Monday, February 01, 2010

How Rumors get Started

Sometimes, you just can’t believe what you read. A few months back, I had a discussion with someone at one of our local historical festivals, involving who commanded the 58th NCT during the battle of Bentonville. Standing on the square in the town of Burnsville, without any notes, I was quite certain that it was Maj. G. W. F. Harper. My friend was sure he had read it was Lt. Col. Samuel M. Silver. I now understand where my friend got his information.

Samuel Marion Silver was born on December 30, 1833, in present-day Mitchell County. He enlisted in Capt. John Keener’s Company on June 25, 1862. Keener’s company became Company K of the 58th North Carolina Troops on July 29, 1862. Silver rose through the ranks, being elected a lieutenant, and when Keener was promoted, Captain, of Company K.

In 1864, with a high rate of attrition of field officers in the 58th NCT, the position of Major was open. Colonel Palmer, who was no longer assigned to the regiment, but remained its colonel, recommended Captain Silver. One of Silver’s fellow line officers, Captain A. T. Stewart (Company E), believed that the promotion should be his. Stewart would get the promotion, but was killed on August 31, 1864, at the battle of Jonesboro. Silver was promoted to lieutenant colonel on October 29, 1864, and commanded the 58th North Carolina Troops. He served in this position un March 16, 1865, when he submitted his resignation, claiming that he was “sufficiently educated to perform the executive duties of the office” he had, and that the situation of his family in western North Carolina, subjected to “tories and deserters,” necessitated his presence. Interestingly, Silver’s application was rejected. However, he had left the regiment.

In 1901, in response to a query for histories of various regiments, Isaac Bailey, a former Captain of Company B, sent in some notes, mostly about the battle of Chickamauga. Bailey was wounded during the battle of Chickamauga and would eventually retire. He was not present during the battle of Bentonville. Concerning the battle, Bailey wrote: “On 19-21 March at Bentonville, the last battle ever fought by our war-worn soldiers, [the 58th NCT] was a part of General Jos. B, Palmer’s Brigade and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Silver, fought with accustomed valor. (Clark’s NC Troops)

However, this is not what those who participated in the battle wrote. On March 29, 1865, just a few days after the battle, Brig. Gen. Joseph Palmer praised the 58th NCT, writing that “Capt. G. W. F. Harper, commanding Fifty-eighth North Carolina… handled [his] command with ability and bore [himself] handsomely through the day…” (Official Records, vol. 47, pt. 1:1101) One of the first things you are taught regarding historical research, is to put more credence in what was written at the time, not what was written forty years later by someone who was not there.

Following the War, Samuel Silver moved around. He lived in Mitchell County and McDowell Count; he then went to Texas, and finally settled in Oregon where he died in 1922.


Anthony Pitman said...

Totally off subject, but I found this an interesting read on the Revolutionary War and thought you make want to read it on a break sometime. It's not very long and as a lover of history, I enjoyed it.


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