[An unknown Randolph County Civil War soldier. This ambrotype was sold at an estate auction in Grant Township in 2001.]
The following overview of Randolph County’s involvement in the military history of the United States was written in 1936 by Tom Presnell. I copied it from a typescript in the files of the Randolph Room which had his handwritten corrections, which are made as indicated.
I always think of the author as “Colonel Tom Presnell,” because that is how my father Lowell Whatley invariably referred to him. Presnell (b. 5-11-1908 – d. 8-9-1973) was my father’s predecessor as commander of the Randolph County National Guard unit, and they had collaborated closely over the new National Guard Armory on South Fayetteville Street, designed under Colonel Tom and built under my father’s supervision. Tom Presnell had been a Major in command of the Asheboro guard unit when it was activated in 1941.
After World War II Presnell worked as one of the county’s first probation and parole officers. In retirement Colonel Tom became the most active advocate for the preservation of local history. When I became interested in history in the 1960s, I was directed to Miss Laura Worth, the nonagenarian county historian (she’ll be subject of a future post) who operated out of a vault in the basement of the courthouse, and Colonel Tom Presnell, who ran the Randolph County Historical Society and wanted to build a museum in the Armfield House on the corner of Fayetteville and Salisbury Streets (now the site of Randolph Bank). The Armfield House museum ran afoul of the need for sprinklers in a frame structure, and the best compromise that could be made was that the Historical Society was given the Armfield Kitchen, formerly the Asheboro Female Academy. Colonel Tom moved the Female Academy to a borrowed lot facing the Junior High School, and began its restoration. Presnell died in a freak accident in the summer of 1973, when his parked car was demolished by a runaway tractor-trailer truck.
[Major Tom Presnell in 1940.]
“Randolph Military History Shows Her Son’s Bravery in Wars of Many Decades,” by Tom Presnell.
From Revolutionary days to the present, in time of stress, Randolph sons have poured forth to war. At the battle of Guilford Court House, Randolph Militia units under command of Lieutenant John Collier, took part in the battle at that place. Of course records are scarce and vague as to this period but it is known that Thomas Dougan, Col. Andrew Balfour, Captain William Clark, Hugh McCain, Alexander Gray and others fought valiantly for liberty and were leaders in the fight against the Tories in this county and surrounding section. Few of them were in the Continental army but from 1775 to 1783 there was practically continuous fighting [with] marauding bands of the organized [Tories] in this and Chatham counties.
In the war of 1812 with Great Britain, the militia of Randolph again went to war but saw little action because this war was fought mostly on the seas and in the northern part of the United States— far from their homes.
During the Civil War the county contributed the full quota to the Confederate cause. Over 3000 boys left Randolph in 1861 to fight for the protection of their homes and property. Randolph sent to the front nine full companies, all commanded by Randolph men. These companies were: I, L, and M, of the 22nd N. C. Regiment; F and G of the 46th N. C. Regiment; B, of 52nd N.C. Regiment; F, of the 70th N.C. Regiment; A and D, of the 8th Battalion; and numerous other soldiers scattered over other regiments.
[Flag of the “Randolph Hornets” (22nd Regiment, Company M, North Carolina Troops), taken in the 1970s in the old Randolph Room of the Asheboro Public Library. The deteriorated silk flag is now in dire need of restoration.]
Near the last of the war the Junior Reserves were organized, and saw some active service. They were boys of about sixteen to seventeen years of age and commanded by C served throughout the war in the army of northern Virginia and in the eastern Carolina. They were in all the principal battles except the first battle at Manassas. At Gettysburg under Pettigrew, and at Seven Pines their losses were severe.
Only a few returned from this gigantic conflict that raged for four years. Many rested in Soldier’s graves; several had died of disease, but many more of them had died fighting for their land. Returning home they encountered hardships that weak men could not face. The country was overrun with deserters. Robbery and pillaging was prevalent over the county.
In the war with Spain, in l890, few Randolph men saw action, mostly because it did last long — only about ninety days.
In 1911 a call was issued through the columns of the Courier, stating that “all citizens interested in organizing a company of infantry in the State Guard meet at the court house…” The notice was signed by James Kivett and George Ross. James Kivett became the first officer in Germany K, Third Regiment of Infantry . The company changed officers several times, T. Fletcher Bulla at one time was Captain, B. F. Brittain, C.E. Elmore, Ed Mendenhall and others were Lieutenants at different times. Dozens of men in all walks of life now living in Asheboro and elsewhere, at one time and another joined the guards for the annual two weeks encampment.
[Members of Company K digging trenches at Camp Sevier, SC. Randolph Room Photo.]
Returning to Asheboro early in 1917 with 53 men and three officers, saw another crisis and recruiting for overseas service began. A reorganization occurred about this time; the Third Regiment became the 120 Infantry and assigned to the 60th Brigade, 30th (Old Hickory) Division. In September, 1917 Company K was sent to Camp Sevier, S. C. to become acquainted with the officers of the company. The officers at that time were Capt. B. F. Dixon and Lieutenants Hal M. Walker and Everett Luck; and about 150 army personnel.
The infantry spent about nine months training at Sevier, the company with the infantry of the 30th Division, composed of the troops from North Carolina and Tennessee, embarked for France. Landing in France in June, 1918, The Division, along with the 27th Division was attached to the British Division in Belgium. On September 29, the Division did some of the most courageous fighting of the entire war.
During the war these two divisions gained fighting glory by successfully assaulting the Hindenburg Line— an assumingly impregnable fortress. Company K going into the assault with 208 men, only 67 emerged living or unwounded. They had fought in the fiercest part and had accomplished their objective, but only at the cost of supreme sacrifice. Capt. Dixon, Sergeant Tom McDowell, Private John Kivett and many other Losing their lives.
[Private J.A. Long of Company K]
After a few days rest, October 10 saw this outfit back in the lines engaged in another fierce battle.
In addition to the National Guard Company, Randolph furnished many men for all branches of the service during the war. Most of the Randolph men who entered the army by way of the selective draft were sent to Camp Jackson, S.C. for training, being assigned to the 81st division. They too went to France and saw action in battle.
After the Armistice was signed, American troops in France wore sent home as fast as possible, The 120th infantry landing in Charleston, S.C. in April, 1919, and Company K was mustered out of service, the boys returning home and Company K was disbanded.
In 1921 the National Guard was reorganized but Asheboro did not get one of the companies. However in 1928 Headquarters Company 3rd Bn., 12 Infantry, a unit of the North Carolina National Guard was secured for the town, being organized by C.J. Lovett and Roy Cox, Lt. Cox his junior officer.
This company is now composed of two officers and 28 enlisted men. Cox is 1st. Lieutenant in Command and Vance Kivett is 2nd lieutenant. The armory is located on N. Church Street and was built only some forty years ago. The large drill room, besides being used for military purposes, is often converted to a dance hall and a meeting place for various civic organizations.