Monday, April 30, 2012

I was wrong.

Early today, I was digging around and came across something that I've been telling folks did not happen: escaped slaves on the "underground railroad" in western North Carolina. It's not so much that it did not happen, it is just that it VERY seldom happened. I have a post-war account here someplace that speaks on escaped Union soldiers telling slaves they could not come with the fleeing soldiers. A slave would be missed and sought after immediately. While escaped Union soldiers were always being sought after by the home guard, it is not the same as a master getting together a posse to hunt for an escaped slave.  

The account below was written by Dr. Steadman O. Pine (sometimes listed as Oran Steadman Pine). Pine served as a private in the 14th Brooklyn and in the 5th New York ( Duryea's Zouaves).  Pine was captured at Cold Harbor in June 1864.

This account was written more than forty years after the event, so, we should not take it as gospel. Pine probably would have traveled through modern-day Avery or Mitchell Counties to join up with Federal soldiers. Of interest is his description of his escape in Charlotte.
     At the battle of Cold Harbor, June 2, 1864, during a charge and by a flank movement of the enemy, I was one of the fourteen of my regiment to be captured, marched to Richmond and lodged in Libby prison. Our beds were on a level with the floor, and our meals, consisting of a strip of bacon, a piece of corn bread and a dish of pea or bean soup, daily, was considered much better than that served at the "Hotel" at Andersonville. So when after a two weeks' sojourn, a cattle train load of us were started southward, four of my regiment (myself included) entered into a conspiracy to escape and "save carfare." When we reached Charlotte, North Carolina, on the evening of June 18, 1864, we were taken from the train and put under guard near the railroad crossing in the open field during a severe rainstorm which lasted the greater part of the night. We had all loaned our blankets and surplus clothing to our Confederate brothers in the field, as they said they needed them more than we did, and, having no fires, or wood to make them, we concluded to stand together in the mud until morning. This we did in very close ranks. When our picnic breakfast had been served squads were sent to an adjoining grove, fires were built, and our appreciation of southern hospitality somewhat increased. The four conspirators held a caucus and decided that we would endeavor to run the guards that night. Our plan was for each to make his escape alone at different points and meet in the morning by a large tree which was plainly visible to all in the forest about a half a mile distant. About two-thirty o'clock, while a group of comrades were seated about a couple of logs with some fagots burning between them, near the corner of the camp, which was indicated by a large tree, I observed quite often both guards going from the corner at the same time. I passed the word around that I intended to escape at the next favorable opportunity and asked the cooperation of the boys at the fire to attract the guards' attention when the attempt was made. At about three o'clock I saw my chance and flitted past the big tree into the darkness. At the same time one of the boys at the fire, whose name I never learned, jumped up, swinging a large poker, and, separating the logs so that the fagots were dropped and the sparks flew into the air, sprang upon one of the logs and crowed like a genuine twenty-pound Brahma rooster—and the deed was done. My absence was not noticed by the guards and I was making my way in a southeasterly direction to the railroad track south of the crossing. I bore too much to my left, for I suddenly was halted by a sentinel who was guarding a pile of cotton, which I had intended to avoid by passing more southerly between him and the camp line. However, I softly took to my heels and for some reason was not followed. I thought afterwards that the sentinel believed himself mistaken, or that the noise he heard was that of a razorback hog in his night prowlings. When I had proceeded south far enough to believe myself out of hearing, I crossed the track, going southeast toward the big tree spoken of as our rendezvous. My entire possessions were a pair of trousers, a blouse, a pair of shoes and stockings, a shirt, cap and a tin cup. The morning was near at hand, the faintest signs being visible in the east. I heard a cow bell at a distance through the woods, and my earliest instincts in life were at once aroused. I decided that if the cow were willing I would interview her with my tin cup, with the result that she divded her treasures between me and her owner. I have often thought that that cow and Captain Castle's army mule were alike in one particular. Either would give service to or kick a Union soldier as willingly as a Confederate. The sun was clear in the east as I came to the big tree, only to find no comrades there to greet me; but down at the camp all was activity. A train stood on the track and our boys were loaded on like cattle and started on their journey to Andersonville prison. But three, besides myself, of the fourteen captured at Cold Harbor ever returned.

I was indeed alone in the enemy's country and my only way of escape was to flee to the northwest towards the mountains. I followed the general course of the railroad, crossing the northwest corner of Gaston county to Lincolntown, through Catawba county and on to Morganton, the county seat of Burke county, about eighty miles from Charlotte, traveling this distance and reaching a ford on the Catawba river on the evening of the 22d, having covered about forty miles during the day and night of the 20th. Resting in the woods during the daytime of the- 21st, I proceeded in the evening and my night's travel brought me to a place called Connolly's Springs. Here again I took to the brush and waited the approach of night. I broke cover about four P. M. of the 22d, and having learned that there was a conscript camp a few miles from Morganton and having decided that it was safer to leave the railroad line running west to Marion, I must cross the Catawba river. I also learned that the bridge across the river was guarded by the forces at Camp Vance, but that a ford was available about a mile below the bridge. I reached the ford just at dark of the 22d, and, though a good swimmer, decided to wait for daylight. With the coming of morning, I forded the river, holding my clothes above my head. I found the water four or five feet deep in some places, and was thankful I had not made the attempt in the night. About 3 o'clock on the afternoon of the 20th, my first day of travel I found in a lonely cabin (where I stopped to rest and try and get something to eat) an old lady who had formerly lived in New York, and who was hiding an only son in the woods from the conscripting officers. When I made bold to tell her I was an escaped Union soldier she took me in her arms and said "God bless you! I will divide with you," and she took an old flour sack, cut and made it smaller for a haversack, and gave me some boiled eggs and bacon with some corn pones she had just made for her own boy to take to him in the brush. This served me well for two days, for she could only spare a little. I had eaten the last while camping at the ford, so when I got across the river I must needs meet some friendly cow or a cabin of colored folks. I was nearing the foot hills of the Blue Ridge, which, when crossed, would bring me into Tennessee, so, as the country was being scoured by conscription officers and Home Guards, I must be strictly on my guard or recapture would be my inevitable lot. I traveled on and about a mile from the ford I espied a plantation house with some darky quarters near by, and I thought it safe so early in the morning to go to the cook-house and get something to eat. When I opened the door I found in a bed two soldier boys from the camp before mentioned. Luckily they believed my story that I was a paroled Confederate prisoner from Camp Chase, Ohio, on the way to my home near Table Rock, so I was given a good breakfast and sent on my way rejoicing, but trembling from my narrow escape.
During the day of the 23d I traveled in by-paths, avoiding the main highways, and as night approached I was in a quandary as to. how I was to cross the Iron Range of the Blue Ridge Mountains with no knowl edge of the passes or mountain roads, but again a guiding hand came to my relief, as in the case of so many poor prisoners seeking to escape, in the form of the colored man.

While endeavoring to flank one of several large plantations found in those rich valleys near the head waters of the Catawba, I came suddenly upon two colored boys, eighteen and twenty years of age. They were brothers, and with hoes in hands were sitting on a fence waiting for the supper horn. The following conversation ensued: "Good evenin', Massa; 'spects you's far from home. Is you a soldier from camp?" "Yes, going home on pass to see the folks before going to the front." This answer was made on the impulse of the moment, not having satisfied myself that it was safe to tell the truth. Then the elder boy, who said his name was Andrew, remarked: "I hear dey's draftin' all the young white boys in de country to fight for Jeff Davis; wish de wah was ovah; it makes mighty hard times around heah. Dat Massa Lincoln has freed all de niggahs but de freedom don't come heah yet and-we don't 'spect it will." I could see the human longing in their breasts as manifested by this discreet little speech, so I did not hesitate to inform them of the true state of things and to ask their aid in getting my freedom as well as theirs. They were bright boys, above the average, and said: "Ef de ole folks is willin', we'll go with you to Tennessee." So it was arranged that I hide in the brush until the old father should come down the road for the cows, when, if he were alone, I would know the result. True to their word, about dusk, the white headed old negro came along, and my whistle brought him to the brush. He said to me: "De boys want to go wif you to Tennessee and find Mass Linkum's soldiers; me and the ole woman too ole to go but we want dem to be free." And then, as the darkness came on, the darkies came also, bringing fried chicken, bacon, cornbread, a canteen of sorghum, and such other goodies as the faithful Mammy could give them. Then, with the blessing of both parents, we made tracks for Tennessee and liberty. Such a chase as those frightened boys led me that night, wading streams and up those stony mountain roads! The memory is as vivid after forty-six years as though it were but yesterday. The morning of the 24th found us well on our way, but still many miles from safety. We rested in a rocky cave until nightfall, fearing the approach of hunters or any who might betray us, and well I knew that vengeance would fall heavily upon me if I were caught spiriting slaves from their master.

Past dusk we resumed our journey and the early dawn of the 25th found us on the mountain summit. Looking east, we could see the valley of the Catawba river. The small farms and larger plantation in that beautiful country spread out like a panorama. We descended the western slope, probably eight miles, coming into mountain settlements and better roads. We now felt quite safe, for eastern Tennessee was considered within the scope of Union occupation, although Knoxville was the nearest military post, with out-posts at Strawberry Plains and other railroad points within a radius of twenty miles eastward.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Davie County

Folks - since I am going to be speaking in Davie County tonight, I thought we would take a few minutes and look at Davie County and the War!

Davie County was created in 1836 from portions of Rowan County, and named in honor of William R. Davie, former governor and founder of the University of North Carolina. The County seat, Mocksville, was incorporated in 1839, and originally called "Mock's Old Field." The county is probably known best for being the final resting place of Daniel Boone's parents, and the birthplace of  Judge Richmond Pearson and of Hinton R. Helper, author of The Impending Crisis

According to the 1860 census, there were 8,494 people living in Davie County. This included 2,392 slaves and 101 free persons of color. In 1860, local men went to the polls and cast 329 votes for John Breckinridge, 641 votes for John Bell, and 31 votes Stephen Douglas.

In the February 1861, local men voted again, this time casting 263 votes for the convention to consider the question, and 734 against. They were allowed one delegate, electing Robert Sprouse. Sprouse was a Whig, doctor, and farmer, and opposed secession. He was born in Virginia in 1810, and died in June 1867.

Men from Davie County served in Company G, 4th North Carolina State Troops;  Company F, 13th North Carolina State Troops;  Companies D, E, and F, 42nd North Carolina Troops; Company H, 5th North Carolina Cavalry; and Company G, 66th North Carolina Troops. In July 1863, the 3rd Battalion, North Carolina Home Guard was created. There were 1,147 men who served from Davie County in the war.

During the war, iron ore was mined in Davie County. In December 1864, the North Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was held in Mocksville.  The war itself came on April 11, 1865, when portions of the home guard engaged elements of George Stoneman's command. After a few shots were fired, the home guard realized its mistake and fled. Thomas McNeely's cotton mill was burned by the Federals, and the locals were forced to cook meals for the Federal troopers. Soon, the Federals were on their way towards Salisbury in Rowan County.

There appears to be no Confederate monument in Davie County, nor a United Confederate Veterans camp (If I am wrong, please drop me a line). There is a state highway marker to Hinton Helper, and a North Carolina Civil War Trail marker.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson is coming to Raleigh in April to present a lecture at the N.C. Museum of History. Widely known as a pre-eminent Civil War scholar, he will present "When Will This Cruel War Be Over?" on Sunday, April 29, at 2 p.m. Seating is limited, so purchase tickets early!

Tickets cost $5 per person (free for Associates members). Purchase tickets in the Museum Shop, buy online at<>, or call 919-807-7835. The program is part of the museum's Civil War Sesquicentennial lecture series.

The popular author will discuss the failed attempts at peace negotiations during the American Civil War and consider why the conflict could only have ended with an unconditional military victory.

McPherson, one of the most distinguished historians of our time, is the author of numerous best-selling books on the American Civil War. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. His most recent books include Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief; This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War; and Abraham Lincoln.
McPherson is the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History Emeritus at Princeton University. He retired at the end of the 2003-2004 academic year, after serving on the Princeton faculty since 1962.

For more information, call 919-807-7900 or access or Facebook.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Civil War Trail Marker in Watauga County.

      This past Saturday, I had an opportunity to speak at the dedication of the new Camp Mast North Carolina Civil War Trail marker in western Watauga County.

     As many of you know, the Home Guard was organized by Governor Vance in July 1863. Watauga County was designated the 11th Battalion, North Carolina Home Guard. The two companies were under the command of Major Harvey Bingham. One company was in camp while the other company was at home taking care of farms and families. Bingham and his command often spent their time scouring the mountains looking for deserters, conscript dodgers, escaped Federal prisoners, and dissidents. So well did Bingham do his job that the General Assembly voted him a letter of thanks in 1864. In February 1865, Camp Mast was captured, and the huts and cabins the soldiers occupied were burned.

         Ever since I had the opportunity to work with the folks in Avery County in installing three North Carolina Civil War Trail markers, I have been advocating the placement of markers in Watauga County. If funding could be acquired, there would be room for four or five markers in the county where Daniel Boone once roamed and hunted. The funding for the Watauga County marker was provided by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, and approval for placing the marker at the old school came from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners.

      In the past, salutes have often been provided by various re-enacting organization. This past Saturday, I was privileged to work with both the Watauga County Chapter 90 of the Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion Post 130, who provided an honor guard, a salute, and the sounding of taps.

      I look forward to the dedication of future Watauga County North Carolina Civil War Trail markers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friends of the Outer Banks History Center Will Host Public Program on Civil War Art at April 20 Meeting

MANTEO - The Friends of the Outer Banks History Center will bring renowned sculptor and painter Gary Casteel to the Outer Banks to present the program at the Friends' annual meeting. The public is invited to attend this free event on Friday, April 20, in the Roanoke Island Festival Park Small Auditorium adjacent to the History Center Gallery.
The OBHC Friends will conduct a short business meeting at 7 p.m. and present the Lois W. Bradshaw Volunteer of the Year Award. Gary Casteel will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. for the Civil War art program, made possible through funding from the Outer Banks Community Foundation's Frank Stick Memorial Fund.
This event is part of a statewide and national observance of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War and supports the Outer Banks History Center's new exhibit, "The Civil War Comes to Roanoke Island: Fishers, Fighters and Freedmen." The gallery will remain open for the evening.
See for other Department of Cultural Resources events being offered throughout the state commemorating the Civil War sesquicentennial.
A resident of Gettysburg, Pa., Casteel combines a keen sense of history with an appetite for innovation to produce larger-than-life sculptures and poignantly presented memorials and monuments. His works can be seen at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Antietam and Fredericksburg National Military Parks, along with historic sites, public buildings, parks and museums, and in the collections of prominent Americans such as Ken Burns, Katie Couric and former President George H.W. and Mrs. Barbara Bush. To see examples and learn more about Casteel's personal journey as an artist, visit
Casteel will address the process of lithography and how it was used to illustrate battles to the masses in both the North and South. Although the Civil War is thought of as the first American war to be photo-documented, photographs from the Outer Banks are rare. Historians and researchers must depend upon artist's sketches, and the lithographs created from field drawings, for images of Civil War events and encampments from this region.
Casteel will also shed light on Civil War sketches in the collections of the Outer Banks History Center by cousins and Massachusetts soldiers Edwin Graves Champney and James Wells Champney, who were stationed in eastern North Carolina during the war. Finally, Casteel will treat the audience to a demonstration of a unique sketching technique he has developed.
For more information about the Outer Banks History Center, call (252) 473-2655, e-mail or visit
The Outer Banks History Center is a regional archives and research library administered by the N. C. Office of Archives and History, within the Department of Cultural Resources. The Friends of the Outer Banks History Center, a 501(c) 3 organization, provides ongoing support to the center through volunteer and financial assistance.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

On the road

Friends, I'll be out signing books this week with New York Times bestselling author (and friend) Sharyn McCrumb. Sharyn recently re-released her ballad novel Ghost Riders, and I had the distinct pleasure of writing a new foreword for the novel. We have signings together Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings.

Monday, April 2 - The Market on Main in Spruce Pine.

Tuesday, April 3 - Iredell County Public Library, Statesville, NC.

Wednesday, April 4 - Black Bear Books, Boone Mall, Boone.

Everyone is welcome and please bring a friend!