Civilian Casualties of War, 1863

[Public Domain clip art from
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     The history of Randolph County’s turbulent civilian life from 1861 to 1865 is an aspect of North Carolina’s Civil War history that was first explored by Bill Auman in his meticulous and influential research, sadly only published after his death.  Auman recounted numerous stories of organized resistance to the war effort, often amounting to civil insurrection, that plagued local and state government all through the war.  Examples that made it into publication in contemporary newspapers have been known for many years; the well-known episode of Deputy Sheriff Alfred Pike’s torture of William Owen’s wife to find his hiding place has recited and published in numerous articles and books- perhaps the county’s best-known example of poor behavior during the war.
    Asheboro was the headquarters of the government and the military during the war, and Asheboro at the time had no local newspaper.  Events are only known when residents wrote to other newspapers, in Fayetteville, in Greensboro, or in Raleigh. Most events were never recorded in the news at the time they happened, and many stories are virtually impossible to confirm.  Such stories survived, if at all, as oral history.
    Local writer Ralph Bulla recorded one long after the event, the death of Alson Allred in 1863.  Bulla heard Allred’s story and was guided to his grave by elderly residents of the Coleridge area 113 years after it happened.  Alson, supposedly “hiding out” from the Confederate draft, was captured near Deep River South of Coleridge, taken to Buffalo Ford, tied up, stood on horseback, and hanged from a large maple tree.  Allred’s 17-year-old wife arrived after the execution, and members of the local Bray family who witnessed it could not forget her “hollering and screaming.”  Allred’s crime was said to be that “He laid out, they caught him and killed him,” and so it was justifiable.  [“Civil War Hanging Recalled,” by Ralph Bulla. The Courier-Tribune, Asheboro N.C., 2 June 1976, p10A.]
The basic facts of the story are easy to confirm. Alson G. Allred’s grave is to be found in the Gardner-Moffitt Graveyard, Brower Township, on the East side of Riverside Road, just past 5151 Riverside Rd., about 0.3 mile south of the bridge over Richland Creek.  The location is about a mile and 3/4 east of Moffitt’s Mill, the local post office located where SR 1004 crosses Richland Creek.

His tombstone shows that he died January 5, 1863, and was 20 years old (born 18 August 1842).  The graveyard is apparently in the close vicinity of what was the Elisha Allred homeplace.  Allred’s parents and close family members are buried here. In the 1860 census, the Elisha Allred family were neighbors of James and Louisa Gardner, who are also buried here. (Louisa or Levisa Allred, b. 1826, was Alson Allred’s oldest sister).

[Randolph County, 1865]
According to the story, Alson Allred was captured at or near the present site of 5795 Riverside Road, about a mile further South from the cemetery. The site is some 3.5 miles south of Coleridge, which didn’t exist in 1860, and about 6 miles south of Buffalo Ford as the crow flies.  Although I have yet to find official confirmation, the school house at Buffalo Ford was apparently used as a regional headquarters for the Home Guard, a base for their searches for conscripts and deserters, and a detention center for those captured.  After his arrest, Allred must have been taken directly past his own home on the way to Buffalo Ford.
    There is no record of Alson Allred’s wife’s name, or indeed of his ever being married.  There is no record of his service in the Confederate military, nor any record of his desertion.  Ralph Bulla’s record of the local oral history is literally the only record of Allred’s life and death that has been found.  Since no official record of his execution has been found, a fundamental question must be raised: was Allred’s death a legal execution, or an extrajudicial lynching?  Was he a civilian casualty of the war, or a harsh example of military discipline?
    The first step in answering the question lies in understanding the Confederate conscription system. In the federal system, devised for the Union army and used in every war since, men subject to “the draft” received a number chosen at random, and those lottery numbers are used to induct only the selected men into service.  The Confederate system was oddly and radically different.  In April 1862 the Confederate Congress created a program of compulsory national military service for all white males which required an elaborate, centralized governmental enforcement effort.
    Every white male within a stated age range was automatically considered to be in Confederate service unless released by a medical board or exempt as a public official (Justices of the Peace, Sheriffs, Constables, Coroners, Clerks of Court, judges, postal clerks, ministers, etc.)  Quakers were not exempt as conscientious objectors (they could pay a fee or hire a substitute). Men engaged in businesses or industries considered vital to the war effort were not exempt, but were considered soldiers “detailed” to work in their usual jobs unless and until called up for actual military service. Thus supervisors in cotton mills, millers, miners, blacksmiths, foundry workers, coopers, and etc. were “Detailed Men,” working at their prewar occupations.
[New York City draft riots, 1862]
    Randolph County is fortunate in that voluminous records of the 7th Congressional District Home Guard have been preserved in various institutions, and this gives us names of hundreds of “recusant conscripts” (what we now call ‘draft dodgers’) and deserters. Most of these relate to later periods of the war, 1864 and 1865, and nothing has yet appeared that relates to the possible capture, court martial trial or execution of Alson Allred.
    One fact argues that his death was in fact an execution: no records of an inquest into his death can be found in the Randolph County court records in the State Archives.  The Coroner or his deputies were legally required to assemble a jury and review the circumstances of any “unnatural death” in the county.  Two examples from the period are illustrative:
    When D.F. Caudle of Yadkin County died at the home of Claiborne Allred in Franklinville in September 1863, Acting Coroner Alfred Pike held an inquest, assembled a jury of prominent local men (headed by George Makepeace, the superintendent of the cotton mill), who heard evidence and determined that Caudle met his death “by exposure.”  [The legal record is bare of some of the most interesting facts: David F. Caudle married Mary Cooper in Yadkin County on 18 Sept. 1856. A conscript into service, he was listed as serving in the Confederate Navy in Wilmington as of 19 July 1863, yet within 6 weeks he is dead in Randolph County.  I believe that “death by exposure” during one of the warmest times of the year means that Caudle deserted his post in Wilmington, and on his way back to Yadkin county, contracted pneumonia walking home and was probably suffering from malnutrition which led to his death in Franklinville.  See Yadkin Men in the Military, 1861-1865, p 197; RC Gen. Journal Fall 1997, p 25.]
    When word of the death of Peter Garner was received by Coroner Ransom Lowdermilk, apparently weeks after the event, his body was exhumed on May 13, 1864 and a jury of southern Randolph County men assembled to view the cause- “Various gunshot wounds to the left side of head and body,” and to bring in a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown. [On April 24, 1864, Garner (“a detailed soldier from the army”) guided the Sheriff’s posse to arrest the leader of an outlier band (“the notorious Bill Owens has at last been captured,” said the Fayetteville Observer.)  Garner, born in 1833, was listed as an “overseer” in the 1860 census, and was known by the nickname “The Hunter” for his work in finding and capturing outliers.  Within a week of his assistance in the capture of Owens, he was assassinated while fishing in Richland Creek by some of Owens’ men.]
    When no inquest is conducted into the circumstances of a death, the assumption is that it occurred by natural causes– unless it was a public execution.
    A deeper examination into the family of Alson Allred also raises questions.  His parents Elisha and Barbara Allred had a family of five boys and four girls.  One other boy is buried in the Gardner-Moffitt graveyard, James M. Allred, born 6 October 1845, died 4 April 1865. What was a twenty-year old white male doing home in April 1865? There is no record of a Coroner’s inquest into his death, either- was it from natural causes? A note on his tombstone in the online service “Find a Grave” erroneously reports that he was a member of Company M in the 22nd NC Regiment- that is James A. Allred, who survived the war. The only record of a “J.M. Allred” among North Carolina troops is on the list of “Major Hahr’s Battalion” published in Walter C. Hilderman, They Went into the Fight Cheering: Confederate Conscription in North Carolina (Boone: Parkway Publishers, 2005), pp233-234).  Major Frank Hahr’s two companies of “light duty men” were part of Colonel Peter Mallett’s conscription bureau. In October 1864 they were sent to Wilmington, where they were stationed during both attacks on Fort Fisher, in December 1864 and January 1865.  The roster of Company B contains the name of “J.M. Allred,” listed as “Deserted.” If this is our James M. Allred, he must have made it back to Randolph County by April 4th, when he died- whether of disease or by execution, can’t be determined.
    In fact, a military service record can be found for only one of Alson Allred’s four brothers: William Harrison Allred, born 11 June 1840.  He is listed in Confederate payroll records as a teamster in Tennessee and Georgia in the fall of 1863, but on May 16, 1864 he was wounded in the shoulder at Petersburg, Virginia and taken prisoner.  He was sent to the military prison in Alton, Illinois, where he signed the Oath of Allegiance. He married Martha Moon in Randolph county in 1868, and died in 1925 in Benton County, Arkansas. [Fold3, Confederate conscript records. There appear to be two different Oaths signed, which may indicate that there are two different William H. Allreds  in the file.]
    None of Allred’s other brothers (Henry Branson Allred, b. 1825; Clarkson L. Allred b. 1827; and John Tyson Allred, b. 1831) have military service records.  Clarkson Allred is listed on a list (attributed to the Fall of 1864) of the hands detailed to work at the Salt Works near Wilmington.  Were the others “hiding out” from the army? Was Alson the only one caught, and executed as a lesson to his brothers?  Was James also caught and executed?  None of these questions have easy answers.
    One final quirk to the story of Alson Allred: on March 24, 1865, two weeks before the death of his son James, his father Elisha Allred committed suicide.  We know the facts, because, once again, Coroner Ransom Lowdermilk conducted an inquest. The body of 62-year old Elisha Allred was found hanging in his barn, his mouth filled with cotton. His wife Barbara testified that he left the house to feed their stock, “after having expressed the previous night his indifference to living.” Their daughter-in-law (perhaps Naomi Moffitt, who married Clarkson Allred on August 7, 1855) discovered the body.  The verdict was “death by hanging, having jumped from the tailgate of his wagon.”
    What made Elisha Allred so despondent that he took his own life? Why put cotton in his mouth- the rope around his neck would make it impossible to cry out. Was it because he had said something he felt remorse over?  There is only so much we can do to fill in the blanks around the life of Alson G. Allred- but the real story is no doubt much deeper and richer, and more sad, than the single newspaper account we have.
    And I believe that there were dozens of similar stories in Randolph County between 1861 and 1865, most of which we will never see even this much evidence to document. Randolph County during the Civil War was itself a battlefield, and there were dozens of casualties, whether civilian or military.
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