Monday, March 09, 2009

Caldwell County

Since I am going to be in Caldwell County tonight, I thought I would brush up on my Caldwell County history by writing this sketch of the area during the war, a part of my ongoing county-by-county study of the state.

Caldwell County was created in 1841 from portions of Wilkes and Burke Counties. It was named for Joseph Caldwell, first president of the University of North Carolina (there was only one of them at that time). The county seat is Lenoir, named for Gen. William Lenoir, a patriot during the Revolution and early settler.

In 1860, Caldwell County had a total population of 7,497, including 1,088 slaves and 114 free blacks. In the 1860 presidential election, the men in the county cast 229 votes for Breckinridge, 499 for Bell, and 9 for Douglas. Edmund W. Jones represented the county during the secession convention in 1861.

Caldwell County men joined a variety of regiments. They include Company B, 11th NCST; Company A, 22nd NCT; Companies F and I, 26th NCT; Companies E and H, 58th NCT. A large number of men also served in the 3rd NC Mounted Infantry (US). Most people are familiar with the role of the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg. Of 800 rifles the regiment mustered on July 1, 1863, 588 of those became causalities. The regiment was again in the forefront of battle on July 3, as the Confederates charged the Federal position on Seminary Ridge. At the end of the day, the regiment had lost another 120 men. Every member of Company F (from Caldwell County) was wounded or killed, a loss rate of 100 percent. Of course we could also talk about the exploits of the 58th NCT, but I am sure some of you are tired of hearing about them.

During the war, Caldwell County had a ladies aid society that manufactured or collected materials for soldiers at the front lines.

We could probably boil down the war-time military actions to two subjects: the Blalocks and Stoneman’s raid. Keith and Malinda Blalock live in Watauga County, to the north, at the start of the war. However, they had numerous relatives in Caldwell County. And when the war came, they joined the 26th North Carolina. It was the Caldwell County militia that chased the couple of Grandfather Mountain after Keith recovered from his self-inflicted poisoning (don’t let Steven’s Rebels in Blue mislead you – the home guard did not yet exist and Bingham was still in the regular army). It was into the Globe section of Caldwell County that the Blalocks did most of the “scouting” during the war. But, while the couple are associated with Caldwell County, they, at least after they married, never lived in Caldwell County. I’ve written much about the Blalocks on this blog. You can check out posts here, here, and here.

War really came home to Caldwell County in early 1865. After leaving Boone, Stoneman split his force, with part of it heading east into Wilkes County and the other part heading south. On March 30, the part of the force heading south burned a textile mile in Patterson, north of Lenoir. They then moved north east. One popular story is that they were going to burn Fort Defiance, the home of Revolutionary War patriot William Lenoir. However, when the Union commander saw the Masonic emblem on Lenoir’s grave, they spared the house. The truth of the matter is probably this. They were on the north side of the Yadkin River, which was swollen by rains, and were unable to get across. After Stoneman left the area, a separate brigade of Federals moved into neighboring Watauga County to guard the mountain passes in Stoneman’s rear. One group of Federals was posted in present day Blowing Rock, and they led numerous raids into Caldwell County. On April 15, Stoneman and his band returned to Caldwell County. They brought numerous prisoners which they quartered at St. James Episcopal Church in Lenoir. They used the church because it had a fence around it.

St. James Episcopal Church still stands today. I had the privilege to speak at a dedication of a Civil War Trail Marker there almost a year ago. We also dedicated one at Patterson. You can see an article about that here. If you are going to visit the area, make sure to visit the Caldwell Heritage Museum in Lenoir, and Fort Defiance in Happy Valley.

Two other notes. Caldwell County has a Confederate monument in Lenoir. It was dedicated in 1910. It used to sit in the middle of the road, but was later moved to a corner lot. Why? It kept getting hit. Also, Brig. Gen. Collett Leventhorpe moved to the area after the war. He is buried in the Happy Valley Cemetery, not far from Fort Defiance.

I hope to see you at the museum tonight.


JSReid said...

I wish that I had known that you were in Caldwell County recently. My son-in-law and daughter live in the Happy Valley area and he mentioned that the old mill there had burned down but I don't think that he knew it was during the Civil War, I did not know that, either. Thanks for your on going work to preserve our history. I'm trying to teach my grandchildren about the struggles of the soldiers and the war this country was engaged in. I hope you come back soon.

Anonymous said...

Looking for information on the Company F 26th NC troops flag.