Recently, I was looking through the records of the African-American Freedmen's Bureau, attempting to flesh out my knowledge of a local family who were Unionists, and slave owners. While that quest was unfruitful, I did find an interesting piece.
Like most of the South, North Carolina was in a state of flux after the war. People were trying to figure out and adjust to whatever the new normal was. I often tell the story of Harvey Bingham, former member of the 37th NCT, and after mid-1863 major in the 11th Battalion, North Carolina Home Guard. Bingham did such a good job after the war, rounding up deserters and conscription-dodgers, that he was forced to move from the area. He relocated to Statesville and opened a law school. While looking through the Freemen's Bureau records, I found another case, albeit from a different angle.
On May 19, 1866, Lt. P. E. Murphy, the Freemen's bureau agent in Asheville, wrote to Col. Clinton Cilley in Salisbury. His main question concerned with what to do with children who were under 14 and were orphans, or had been abandoned by their parents. But he had another problem. Murphy writes: "There is a colored woman here with four small children who is very destitute and the people about will not give her work for the reason that her husband gave some information to our troops when they came in here. The husband was obliged to leave this place and is now in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she wants to get to him. Is there any means by which she could be helped[?] Her name is Adelaide Walker."
Next, I looked in the 1870 census for Buncombe County, but no Adelaide Walker. Maybe she finally made it to Chattanooga. Maybe she remarried, or, maybe she died.
It is not possible to know how many times the story above was repeated in North Carolina in the years right after the war: Confederate soldiers returning home to discover loved ones dead or farms burned; Union soldiers unable to deal with the strife the war generated with their pro-Confederate neighbors and family; or people simply wanting to put the past behind them. They all left, taking their stories with them.