Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grandfather Mountain

If you follow me on facebook, you probably know that I have been working on a photo history about Grandfather Mountain for Arcadia Publishing. This will be my fifth book for Arcadia. Previous titles include Avery County; Caldwell County; Mitchell County; and the very popular Remembering North Carolina's Confederates. I signed this contract back last year.

Grandfather Mountain has a little Civil War history to it. It was up on Grandfather that Confederate conscription officers drove Keith and Malinda Blalock, after their brief experience in the 26th NCT. They supposedly hid out in a hog pen. And local tradition has it that the lower slopes of Grandfather were used as part of a local underground railroad, funneling escaped POWs and dissidents out of Salisbury toward Federal lines in east Tennessee.

Of course, there is much more recent history to Grandfather Mountain: events like the annual Singing on the Mountain -- started in 1924-- or the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, or the annual Girl Scout Day. So I am looking for photographs of people visiting the animal habitat, crossing the Swinging Bridge, or hiking the Profile Trail. If you have photographs, please drop me a line. They need to be scanned at a high resolution.

Thanks for reading - and, it is a good day to visit someplace like Grandfather Mountain!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

U.S.S. Peterhoff

For the past couple of days, I've been reading Stanley South's autobiography, An Archaeological Evolution. Dr. South played a role in the early days of the Brunswick Town/Ft. Anderson and Ft. Fisher State Historic Sites. While I found much of interest, what really struck me was the story of the U.S.S.  Peterhoff.

   It appears that the Peterhoff was "a 416-ton iron-hulled yacht originally built for the Tsar of Russia" by a company in London. It had 140 hp steam engines and was launched in 1850. At some point, the ship transferred to Britain and was used as a cargo ship.

   On January 27, 1863, the Peterhoff set sail from Cornwall, and on February 20, she was boarded and searched by the crew of the USS Alabama. Papers from John Slidell in England to the Confederate Secretary of State were tossed overboard. Since there were no official means to hold the vessel, it was released. The Peterhoff reached St. Thomas, and then on February 25, set sail again. She was again boarded, and the captain claimed that he was bound for Matamoros in Mexico. But a crewman let slip that the vessel was actually bound for Brownville, Texas. The Peterhoff was seized, sold in a prize court, and after additional legal battles, in 1864, became a part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. She left Hampton Roads, Virginia, on February 28, 1864, to help with the blockade of Wilmington, North Carolina. Just a few days later, on March 6, 1864, the U.S.S. Peterhoff was rammed by the gunboat U.S.S. Monticello, and the Peterhoff  was sunk. When low tide came on March 7, Federal sailors boarded the Peterhoff and destroyed what they could.  After the war ended, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the owners of the Peterhoff, and the government was forced to compensate her owners.

The wreck lies off Kure Beech. Several cannon have been brought up over the years, including this one at Fort Fisher, and the wreck site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Wrong, wrong, wrong....

My readers might be tired of the ongoing mentions of the Blalocks, but there just appears to be so much bad information out there. Their life story seems as blown out of proportion as say, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's. I found the below article in a book edited by Lisa Tendrich Frank entitled Women in the American Civil War, Volume 1 (2008). So, I'm going to pick the article apart. I promise I will leave this subject alone for a while after this.

Blalock, Malinda [Sam Blalock]

   Malina Blalock is thought to be the only woman to fight on both sides of the Civil War, and she is the only woman known to have fought as a man from North Carolina. [I know of two others from North Carolina who fought as men. One was from Yancey County and the other from the eastern part of the state.]

   Born Sarah Malinda Pritchard in about 1840 [her birth date, per tombstone, was March 10, 1839] in Caldwell County, North Carolina, to Alfred and Elizabeth Pritchard, Malinda married William McKesson "Keith" Blalock in April 1861, at a small church near Grandfather Mountain in Watauga County. [They were already married in 1860 when the census taker came around.] The two were Unionists. [Probably not technically- they were dissidents who used the Union army to continue a family feud.]

   Keith decided to join the Confederate army, desert as soon as possible, and join the Union army. Malinda cut her hair short and enlisted with Keith on March 20, 1862 as Sam Blalock in Company F, Twenty-sixth Regiment, North Carolina Troops. Malinda had assumed the name of Keith's half- brother, and she was his brother. [I don't recall Keith ever having any brothers.] The Blalocks shared the same tent and drilled side by side until April 20, 1862, when Keith deceitfully obtained a discharge. Having realized that deserting to join the Union would not be easy, Keith rubbed himself with poison sumac and was subsequently discharged. [This statement always puzzles me - the Union army was what, twenty miles down the road in New Bern? And while the poison was listed on his discharge papers, so was the hernia he also had, probably the real reason he was discharged.] Malinda then disclosed her identity as a woman and she was discharged as well. Keith's deception was soon discovered and he was charged with desertion. [Um, he was discharged, so he could not be charged with desertion. But, once he got better, he was liable for conscription, hence his problems with local authorities.] He lived on Grandfather Mountain with several other deserters before fleeing for a short time to Tennessee, where he became a recruiter for a Michigan regiment.

   Unionists at heart, [if true, why did he wait until mid-1864 to enlist in the Union army?] Malinda and Keith went back to the North Carolina mountains and played an active role in the guerrilla raids and personal vendettas that characterized the war in that part of the state in 1864. The Blalocks joined George W. Krik's partisan unit in North Carolina. [There is no historical documentation that the Blalocks and Kirk ever met.] Keith also served as a guide for Confederate deserters and for Unionists who were trying to make their way through the mountains to Federal lines in Tennessee.

   In 1864, Malinda was wounded in a skirmish, and in another engagement Keith was blinded in one eye. In 1865 Keith shot and killed a man whom he believed had killed his stepfather Austin Coffey. Keith was apprehended, but, before he was brought to trial, he was pardoned by Governor William W. Holden. [I believe that Keith actually surrendered.]

   After the war, the Blalocks became farmers in Mitchell County, North Carolina, and had at least four  children: Columbus, John, Willie, and Samuel. [Columbus was actually born in 1863.] Malinda died on March 9, 1901. She and her husband, who died August 11, 1913, are buried in the Montezuma Cemetery in Avery County, North Carolina.

So perhaps the Blalock story is even more embellished than Chamberlain's. I'm starting to think that only Davy Crockett and Pocahontas have been more distorted, and Disney hasn't even gone after Keith and Malinda....yet.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fear in North Carolina

Recently, I finished reading Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family, edited by Karen Clinard and Richard Russell (2008). It is overall a great read, and fairly uncluttered by editorial remarks, which I really like.

The diary follows the life of William and Cornelia Henry, an upper-class, slave-owning  family living in Buncombe County, North Carolina. Cornelia started keeping her diary on January 1, 1860, and diligently kept pen to paper throughout the war years. The post-war entries are sporadic, and finally come to an end October 18, 1868.

Even though the Henrys were upper class, the diary provides and incredible look at life in the mountains of western North Carolina during the war years. The diary is concerned with everyday life - trying to raise children, managing a household with increasing shortages,  and from mid-1863 on, constant worry about the encroachment of both Yankees from Tennessee and home rogues up to no good. In the final days of the war, William Henry, who had served for a time in the home guard, during the "Laurel Wars," was forced into hiding and the farm was raided several times.  Equally important are the entries right after the war, in the beginning days of Reconstruction, as the family tried to adjust to what would become the new normal.

Overall, Fear is North Carolina is a great addition to the historiography of the War in North Carolina, and especially in the western part of our fair state.  

Thursday, August 08, 2013

On the road

Folks, I'll be out and about our fair state the next week or so. If you are in one of these areas, please drop by and say hi!

August 8, 2013 - Little Switzerland Homemakers Club (Mitchell County), 1:00 pm.

August 9, 2013 - Avery County Historical Museum (scanning photos for the Grandfather Mountain project), 10:00 - 3:00 pm.

August 10, 2013 - Zebulon Baird Vance State Historic Site, Weaverville, NC (all day).

August 13, 2013 - SCV Camp, Garner, NC

August 14, 2013 - SCV Camp, Salisbury, NC

August 15, 2013 - Avery County and the Civil War - Avery County-Morrison Public Library, Newland, 6:30 pm.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A cheerful and happy view of history.

   What's wrong with this sentence? "The Blalocks moved into a cabin on Grandfather Mountain and lived happily ever after, cheerfully skirmishing with pro-South neighbors and helping Union soldiers to safety until war's end." This quotation came from a book entitled North Carolina by Sheila Turnage, a guide book published in 2009.

   First of all, the Blalocks weren't living in a cabin. As the story goes, after Keith and Malinda Blalock got back from their very brief stint in the 26th North Carolina Troops, they were forced to leave their home when confront by Confederate sympathizers and forced "still further up Grandfather and lived in a rail pen.  But they were followed even there, and on one occasion, Keith was so hotly pursued that he was shot in the left arm, and had to take refuge with some hogs which had 'bedded up' under the rocks." (Arthur, A History of Watauga County, 161) That certainly does not sound like living "happily ever after..."  Even if Turnage was making an attempt at humor or satire, it falls flat and misleads.

   And hence the problem with these glimpses of history. For three years, the Blalocks lived on the run, never knowing what the breaking of a twig on the forest floor might be. It could be one of those escaped prisoners, looking for a friend and guide over the mountains and into Union lines, or it could be members of the home guard, diligently trying to stem the tide of men passing through the area. Turnage's account, with words like "happily ever after" and "cheerfully skirmishing" make it sound, for lack of a better phrase, that the couple were simply out on holiday. For the Blalocks, the men they guided, the family they skirmished with, and the men who hunted them, it was anything but happy and cheerful.

   As my friend Sharyn McCrumb puts it so eloquently in The Ballad of Frankie Silver: "Happy stories mostly ain't true."

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Watauga County in the Civil War editorial proofs

A couple of days ago, I received the editorial proofs for the Watauga County in the Civil War book, being published by the History Press. I've not looked at nor thought much about the manuscript in about a month, since I sent it along on its merry way. So, it was a fresh read for me. Is it a definitive, 150,000-word masterpiece on a poor mountain county and the great American tragedy? No... and yes. No, it's not 150,000 words, but I do believe that it is definitive. And most important (at least to me), readable.

Earlier this year, I picked up Martin Crawford's Ashe County's Civil War to give it a read. It is a book I've owned for several years, and while I have dug around it from time to time, mostly when working on the book on the 58th NCT, I had never read the entire book from cover to cover. I now have. And the first third was so arduous, I almost put it aside. But I stuck it out and finished it. One of the top goals of my writing is to make what I write readable for the general public. I do not want you to pick up one of my books, a read a few pages, and quickly come to the conclusion that I am educated, but a bore. History is not boring, or at least it should not be. The Watauga County book is full of stats and numbers, interspersed with story from period newspapers and passed down through families for generations: stories about how men marched away, raids on the countryside, and the shared experience of battle.

Not long ago, someone wrote a review of the Battle of Hanover Court House book. This person did not like the way I had used quotations to tell write the history of the engagement. He would rather have me summarize the information. I find that intriguing. What would you rather hear: me telling you what I think happened, or the people who witnessed it telling you what happened? I think their stories are more important. That's one of the reasons why I have put two books together for Ten Roads Publishing, both collections of letters, one on Chancellorsville, and the other on Gettysburg. They are the ones that have witnessed the war, and their words are the ones that are important.

The Watauga County project has some of their words. I have managed to eke out 40,000 words about the War and the county, not bad for such limited sources. But then again, I collected material for 18 years on the War and mid-nineteenth century Watauga County.

So in the end, when Watauga County in the Civil War is released, I hope you enjoy. And more importantly, I hope you learn something. I surely learned a lot. And I hope the generations of people who come after me, and pick up a copy of the book, will also be learning something as well. Just remember, it is their story, their shared experience. I'm just a collector and storyteller.