In June 1864, Capt. George W. Kirk led a raid from East Tennessee into Western North Carolina. Kirk surrounded and captured Camp Vance near Morganton, capturing around 300 junior reserves. On his return trip, he fought several skirmishes with home guard units, and burned several homes. Various Northern newspapers reported that Kirk captured 30 (and sometimes 60) "negroes," presumably local slaves. (see Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, July 23, 1864)
After tramping back through the mountains, Kirk took his prisoners to Knoxville. The 60 presumably local slaves were said to be enrolling in a local Colored Regiment. The regiment forming in Knoxville at this time was the 1st United States Colored Heavy Artillery. They were recruited to guard railroads and stores and prisoners in East Tennessee, freeing up white soldiers for front line actions. The only time I can find the 1st USCHA moving together as a regiment is during Stoneman's Raid.
To my knowledge, no one has ever looked for these 60 men who were abducted, or maybe "liberated" by Kirk during this raid, and joined the 1st USCHA. So, I did just that. The compiled service records of the 1st USCHA are online, and went through them, trying to pick out these men. I was hoping that once I did, I could go to their pension applications and find details about their enlistment in the United States Army.
My first clue was a letter in a newspaper, dated July 7, 1864, stating that the prisoners were back in Knoxville, and that the (presumed) slaves were joining a local regiment. So I had a date to work with. As I went through the compiled service records, I found 26 men who enlisted July 6-8, 1864. Fourteen were from North Carolina or Tennessee, from counties that Kirk passed through on his raid. But one of the challenges were the other 12. Thorton Coleman and William Coleman enlisted on July 6 and July 7, 1864. Both were from Richmond, Virginia. Were they brothers? Had they been sold to a slave owner in western North Carolina? Or, maybe brought with someone, sent further South where they had some degree of protection from (yankees), or even rented out. Part of the problem is that the compiled service records tell me where they were born, not where they were living in July 1864.
I thought, after I finished compiling a list of names, I could look for pension applications in the pension index on Fold3.com Then, I could make a decision about a quick trip to the archive in DC to look for other pieces of their story. But alas, the company of the 1st USCHA that I needed has not been digitized.
Of my list of 26, I can find two, George Forney, who was 20 years old in 1864, and Shaesser (Sharp) Caldwell , who was 25 when he enlisted, who appear back in Burke County in the 1890 Veterans Census. I am still looking for the others.
To be honest, I may never find "the rest of the story." But if just one of them left an account of how they were spirited across the mountains and given a chance to join the Union army after Kirk's raid on Camp Vance, then it will be worth the hunt. Heck, I've already gone further than anyone else with this story. I have a list of names, names of men nearly everyone else has forgotten.
|1st US Colored Heavy Artillery on parade in Knoxville, TN.|