I’ve been out of town the past few days, and hence, no blogging. But I have been reading, mostly about Chickamauga. Right before we left town, I attended a book discussion in Watauga County on the new book, Neighbor to Neighbor: A Memoir of Family, Community, and Civil War in Appalachian North Carolina. I did finish reading the book, and here are some thoughts.
Information regarding the last year of war, and especially the reconstruction time period in western North Carolina, is sparse. Most of the information comes in the way of oral traditions passed down through the generations. Most of these oral traditions are fragments of much larger events. Therefore, we are blessed to have some new information come to light written by someone who had first-hand knowledge of those events.
William Albert Wilson was born in the Sutherland Community in Ashe County in 1861. He was a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and later served as a missionary in Japan for more than 42 years. Once he retired, Wilson returned to North Carolina and penned an account of things that he had witnessed during the turbulent years of the Civil War and Reconstruction. But the book is more than just what he remembers, it is a record of his community during those times.
Wilson starts out his tale with the death of his father, Isaac Wilson. Home on furlough from the Confederate army, Isaac Wilson was shot as he plowed his field one morning. Taken home, he lived just a short time before dying of his wounds. Isaac Wilson’s death is an example of the inner-civil war that gripped every part of life in Southern Appalachia. His death was to revenge the death of a man at the hands of the local Confederate conscription officer. That conscription officer was also named Isaac Wilson, and a case of mistaken identification might seem plausible. However, the murdered Isaac Wilson was related by marriage to his assailants.
The murder of Isaac Wilson left William Wilson and his siblings fatherless, and in a hostile location, near the Tennessee border. Wilson then crafts a tale of the mayhem, the “bushwhacking,” murder, robbery, and abuse that members of his family and community endured. Wilson’s memoir goes beyond the depredations committed during the time period, also providing a look at how a boy grew up in Appalachia in the 1870s, attending school, church, and working on the farm. The memoir is truly remarkable for that information alone.
Neighbor to Neighbor was edited by Sandra L. Ballard and Leila E. Weinstein. Ballard is a professor of English at Appalachian State University and editor of the Appalachian Journal. Weinstein is assistant editor at Appalachian. They have done a good job lightly editing the text and culling the local community for photographs.
There are also three essays introducing the text. The first, by Patricia Beaver, Director for the Center for Appalachian Studies and professor of anthropology at Appalachian State University, is entitled “”The Civil War on the North Fork of the New River: Sustaining Community.” This essay provides an overview of the North Fork Community and Ashe County during the wartime years. The next essay is by Martin Crawford, and is an excerpt from his book Ashe County’s Civil War: Community and Society in the Appalachian South. Martin is a professor of American Studies at Keele University in England. The final essay is by John C. Inscoe, professor at the University of Georgia, and the most respected historian of Appalachia and the Civil War. His essay, entitled “Guerrilla War and Remembrance,” is a look at how the people of Appalachia viewed the events in the 1860s in the years following the events.
One event that no one looked at was Isaac Wilson’s military service. Wilson volunteered with members of his family and community on September 18, 1861. On that date, he was elected a lieutenant in the “Watauga Minute Men.” Most of the men in this company were from the Cove Creek area of Watauga County, where Wilson also had family and enough connections to allow the men to elect him to this post. On November 20, 1861, the “Watauga Minute Men” became Company E, 37th North Carolina Troops. For some unexplored reason, Wilson resigned from the 37th North Carolina Troops on December 13, 1861, and returned home. The memoir clearly states that “Lieut. Isaac Wilson, was home on furlough” (73) when he was shot in June 1864. Of what regiment Wilson is a member is not discussed. After the war, Wilson’s widow applied for a pension, stating that he served in the 37th North Carolina Troops, and Wilson’s gravemarker states that he served in the 37th North Carolina Troops. No other regiment is mentioned, and thus a mystery has presented itself.
Overall, Neighbor to Neighbor (ISBN 0-9787305-0-X) is highly recommended for those interested in the war in Appalachia and western North Carolina. One downside is that the book is currently available only through the bookstore at Appalachian State University. Maybe demand for the book will lead to a wider distribution. You can contact the bookstore at: (828) 262-3070, or through their web page.