Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Help Brig. Gen. John W. McElroy get a new tombstone.

Greetings friends! The Col. John B. Palmer Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has embarked on a new project. John W. McElroy, a native to Yancey County, needs a new tombstone, and the Palmer Camp has taken it upon themselves to raise the funds to purchase this stone. 

Life in western North Carolina was hard during the Civil War years. No one understood that better than John W. McElroy.  The McElroy family were prominent citizens in the early days of Yancey County. John W. McElroy was a merchant, dealt in real estate, and served as clerk of court. The economic crisis of the late 1850s had forced McElroy out of business. He had sold his fine Burnsville home, and had moved to the Jack's Creek area to farm.

Prior to the War, McElroy had served as the commander of the Yancey County militia. Every county in North Carolina had a militia regiment, required by law to meet once a year to drill. Each county was composed of several militia districts, each with its own captain and lieutenants. These militia districts, found first on the 1860 census, would become townships by the 1870 census.

During the first months of the War, Colonel McElroy continued to perform his normal militia duties, which often did not amount to many responsibilities. But he had fewer and fewer men as they left to join the regular Confederate army.  In the spring of 1862, the Confederate government passed the Conscription law, requiring men between the ages of 18 and 35 to enlist in the army. McElroy was responsible for mustering the militia and for getting these men off.

But many resented having to serve. Some hid out from the beginning, while others joined the army, and then later slipped back to check on their families or to join those already evading local authorities.  Governor Zebulon B. Vance tried to use the militia to round up the outliers, but ran into legal problems. So Vance created the Guard for Home Defense.  Their chief duty was to curtail the deserter problem. To lead the First Brigade of North Carolina Home Guard, Vance tapped John W. McElroy. While McElroy had limited military experience, Vance probably chose McElroy because of a family connection. Vance's older brother Robert had married McElroy's daughter, Harriett.

McElroy's task was not easy. Huge bands of deserters roomed the mountains, using their remoteness to their advantage. Of course, the only way these men could survive was by stealing what they needed. McElroy's command encompassed all of western North Carolina. He often made his headquarters in Mars Hill, using the buildings of the fledgling college.

In April 1864, dissidents under Mont Ray raided Burnsville. They were driven out by Confederate forces from Asheville, and as local ledged has it, McElroy's old house was used as a hospital.   McElroy then returned for a short time to Burnsville, possibly using his old home as his headquarters. It is believed that at some point during the war, McElroy's home on Jack's Creek was ransacked and burnt.

After the war ended, McElroy made his way to Graham County, where he died in 1886, interred in the Old Mother Cemetery.

Recently, it came to the attention of the Col. John B. Palmer Camp. Sons of Confederate Veterans, that the tombstone marking McElroy's grave was in poor condition. At some point in the past, the stone had been broken, and then cemented back together. The Palmer Camp chose to take the steps to get McElroy a new stone. Since McElroy was a state-appointed officer, and not a regular Confederate soldier, he is not eligible for a stone from the Veterans Administration.

The Palmer Camp has decided to purchase a stone to mark McElroy's grave and is seeking donations to assist in procuring the stone. Donations may be sent to PO Box 317, Micaville, NC  28755.

After the stone returns from the stone cutter, the Palmer Camp is planning a memorial service in Graham County for John W. McElroy. An announcement will be posted with this information when the time and date have been set.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

same name as my father not many mcelroys around here not many of us (strong irish name though)