Thursday, April 27, 2023

James Dearing at Plymouth

Over the past few months as I have worked on the Plymouth project, I discovered that no one really understands the role of Col. James Dearing. It is like he was every place, and in command of everything. How much of this is actually true? Maybe we should dig a little deeper into this story. 

James Dearing (Avoca Museum)

   Dearing was born in Campbell County, Virginia, on April 25, 1840. He entered West Point in 1858, and when Virginia seceded, he resigned on April 22, 1861, and returned to his native state.  Dearing first served as a lieutenant in the Washington Artillery, seeing action at the first battle of Manassas. In April 1862, he was promoted to captain, followed by a transfer to Latham’s battery. Dearing saw action during various portions of the Peninsula Campaign, although he was reported out sick during the Seven Days battles. Dearing was back with his battery during the battle of Second Manassas, this time as a part of James Longstreet’s command. Dearing missed the battle of Sharpsburg, being sent to southeastern Virginia. By December of 1862, Dearing was in command of three batteries. Following the battle of Fredericksburg, he was promoted to major.

   It was back to eastern Virginia for Dearing and his artillery battalion. While there, he was given command of a scouting expedition of infantry and cavalry, and captured several Federal pickets close to Suffolk. Dearing had his battalion broken up, and a portion of it was captured. With the reorganization of the army after Chancellorsville, Dearing’s battalion was enlarged. It was still assigned to Longstreet’s command. Following their involvement in the battle of Gettysburg, Dearing returned to Virginia. Dearing was back in Southeast Virginia that fall and early winter, this time in command of a cavalry battalion. He was also promoted to colonel and commanded a small group of mixed cavalry and artillery, and participated in the failed attempt to capture New Bern.[1]

   Dearing was a part of Robert F. Hoke’s force that invested and captured Plymouth in April 1864. He commanded the 8th Confederate Cavalry with the Virginia Horse Artillery. Since no official record from Dearing, or Hoke, or the other two Confederate brigade commanders survives, it is really hard to say what his role in the battle was. Letters and diaries have him every place, fighting on every part of the field. Some of Dearing’s cavalry opened the battle by capturing Federal pickets.

   On April 17, Hoke ordered Kemper’s brigade, under Col. William R. Terry, with Dearing, to the Confederate left, testing the defenses of Fort Gray to the north of town. One historian writes that Dearing was ordered by Hoke to attack the fort. However, Terry outranks Dearing and the command to attack the fort should have gone to Terry.[2]

   Portions of Dearing’s command were sent to the Confederate right to scout the Columbia road, but just who these Confederates were serving under is not clear. On April 18, the second day of the battle, Dearing was ordered to take his artillery and reposition towards the Confederate center, this time facing Fort Wessells. Terry also repositioned Kemper’s brigade, and his brigade supports Hoke’s brigade, under the command of Col. John T.  Mercer, in their attack that captures the fort. One account has Dearing’s artillery arriving after the first charge to take the fort had failed.[3]

   After the Albemarle arrives and sinks the Southfield and drives off the Miami, early on the morning of April 19, it is Dearing that is sent to demand that Brig. Gen. Henry Wessells surrender the garrison at Plymouth, a demand that is refused. Late in the day, all of Dearing’s Cavalry, with Ransom’s brigade, is sent to the Confederate right. Dearing is in the area in the darkness, scouting the Federal lines and looking for a way over Conaby Creek. Ransom’s brigade makes its way over the creek, and early on the morning of April 20, launches an attack that captures the redoubt on that side of the town, in which Dearing is in front during the attack. After the works are successfully captured by the Confederates forces, Dearing and an unnamed officer from the Albemarle are seen rowing up the river toward Fort Gray. They are bringing a message from Hoke to the commander of the small fort, stating that further resistance is futile.[4]

   As already stated, if Dearing, Ransom, Lewis (who took command of Kemper’s brigade after Mercer was killed) or Hoke wrote an official report after the battle, they appear lost to history. Dearing was promoted to brigadier general soon after the battle. He spent the next couple of months in North Carolina, then in July, was transferred back to the Army of Northern Virginia and placed in Rooney Lee’s division. Beauregard recommend Dearing for promotion to major general, but that never happened. Dearing was mortally wounded at the battle of High Bridge on April 6, 1865, dying in Lynchburg on April 22.[5]  

[1] Parker, General James Dearing, 1-50.

[2] Newsome, The Fight for the Old North State, 208.

[3] Roanoke Beacon, July 26, 1895; Richmond Dispatch, May 2, 1864.

[4] Johnston, Four Years a Soldier, 298; The Smithfield-Herald, April 19, 1901; The Standard Union, August 2, 1890; The National Tribune, September 25, 1884.

[5] Parker, General James Dearing, 60-95.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Quantrill goes to Richmond

   In the 1860s, with a war going on, the theater of operation for William Quantrill was a long way from the Confederate capitol in Richmond. Some might even say they were worlds apart. Yet the famed Confederate leader took that long trip in January 1863.

   The war waged beyond the Mississippi was brutal, spanning back a decade prior to April 1861. “Bleeding Kansas” had spilled over into the surrounding areas between 1854 and 1859. There were instances of electoral fraud, raids, and violent clashes carried out. The violence continued into the 1860s, spreading over the entire country. William C. Quantrill arrived in Kansas in 1857, and in 1858, joined an army expedition headed to Utah. Quantrill served as a teamster, and most of the group died during the trip. Quantrill returned to Kansas, associated with the Free-Staters, then the proslavery group. At the start of the war, Kansas Jawhawkers, described as “antislavery Unionists,” crossed over into Missouri “to burn and plunder.” Quantrill and others in Missouri organized guerrilla bands to fight against the plunderers.[1] 

William Quantrill (LOC)

   Quantrill served in different groups at the beginning of the war, including Mayes’s 1st Cherokee Regiment and then Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard, fighting with the latter at Wilson’s Creek. When Quantrill’s enlistment expired, he was allowed to go home to wage war locally, including cutting telegraph lines, attacking foraging parties, Union garrisons, and disrupting Union activities whenever possible. He returned to Blue Springs, recruited ten men, and joined with others in an attempt to root out Federal forces from their home counties. Quantrill was commissioned a captain in Confederate service.[2]

   In the winter of 1862-1863, with his men in winter quarters, Quantrill set out to visit Richmond and Jefferson Davis, lobbying the Confederate president for a colonel’s commission. It was Quantrill’s argument that he was already commanding enough men to warrant the promotion. Quantrill made his way to Little Rock, catching a train toward Memphis. He was traveling with two fellow soldiers. Memphis was in Federal hands, and at some point, Quantrill moved overland to a train that took him to Jackson, Mississippi. Another train took him to Atlanta, then Columbia, South Carolina. Quantrill then entered North Carolina, passed through Petersburg, and eventually reached Richmond. (It is unclear why Quantrill followed this route, rather than the closer route through Knoxville and Bristol.)[3]

   Jefferson Davis was not in Richmond. He had left Richmond on December 9, reaching Chattanooga on December 11. He visited Murfreesboro, Atlanta, Montgomery, Vicksburg, Augusta, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Davis did not return to Richmond until January 4, 1863.[4]

   Outside of “Christmas time,” it is unclear just when Quantrill arrived. Davis was not present, and Quantrill met with Secretary of War James A. Seddon. There is no really good account of the meeting, but one biographer reported that Quantrill asked Seddon for a colonel’s commission under the Partisan Ranger Act. A much later account had Quantrill stating that he would “cover the armies of the Confederacy all over with blood. I would invade. I would reward audacity. I would exterminate. I would break up foreign enlistments [in indiscriminate massacre. I would win the independence of my people or I would find them graves.” When it came to prisoners, Quantrill stated that he would take no prisoners. “Do they take prisoners from me?” he reportedly questioned Seddon.[5]

   Quantrill was soon on his way back to his command in the Trans-Mississippi department. There is no documentation that the Confederate War Department ever promoted Quantrill to the rank of colonel. However, as Petersen pointed out, several of Quantrill’s men affirmed he was promoted to colonel, something that Quantrill’s commander, Sterling Price, had the authority to do.[6]

   For the next couple of years, Quantrill fought his war. Neither side in the Missouri – Indian Territory-Texas theater took many prisoners. Accounts paint a picture of some of the most vicious violence of the conflict. Quantrill met his end in Kentucky in June 1865, attempting to reach Confederate lines. His trip to Richmond in December 1862 to meet with Jefferson Davis is little documented, both then and today.

[1] Fellman, “William Clarke Quantrill,” Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, 3:1289.

[2] Peterson, Quantrill in Texas, 49, 52; William E. C. Quantrill, CMSR, NA.

[3] Paterson, Quantrill in Texas, 72-75.

[4] Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, 417-18.

[5] Schultz, Quantrill’s War, 130-31.

[6] Petersen, Quantrill in Texas, 74-77.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Untold Civil War

Friends - I had a chance recently to sit down with Paul at Untold Civil War. We chatted about Lee's Body Guard: The 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. Give it a listen!

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Bad Mitchell County History

    As many of you know, from time to time I make comments on interesting things I find on the internet. This is not one I found, but it was emailed to the general staff of a place where I work. If you must, you can see the original here, although I have copied the whole thing below. After talking it over with a couple of friends (including people at the Mitchell County Historical Society), we believe that this is AI- generated. The saddest thing, or the one thing that induces anger, is that people are going to stumble across this on a general internet search and believe it! It is on the internet, so it has to be true, correct? My comments are red.

 7 Pieces Of History Near Spruce Pine, NC

 Spruce Pine, North Carolina is a small mountain town located in the western part of the state. This picturesque town has a rich history that spans a range of significant events, including Native American settlements,  battles during the Civil War, and mining booms. Here are seven historical events and landmarks that have taken place near Spruce Pine:

1. Native American settlements – Before European settlers arrived in the western part of North Carolina, Native American tribes inhabited the region, including the Cherokee, Catawba, and the Creek. Arrowheads and other artifacts have been discovered in the area, indicating a rich and complex history of indigenous people nearby.

Kind of true, except, the artifacts found in these areas date back hundreds of years, not at the time of European settlement in the mountains. The area was frequented by hunting parties but was kind of an in-between land of the Catawba and Cherokee.

2. Battle of McDowell - During the Civil War, Spruce Pine was the site of a significant clash between Union and Confederate forces. On May 9, 1862, in nearby McDowell, Union General John C. Fremont led his forces into battle against Confederate forces under General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. The Confederates ultimately won the battle, which was one of the first major engagements of the Civil War in western North Carolina.

Um, this would be the battle of McDowell, Virginia. This battlefield site is about 350 miles from Spruce Pine.

3. Roan Mountain Massacre - In 1863, Confederate soldiers from the 64th North Carolina Regiment carried out a massacre near Roan Mountain, located a few miles from Spruce Pine. The soldiers killed nine Union sympathizers, including elderly men and women, children, and a baby.

No, there was never a “Roan Mountain Massacre,” although Roan Mountain did have a couple of deserter and bushwhacker camps. I wonder if this is trying to connect the Shelton Laurel Massacre in Madison County in January 1863? It is a couple of counties to the west. People in other parts of Madison County got tired of being robbed by those in Shelton Laurel. They got the 64th North Carolina involved, and thirteen were executed, including a couple of teenage boys. One article from the time period went as far as to say that a gang of 10-15 year olds was worse than the adults.

4. Spruce Pine Tobacco Barn Murals- In the 1980s, artist Brenda Councill created a series of large-scale murals on the sides of tobacco barns in Spruce Pine. The murals depict scenes from the town's history, including the Battle of McDowell, the town's mining history, and the area's Native American past.

Um… (how many times can I say that?) I asked Brenda Council, a wonderful artist who does murals, if she had ever worked on barn murals in Mitchell County. Nope. She never has. As far as I can remember, there are no murals in Spruce Pine that deal with the battle in Virginia, the town’s mining history, or their Native American past.

5. Mining Boom- In the late 1800s, Spruce Pine became a hub for mica mining. The area's rich deposits of high-quality mica attracted miners from all over the world. In the early 1900s, the mining industry expanded to include feldspar, quartz, and other minerals. Today, the mining industry remains an important part of the local economy, with many companies still working in the area.

This one is almost true. Spruce Pine was a hub for mica, feldspar, quarts, and other mineral mining in the late 1800s into the mid-20th century. Except for a couple of mines, that industry has pretty much dried up as of 2023.

6. Flood of 1940- In July 1940, Spruce Pine was hit by a devastating flood that killed 29 people and caused extensive damage to the town. The flood was caused by heavy rains that caused rivers to overflow their banks. Many buildings and homes were destroyed or damaged, and the cleanup and recovery efforts lasted for several weeks.

The flood of 1940 was bad, but I’ve never seen where 29 Spruce Pine residents were killed.

7. Little Switzerland- Located a few miles from Spruce Pine, Little Switzerland is a quaint mountain town that has been a popular tourist destination since the early 1900s. The town was named by a group of Swiss immigrants who settled in the area in the late 1800s. Today, Little Switzerland is known for its scenic beauty, charming shops and restaurants, and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Nope. No Swiss immigrants. The community was founded in 1910 by Charlotte Judge Heriot Clarkson. It was so named due to the fact that the mountains resembled the mountains of Switzerland.  

Spruce Pine, NC is a town with a rich and varied history that spans centuries. From Native American settlements to the Civil War clashes, mining booms, and devastating floods, the town has witnessed many significant events that have shaped its character and identity. Whether you're a history buff or simply curious about this beautiful part of the country, Spruce Pine has plenty to offer visitors seeking a deeper understanding of its past.

Yes, Spruce Pine has plenty to offer visitors seeking a deeper understanding of the past, but not from articles like this one! What do you think? AI generated? Or just a dupe pulling material off web searches?

Monday, April 03, 2023

The Slave on the Ten Dollar Note

   We have talked about Confederate currency once before – Lucy Pickens, the first woman on American paper money. You can check out that post here. Another interesting story is found on a Confederate ten dollar note – that of Oscar Marion, the slave of Francis Marion. Francis Marion, of course, was known as the Swamp Fox. Starting in 1780, he often led small bands of men against British supply lines and gathered intelligence for Gen. Nathaniel Greene. Marion’s men would often hide out in the swamps of South Carolina after conducting their raids. In one episode, an officer, wishing to discuss a prisoner of war exchange, was blindfolded and led to Marion’s headquarters in the swamp on Snow Island. As the meeting began, the blindfold was removed, and Marion offered the officer a seat on a log. After the meeting, Marion asked the officer to remain for dinner, which was a sweet potato, roasted on the fire, and served on a piece of bark. The British office then learned that Marion and his men served without pay. According to one Marion biographer, the British “officer was so much impressed with what he had heard and seen, and so convinced of the impossibility of overcoming soldiers who fought thus upon principle, and for the pure love of liberty, that he decided to” resign his commission.[1]

   In 1840, South Carolina artist John Blake White painted this very scene. There is Francis Marion, the British officer, and Oscar, Marion’s slave, cooking the sweet potatoes on the fire. This image was later cut into a plate and appeared in the center on the 1861 Confederate ten dollar note. To the image’s left is Robert M. T. Hunter, Confederate Secretary of State and later Confederate senator and to the right is a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, justice, law, and victory.[2]

General Francis Marion Inviting A British Officer to Share His Meal or The Swamp Fox