“Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy,” is a well-known last request made during the war. It was uttered by Col. Isaac Avery after he was mortally wounded at the battle of Gettysburg. Isaac Avery was just one of five Avery brothers who rose to prominence in the 19th century. They were all the sons of Isaac and Harriet Erwin Avery. The Avery family were large landowners in western North Carolina.
The oldest brother
was William Waightstill Avery. Born in Burke County in May 1816, W.W. Avery
graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1837. He
later studied law under Judge William Gaston and was admitted to the bar. Avery
became a trustee of the University in 1850, and in 1857, became a director of
the Western North Carolina Railroad. Avery served several terms in the General
Assembly, and in the 1856-1857 term, was speaker of the North Carolina Senate. He,
along with Thomas L. Clingman, was a strong advocate for secession. In 1858, he
ran for a seat in the US House, but lost to Zebulon Baird Vance. In 1860, Avery
was chairman of the state’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention,
meeting in Charleston. Appointed Chairman of the resolution committee, Avery
“favored the majority report denying the right of congress or territorial
legislation to prohibit slavery in the territories, demanding federal
protection for all property in those territories, upholding the Fugitive Slave
Act, and advocating the acquisition of Cuba from Spain as soon as practicable.”
Many delegates walked out, but not the North Carolinians. They would walk out
when the convention met again in Baltimore. Once North Carolina left the Union,
Avery served as a member of the provisional Confederate Congress and as
chairman of the committee on military affairs. Avery failed to win an
appointment to the Confederate senate and returned to western North Carolina,
where he worked on raising a regiment for Confederate service. W.W. Avery was
mortally wounded while leading local home guard in a skirmish with raiders in
northern Burke County in late June 1864, dying on July 3, 1864. Avery was
married to Mary Corinna Morehead, daughter of Governor John Motley Morehead,
and they had several children.
William W. Avery
Clark Moulton Avery
was the next son with a wartime connection. He was born in October 1820 and,
like his older brother, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill. Unlike his brother, he was not a politician, but instead farmed a large
piece of property in Burke County. In February 1861, friends enticed Avery to
run for the state secession convention, and election that he won. However, the
convention did not meet. Avery would not serve when the actual convention met
in May. Instead, when the principles of the foundation of the United States
came under attack, Avery joined the military. On April 25, 1861, he was elected
captain of Company G, 1st North Carolina Volunteers, fighting at the
battle of Big Bethel in June 1861. Then-colonel D.H. Hill wrote that "Captain
Avery Company G displayed great coolness, judgment and efficiency in the battle
of Bethel." As the regiment neared the end of its six-month term of
enlistment, Avery was elected lieutenant colonel of the 33rd North
Carolina Troops, and then in January 1862, colonel. In March 1862, Avery was
captured at the battle of New Bern, being released seven months later. He
returned to his regiment and was wounded in the fighting at Chancellorsville
and at Gettysburg. At the battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, Colonel Avery
was struck in the left arm. When he refused to go the rear, a stretcher was
brought forward, and he was carried along the lines, encouraging his men. Avery
was eventually struck four times that day, including in the leg, neck, and
through the body. Avery survived for six weeks before dying of his wounds on
June 18, 1864. Avery was married to Elizabeth Tilghman Walton and was survived
by four children.
Clark M. Avery
Isaac Erwin Avery
was born in December 1828 in Burke County. For one year, he attended the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill but then left the school to help
manage his father’s farms in Burke and Yancey Counties, North Carolina. He also
worked with Charles F. Fisher and Samuel McDowell Tate to construct the Western
North Carolina Railroad. When the war came, he worked on forming a company that
became a part of the 6th North Carolina State Troops. Avery was
elected captain of Company E on May 16, 1861. He was promoted to lieutenant
colonel and then colonel of the 6th NC and was wounded at the battle
of Malvern Hill. On July 2, 1863, while leading Hoke’s brigade in an attack on
the Confederate left, Avery was mortally wounded, penning the famous note after
his wound: “Major, tell my father I died with my face toward the enemy.” Avery
died the next day. Colonel A.C. Godwin, 57th NC, wrote in his
official report that, upon the death of Avery, “the country lost one of her
truest and bravest sons, and the army one of its most gallant officers.” His
slave, Elijah, began to return to Burke County with the body, but he was forced
to stop and bury Avery in Williamsport, Maryland. Avery’s body was later moved
to Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown.
Isaac E. Avery
Alphonso Calhoun Avery was born in September 1835. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Avery studied law under Chief Justice Richmond M. Pearson and was licensed in June 1860. AC Avery helped his brother Isaac raise a company and was then elected first lieutenant in that company in the 6th NCST. Following the battle of Seven Pines, he was promoted to captain, but by the end of 1862, he was transferred to the staff of Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill as assistant inspector general. Major Avery later served on the staffs of John C. Breckinridge, Thomas C. Hindman, and John B. Hood. At the end of the war, Avery was commanding a battalion in the western parts of North Carolina, attempting to curtail some of the damage being done by Federal raiding parties and bushwhackers. Avery was captured in Salisbury by some of Stoneman’s men and was imprisoned at Camp Chase until August 1865. After the war, Avery practiced law and was elected to the state senate; he lost his seat when the radicals came to power, served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1875, and then served as judge of the superior court. Trinity College (now Duke University) conferred upon him a MA, and the University of North Carolina honored him with an LL.D. In 1888, A. C. Avery was elected an associate justice of the Supreme Court, serving for eight years. In 1892, he assumed the position of dean of the law school at Duke University. Avery retired in 1897 and became a prolific writer, respected historian, and prominent member of the Southern Historical Society. His first wife was Susan Washington Morrison, daughter of the Rev. R. H. Morrison. His brothers-in-law included D.H. Hill, Stonewall Jackson, and Rufus Barringer. Avery’s second wife was Sarah Love Thomas, the daughter of Col. William Holland Thomas. A.C. Avery died in June 1913.
The last Avery brother to serve in the war was Willoughby Francis Avery, born in Burke County in May 1843. He was attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when the war broke out, and, leaving the school, he joined the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry, where he was elected third lieutenant. When the company was reorganized, he failed to win reelection and resigned. Avery was then appointed a second lieutenant in Company C, 33rd North Carolina Troops. Promotion to first lieutenant came on January 14, 1863, and on December 15, 1863, he was promoted to captain and transferred to Company E. A month later, he was transferred to Company I. Captain Avery was wounded in the mouth and throat at the battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, returned to duty in November 1864, and was captured at Salisbury on April 12, 1865. He was confined at Camp Chase and released in June 1865. After the war, Willoughby Avery edited newspapers in Charlotte and Asheville before returning to Burke County and establishing a newspaper in Morganton. He was married twice and died November 1876.
There are, of course, the Avery daughters as well. Adelaide Leah Avery (1822-1897) never married but became one of the first librarians in Burke County. Mary Ann Martha Avery (1831-1890) married Joseph Franklin Chambers. Harriet Justina Avery (1833-1902) married Pinckney B. Chambers, a major in the 49th North Carolina Troops. The last daughter, Laura Myra Avery (1837-1912), never married.
 Warner and Yearns, Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress, 9-10; Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 1:67.
 Jordan, NC Troops, 4:266; Allardice, Confederate Colonels, 47; The Herald-Mail, November 4, 2007.
 Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 1:66-67.
 Manarin, NC Troops, 2:221; Jordan, NC Troops, 9:220; Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 1:72.