Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Union County

For our next county, we will turn our attention to the southern piedmont area: Union County.

Union County, originally populated by Native American tribes known as the Waxhaws and the Catawbas, was created from portions of Anson and Mecklenburg counties in 1842. The area had been settled since the early 1700s by Presbyterian Scots-Irish, Welsh, and Germans. The name “Union” was a compromise. The Democrats wanted to name the county in honor of Andrew Jackson, and the Whigs in honor of Henry Clay. Monroe, the county seat, was named in honor of President James Monroe. While Mecklenburg County, to the west, had prospered with an "industrial revolution" in the 1850s and 1860s, Union County was still predominantly a planter- and tenant-farmer-based society, with a small number of artisans. The county, one of the largest cotton-producing counties in North Carolina, also produced an abundant amount of tobacco. In 1860, Union County had a population of 11,202, including 2,246 slaves. The county voted for Breckenridge in the 1860 presidential election.

In February 1861, the county voted 548 for and 483 against calling a convention. Hugh M. Houston was the elected delegate for the convention.

Union County sent numerous men to serve in the Confederate army. These men served in Co. C, 10th Battalion, North Carolina Heavy Artillery; Co. F, 2nd North Carolina Junior Reserves; Co. I, 4th North Carolina Senior Reserves; Co. B, 15th North Carolina Troops; Co. B, 26th North Carolina Troops; Co. F, 35th North Carolina Troops; Co. D, 37th North Carolina Troops; Co. B, 43rd North Carolina Troops; Cos. A, E, F, and I, 48th North Carolina Troops; and Co. I, 53rd North Carolina Troops. Regiments like the 26th and 37th NCTs were some of the hardest fighting regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The landscape of Union County remained untouched until the very last year of the war. On March 1, 1865, a skirmish was fought between Confederate cavalry under the command of Joseph Wheeler and Federal cavalry under Judson Kilpatrick. That same day, a group of Federal raiders rode into Monroe, stealing horses, mules, a train of ten wagons, “and nineteen negro men…” After reading the ORs, it appears that the wagons belonged to the African-Americans, thirteen of whom later escaped and returned to Monroe.

There were both UCV and UDC Camps in Union County after the war.

On the grounds of the old Union County Court House is a monument dedicated to local Confederate soldiers. The marker was dedicated on July 4, 1910. A parade with floats opened the festivities, followed by the unveiling of the monument. Next, the UDC pinned crosses of honor on the veterans present (about 150), before adjourning to the Masonic hall for dinner.

For more information, check out this web page.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A short update

Yesterday was Old Timey Day in Burnsville. Yancey County was celebrating its 175th anniversary, and we participated in a living history on the grounds of the square. We set up an infantry camp and had an artillery piece and crew, along with an 1860s ladies display. The ladies were, among other things, making bandages for soldiers.

I’ve been hard at work on the 58th NCT book. Right now, the regiment is getting ready for its small part in the battle of New Hope Church.

I’ve been (happily) dealing with scores of email. I recently posted 58th NCT queries to list serves in Ashe, Watauga, Mitchell, Avery, Yancey, Caldwell, and McDowell counties. This has generated probably 100+ emails that I’ve been responding to. A lot of these folks have dates (birth and death), burial places, stories, and photographs. If you have emailed me and I have not responded, please bear with me – I’ll get to yours soon.

Speaking of which, I’m going to work on some of those now….

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


The Mitchell County and the Civil War discussion went great last night. We had almost twenty people, and talked about the war for almost two hours.

I’ve been hard at work on the 58th NCT book. In the past three days, I’ve finished up Resaca, and the regiment is setting at Adairsville (May 17), right now, soon to be on their way to Cassville.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Watauga County

Here is the first installment. Tell me what you like and don’t like.

Well, I guess I will start with the county that I know the most about: Watauga.

Watauga County, a part of the “lost colonies” was created in 1849. A plot of ground surrounding the local store operated by the Council family was chosen as the county seat, and the town was named for Daniel Boone. According to the 1860 census, there were 4,957 people in Watauga County, including 104 slaves and 32 free blacks. A portion of the white and slave populations were lost in 1861 when Mitchell County was created to the south. In 1860, Watauga County had the smallest population, both white and slave, in the state of North Carolina.

In 1860, the county voted for Bell in the presidential election. In February 1861, when the vote to call a convention to secede was held, 536 men voted against the measure, while 72 voted for the convention. The representative to the May 1861 convention was James W. Council.

On May 11, 1861, Watauga County’s first company was recruited for service. This group of men would become Company D, 1st North Carolina Cavalry. Other companies recruited from the county include Companies B and E, 37th North Carolina Troops; Companies D, I, and M, 58th North Carolina Troops; and a small part of Company A, 6th North Carolina Cavalry. I have documented 987 men (and one woman) who served from Watauga County. They break down like this: 951 enlisted as Confederate soldiers. Thirty-six enlisted as Union soldiers. Another 68 of the Confederate soldiers later enlisted in the Union army. Some of were truly of Union sentiment. Some enlisted out of northern prisons simply because they were about to starve to death. Most of those serving in the Federal army served in the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry and the 13th Tennessee Cavalry. At least two of the 32 free blacks who lived in Watauga County served (volunteered) in the Confederate army: William Henry and Franklin Cousins (Cozzens). Franklin was killed at Second Manassas.

In the summer of 1863, the home guard was created. The 11th Battalion North Carolina Home Guard was commanded by Maj. Harvey Bingham. As with most mountain counties, the war started to come home in 1864. Numerous raids took place with civilian causalities. There were two home guard camps in the county, both apparently named Camp Mast on Cove Creek. One company was on duty while the other was at home. Save for men and a limited supply of foodstuffs, the county did not materially contribute to the war effort.

The biggest event of the war was the arrival of General Stoneman in March 1865. A skirmish was fought in downtown Boone, with the Home Guard losing. After Stoneman left, a Federal brigade under Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson came in and constructed five “forts” in the county to protect Stoneman’s way home. There were at least three Federal soldiers who died while stationed here, and they are buried in the slave section of the old Boone Cemetery. I have also heard rumors of one (or more) Federal soldiers buried across the road from the Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock.

After the war, there was a United Confederate Veterans Camp in Boone, and there was an attempt to erect a Confederate monument in town. What became of the monument, or the funds raised, is unknown. There are three of the state historical signs marking the sites of three of the five forts Tillson constructed. There are no NC Civil War Trail markers.

For more information, see Michael C. Hardy A Short History of Old Watauga County (2005), chapters three and four.

Also see Watauga County and the Civil War

Friday, September 19, 2008


For the longest time, I have wanted to start a series on each North Carolina counties and the war. This series would examine each county, the men who were shipped off to fight in the war, and events that took place there during the war. Presently, there are 100 counties in North Carolina. If I were to get one county a week done, then this little project should take just over two years. We will see how it goes.

The first installment should be up soon.

What counties have Civil War histories? Here is what I found. Have I missed any? This list does not include roster-only compilations.

Martin – Ashe County’s Civil War (2001)
Casstevens – The Civil War and Yadkin County (1997)
Thomas – Divided Allegiances: Bertie County (1996)
Dillard – The Civil War in Chowan County (1911) [I’ve not seen this one]
Kell – Carteret County During the Civil War (1999)

Two announcements.

I’ll be speaking this Saturday morning in Asheville, at the annual meeting of the Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society.

Next Tuesday, there will be a Mitchell County and the Civil War round table discussion at the Bakersville Public Library at 6:30 pm. Everyone is invited and the event is free.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Banner House talk

Greetings folks! Here is one of my talks from this past Saturday. This one is on the marker at the Banner House in banner Elk. I hope you enjoy.

It was a hellish existence. The prison in Salisbury was overcrowded, the food was poor, and disease was rampant. That’s not to say that any prison North or South was any better. They all shared the same disorders. And as in all prisons, the inmates sought to escape. At Salisbury, the Federal prisoners dug at least sixteen tunnels in attempts to escape. One of those tunnels was not found until one hundred years later, and was in such good shape that the workmen who found it were able to pose for photographs within the tunnel. However, tunneling out the prison was the easy part. Once free from the prison walls, the escapee had to look for sympathetic friends. Luke Blackmer was just such a friend. Blackmer hid a number of escapees, helping the Federal soldiers find guides toward Union lines in east Tennessee.

Guides took the Federal soldiers across the state. The parties would stop ever so often to pick up new guides and provisions. It was a common thought that once the parties reached the mountains, more people loyal to the Union could be found and the trip made easier. Nothing further was from the truth. Most citizens on the west side of the Blue Ridge were just as pro-Southern as residents in other parts of the state.

Once the escapees reached Blowing Rock, they were met by one of three guides: Keith Blalock, Harrison Church, or Jim Hartley. The escapees were piloted through Shulls Mill, or across Grandfather Mountain, to Dutch Creek and Hanging Rock, and then on to Banner Elk. At Banner Elk, other guides, such as Dan Ellis, met the Federal prisoners and conducted them on west.

John Preston Arthur, an early twentieth century historian, left us with this note. Two Michigan soldiers had escaped from prison and were making their way through the mountains of Watauga County. They were met by Reuben Coffey, who was determined to take them on to Camp Mast on Cove Creek. As they walked along, they were able to distract Coffey, overpower him, and take his pistol. A boy on a horse, Wilson Beech, came alone, scaring the Michigan men back into the woods. It is unknown if they ever returned safely to Union lines.

Monroe Dugger, in his book ­War Trails of the Blue Ridge, left this account. Dugger was living here in Banner Elk, as a young boy, when “on a spring morning a man coming to our cabin door from a nearby thicket of laurel and pine, ask my mother to prepare for six men, some breakfast, which he would come back after. Mother said, ‘Go back and stay, I will send it to you by the children’ who were my older sister and I. We were met at the edge of the woods, and conducted to where the remaining five were seated on logs. I knew the guide, who was caring a eight shooter, to be Harrison Church…”

Dugger’s acquaintances survived their ordeal.

Banner Elk, in 1860, an isolated hamlet of just a few homes was one of the pro-Union leaning areas in western North Carolina. These areas were not as predominant as modern historians would have us believe. You would need to travel into Ashe County to the north to find another in that direction, or to Bakersville in Mitchell County to find another to the south. The local home guard was constantly on the lookout for escaped prisoners or deserters. The local home guard commander for this area, Maj. Harvey Bingham, was publicly thanked by the general assembly in 1864 for his zeal in capturing those who chose to evade the authorities.

Lewis B. Banner was a slave owner, possessing one of the largest groups of enslaved people in what was then Watauga County. While a slave owner, Banner was also a Unionist, siding against the Confederacy. Banner had three sons in the Federal army. He frequently provided food and shelter for escapees while they waited for their guides. Banner’s son ,Samuel H. Banner, a member of the 5th Ohio Infantry, built this house after his discharge in February 1864. The laurel thicket by the river was known as the Land of Goshen and served as a hiding place for escapees and draft evaders.

Save for a few fragments of history, like those from Arthur and Dugger that I have shared this afternoon, not much solid information exists to tell us of the men who passed through this area. It is possible that this underground railroad also saw non-combatants, men, women, and children wishing to escape for a variety of reasons. We will probably never know their stories. But they were here, and on a cold winter’s evening, if you listen closely, you just might be able to hear that timid knock on a door, a hopeful, unfamiliar face taking a chance for a friendly bite to eat and praying that the Home Guard isn’t hot on his heels .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Civil War Trail markers this past Saturday

We had an incredible time this past Saturday. I spoke four different times, three in dedication services for our Civil War Trail Markers. Here are some photos:
Members of the Hawgwaller Mess in Cranberry

My family at the Blalock maker in Linville

Cutting the Ribbon at the Banner House

My darling little girl at Cranberry

Friday, September 12, 2008

Trail Markers

Tomorrow we dedicate our Civil War Trail Markers in Avery County. We have three: Cranberry, covering the mines; the Blalocks; and the underground railroad in Banner Elk. Over the past couple of days, I’ve gotten some stats in about Civil War Trail Markers. Here is a run down.

“As of summer 2008, 177 sites have been interpreted and the majority of them are first time interpretations.”

I saw on another email that there are 68 counties in North Carolina that have Civil War Trail markers. That leaves 32 counties without Trail Marker signs. One of those counties is Watauga. A few months ago, I was asked to come up with a list of possible sites within Watauga County. That list included:

Boone – skirmish in March 1865, a part of Stoneman’s Raid.
Boone – a fort, one of five, was built here to protect Stoneman’s line of escape. There are Federal soldiers buried in the town cemetery who died while garrisoned here in April 1865.
Deep Gap – a fort, one of five, was built here to protect Stoneman’s line of escape.
Blowing Rock – a fort, one of five, was built here to protect Stoneman’s line of escape.
Cove Creek – the second of two home guard camps were established here. This camp was captured in February 1865.

I could probably come up with a dozen more, but those are the major ones. The information that I got read that in Virginia, where the program originated, that in 2003, “the Virginia Civil War trails was the single most-requested program for the state with 85,000 inquiries fulfilled. This out-paced all other niche programs by nearly ten to one.”

Also, “Eleven percent of all travelers to Virginia actively seek out one of their Civil War sites. Two profile studies done for the car route visitor in Virginia show that these travelers spend $75 pp/pd and each trail averages 16,500 tourists annually. This comes out to nearly $1.24 million dollars per each of the five trails.”

It is amazing that more communities are not involved in this program.

A few days ago, I talked to a friend in Buncombe County who is trying to work on NC Civil War Trail markers for Asheville. He has run into opposition from the mayor of the city of Asheville, who has emphatically stated that no NC Civil War Trail Marker signs will be erected on city property. Others in city government have said the same things. Do the business owners in Asheville realize that their elected officials are taking away this potential revenue? In a time when tourism dollars are getting harder and harder to come by, one would think that no opportunity would be passed up to benefit the people of Asheville. It is also regrettable that certain individuals are elected to be servants of the people of a city, but then refuse to honor that city’s past. Like an alarming number of other leaders, these individuals are apparently so enamored with their own points of view that they refuse to acknowledge or respect the needs and wants of their constituents.

There have been 815 markers placed in 178 counties in 5 states. I am just glad that Avery County has three of them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Avery County Civil War Trail Markers

Just a quick announcement. The three North Carolina Civil War Trail markers in Avery County that I have made mention of before have been installed. We are holding dedication programs this Saturday: Cranberry at 10:30 am, Blalocks at Cannon Memorial Hospital at 1:30 pm, and the Banner House in Banner Elk at 3:00 pm. There will be living histories at both the Cranberry site (old Cranberry school), and at the Banner House. If you get a chance, please stop by and see us.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Chickamauga... again

I’ve spent the past couple of days going over the role of the 58th NCT at Chickamauga. I had someone email me regarding the events. His interpretation is that Palmer and the 58th, after their second attack, were done for the evening, not helping the 63rd Virginia and 5th Kentucky in driving the Federals off Snodgrasss Hill.

In my original response, I confined myself to what was written in the Official Records. I’m going to come back to that in a couple of minutes, but right now, I want to look at how historians have interpreted (or ignored) Palmer’s role in events.

The first book I pulled off the shelf was Matt Spruill’s Guide to the Battle of Chickamauga (1993). Spruill makes no real mention of Kelly’s brigade. He sums up the action with “The last attack was made just before dark when eight brigades were sent against the Union position.”

I thought I would stick with the guide books, so we will look at Woodworth’s Chickamauga (1999) next. I could find no mention whatsoever of Kelly’s brigade.

Next, how about Tucker’s Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West (1961). Tucker does not go into a lot of detail about the final assault. He simply writes that that Kelly and Twigg assaulted “the position on the ridge…”

We will look next at Cozzens’s This Terrible Sound (1992). Cozzens probably writes the most in-depth study of the battle to date. On page 487, Palmer and the 58th NCT have attempted twice to advance up Hill Three. On the second advance, they have been met by the 21st OH coming down the hill and firing. The 58th NCT, many of them with almost no ammunition, have retreated behind trees, and Palmer is attempting to find out what is going on. According to pages 507-509 of this book, it is Hawkins of the 5th Kentucky who takes charge. Cozzens leaves Palmer out.

I also checked the new article (by William Glenn Robertson) on September 20 in the most recent issue of Blue and Gray – no mention of Palmer, and barely a mention of Kelly.

Next, why don’t we look at what the people involved wrote:

Palmer writes in his official report on September 25, 1863, just five days after the battle, of what happened after the 58th NCT had charged twice. Palmer sent a messenger to Kelly, who could not be found. Palmer himself then went to look for Kelly and
“… ascertaining that the other regiment had formed some distance to the right, I moved by the flank and formed on the prolongation of their line.”
“Being told by Colonel Hawkins that Colonel Kelly had a short time before been summoned suddenly from the field by General Preston without time to notify me of the fact, I assumed command of the brigade and, changing direction to the right, advanced toward the enemy at right angles of our first line of advance. Colonel Twigg had in the meantime, and after the enemy’s fire had ceased, moved his brigade up a depression between us and the main position of the enemy, and to his command some of them were about surrendering.
“My regiment captured about 20 officers and men…” (ORs Vol. 30, pt. 2, 446)

After the war, Palmer wrote: “Shortly after dark our brigade, temporarily under my command, succeeded in capturing the troops who had been opposing us.” (“The 58th North Carolina at the Battle of Chickamauga” Our Living and Our Dead October 1875)

Colonel Hawkins of the 5th Kentucky, wrote in late October 1863: “My men recovering from the temporary surprise caused by the treachery of the enemy, reformed, and, with fixed bayonets, advanced on the enemy, joined by Major French, then by Colonel Palmer…” (ORs Vol. 40, pt. 2 443-4)

Maj. French of the 63rd Virginia, also writing on September 25, has this to say: “The Fifty-eighth North Carolina, Fifth Kentucky, and my regiment advanced to within a short distance of the enemy, when they proposed to surrender and laid down their arms. When we arrived within about 40 yards of them, they retook their arms and poured a heavy fire into our ranks, which caused us to fall back a short distance to our position on the hill, from which we continued to fire into them. Our ammunition being now almost exhausted, we supplied ourselves as far as possible from the boxes of the killed and wounded. We again advanced in conjunction with Colonel Twigg’s brigade, when we succeeded in capturing 249 prisoners, including several field officers.” (ORs Vol. 40, pt. 2 448)

Kelly wrote, also on September 25, that after the false surrender volley was fired, Kelly met up with Twigg and began to advance. “Just at this movement was begun, I was notified by one of his [Twigg’s] staff that the brigadier general commanding division wished to see me, and I repaired at once to where he was stationed in the field. During this temporary absence the enemy surrendered to Colonel Twigg…”

My breakdown of events is this:

Palmer and the 58th NCT, on the left of the brigade, attempted to charge twice and were stymied. Palmer went looking for Kelly with his own ideas of how to finish driving the Federals off of the hill. He could not find Kelly, who had been called to the rear. Palmer, being senior commander of the brigade, took over. Hawkins of the 5th Kentucky had already started to move up the hill in conjunction with Twigg, as the 63rd Virginia, and then the 58th North Carolina, came on line and charged together. Both French and Hawkins said that Palmer is involved, even though there is some difference in the accounts, so I do not think this should be discredited.

So what do you think – I have laid my case out well?

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Ugh – I am way too busy right now. Not enough time to write.

The Avery County and the Civil War round table discussion went off smashingly. We had 34 in attendance, including a class on Civil War and Reconstruction, being taught by Dr. Allen Speer at Lees-McRae College. Speer is the author of Voices from Cemetery Hill, a collection of letters by one of his relatives in the 28th NCT. Speaking of the 28th NCT, I’ve had a copy of the new regimental history of the 28th NCT here on my desk for two or three months, and I’ve just not had time to read and review it. I also have a copy of the new book on Walter W. Lenoir of the 37th NCT, and Faust’s This Republic of Suffering­, just no time to read. Next week looks clear until Saturday, when we have the dedication for Avery County’s Civil War Trail Markers. We’ll see how much time I really have.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Folks: I thought I would share a few things going on in September.

There will be a Avery County and Civil War round table discussion tonight (September 2) at the Avery Morrison Public Library in Newland. Everyone is invited to attend. We are planning to start at 6:30 pm.

There will be a Mitchell County and the Civil War round table discussion on Tuesday, September 23, at the Bakersville Public Library. I believe that one also starts at 6:30 pm. As with the Avery program, this event is free, open to the public, and everyone is invited.

I am scheduled to be set up on the Writers Row at the Antique Fair in Charlotte this weekend. We'll see how the weather (Hurricane Hanna) plays out.

On September 13, we are dedicating our Civil War Trail Markers here in Avery County. There will be living history encampments at both the Cranberry Site and the Banner House in Banner Elk. I'll be speaking at the Cranberry and Blalock sites.

On September 20, I'll be in Asheville speaking to the Old Buncombe Genealogical Society. I don't have the time yet. I'll be leaving there and headed to the Chickamauga reenactment in north Georgia.

September 25 will find me speaking at the SCV Camp in Mt. Airy. The topic will be based upon my book, Remembering North Carolina's Confederates

On September 27, I'll be participating in the Old Timey Days in Burnsville, Yancey County, and on September 28, I'm heading down to the reenactment in Hendersonville.

And I did not think September looked all that busy...

Oh yeah, I forgot - I'll be on local radio, WECR 1130 am, this Thursday morning, talking about the war.