Archive for September, 2011


September 15, 2011

Union Balloon

Did a Randolph County artillery gunner really take down a Union observation balloon?  Probably not; but every other aspect of the story can be verified and the characters named in the story are inarguably real:  it shines a light on one of the county’s first and at the time, premier military units: Company I of the 22nd North Carolina Regiment.

Company I, known as the “Davis Guards,”[i] has not been as well known as Franklinville’s Company M, the “Randolph Hornets”.  But in 1861 the opposite was true:  the Guards, formerly known as the “Asheborough Guards,” were the long-time militia company of the county seat.  The Hornets were newly minted, freshly equipped, and backed by the largest corporation in the county.  The Guards were old school militia, traditionally uniformed, and serving under much of their antebellum leadership.

A notice of one of the quarterly musters of the Guards appeared in 1859 in the local newspaper:


You are hereby commanded to appear at Asheborough, on Saturday the 4th of July next, at 10 o’clock A.M.—armed with Gun, Shot-Pouch, Horn and Six Rounds of Powder.

Also, all persons wishing to join the C Company, are requested to come forward on that day.

By order of the Captain.

June 20, 1859.

S.G. Worth, Sergeant.[ii]

S.G. Worth tombstone in the Asheboro cemetery.

Shubal Gardner Worth (1836- 1864), the company Sergeant in 1859, was elected Captain of the company in 1861.  Worth was the son of Dr. John Milton Worth (1811- 1901) of Asheboro, and the nephew of wartime State Treasurer and future Governor Jonathan Worth.  At the outbreak of the war, S.G. Worth was serving as the Clerk of Superior Court of Randolph County, and resigned that office to raise the county’s first company for service in the Confederate army.[iii]  “Shube” Worth served as company commander for more than eighteen months,[iv] about half of which involved service along a line of hastily-built fortifications along the Potomac River.  The Washington Post recently rated this story of the Potomac blockade, which bottled up Washington, DC for much of the first year of the war, as one of the “most important yet overlooked” stories of the Civil War.[v]

Company “I” took up camp at Evansport, Virginia late in September, and was stationed there during the Autumn and Winter of 1861-’62.  Evansport, today better known as Quantico, Virginia, was the headquarters of heavy cannon batteries established on the west bank of the Potomac from the Occoquan River, just south of Mt. Vernon, to Quantico Creek, about 15 miles.  This series of gun emplacements prevented ships from passing up river to the capital, thus isolating Washington, D.C.  Three batteries were largely built and maintained by the 22nd North Carolina regiment, mounted with 9-inch Dalghren guns, smooth bore 32 and 42 pounders, and one heavy rifled Blakely gun.[vi] The batteries frequently engaged with federal gunboats and with Union batteries on the Maryland side of the Potomac, but combat casualties were few.

A "Quaker" Gun

Union soldier posing with the fake cannon after capture of Evansport.

Given the constant observation from the Balloon Corps, the Confederates shrewdly increased the number of visible guns by creating “Quaker Cannon,” tree trucks painted black and carefully situated in gun emplacements to look like additional artillery.  Balloon observers could not distinguish between the fake and the real cannon, and thus reports back to Union command consistently overestimated Confederate fire power.

Company I was detailed to man Battery No. 2 at Evansport during the entire Potomac blockade,[vii]  and once had several men wounded when a 42-pounder Dalghren gun burst.

One of the Gosport Dahlgrens.

Fifty-two 9-inch Dahlgren cannon had been rescued by the Confederates from the burned Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk and brought to Evansport.  Dahlgrens, by far the most popular gun in the U.S. Navy, were soda-bottle-shaped, smooth-bore, muzzle-loading naval guns.  Commonly designated by caliber using Roman numerals (i.e., “IX”), the most common variety of Dahlgren IX was 108 inches long, weighed more than 9,000 pounds, and could throw an 80-pound solid shot or a 73.5-pound exploding shell.[viii]

A Blakely rifle is also known to have been at Evansport, and this is probably the one which would have been used to shoot at the balloons, as Blakelys were British muzzle-loading cannon which had rifled barrels.  Blakelys were very popular with Confederate artillery, and there were many different designs and sizes.  What they all had in common is that the rifled barrels imparted a spin to the shell which allowed longer and more accurate shots.[ix]

Parents of the Wood brothers, buried in the Asheboro Cemetery.

Randolph County’s lead actor in the balloon drama, Sergeant Thomas Jefferson (records alternatively say “Jones”) Wood of Company I, 22nd North Carolina Regiment, was born in 1 Mar. 1840 near Asheboro.  He and his older and younger brothers Franklin Harris Wood (1836-1913) and William Penuel Wood (1843- 1924) all served with the 22nd North Carolina.  The three boys were the only children of Penuel P. Wood (1813-1903) and his wife, Calista Birkhead Wood (1816- 1903) of Randolph County.  Franklin Harris Wood (1836-1913) served as the regimental Chaplain.[x]

W.P. or “Penn” Wood enlisted in January 1862 and joined his brother in Company on March 1st.  He was promoted to Full Corporal on October 1st, and to Full Sergeant on May 23, 1864.  Wood represented Randolph County in the state senate in 1901 and in the state house from 1905-1907; he was elected State Auditor in 1911, and served in that office until 1921.  He is buried in the Asheboro cemetery, just across the carriageway from J.M. Worth.[xi]

View of the Potomac from inside the Confederate gun emplacements.

The 22nd N.C. regiment remained in support of the batteries at Evansport until March, 1862, when the army was abruptly ordered to fall back from Manassas and the Potomac to the line of the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg.  The retreat was both so hasty and so quiet that it was not discovered by the Union spy balloons for almost a day.  When federal troops landed at the Evansport batteries on March 9th, “Two or three guns of the battery were found bursted.  All of the pieces had been heavily wadded, then crammed to the muzzle with sand and fires built under the carriages with the expectation that they would burn and the heat cause the gun to discharge and burst.  But this failed except in a few instances.  The guns were mostly rifled 7 and 9-inch Dahlgrens with one magnificent 120-pounder Blakely gun, which had been brought from England but a few months before.  This, with its fellows, was subsequently taken to the Washington Navy Yard, where they were all put in good condition and did much excellent service for the Union thereafter.”[xii]

The Confederate departure was so quick and confused that Company M of the 22nd Regiment, the Randolph Hornets, left its almost-new Company flag flying over its camp, soon to be captured without a shot being fired.[xiii]

T.J. Wood served throughout the war and was with General Robert E. Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on Palm Sunday, April 8, 1865.[xiv]

[i] Almost certainly re-named in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

[ii] North Carolina Bulletin, Asheborough, 27 June 1859.

[iii] S.G. Worth was appointed Clerk of Superior Court for Randolph County for Spring term Superior Ct– just in time for the storied trial of his cousin, State vs. Daniel Worth.  See the Greensboro Patriot, 4-6-60, p.2.

[iv] Appointed Lt. Colonel of the 5th Battalion of Home Guards by Governor Vance, Worth returned to Asheboro.  He subsequently resigned that command to raise another company, which served with the 19th N.C. Cavalry, in the brigade of Gen. W.P. Roberts.  Worth was regimental Adjutant when he was killed in the vicinity of Richmond on May 11, 1864 during the Battle of Yellow Tavern, the same day and place General J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded.  Worth’s life and career will be the subject of a separate post.

[vii] Ibid.

[x] Franklin Harris Wood was born in Randolph County 19 Aug 1836; he died at the home of his son George Thomas Wood (1874-1943) in High Point on 2 Oct 1913.  He married Frances Elizabeth Pearce (1852 – 1936).  F. H. Wood Wood is listed as “D.D.” without further explanation on genealogy websites, which traditionally means “Doctor of Divinity.”  His post-war career as a minister, if any, is not known.

[xi] William Penuel Wood (2 May 1843 –  1 Apr 1924), married Henrietta J. Gunter (1849-1893) and had the following family: Blanche Penn Wood (1873 – 1954) (who married J.O. Redding); John Kerr Wood (1875 – 1939); and Mabel Emma Wood (1879 – 1967) (who married William A. Underwood).  The  W.P. Wood House was located on the north side of the 300 block of East Salisbury Street in Asheboro, currently a playground for an adjacent daycare.

[xii] Pvt. Oliver C. Cooper, 1st Mass. Infantry, quoted in “Annals of the War: Chapters of Unwritten History Blockading the Potomac,” published December 20, 1879 in the “Weekly Times,” Philadelphia, PA.

[xiii] Ibid.  The story refers to a “handsome banner… of satin, bearing on one side the inscription, ‘The Randolph Hornets,’ and on the other, ‘Onward to VICTORY.’”  This is what allowed the identification and return of the flag to the county historical society in the 1960s.

[xiv] He died Feb. 4, 1923 in High Point.  He married Sara Sadie Christian (1843-1900), and had one son, William Marshall Wood (1868-1951), who died in Beaumont, TX.