Thursday, May 18, 2017

William Wallace Rollins: Confederate Captain - Yankee Major.

   He probably started off as a Confederate soldier, deserted, joined the Union army, and even had a fort named for him. But when it comes to the life of William W. Rollins, plenty of questions remain.
   It appears that Rollins was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on July 14, 1838. He was the son of a L. J. Rollins, listed as a preacher in the 1860 census. By 1860, the family was living in Madison County, North Carolina.  From available online resources, it is unclear if Reverend Rollins was connected to the new Mars Hill College prior to the war. In the same census, William Rollins was listed as having $1000 of real estate and $250 of personal property.  
W. W. Rollins, in Federal uniform. 
  On August 13, 1861, Wallace W. Rollins enlisted in Company D, 29th North Carolina Troops. I believe that William W. Rollins and Wallace W. Rollins are the same person. There is no other Rollins with similar initials in the 1860 Madison County census. The enlistment cards list Wallace W. Rollins as being 23 years old when he enlisted in 1861, consistent with an 1838 birthday. Rollins was mustered in as a First Sergeant. On an unknown date, he was promoted to sergeant major of the 29th Regiment and transferred to the field and staff. On May 2, 1862, Rollins was elected captain of Company D and transferred back to the company (Capt. John A. Jarvis was defeated for reelection when the regiment reorganized.)
   It is really unclear what happens next (the records of the 29th North Carolina are some of the worst. One card lists that he was in the hospital in Atlanta on August 20, 1864. Another card reads "By Presdt G. C. Martial this man was on furlough and was ordered to remain in N C to attend the Court Martial." In a letter written on January 17, 1865, Maj. Ezekiel H. Hampton, 29th North Carolina,  asked that Rollins be dropped from the rolls of the regiment. "Capt W. W. Rollins... who deserted from Hospital in August, GA on or about the 12th of Aug. 1864... went to the enemy [and] took (20) twenty men with him, and is now commanding troops in the enemey's lines in East Tenn." Rollins is listed as being dropped as an officer in the 29th North Carolina on February 17, 1865.
   On March 14, 1865, William W. Rollins was appointed major in the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US). His compiled service record tells us that he was 26 years old in 1865. The cards do not tell us where he was from. When Col. George W. Kirk ordered part of the regiment to Blowing Rock in Watauga County in April 1865, the earthworks they constructed were named Fort Rollins in his honor. Rollins did get a leave of absence in July 1865 to return to North Carolina and help the Governor (W. W. Holden) reorganize the civil government. Rollins was mustered out on August 8, 1865. One item I do not have that might clear up a question or two is his pension application, which was filed on January 23, 1893.

   In the 1870 Madison County, North Carolina, census, there is a "Wm Wallace Rollins" age 31. He is listed as a lawyer, with considerable wealth ($12,200/20,500). He is married to Elizabeth and they have one son, Wallace, and three servants. He is listed as living in Marshall, Madison County, in the 1880 census. Rollins is a farmer and lawyer. Eliza is listed as his wife, with four children, one nephew, and three servants. By 1890, Rollins has moved to Asheville. He is listed in the 1890 veterans census as a major, but no regiment is given. The 1900 census lists him as widowed, living in Asheville, and working as the postmaster. Wallace Rollins appears in the 1910 census in Asheville as a postmaster. And finally, W. W. Rollins, 1920 census, retired, still living in Asheville.
   Rollins ran for the state senate in 1866, representing the counties of Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, and Yancey, but appears to have been defeated by Leander S. Gash of Henderson County. (Arthur, Western North Carolina, 449)
   According to William C. Harris's bio on William Woods Holden, Rollins was first tapped to lead the force that Holden wanted sent into Alamance and Orange and surrounding counties. Rollins declined, and upon Rollin's recommendation, George W. Kirk was given the job. This would eventually lead to Holden's impeachment.
   Looking through local newspapers, one can find that Rollins was involved in the railroad, serving as president of the Western Division of the Western North Carolina Railroad (Asheville Weekly Citizen April 11, 1878); some of his dealings with the railroad wound up in litigation for years (Asheville Weekly Citizen April 22, 1880); there were other court cases as well - "W. W' Rollins vs. Eastern Band Cherokee Indians (Asheville Weekly Citizen January 5, 1882); Rollins was one of the organizers of the Western North Carolina Fair (Asheville Weekly Citizen October 23, 1884); he was one of the directors of the First National Bank of Asheville (Asheville Citizen-Times December 15, 1885); a stockholder in the Asheville Gas and Light Company (Asheville Citizen-Times June 15, 1886); president of the Asheville Tobacco Association (Asheville Citizen-Times September 3, 1889); president of the Asheville Branch of the Building and Loan Association (Asheville Democrat March 27, 1890); collector of internal revenue for the fifth North Carolina District (Asheville Weekly Citizen October 2, 1890);
   Rollins was also very involved in local Republican politics, was a member of the G. A. R. Post 41; and was considered one of the largest growers of tobacco in Western North Carolina.
    When he died in 1925, his obituary mentioned his service as major of the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US), but failed to mention his three years of Confederate service.
    So that is my question: is the Wallace W. Rollins, captain in the 29th North Carolina Troops, the same as Maj. William W. Rollins, 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry? Maybe that pension application will tell.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Was William Blalock imprisoned?

There are a half dozen people from the 1860s whom I have spent a great deal of time researching: Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, James H. Lane, John B. Palmer, Collett Leventhorpe, Richmond M. Pearson, and..... William M. Blalock. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to the story of Blalock. There are a great many details that we just simply don't know about his life.

This evening, while reading through his pension application, I came across an interesting turn of phrase. In this affidavit, dated November 1874, Blalock states that he was "arrested by Maj. Harvey Binghams command[, had his] hands tied behind him, and sent to head Quarters in Watauga Co., N.C. and there put in the Guard House for a term of 8 days, and on the 9th day took said affiant [Blalock] out of guard house, tied his hands behind him and started with him to Castle Thunder, to wear the "Ball and Chain." Blalock later claims to have escaped.

When doing research for the Grandfather Mountain book (2014), I came across this anonymous riff:
     I'd ruther be on the Grandfather Mountain
          A-taking the snow and rain
     Than to be in Castle Thunder
         A-wearin' the ball and chain.

The late Frances Casstevens, in her book George W. Alexander and Castle Thunder, stated that it was a popular ballad of the time period. I have found the quotation in many other places, like Radley's Rebel Watchdog and Thomas's The Confederate States of Richmond: A Biography of the Capital. The fragment appears in 1952 in one of Frank Brown's Collection of North Carolina Folklore  and in 1951 in the Southern Folklore Quarterly in 1951 (volume 199). On an online search, I don't see it prior to 1951.


How many people, in the 1860s, actually knew of Grandfather Mountain? Probably just a handful. Was the phrase popular enough to be used in Blalock's Pension application? I wonder if he ever made it to Castle Thunder? Do the Castle Thunder records survive? (It appears that they do, at the National Archives.) Just something to ponder. 

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.