the Freemen's bureau agent in Asheville, wrote to Col. Clinton Cilley in Salisbury. His main question concerned with what to do with children who were under 14 and were orphans, or had been abandoned by their parents. But he had another problem. Murphy writes: "There is a colored woman here with four small children who is very destitute and the people about will not give her work for the reason that her husband gave some information to our troops when they came in here. The husband was obliged to leave this place and is now in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she wants to get to him. Is there any means by which she could be helped[?] Her name is Adelaide Walker."

Next, I looked in the 1870 census for Buncombe County, but no Adelaide Walker. Maybe she finally made it to Chattanooga. Maybe she remarried, or, maybe she died.

It is not possible to know how many times the story above was repeated in North Carolina in the years right after the war: Confederate soldiers returning home to discover loved ones dead or farms burned; Union soldiers unable to deal with the strife the war generated with their pro-Confederate neighbors and family; or people simply wanting to put the past behind them. They all left, taking their stories with them. 

Thursday, September 01, 2016

War-time photos of James H. Lane

As I sat working on captions for photographs for the Branch-Lane book today, I got to wondering about how many war-time photos there are of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane. Auburn University has several post-war photographs, including one of Lane in his general's coat with the button covered, but how many war-time images are there? I could only find three. The first you will sometimes find reserved, but I believe it is the same photo. Did I miss any?