Archive for the ‘Civil War’ Category

Thomas McGehee Moore: First Mayor of Asheboro?

December 30, 2016
Signature of Thomas M. Moore

Signature of Thomas M. Moore

[I apologize for not posting here since I began at the Randolph Room, but I’ve been busy. Case in point: in August the City of Asheboro asked the library to provide biographies of all of the Mayors of Asheboro. Ross Holt and I actually found two names which had previously been overlooked in former histories, and I compiled this biography of the man who was probably the town’s first mayor, although he had been virtually lost and ignored.]

Thomas McGehee Moore (8 Aug 1806 – ca. 1881)

Probably served as Mayor from 1869-1877

The History of Asheboro (written in 1938 by Mrs. W.C. Hammer and Miss Massa Lambert for insertion into the cornerstone of the new Asheboro City Hall), says “The first mayor of Asheboro, holding office probably in the 1860s or 1870s was Col. Moore. It seems the town got along without a mayor before that time.” (p11) The Rev. J. Frank Burkhead agrees, saying in several of his published reminiscences that “Col. Moore was the first mayor of the City” [The Courier, April 3, 1936.] He also tells the story of Peter Page, a friend and fellow student who made up the doggerel verses “Colonel Moore is the mayor of our town; he keeps things in order by walking around. Mr. Frazier is a very busy man; he goes to the post office whenever he can.” [Rufus Frazier being the headmaster of the Asheboro Male Academy at the time. From The Courier, 1937 and The Tribune, 1938– undated clippings in Mrs. Worth scrapbook].
Though incorporated by the legislature in 1792 there were apparently no elections held and no city government to speak of before 1855, when the General Assembly authorized the election of five town commissioners, and in 1861 established a framework for municipal government. The Mayor was not separately elected, but was chosen by the town commissioners from among their number.
When the 1835 courthouse was demolished in 1914, two different letters signed by “Thomas McGhee Moore, Justice of the Peace” were discovered which had been inserted into the cornerstone of the 1876 entrance pavilion. The editor’s note when these letters were published said that
“Col. Thomas McGehee Moore was a prominent figure in Asheboro for many years, and his memory is revered by many of our older citizens who recall his familiar figure upon the streets, and remember him as the foremost Justice of the Peace of his time.
“He was a cultivated, polished man, a gentleman of the old school, being closely connected with the Mumfort and McGehee families of Person and Caswell counties, prominent and wealthy citizens in the old days.
“Col. Moore lived, with his son Frank, for many years in a residence then across the street and opposite the present residence of Mrs. M.S. Robins. He was entrusted with the drawing up of many of the most important contracts, deeds, mortgages, etc., during his day and time. He was well posted in the law, and wrote a most attractive hand, his work being much in demand in those days long before the general introduction of the typewriter.” [The Courier, 30 April 1914.]
Thomas M. Moore was born in Caswell County, one of ten children of Capt. Robert B. Moore (1752-1816) and Elizabeth McGehee (1769-1852). [Daniel Moore family tree,] On January 13, 1841 he married Elizabeth Hoover, the daughter of the then-Sheriff of Randoph County. “General” George Hoover (c. 1795- 28 May 1842) was a former commander of the county militia regiments who represented the county in the state legislature, 1823-1825. The General and his wife, Nancy York Hoover (c. 1805- 23 March 1863) were the proprietors of Asheboro’s most prominent hotel, the Hoover House, situated at the northwest corner of the Courthouse Square. When the county built a new brick courthouse in 1830, it sold the old wooden courthouse to General Hoover, who moved it across the street and added it to his existing hotel. The string of buildings comprising the General’s family home, boarding house, dining hall and corner barroom added up to the Town’s common name for the inn, “the Hoover Long House.” Hoover served as Sheriff from 1827 to his death in 1840.
Moore seems to have been successful and relatively wealthy during the early part of his life, but by the 1860s seems to have experienced a decline in his fortunes. An anonymous writer stated in that “Across the street west of M.S.Robins lives Thomas Moore; I remember him as a man having a business capacity, in appearance; but I don’t now call to mind his vocation in life. He was a son-in-law of General Hoover, who kept the hotel.” [“Randolph,” “Asheboro Fifty Years Ago,” The Courier 1901.] The earliest records of Hoover’s new son-in-law call him a “merchant.” [The Southern Business Directory (Charleston, 1854), p 391] The source of his title “Colonel,” may have been from early militia service, or it may have been a honorific title related to his service as a Justice of the Peace. A number of Randolph county wedding announcements published in newspapers all over the state during the 1850s list “Thomas M. Moore, J.P.” as the magistrate performing the wedding.
Moore was also a well-known Whig politician, serving as secretary of the Whig State convention in 1854 [2-21-1854] and the county convention of 1860 [The Patriot, GSO, 25 May 1860]. His father-in-law, however, was a well-known Democrat. “General Hoover and A.S. Crowson were the only Democrats in Asheboro,” wrote Peter Dicks Swaim about growing up in the town in the 1840s. [published in the Courier May 11, 1880 and republished October 4, 1951.] Moore was also one of the officers of the local “Good Shepherd Lodge of Good Templars,” a temperance organization. [The Patriot, GSO, 12 Nov 1873].
Moore and his wife Elizabeth had four children who survived to adulthood, three sons and a daughter. The census of 1860 describes Moore as a “retired merchant,” but he was evidently also a widower, as Elizabeth Hoover Moore is not listed. She may have died in childbirth, as her youngest son was born in 1858.
As with many Randolph County Unionists, Thomas Moore was caught in an inescapable situation by the war. When it was over, amnesty was offered to most soldiers and citizens of the Confederate States, but “office-holders” were exempted. This left Moore in a precarious state, as he had come to depend on the income from minor government positions. His application for a Presidential Pardon, filed July 3, 1865, states that-
“He was always before the war commenced opposed to secession. He [was?] both opposed to the [utmost?] of his influence and by his vote [to] the calling of a convention for that purpose in February 1861, nor did his opposition to it cease till by the action of the convention of the state in May 1861, the state was carried out of the Union without any [agreement?] of his, and contrary to his most ardent wishes; but then notwithstanding he regarded it as fraught with the most serious consequences to the people. He felt himself compelled to acquiesce to the actions of his state; but would at any and all times, have been pleased to have seen the Union reconstructed upon honorable terms.
“He is aged 58 years, and a poor man, and found great difficulty in supporting himself and family in the condition of things brought about by the rebellion till in July, 1862, when the office of tax assessor for his county was, at the instance of friends compassionate [to] his situation, tendered him by the authorities of the so-called Confederate States, which he, for the reasons before mentioned, accepted and continued to perform till the surrender of Gen. Johnson’s army last spring; but he performed the duties in a manner as little onerous and oppressive to the citizens as possible.”
[Case file of Applications from Candidates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1863-67. The National Archives, Record Group 94, Cat# 656621, Roll 41.]
Nowhere in Moore’s application does he reveal that, despite what may have been his personal opposition to secession, he had lost both of his oldest sons to the war. When war broke out in 1861, his 19-year-old son George H. Moore son was living and working as a carpenter among his Hoover relatives in Thomasville. George Moore joined Company B of the 14th NC Regiment, the “Thomasville Rifles,” on April 23, 1861. On the 1st of December 1861 his younger brother Robert A. Moore joined the same company at their camp in Fort Bee, Virginia. George Moore was killed in action at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 12, 1864. Robert Moore, who was promoted to Sergeant a month before his brother’s death, was “killed on picket” on the North Anna River less than 2 weeks after his brother.
Immediately after the war Moore spent a considerable amount of time working with his brother-in-law Benjamin F. Hoover (1818-1884), a lawyer and Clerk of Court, in straightening out the estate of his mother-in-law Nancy York Hoover, who died during the war. Mrs. Hoover owned not only the hotel, but a lot of real property on the west side of Asheboro (what’s now Church and Hoover streets). Most of her personal property had been in 13 enslaved people, whose value in 1863 declined 100% by 1865. Moore’s wife’s portion of the estate would have passed to her 4 children, sadly reduced by 1865 to two children. Moore only began administration of his wife’s estate in 1868 in connection with administration of the estates of Nancy Hoover and his sons.
That may have provided a dowry of some kind for his daughter Elizabeth Cornelia Moore (28 June 1846 – 13 April 1882), who married Richard Simpson Smith of Guilford County on October 31, 1872. His only surviving son, Benjamin Franklin Moore (1858- ?) is something of a mystery. One reference to him is from one of his father’s cornerstone letters, which states that the 1835 courthouse “was covered in tin this year and painted by Benjamin F. Moore.” [The Courier, 4-30-1914] The 1880 census says that the 22-year-old “works in a buggy shop.” His contemporaries seemed to remember him with a lingering air of sadness. Writing many years later, Mrs. James (Nannie Steed) Winningham wrote that “Col. Moore lived opposite the Marsh place, and after his daughter Cornelia married and went elsewhere to live, he and his son Frank(“Bud”), continued to live there and everyone who lived in Asheboro then will remember good-hearted, unfortunate “Bud” Moore.” [The Courier, 3 Sept. 1931 and manuscript copy in the Randolph Room.]
Thomas Moore’s personal popularity continued to provide him with public work that helped support his family, but often with some unexpected reversal. In 1865-68 he served as Register of Deeds, then as now an elected position. [NC Business Directory for 1867-68, p. 93] He lost that job, as did Governor Jonathan Worth, in a Republican landslide after all 1865 elections were voided by the Military Governor of North Carolina, Ben Butler.
The published financial accounts of the 1876 Randolph County Board of Commissioners list Thomas M. Moore as the “County Ranger,” the official charged with taking stray animals into custody (similar to a dogcatcher, but all livestock ran loose in those times before fencing) [Randolph Regulator, Sept. 27, 1876]. Earlier that same year he had been elected as one of the first three Justices of the Peace for the newly-created Asheboro Township. Before the Constitution of 1868, Justices of the Peace had been appointed by the Governor; afterwards they were elected by township. Randolph County was divided into 16 equally-sized townships in 1868, a survey which put the town of Asheboro in the far northeast corner of Cedar Grove Township. Democrats alleged that this was the result of a plan by the Republicans in control of state government to minimize the voting power of the county seat, which could be expected to vote “Conservative” Party (Southern Democrats didn’t regain the use of their pre-war name until after the presidential election of 1876). Protests resulted in 1876 in the creation of a new 17th township for Asheboro, carved out of parts of Franklinville, Grant, Cedar Grove and Back Creek. David W. Porter and R.M. Free, a Republican, were elected JPs with the Democrat Moore in that first election.
Thomas McGehee Moore evidently died in the fall of 1881, survived by his daughter Cornelia and his son Benjamin. [Application for Letters of Administration by George S. Bradshaw, Public Administrator, 17 December 1881] His wife’s tombstone in the Asheboro City Cemetery is simply titled, “Elizabeth, Consort of T.M. Moore.” She is buried beside a child who died in infancy, and one would expect her husband and parents and perhaps her youngest son to be buried around her. But no markers of any kind are known for General George Hoover, Nancy York Hoover, or Thomas McGehee Moore.

[My biggest surprise in this research was in discovering that both of Moore’s adult sons had died in the War.  Yet more evidence of the devastating impact that the war had on the next generation of leadership in Randolph County- virtually every family in a position of power lost a son or sons.

My current research project: the Sheriff wants biographies of all of the former sheriffs!  I’ve already found one not on that list, too.]

What’s in a Name?

April 13, 2015


It is pretty common, living in Asheboro, North Carolina, for visitors to confuse our community with our cousin to the West, Asheville, North Carolina.

Both of us are named after the 9th Governor of the state, Samuel Ashe (1725-1813), who is best remembered for lending his name to Ashe County, Asheville and Asheboro.

People have had enough problems over the years just figuring out the spelling- “Ashboro” and “Ashville” are the most common variations, to those who don’t realize “Ashe” was a man’s name.

“Asheborough” was the official version during the Civil War, only shortened to “Asheboro” by the U.S. Postal Service in the 20th century.

But whether Ashboro, Asheboro or Asheborough, our town in central North Carolina is often mis-identified with our larger, more liberal and super-scenic cousin to the West.

There are numerous examples known to our tourism workers of people who call or show up in Asheboro, wondering where all those Blue Ridge mountains and beer brewers are…

What I consider as the most notorious example of this name confusion happened 150 years ago, in a letter between two well-known people:

WTS Orders 13 April 1865


The next move of Sherman’s army from Raleigh west was NOT, of course, to be Ashville, then Salisbury or Charlotte.  It would have been a relief to Randolph County if he had skipped over us, but the plan was to head for the cotton mills on Deep River, east of Asheboro, and capture the railroad connections in High  Point and Greensboro.  All were to be destroyed as thoroughly as had been done in Fayetteville.

If President Jefferson Davis had had his way, General Joe Johnston would have fought Sherman’s forces tooth and claw, laying waste to Piedmont North Carolina.  Davis ordered Johnston to prolong the fight as long as possible, to cover the escape of the Confederate leadership.  At a meeting with the President, then residing in exile in Greensboro, Johnston entreated him to face reality:

“I represented that under such circumstances it would be the greatest of human crimes for us to attempt to continue the war; for, having neither money nor credit, nor arms but those in the hands of our soldiers, nor ammunition but that in their cartridge boxes, nor shops for repairing arms or fixing ammunition, the effect of keeping in the field would be, not to harm the enemy, but to complete the devastation of our country and ruin of its people.  I therefore urged that the President should exercise at once the only function of government still in his possession, and open negotiations for peace.”

Johnston recognized that the Confederate army was facing an age-old question: who wants to be the last man to die in a war?

Sherman’s men had been in the Randolph County area for weeks, whether spying or encouraging desertion and civil unrest is still under debate.  On March 22, 1865, state troops had surprised local outlier leader Alpheus Gollihorn meeting with a man near Page’s plank road toll house (now Seagrove).  Gollihorn was summarily executed by firing squad, but his companion gained a reprieve by identifying himself as Pvt. William F. Walters of Company L of the Third Indiana Cavalry.  Walters was brought to Asheboro, where his presence created a problem for Lt. Colonel A.C. McAlister, the commander of the local Confederate forces.  Better that Walters had been executed in the field than tried in public with Sherman on the way, thought McAlister, but he deferred to Governor Vance, who ordered a public court martial.  Walters’ trial began in Asheboro on March 28, 1865, and he was eventually found “guilty of robbery and of associating with armed bands of deserters and robbers- of resisting military authority of the Confederate States and of being a leader and counsellor of such armed resistance…”  Walters had been “shot to death with musketry” on April 1, 1865.

In Asheboro, not Asheville.

Randolph County’s First Christmas Tree?

December 24, 2014
Godey's Lady's Book, 1850- a revised version of  the Illustrated London News, edited to Americanize Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1850- a revised version of the Illustrated London News, edited to Americanize Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

North Carolina in 2014 ranks number two in the nation in Christmas tree production, right after Oregon.  Every year the state’s 1600-odd tree farms produce some 50 million Fraser Firs, the most popular type of Christmas tree, worth about $100 million dollars.[i]  Add that to the relentless drumbeat of Christmas music and lights and shopping, it is hard to realize that Christmas wasn’t always the way it is today.

If you flip back to my 2010 post of Nannie Steed Winningham’s reminiscence of the Confederate Christmases of 1862, ’63 and ’64,[ii] you will note that there is no mention whatsoever of Christmas trees.  Santa Claus came down the chimney, as usual, and filled up the family’s stockings with gifts.  There was too much eggnog, and there was a visit by the scary “Christmas Waifs” demanding hand-outs.  But no tree.

In fact, Christmas was not at the time of the Civil War an actual official holiday.  As Dickens had Scrooge point out in A Christmas Carol, it was up to an individual’s employer whether to give the day off from work.  The City of Asheboro itself was created on December 25, 1796, when the state legislature, meeting for a regular work day, passed “An Act to Establish a Town on Lands of Jesse Henley, in the County of Randolph, at the Court House of said County.”  Not until 1870 did Congress establish Christmas as a federal holiday.

Illustrated London News, 1847.

Illustrated London News, 1847.

The modern American versions of both Thanksgiving and Christmas began to take shape during the Civil War period, and both traditions owe much to the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who lobbied regularly for Americanized holidays.   The magazine at Christmas, 1850, printed the first widely-circulated picture in America of a decorated Christmas evergreen; it was a repurposed 1848 engraving of the British Royal Family with their tree at Windsor Castle which had been published in The iIllustrated London News.[iii]  Reprinted throughout the 1860s, the image became the iconic picture of an American Christmas tree.

Minolta DSC

Another influential magazine, Harper’s Weekly, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus himself.  Cartoonist Thomas Nast, a sketch artist for the magazine, created an illustration for the Christmas, 1861 issue to accompany the Clement Clarke Moore poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  That was the first published image of Santa in a reindeer-drawn sleigh with a bag full of gifts slung over his shoulder.

Federal Santa

Federal Santa

However, the fact that Nast also showed Santa delivering copies of Harper’s as gifts to Union soldiers on the war front soured the picture for Southerners.     The Richmond Examiner editorialized that this Northern image of Santa Claus was nothing more than an “Dutch toy-monger,” a “transflated scrub” from New York and New England “who has no more to do with genuine Virginia Hospitality and Christmas merry makings than a Hottentot.”[iv]

Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle, 1857

Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle, 1857

It wasn’t that Christmas trees were unknown in America at that time.  The British Royal Family brought the custom into England, and in a backhanded way North Carolina has a tie to that.  The wife of George III, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (the namesake of Charlotte and Mecklenburg county), set up a Christmas tree at a party she gave for children in 1800.  Princess Victoria liked the custom and a tree was placed in her room.  In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the 13-year-old princess wrote:

“After dinner… we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room… There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees…”[v]

The custom became even more widespread after Victoria’s marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, and by the early 1840s there were newspaper ads for Christmas trees that promoted their fashionable German origins and their popularity with children.  The Moravians of Salem are thought to have brought the custom of Christmas trees to North Carolina.  Randolph County had its few Moravians, but even more Lutherans, Amish, Dunkers and other German sectarians.  But I have seen no record of their Christmas celebrations.

tree engraving

Christmas Tree in Church

The first reference to a Randolph County Christmas tree that I know about comes from the manuscript “Reminiscences” of W. M. Curtis, a carbon typescript dated 1940.  Walter Makepeace Curtis (1867-1955), a Methodist minister, was Secretary-Treasurer of Greensboro College for 34 years.  His autobiography begins,

“I was born on February 18, 1867, in Franklinsville, Randolph County, North Carolina.  My home was on an island with Deep river on the south and a mill race on the north.  This race began at a dam across the river at the west end of the village and emptied into the river at the Franklinsville cotton mill.

… My father, Dennis Cortes Curtis [1826-1885] (he always signed his name D. Curtis) was the son of James Curtis, a farmer who lived a few miles south of Franklinsville….

“There was a public schoolhouse for the children of the village near the Methodist Church, but the school was in session only three months of the year, and my father was anxious for his children to have better educational opportunities so he employed a governess… My father was superintendent of the Sunday School in the Methodist Church, and he took me to Sunday School when I was quite small….

“At Christmas we had a Christmas tree in the Sunday School.  The tree was always a large holly with red berries.  Some time before Christmas my father would drive to Greensboro and purchase presents and decorations for the tree.  On the night before Christmas, as soon as it was dark, my little four-wheel wagon was loaded with Christmas things and I, with some help, pulled the wagon up to the church, where my father and others arranged the decorations and presents on the tree.  Individuals were permitted to have their presents, with the name of the recipient on each one, hung on the tree.  There were a good many of these, and it was interesting to hear the names called out.  Each one receiving a present would go forward and get the gift.  This Christmas tree celebration was always held on Christmas Eve, and was quite an event in the village.”

Although Curtis doesn’t give a specific date for this tree, it had to date from before the Curtises moved to Greensboro in 1880, and probably can be attributed to the period around 1875.[vi]

1836-The Strangers Gift Boston first american-christmas-tree

The first published American illustration of a Christmas Tree, from The Stranger’s Gift, printed in Boston, 1836.

This is in accord with the introduction of trees into Christmas celebrations; they often were introduced to the public places at churches, hospitals and charity bazaars, and their familiarity there slowly led people to set up private trees at home.  It also seems to have been understood that Christmas trees were used to provide gifts for the underprivileged.  Varina Davis noted in her 1896 recollection of Christmases in Richmond during the war years, ” like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the information that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been promised a Christmas tree and the toys, candy and cakes must be provided…” []   As late as 1906 a charity was set up specifically to introduce decorated trees to poor children in London slums ‘who had never seen a Christmas tree’.[vii]

Handrawn sketch from 1812 or 1819 by John Lewis Krimmel of Philadelphia.

Handrawn sketch from 1812 or 1819 by John Lewis Krimmel of Philadelphia.

The first Yule trees were small ones that sat on a table, decorated with dried fruit, popcorn, pine cones and homemade paper chains and baskets for nuts.  A tree was not brought into the house and decorated before December 23rd, “the traditional “First Day of Christmas,”  and the beginning of the 12-day Christmas season that ended on Twelfth Night (January 5th).  To have a tree up before or after those dates was considered bad luck.

A non-evergreen Christmas tree from the 1850s.

A non-evergreen Christmas tree from the 1850s.

Not all Christmas trees were evergreens.  In the late 1800s and, most probably, long before, home-made white Christmas trees were made by wrapping strips of cotton batting around leafless branches creating the appearance of a snow-laden tree.  Only those presents too large to be hung on the tree were placed on the tree skirt underneath the tree.  Most presents were small, and edible gifts were among the most highly prized gifts hung in small baskets on the tree.  During the war, one soldier from a New Jersey regiment recorded in his diary, “In order to make it look much like Christmas as possible, a small tree was stuck up in front of our tent, decked off with hard tack [a hard cracker] and pork, in lieu of cakes and oranges, etc.” [viii]

Thomas Nast, from Harper's Weekly, Jan. 3, 1863

Thomas Nast, from Harper’s Weekly, Jan. 3, 1863

(Even in the early 1960s, those of us who watched “The Old Rebel and Pecos Pete” on WFMY Channel 2 knew that the only proper ending of our answer to the question “What do you want for Christmas?” was “X,Y,Z, -and Nuts and Fruits and Candies.” As late as 1943, the singer of the wartime song “Ill Be Home for Christmas” was longing for “presents on the tree” (not under the tree).

This was a survival of the ancient European tradition.  Decorated trees were part of the stage sets for medieval religious mystery plays that were given on December 24th on the “name days” of Adam and Eve.  Those trees were hung with apples (the “forbidden fruit”) and wafers (representing the Eucharist and redemption).  Bakers made pretzels and gingerbread cookies for the tree that people took home as souvenirs. In 1570 a small tree set up in the Guild-House in Breman, Germany was decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers”.  In 1605 a German visitor wrote: “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.” The many food items were symbols of Plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).

The 2012 White House tree in the Blue Room.

The 2012 White House tree in the Blue Room.

Americans did not take easily to the foreign custom of Christmas trees.  Franklin Pierce had the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1846.  But President President William McKinley reportedly received a letter in 1899 saying Christmas trees “un-American,” and his successor Theodore Roosevelt banned Christmas trees from the White House because he feared that Christmas trees would lead to deforestation.  Roosevelt, however, was undercut by his own youngest sons, Archie and Quentin, who in 1902 went outside and cut down a small tree right on the White House grounds and hid it in a White House closet.  Roosevelt acknowledged the event in a letter in which he wrote:

Yesterday Archie got among his presents a small rifle from me and a pair of riding boots from his mother. He won’t be able to use the rifle until next summer, but he has gone off very happy in the riding boots for a ride on the calico pony Algonquin, the one you rode the other day. Yesterday morning at a quarter of seven all the children were up and dressed and began to hammer at the door of their mother’s and my room, in which their six stockings, all bulging out with queer angles and rotundities, were hanging from the fireplace. So their mother and I got up, shut the window, lit the fire (taking down the stockings of course), put on our wrappers and prepared to admit the children. But first there was a surprise for me, also for their good mother, for Archie had a little birthday tree of his own which he had rigged up with the help of one of the carpenters in a big closet; and we all had to look at the tree and each of us got a present off of it. There was also one present each for Jack the dog, Tom Quartz the kitten, and Algonquin the pony, whom Archie would no more think of neglecting that I would neglect his brothers and sisters. Then all the children came into our bed and there they opened their stockings.[ix]


It sounds to me as though Teddy’s idea of Christmas was not very different from Nannie Winninghams- stockings were the place Santa left the presents.  More than 100 years later, what we think is our “traditional” Christmas has been shaped by the media, retailers, film and recorded music of the 20th century more than we ever realize.

[i] WUNC TV website data.


[iii] Karal Ann Marling (2000). Merry Christmas! Celebrating America’s greatest holidayHarvard University Press. p. 244.

[iv] Marten, James (2000). The Children’s Civil War. University of North Carolina Press. P120

[v] The Girlhood of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty’s Diaries, p.61. Longmans, Green & Co., 1912

[vi] The obituary of Curtis’s mother in the Greensboro Daily News of 23 August 1918 gives frame for this assumption-

“Mrs. Lucy Ellen Makepeace Curtis died at her home, 108 Odell Place, yesterday afternoon, at 4:15 o’clock. For a number of years, Mrs. Curtis had been living with her son, Rev. W.M. Curtis, of this city. Mrs. Curtis was born at Petersburg, VA, December 25, 1839. Soon after her birth her parents, George Makepeace and Mrs. Luc Makepeace, settled at Franklinville, where she grew up. She was married to Dennis Curtis, of Franklinville, October 11, 1860. Dennis was a native of Randolph County and was prominently connected with the Franklinville Manufacturing Company, the Deep River Manufacturing Company, and later with the mercantile business firm of Odell and company of this city.  In 1880 Mrs. Curtis moved from Franklinville to Greensboro when Mr. Curtis became personally associated with the firm of Odell and company….”




From Galvanized Yankee to Race Car Driver

December 14, 2014
R.V. ("Bob") Toomes with his grandson Richard Petty

R.V. (“Bob”) Toomes with his grandson Richard Petty

Randolph County’s heritage of resistance to secession and support of the Red String has been amply documented by the late, lamented Bill Auman in his book The Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt.  But the stories of those opposed to the war have not been documented with as much attention to detail as those who enlisted and served in the army of the Confederate States.  Wally Jarrell’s The Randolph Hornets in the Civil War is a meticulous history of Company M of the 22nd NC Infantry Regiment, one of three Randolph County companies in that regiment. [i]

Southern "Volunteers".  Currier and Ives illustration, Library of Congress.

Southern “Volunteers”. Currier and Ives illustration, Library of Congress.

The most complete roster of Randolph County’s Confederate veterans was compiled by Gary D. Reeder of Trinity, and published in The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina (Vol. 1), published in 1993 but now out of print.  Reeder found records of 1,921 individuals who served with the Confederate forces, but does not consider that an exhaustive list.   Eighty-six of those were with Robert E. Lee at Appomatox, and 132 others signed the Oath of Allegiance in Greensboro after the end of hostilities.

One hundred of those were killed in battle; 7 were reported as missing in action; 74 died of wounds; 345 died of disease.  616 were prisoners of war, and 76 of those died while interned.   489 were wounded; 73 of those were wounded twice; 12 were wounded 3 times and two, four times.[ii]

Not all of those who served did so willingly.  Bill Auman points out that Randolph County in 1861 had the third-lowest volunteer rate in the state.  The enlistment rate for North Carolina as a whole was 23.8%; in Randolph it was 14.2%.  As the war went on, conscription acts were passed by the CSA to force men into service; 40% of the state’s draftees in 1863 came from the recalcitrant Quaker Belt counties, with Randolph contributing 2.7% of its population to the draft that year.  North Carolina as a whole contributed about 103,400 enlisted men to the Confederate Army, about one-sixth of the total, and more than any other state.  But this does not mean those troops were all loyal Confederates; about 22.9% (23,694 men) of those troops deserted, a rate more than twice that of any other state.

Executing a Deserter, 1862.  Harper's Weekly.

Executing a Deserter, 1862. Harper’s Weekly.

The Confederacy did not publish statistics on desertion, but Reeder states that at least 320 of Randolph’s nearly 2,000 men deserted from their regiments, with 32 deserting twice, five deserting three times and one deserting five times!  Forty-four of these deserters were arrested, 42 were court-martialed, and at least 14 were executed.  196 captured Confederates took the Oath of Allegiance to the Union before the end of the war, with 67 joining the Union Army.[iii]  These new Union recruits were derisively called “Galvanized Yankees” by their old comrades.

As the Confederacy was gradually mythologized and romanticized  after the war, a history of desertion, however well supported by friends and family during the war, was not a heritage that was proudly maintained even in Randolph County.  Certainly we never hear anyone boasting about their Galvanized Yankee ancestors.  But the fact remains that many of those who served, served involuntarily.

A case in point is the service history of Frank Toomes.     William Franklin Toomes (Jr.) was born October 25, 1838 in the Sumner community of Guilford County, less than a mile north of the Randolph County line.  He was the son of William F. Toomes (b. 1808) and Sarah (“Sallie”) Jenkins (b. 1812).   The elder Toomes was a blacksmith.  In his Apprentice Indenture, dated August 25, 1824, Abraham Delap agreed to teach William “to read, write, & cipher thro the Rule of Three, and learn the Blacksmith Trade and give him a sett of Tools at $55” when he reached the age of 21 years.  Well before that time there were problems between apprentice and master, as seen in the  advertisement placed in the Greensboro Patriot of October 11, 1825 by Delap:  “Ranaway from the subscriber, three apprentices to the Blacksmith’s Business, named William Toombs. Willis Parish and Henderson Parrish…”  [iv]

Blacksmith and apprentices

Blacksmith and apprentices

According to family tradition, Frank followed his father into the blacksmithing trade, and when the Civil War broke out, both of them were working as blacksmiths in Cedar Falls or Franklinsville.  (The wartime pay records of the Cedar Falls factory exist but do not show either Toomes as an employee, so they must have worked at the nearby Franklinsville or Island Ford factory downstream.)  As blacksmiths, the Toomeses would have been exempt from conscription when the Confederacy first established the draft in April, 1862.  Male employees of the Deep River cotton mills and ironworks qualified as exempt “indispensable” employees until late in the war.  No lists of cotton mill exemptions are known, but one for the Bush Creek Iron Works in Franklinsville exempts 30 male employees.  Exemptions were granted (or not) by the regional Enrolling Officer, who at some point decided the cotton mill could do without one of its blacksmiths.  Again according to family tradition, when the Enrolling Officer came to the mill, Frank Toomes would hide, submerged in the mill race, breathing through a straw until the coast was clear.

On December 2, 1863 (perhaps when it was too cold for a swim), Frank Toomes was discovered; he was forcibly drafted into Company E of the 58th North Carolina Infantry regiment on December 25, 1863 at Camp Holmes in Raleigh.[v]  Within days Toomes must have been sent to the western front, because his very meager Confederate record bears the single remark, “Deserted Jan. 10, 1864, near Dalton.”  [vi]

Nashville TN State Capitol 1864

Nashville TN State Capitol 1864

On or around February 1, 1864, 23-year-old Frank Toomes entered the Union lines, surrendered and was taken prisoner to Nashville.  On February 12th, he took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and was assigned to Company H of the 10th Tenn. Cavalry regiment.  Within a week, Toomes was hospitalized with the measles- at that time, a life-threatening disease.   Toomes was admitted to Hospital No. 19, where he recuperated until February 25, when he was transferred to Bed #61 of “G.H.” (General Hospital) No. 8, for treatment of scurvy.

Nashville's Masonic Temple was one of the 3 buildings that made up Hospital No. 8.  It had 368 beds.

Nashville’s Masonic Temple was one of the 3 buildings that made up Hospital No. 8. It had 368 beds.

Occupied by Federal forces in 1862, Nashville had become a major resupply center for the Union army, with numerous railroad, blacksmith and transportation units.  At least 24 separate military hospitals had been created from the comandeered public buildings of the city, each with a specialty.  Number 11, for example, was the “Pest House” (720 beds for contagious smallpox patients).  Number 16 was reserved for the U.S. Colored Troops, and Number 17 for Officers.  Those hospitals were well documented at the time by photography, and in modern times by the Internet.

First Presbyterian Church at the corner of 5th and Church Sts. in Nashville was one of 3 buildings of Hospital No. 8.  It had 206 beds.

First Presbyterian Church at the corner of 5th and Church Sts. in Nashville was one of 3 buildings of Hospital No. 8. It had 206 beds.

Cumberland Presbyterian Church was the 3rd building of Hospital No. 8.  It had 144 beds.

Cumberland Presbyterian Church was the 3rd building of Hospital No. 8. It had 44 beds.

A visitor in 1864 wrote “The Masonic Hall and First Presbyterian Church [and the smaller Cumberland Presbyterian Church] constitute Hospital No. 8… As we enter the Hall, we find a broad flight of stairs before us, and while ascending, perceive this caution inscribed upon the wall in evergreen: ‘Remember you are in a Hospital and make no noise.”  up this flight… other cautions meet us, such as ‘No Smoking Here” – “Keep Away from the Wall,’ &c.”

Union Hospital Ward

Union Hospital Ward

The 540 beds of Hospital No. 8 were under the supervision of Medical Director Dr. R. R. Taylor, originally a surgeon with the 4th Iowa Cavalry.  Miss Annie Bell was the Matron (nurse) of the Hospital.

Nurse Annie Bell, Nashville hospital matron

Nurse Annie Bell, Nashville hospital matron

Private Toomes was “transferred to Louisville,” on April 6, 1864, where he recuperated at Brown General Hospital (a 700 bed unit) until he returned to his unit in May.

Union army blacksmiths working on a portable forge

Union army blacksmiths working on a portable forge

It isn’t clear what duties Pvt. Toomes may have had, but it is possible that he was one of the regimental blacksmiths.  A cavalry unit traveled with a portable forge, as horses needed constant hoof care and shoe replacements.

The 10th Tennessee Cavalry was organized and began recruiting in August 1863.  Company H mustered in on February 12, 1864, formed of “men mostly from other states.” [vii] It was under the command first of Capt. Jonathan Haltall, and then of Capt. J.L.N. Bryan.  The regimental history says-

“During the summer and fall of 1864, it was engaged in arduous duty in Tennessee.  Late in the fall [Oct. 13] it was sent to northern Alabama, to watch the movements of Hood’s army, and had an engagement with a largely superior force of Rebels at Florence [October 30; 4 other Union regiments were engaged at nearby Muscle Shoals and Shoal Creek at the same time].  Overpowered by numbers, it was compelled to fall back to Nashville.  [where it was on the front lines at the Battle of Franklin, Nov. 30.]  On the first day’s battle before Nashville [Dec. 15, 1864, when Hood tried to break Sherman’s supply line from the city], it lost severely in officers and men.” The four-day Battle of Nashville was also a debacle for Hood, marking the effective end of the Army of Tennessee.

union-quartermasters 9th army corps petersburg 1864

The Regiment spent the winter of 1865 in camp at Gravelly Springs, Alabama, and the conduct of some of its men at that time shows that the unit must have been a tough and unruly group.  Brig. General Richard W. Johnston, commander of the 6th U.S. Division, reported from Fayetteville, TN, on February 8, 1865 that “The troops under my command have killed 18 guerillas and captured 12 since my arrival here, not counting a number of men belonging to the 10th and 12th Tennessee Cavalry Regiments (U.S.A), who had deserted and become guerrillas of the worst type, who have been captured and forwarded to their regiments.”

The 10th Tenn. moved to Vicksburg, Miss., in February; was sent to New Orleans in March, and was in Natchez until May.  It returned to Nashville June 10, 1865.  [viii]

Colt Dragoon Cavalry Revolver, Model 1848.

Colt Dragoon Cavalry Revolver, Model 1848.

Frank Toomes apparently became a good soldier with the 10th Tennessee, as he was promoted to 1st Duty Sergeant of Company H on July 16, 1864.  His file for December 1864 notes that Sgt. Toomes had “Lost 1 Army Revolver @ $2.00.”

Sleeve Chevron of US Cavalry Company Quartermaster Sergeant

Sleeve Chevron of US Cavalry Company Quartermaster Sergeant

Toomes was promoted to “QM Sgt” (Quartermaster Sergeant) on June 30, 1865.  When the regiment was mustered out of service on August 1, 1865, Toomes’ pay for the year (he had last been paid on December 31, 1864) was $275.00, after deductions made for his uniform and clothing.

A US Army Quartermaster Sergeant, ca. 1864

A US Army Quartermaster Sergeant, ca. 1864

Toomes made his way back to Guilford County, where on September 5 1867, he married Susan Thompson.  [Marriage Bond Book 03, Page 451].  His wife must have died within the next two years, for the census of 1870 finds Frank Toomes living with his brother Alpheus.  Alpheus Toomes and his young family were close neighbors to George Watson Petty (b. 1837), another farmer living near Westminister Post Office, Sumner Township, Guilford County.

Toomes Petty House 2013

House built on Branson Mill Road, Level Cross, NC, by R.V. Toomes, 1924-25.

In 1874 Frank Toomes travelled west to Howard County, Indiana, well beyond the battlefields of 1864, where he married again, to Annie E. Davis (b. 1858) on May 17, 1874.  On their return to North Carolina, Frank and Annie settled in the Level Cross community of New Market Township of Randolph County, no more than 2 miles south of his brother, where they had ten children.  Frank carried on blacksmithing, farming, and distilling to provide for his family.  He was successful enough to loan money to neighbors who needed help buying property (see Randolph Deed Book 100, Page 437, where in May 1895, he loans $60 to buy 11 acres).

Toomes Children on the porch, ca. 1930

Toomes Children on the porch, ca. 1930

Frank Toomes died February 21, 1913, 49 years after deserting one army and joining another.  His son Robert Vernon (“Bob”) Toomes (24 Feb. 1886- July 8 1945) followed family distilling business.  In 1924 he built a modern “bungalow” house on Branson Mill Road in Level Cross for his wife Allie Hodgin (1888-1947) and their eight children.  Bob and Allie Toomes’ daughter Elizabeth (1917-2006) married Lee Arnold Petty (1914-2000), a grandson of George Watson Petty of Sumner Township.  Lee Petty and Frank Toomes’ great-grandsons Richard Lee Petty (b. July 2, 1937) and Morris Elsworth Petty (b. 22 March 1939) are all members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Toomes Reunion at the Toomes-Petty House, Level Cross, Nov. 1913

Toomes Reunion at the Toomes-Petty House, Level Cross, Nov. 1913

SOURCE NOTE: When I say “family tradition,” that indicates the information came from the family’s historian Howard Toomes, son of William Howard Toomes, brother of Elizabeth and grandson of Frank Toomes. Family photos and more information came from Brenda Toomes Williams and Rose Toomes Luck (daughters of Frank’s son Ralph V. Toomes), all of whom live within a mile of the Toomes-Petty House on Branson Milll Road. Thanks to Richard Petty and his daughter Rebecca Petty Moffitt for allowing me to research stuff like this while I supervised the move of the Petty Museum back to its old home.

[i] Full disclosure: I contributed photos and information to Wally’s book, but don’t let that keep you from buying it!

[ii] The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina (Vol. 1), p.108.

[iii] Ibid, p.109.

[iv] Guilford County, NC Apprentice Records, NC State Archives.

[v] All of the quoted Frank Toomes service records, both Confederate and Union, were accessed through, a website that specializes in historical U.S. military records.

[vi] Dalton is in the far northwest corner of Georgia, 27 miles east of Chickamauga and 32 miles south of Chattanooga.  It lies at the south end of Mill Creek Gap, a strategic railroad passage through the mountains from Tennessee into the interior of Georgia.  After the Confederate rout at Missionary Ridge in November 1863, Braxton Bragg made his headquarters at Dalton, where he was replaced by General Joe Johnston in December.  There was no further action around Dalton until Sherman began his march into Georgia in May, 1864.



Last Ride on the Underground Railroad

October 16, 2014
Florence Stockage, from the Virginia Historical Society

Florence Stockage, from the Virginia Historical Society

As early as 1786 George Washington complained that one of his runaway slaves had been assisted to freedom by a “society of Quakers, formed for such purposes.” Estimates of the number of fugitive slaves who escaped the South along the Underground Railroad network from 1800 to 1860 range from several hundred to two thousand annually.

Despite Levi Coffin’s claim in his autobiography that he was the “President” of what before the age of steam was just the “Underground Road,” the escaped slave assistance network was a classic example of leaderless resistance. Many individuals, both white and black, under no central command, cooperated house to house and neighborhood by neighborhood to pass fugitives along points of safety.

Over his 40-year career, Levi Coffin and his community of Nantucket Quaker emigres in New Garden, Guilford County, NC, smuggled more than 3,000 runaways “contrabands” along the Kanawah Trail, across the Blue Ridge Mountains and through Virginia and Ohio to the Quaker settlement at Richmond, Indiana.

The advent of war in 1861 slowed but did not stop the network’s activities. It did, however, make one important alteration: white federal soldiers, escapees from prisoners of war camps, could also follow the well-worn trail to freedom. Perhaps the last documented escape took place in late 1864.

Prisoners in the Stockade at Florence SC

Prisoners in the Stockade at Florence SC

With the fall of Atlanta and the approach of Sherman’s forces in September, 1864, Confederate forces evacuated the Andersonville prison camp by rail. Eight thousand federal prisoners spent three days in stock cars without food or water before arriving at Florence, South Carolina, a sleepy railroad crossing on the Pee Dee River 110 miles west of Charleston and 107 miles southwest of Wilmington.

The Florence National Cemetery

The Florence National Cemetery

Their arrival on September 15th was a surprise to the local guard detail, a single Reserve company of men over 45 and boys under 18. Without food, water, shelter or even a stockade ready, the prisoners themselves were set to work alongside slaves to build their own new prison.

William S. Burson, a 31-year-old native of Salinville, Ohio, saw a chance to escape when prisoners began tearing down rail fences and ranging farther and farther from the camp. Gaining a guard’s permission to “gather firewood,” he triggered a “Race to Liberty” that broke the guard line as 400 prisoners stampeded into the woods and swamps along the river.

A swamp around Florence, SC

A swamp around Florence, SC

Burson, a private of Company A of the 32nd Ohio Infantry, had been captured July 22nd in the fighting around Atlanta. With two other 29-year-old escapees, Benjamin F. Porter, of the 10th Ohio Cavalry and John Henson, of the 31st Illinois Infantry, Burson built a raft and crossed to the far side of the Pee Dee with no idea of where to go. They were found hiding in a cornfield by a Negro overseer named Will, who fed them and “told us to stay in the woods till night, when he would come back… and put us on the road that would carry us straight to North Carolina; and said we need not be afraid of the darkies, as they were all friends to us. And so we found them to be.”

POWs living in a "shebang" at Florence

POWs living in a “shebang” at Florence

For a week the trio struggled through central South Carolina, chased by bloodhounds, enduring torrential rain without blankets or shelter and suffering diarrhea from eating raw corn. Stumbling blindly through forest and field in moonless, rainy nights, they were frequently aided by negroes who provided them with matches, sweet potatoes, corn bread, chicken and bacon, and risked severe punishment for trading them civilian clothing for their federal uniform jackets.

A long leaf pine savannah

A long leaf pine savannah

By Sept 28th the group made across the state border to the turpentine forests of the North Carolina Sandhills. It was still raining, and Burson, nursing a broken rib and already weakened by two months at Andersonville, was in the grip of a fever and bronchitis so severe that he could barely whisper.

Collecting Rosin in the turpentine forest

Collecting Rosin in the turpentine forest

Three days later, friendly local negroes guided them to a trustworthy member of the Home Guard, who advised them against trying to join the Union forces at New Bern, NC. Instead he directed them to follow the Plank Road northwest to “a large settlement of Quakers in Randolph County,” where “a secret organization” of Union men, would help them through to Tennessee.

This man, though dressed in rebel garb, was Union at heart, and I found that the Jeff Davis was government was losing more by such soldiers than it was gaining.”

Joseph Newlin 1797-1865

Joseph Newlin 1797-1865

When they reached the Randolph County settlements in they were taken under the wing of 67-year-old Joseph Newlin, a well-known Quaker who had almost certainly partnered with the Coffins to help fugitives along the Underground Road. For at least a week the three prison escapees would stay in the county, hidden among various local supporters.

Randolph County, a 30-mile square in the heart of North Carolina, had been gripped by internal guerilla warfare during the Revolutionary War, and old grudges were revived to fuel revenge taken 80 years later. A correspondent in August 1864 wrote that “we are getting right in to war at home, neaighbour against neaighbour.”

Rural Randolph was teeming with “outliers” (draft dodgers) and “recusant conscripts” (deserters) hiding in the woods, ‘caves’, and hills. Today’s site of the state Zoo, Purgatory Mountain, took on that name during the war due to its surrounding haze of concealed campfire smoke. Outlawed and hunted by sheriff, home guard and regular army, these roving bands of young men were a constant source of civil strife. Civilian government came close to collapse, unable to enforce the law or protect local citizens. Troops from Raleigh were frequently called in to round up deserters, punish local collaborators, and guard the factories and polling places.

A civil war deserter

A civil war deserter

Randolph had also been at the heart of anti-slavery activism. The home of more Friends meetings than any other county in the state, it had been the headquarters of the Manumission Society. Daniel Worth, an anti-slavery missionary, had been tried there in 1859 for distributing “incendiary literature.” Residents of the county had voted against secession in 1861 by a ratio of 57 pro-Union voters to every single Confederate. The editor of the Fayetteville Observer explained the vote by saying that the people of Randolph “are attached to the Union, and they felt that the Union was in danger.”

Despite these sentiments, when North Carolina reacted to Lincoln’s call for troops by seceding, Randolph County’s governing elite enthusiastically responded. In 1861 eight companies of troops were raised by the sons of the wealthy farmers and lawyers. At least some county residents also joined the opposing forces at the same time. Howell Gilliam Trogdon, a native of Franklinsville, joined 8th Missouri Zouave regiment and led the “forlorn hope” attack on the Stockade Redan at Grant’s siege of Vicksburg in 1863. Trogdon became the first North Carolinian to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor- gaining the Union’s highest military award for fighting his southern brethren.

In 1862 the draft forced more county residents to serve the Confederacy, but even then they couldn’t be made to stay. The desertion rate for the 8 Randolph companies was 22.8 percent, as contrasted with 12.2 percent for North Carolina as a whole. In October 1864 alone, Confederate officials reported 150 deserters in the county.

A prime example of a local deserter was a great-grandfather of Randolph County’s best-known modern resident, Richard Petty. William F. Toomes, a 26-year-old blacksmith, initially avoided Confederate service as a vital employee of a Deep River cotton mill. Drafted into the 58th NC Infantry in December 1863, he was sent to the Georgia-Tennessee front. Within two weeks Toomes had deserted his Confederate regiment and joined the U.S. Army, serving with the 10th Tennessee Cavalry through the end of the war.

The war would prove devastating to the county’s political structure, wiping out most of the next generation of the antebellum power brokers. This first became evident in the election of 1864, held just 6 weeks before Burson arrived in the county, when Peace Party candidates had swept the local vote. Referring to the unsuccessful candidate for governor, a correspondent wrote that “every old Bill Holdenite in the county is elected, and old Bill beat Vance in Randolph!”

William Burson, recovering from his illnesses, was housed near Franklinsville with “a strong friend of the Union, and of course a bitter enemy of the so-called Confederacy.” His host grew to trust Burson, and initiated him into the lodge of the “Secret Order” modeled on the Masons, “the mysterious order H.O.A., which organization was doing almost as much injury to the rebel cause as an invading army.” The HOA, or “Red String,” referring to the Biblical cord of Rahab which allowed Joshua to infiltrate the city of Jericho, had been a major issue in the state elections held in August. The “President” of the order told Burson he had been in the southern army in Virginia, but had “turned his steps homeward, and at once opened a station on the Underground Railroad.”

Franklinsville, like the rest of Randolph County, had been split by the war. One of the state’s premier cotton mill villages, and the largest urban community in the county, its first factory had been founded in 1838 by Levi Coffin’s cousin Elisha, who sold stock in the company to Quakers and anti-slavery activists. The town had been named after Jesse Franklin, an obscure governor and congressman venerated by abolitionists for voting to keep slavery out of the Northwest Territory. In 1850 a Wesleyan, or “Abolition Methodist” meeting house had been established there by missionaries from Indiana.

In the 1850s slaveowners took control of the factory in a hostile takeover, and with the advent of war production was almost entirely diverted into weaving and sewing undergarments for the military. The populace remained pro-Union, however. As early as June,1861, pro-government citizens had warned that Franklinsville had “Abolitionist and Lincolnite among us who defy the home guards”.

Franklinville was one of a number of communities, said an irate Confederate in 1863, “that are thoroughly abolitionized… Those people… read the New York Tribune before the war [Horace Greeley’s antislavery newspaper]…. They wanted a Lincoln electoral ticket- & because they could not get it, many of them refused to vote at all. Go into their houses now & you will find the Tribune and other abolition Journals pasted as wallpaper in their rooms.”

The “President” of the HOA around Franklinville was probably Reuben F. Trogdon, a cooper and post-war Republican sheriff of the county. Burson noted that the Trogdon family was “widely known as being very hostile to the cause of Jeff Davis… so closely watched by the rebels that they… did not dare sleep in their houses at nights. I found among them men who had not slept in their houses for two years, and some who had not eaten in their houses for six months. They were compelled to camp out in the woods, in order to hide from the rebel soldiers who would frequently make raids on the Union men, and if caught… they would, in almost every case, murder them outright.”

The Blue Ridge from Wilkes County, NC

The Blue Ridge from Wilkes County, NC

Burson’s HOA contacts helped him map out a route to join the Union army in Tennessee that took them through all of the pro-Union “Quaker Belt” counties of North Carolina: Guilford, Stokes, Yadkin, Wilkes, Watauga, and Ashe, where HOA contacts could guide them along the way.

Ashe County, NC

Ashe County, NC

In Ashe County they lost their way and Henson and Porter were recaptured and sent back to the Confederate prison at Salisbury. Burson managed to escape on foot, only to be intercepted by more Home Guards while trying to cross the New River. He was taken to the town of Boone, where he escaped with the aid of another HOA member. From Blowing Rock, NC, suffering more trials and tribulations, he made it through Cumberland and Unicoi counties, TN, to the Union lines at Bull’s Gap, in Hawkins County.

Election Day

Burson had walked more than 400 miles in 55 days since escaping from Florence. His first act upon reaching Union lines on November 8th was to vote. It was Election Day, and the Underground Railroad had delivered a vote for Abraham Lincoln from the Unionists of Randolph County, NC.

Boys in Blue

Unconventional Warfare

April 29, 2014

Pineland Money

Confession:  About fifteen years ago, when I was Mayor of Franklinville, I secretly collaborated with the Pineland Resistance Movement, guerrilla freedom fighters seeking to destabilize the civilian government.  They had me in return for a pig-picking in some hot, forsaken section of Montgomery County, and a helicopter ride.  Looking back, maybe I sold myself cheap.

Twice each year the center of North Carolina becomes the fictional country of Pineland as part of the Robin Sage training exercise, the final test for students at the Special Forces Qualification Course held at the U.S. Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, based out of Fort Bragg.  Several hundred servicemen and women from the base act as the People’s Republic of Pineland home defense forces, and the aspiring Green Berets play the resistance.  Civilians volunteer to be “trained” as resistance forces by the Special Forces “advisors;” I was a Mayor role-playing an elected official for what they called a “key-leader engagement.”   Using citizen volunteers adds realism; on the flip side, so does seeing a squad of black-clad ninjas crawling up through one’s pasture, or hearing gunfire and flash-bang grenades at midnight.

Pineland Resistance, Fayetteville Observer photo

Pineland Resistance, Fayetteville Observer photo

From the Special Forces press release:  “Candidates are placed in an environment of political instability characterized by armed conflict, forcing Soldiers to analyze and solve problems to meet the challenges of this ‘real-world’ training.  With the help of civilian authorities and local citizens, Robin Sage has been conducted since 1974; before this, similar exercises were run under the names Devil’s Arrow, Swift Strike, and Guerilla USA.  The exercise’s notional country of Pineland encompasses 15 counties in North Carolina, including Alamance… Chatham, Davidson, Guilford… Montgomery, Moore, [and] Randolph…  Special Forces candidates and Robin Sage role-players live, eat and sleep in these civilian areas.”

People's Republic of Pineland

People’s Republic of Pineland

The mythical country of Pineland comes to life for two weeks twice a year, and by the time it’s over, maybe the new Green Berets have learned enough to stay alive in some place like Afghanistan.  As the father now of a son in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., I hope they learned a lot.  Whenever I hear of a Green Beret in a casualty report, I hope it wasn’t anyone I ever knew in Pineland…

University of Pineland

University of Pineland

The Army calls this an exercise in “unconventional warfare,” though it seems as though the unconventional has become the norm nowadays.  The irony of this part of North Carolina, these central counties, being the heart of the fictional resistance movement is not lost on me as a historian, however.  Pineland has brought the teaching of guerilla warfare into 20th and 21st century Randolph, where the real article inflamed the same ground during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bloodshed and politics went hand-in-hand here during the War of the Regulation in 1771; during the Whig-Tory War of 1780-1782; and during the War of the Rebellion of 1861-1865  There is no accurate count of casualties from any of these eras of internecine conflict, but it is no exaggeration to estimate the dead in the hundreds.  An actual body count would put Randolph, Moore and Chatham counties into the lead as North Carolina’s bloodiest battlefield- yet we don’t even make the list.

Pineland Guerillas

Pineland Guerillas

Colonel David Fanning’s assassination of Randolph County’s militia leader, Colonel Andrew Balfour, wasn’t Fanning’s first murder, or his last.   In his one circuit of the county in March, 1781, Fanning killed Balfour, the head of the militia infantry, seriously wounded John Collier, the head of the cavalry; burned houses and barns, and generally decapitated civilian government by scattering the justices meeting at the county court.  He did the same in Chatham County, and for good measure he attacked state government in Hillsboro, capturing the Governor and Council and taking them prisoners to the British in Wilmington.

Head of the Resistance Forces, Pineland Bob Snyder, retired Green Beret.  AP Photo, Gerry Broome.

Head of the Resistance Forces, Pineland Bob Snyder, retired Green Beret planning an attack in Ramseur. AP Photo, Gerry Broome.

The lack of government and justice after the Revolution insured that simmering desires for revenge would survive in family lore for more than four score years, to surface in Randolph of the 1860s.  A county that overwhelmingly resisted secession continued to resist Confederate government.  Though the county sent large numbers of soldiers into the southern army, it also sent many into the Federal forces, and as many more refused to fight for either side.  As I have written before, North Carolina’s first recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor was Howell G. Trogdon of Franklinville.  Many others left the county to fight for the Union or to protect their Quaker families in Indiana or Ohio.

Randolph County was under martial law for much of the war, with government forces supporting the tenuous control of civilian authorities while they searched for deserters, draft dodgers, “recusant conscripts,” “Holdenites,” “Lincolnites,” and other undesireables.  Purgatory Mountain was honeycombed with the underground hide-outs of the “hiders out of the army.” The county had a shadow government, the Heroes of America or Red String, whose members after the war formed the nucleus of the Republican Party.

Chief Kidd's Hideout

Chief Kidd’s Hideout

As civilian officials tried to cope with “an environment of political instability,” some went too far.  Deputy Sheriff Alfred Pike of Franklinville finally captured the leader of the resistance, “Colonel” Bill Owens, only after obtaining information on his hiding place by torturing Owen’s wife and children.  A Deputy for 15 years, Pike was so roundly censured in the press for his tactics that he resigned and moved his family to Texas, and the blow-back cost his boss, Sheriff J.W. Steed, his job in the election of 1864.

Robin Sage 3

This is just part of the story of Randolph during the Civil War that was researched and written by Bill Auman for his PhD dissertation.   It has recently been published by MacFarland, and is available on Amazon.   [  ;  William T. Auman, Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt: The Confederate Campaign Against Peace Agitators, Deserters and Draft Dodgers (2014).]

WTA Civil War Quaker Belt

Buy his book, and read the real story of Randolph’s war.  You will never look at the Confederate flag decal on some ratty pickup truck in the same way again.  Maybe if they knew their own family history, they’d have bumper stickers for The People’s Republic of Pineland, instead.


July 1, 1863.

July 1, 2013

NC Monument GettysburgKilled in the battle of Gettysburg, July 1st, 1863, Lieut. John H. Palmer, of the 22d Reg’t N. C. T., in the 24th year of his age.

He was a native of Randolph county, and among the first to volunteer in defence of his beloved country. Thus has fallen one so young, and promising, in the opening bud of manhood. He died a true patriot and soldier, fighting the enemies of his country and home. He was ever gay and lively; polite in his manners and strict in the discharge of his duties. Gallant in action, and heedless of danger—he feared not to follow where the colors went.

In him his parents have lost an excellent son, and North Carolina one of her brightest stars.

“He sleeps on Pennsylvania’s plains,
Amid the fallen brave,
The wild wind of her native hills
Sing requiems o’er his grave;
Deep toned notes of cannon’s roar,
Nor musket’s deeply rattle
Can rouse him from his sleep no more,
Nor wake him up to battle!
Green be the turf o’er his head,
And sacred be the sod;
Oh! may his spirit find a home
In glory, with his God.”

[Published in the Fayetteville Observer, September 14, 1863]

John H. Palmer was the oldest of the twelve children of Oron Alston Palmer (1813-1890) and Sylvania Selvina Staley (1817-1896) of the Long’s Mills community north of Liberty in Randolph County.  He was born October 21, 1837, and enlisted in Company I, the “Davis Guards,” of the 22nd N.C. Infantry, on June 5, 1861.

John’s younger brother Joseph N. Palmer, born July 16, 1841, enlisted in the same company at the same time, but “mustered out… at home” on December 17, 1861—that is, he died at home, probably of one of the diseases that spread through the camps in the early months of the war.  So the war had already taken at least one member of the family before Gettysburg.

John Palmer was promoted to Sergeant Major on July 31, 1861; to 3rd Lieutenant on June 14, 1862; and to 1st Lieutenant on July 18, 1862.  Lt. Palmer was not by any means the only loss from Company I that day.

Lutheran Theological Seminary's Schmucker Hall

Lutheran Theological Seminary’s Schmucker Hall

From the Greensboro Patriot, September 24, 1863 (also published in Fayetteville Observer)

Camp near Orange C. H., Va., Aug. 26, 1863.

At a
meeting held by the officers of the 22d N. C. Regiment, Capt. C. F. Siler was called to the Chair, and Lts. R. W. Winborne and S. G. Caudill were appointed Secretaries.

The Chairman having explained the object of the meeting to be for the adoption of resolutions expressive of the sorrow for the death of Lieuts. J. F. PALMER [sic- J.H. is correct]  and I. S. ROBBINS, Company I, 22d N. C. Regiment.

The following gentlemen were appointed a Committee to draft resolutions: Lts. B. W. Birkhead, G. F. Gardin and W. A. Tuttle, Sergts. T. J. Hooper and F. M. Birkhead.
WHEREAS, It has pleased Almighty God in His infinite wisdom to remove from our midst our beloved comrades in arms, Lts. J. F. PALMER and I. S. ROBBINS, of Co. I, who left their professions under bright auspices, at an early date and hastened to the rescue of their country, and fell on the bloody heights of Gettysburg, under the majestic folds of the banner of liberty, while bravely leading their company.

Resolved, That while we bow in humble submission to the ways of Divine Providence, in his dealings with men, we cannot refrain to mourn the loss of these brave and noble young men whose gallantry and skill as officers has been tried on every field that their company has been engaged in, and found to be of the highest order; whose gentlemanly bearings had reached the acme of perfection towards all those they became associated with, and won for them the confidence and admiration of all who knew them.

Resolved, That in their death their company and regiment has sustained an irretrievable loss, and our righteous cause two of its most noble defenders.

Yes! before that terrific fire was begun,
The mission of these noble men was done;
Ere the flowers of summer were in bloom,
The noble martyrs were laid in one tomb;
Secret, yet swift, the fatal missile sped,
And friends now weep over their early bed.

Resolved, That we wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days.
Resolved, That we extend our heart-felt grief to the bereaved families, and for comfort would point them to that Being who has vouchsafed all that is good for man.
Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the families of the deceased, and to the Greensborough Patriot, Catawba Journal and the Fayetteville Observer, for publication.

Lieut. B. W. BIRKHEAD, Co. I, }
G. H. Gardin, Co. B, }
W. A. TUTTLE, Co. A. ) COM.

Lt. R, W. WINBORNE,       } Secretaries.

Lt. S. G. CAUDILL, }

[This very formal expression of grief was a common feature of men’s clubs before the war- Masons, or social clubs would meet to eulogize a departed member, and write such flowery Victorian messages for publication in the local papers.  As time between battles permitted, the officers and men continued the tradition until the losses came too fast to keep it up.]

Isaiah Spurgeon Robins (b. 5-30-1837 ) was Company I’s 2nd Lieutenant.  His family history will be outlined in another post, but he enlisted in Company I on July 5, 1861, mustering in as 1st Sergeant.  He was promoted to Ordinance Sergeant in March 1862 and transferred to the regimental Field Staff.  On July 18, 1862 he was elected 2nd Lieutenant and transferred back to Company I.  How did the company lose both its lieutenants on July 1st?

On June 30th, J. Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade of eastern North Carolinians was sent into the little town of Gettysburg, PA, to look for supplies (“especially shoes.”)  They ran into John Buford’s Union cavalry and cocked the trigger for what became the turning point of the war.

A.P. Hill awakened his men to march into the town before dawn, and fortified them with an unusual allowance: any man who wanted an issue of whiskey at 5 AM was to receive one.  A five-mile march along the Chambersburg Pike brought them within sight of the town by 10 AM- and also within sight of federal artillery, which began a bombardment.  By 2:30 battle had become general along a front just west of the ridge where the local Seminary was located, and Robert E. Lee ordered Pettigrew’s 26th NC to press the federal line- which happened to be held by the famous Iron Brigade.  The federals were pushed back, but at a heavy cost- Pettigrew’s brigade suffered 40% casualties.

Dorsey PenderAbout 4PM Dorsey Pender’s troops advanced to relieve Pettigrew.  Pender’s Division of North Carolinians, including the 22nd NC Regiment, had led the march of A.P. Hill’s corps into Pennsylvania. They were in high spirits, impressing a British observer, who wrote “The soldiers of this Division are a remarkably fine body of men, and looked quite seasoned and ready for any work.  Their clothing is serviceable … but there is the usual utter absence of uniformity as to colour and shape of their garments and hats; grey of all shades, and brown clothing, with felt hats predominate.” [Lt. Col Arthur J. Freemantle, Three Months in the Southern States (London, 1863), pp229-230];  Dorsey Pender himself noted that “I never saw troops march as ours do:  they will go 15 or 20 miles a day without leaving a straggler and hop and yell on all occasions.” [ James I. Robertson, Jr., General A.P. Hill (1987), p204.]

His men charged right into a ferocious artillery barrage- 20 cannon spaced 5 yards apart threw iron at the Confederates.  One of the Union officers wrote that his cannon were “cutting great gaps in the front line of the enemy.  But still they came on, the gaps being closed by regiments from the second line, and this again filled by a third column which was coming over the hill.  Never have I seen such a charge.  Not a man seemed to falter.  Lee may well be proud of his infantry.” [Wainwright, Diary of Battle, quoted in Robertson, AP Hill, p212]

Gen. Alfred Moore Scales

Gen. Alfred Moore Scales

The brigade commanded by Alfred Moore Scales, a Rockingham County attorney, formed the extreme left of the attack.  The brigade, which included the 22nd NC, attracted a storm of musket fire from Union troops dug in at the Seminary in addition to the artillery, which fired case, canister and explosive rounds into the massed men.  The North Carolinians held, and pressed the attack, at horrific costs.   The color-bearer of the 13th NC his right arm blown off by an artillery shell, grabbed the flag with his remaining hand and pushed ahead shouting, “Forward, Forward!”  It was one of the fiercest artillery barrages of the war, and “virtually annihilated” Scales’ five North Carolina regiments.  Scales, himself wounded, reported that “only a squad here and there marked the place where regiments had rested.”  (McPherson, p. 212)  The brigade’s 500 casualties included every field officer. (id.)

How did Lts. Palmer and Robins die?  I’ve found no details- but the specifics can be imagined from the context.  Company I, the “Davis Guards,” their company, was at or near the center of the 22nd NC Infantry regiment, which was in the thick of the attack on Seminary Ridge by Scale’s Brigade, which was decimated by the Union artillery.  Other sons of North Carolina died there that day, and no doubt more Randolph County boys died with them.  We know these two, one 25 years old, one 26, and they can stand for them all.

Scales Brigade Monument Gburg


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.


August 29, 2011

The following story was published in the April, 1898 edition of The North Carolina Home Journal (Vol. I, Number V).  The monthly magazine cost fifty cents a year, and its editorial offices were in Trinity, Randolph County, N.C. [Very little is known about this Randolph County magazine.]


 After the battle of Manassas the Confederate troops occupied the southern bank of the Potomac for some time. The 22d Regiment of N. C. Troops were at Evansport between Aquia Creek and Mount Vernon, Federal Troops were encamped on the opposite side of the river, which is at that point about a mile and a half wide. From this camp balloons would ascend every day for the occupants to make observations as to what was doing on the Confederate side. One very large and beautiful balloon was named “The Belle.”  Every strip in the cloth, which seemed to be silk, was of a different color from the others. The Confederates had batteries along the river, and at Evansport was a long range gun which some of the members of the 22d Regiment were trained to handle. Thomas J. Wood, of Randolph County, was the gunner.

He acquired considerable proficiency in firing the gun, and one day asked his Captain to let him try a shot at that big balloon. The Captain could not give the permission, but suggested that he ask General Holmes, who was then in command of the brigade. Accordingly, the first time the General came around Wood sought the desired permission. Holmes after swearing at him awhile, and telling him he would better save his ammunition for he would likely need it in a few days, finally told him he could come down, and he might try it.


Two days after, a clear, bright, still evening, the balloon being up, the General came. J. J. Pettigrew, who was then Colonel of the regiment, and had had a splendid military education, was standing near the gun. Wood asked him to pass judgment of the distance. “About four miles,” Pettigrew replied. “Try your fifteen-second shell first, and if it falls short, take your twenty-two-second shell, which is made to go four miles and a half before bursting. Wood fired his first shell, and men with field-glasses watching, observed that it fell short. He then loaded with the twenty-two-second shell, adjusted his gun, and drew the lanyard. As the iron missile went singing through the air, all watched intently the result, and behold, when at last it exploded, the beautiful balloon collapsed and fell, her variegated coat torn to tatters by the fragments of the bursting shell.

This is an intriguing little vignette of the early war, discovered by local genealogist Barbara Newsome (“Bobbie”) Grigg and republished in 1981 in the Randolph County Genealogical Journal.[i]  However, there is a fundamental flaw with the whole story:  I can find no account of any federal observation balloon being shot down by Confederate artillery.  In fact, histories of the Balloon Corps say exactly the opposite.[ii]  But the story provides an entry point into a number of fascinating footnotes to the story of the War Between the States.

First, the United States Balloon Corps, a civilian organization established by President Lincoln in June, 1861 to provide aerial reconnaissance for the Union armies.  While ostensibly under the authority of the Union’s Bureau of Topographical Engineers, the Balloon Corps and its “Chief Aeronaut” Thaddeus S.C. Lowe were never trusted by Lincoln’s mediocre cadre of command generals, and was phased out of use after June 1863, despite providing useful and, sometimes irreplaceable intelligence on southern troop strength and movements.

The primary reason the War Department bureaucrats distrusted the Balloon Corps was probably what caught the attention of the President in the first place:  its flamboyant founder, a character who could have been the model for Professor Marvel, the failed balloonist who became Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.  “Professor” Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine (or, sometimes he used the more impressive and mysterious “Coulincourt”) Lowe (1832- 1913), was a self-educated aeronautical enthusiast who made a living in the 1850s demonstrating hot air balloons at county fairs across the country.

Lowe made and wasn’t afraid to make use of influential friends such as Joseph Henry, the Director of the Smithsonian institution.  But what got the attention of the President was a stunt Lowe engineered under the guise of testing atmospheric wind currents for a trans-Atlantic balloon flight.  On April 20, 1861, Lowe made headlines North and South with a storybook aerial journey from Cincinnati, Ohio, flying 500 miles in just nine hours, sailing entirely over North Carolina to land in a field near Unionville, S.C.  Since this was just a week after the fall of Fort Sumter, the startled residents of South Carolina were more inclined to believe that the flying Yankee disguised in a formal Prince Albert tailcoat and silk top hat was some sort of spy.  They packed Lowe and his balloon, the Enterprise, off to the state capital where he finally managed to persuade the authorities to let him catch a train back to Ohio.

Whether or not Lowe started out to spy, by the time he got back to Cincinnati he had a firm grasp of the military value of his hobby, and a burning desire to use it in the service of the Union.  He had an influential friends arrange a meeting with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House on June 11, 1861 where Lowe outlined his vision for the military use of observation balloons.  A week later Lowe not only demonstrated the balloon-ship Enterprise 500 feet above the south lawn of the White House, but sent the President the world’s first telegram from the air to prove how easily aerial intelligence observations could be communicated to the ground.[iii]  Lincoln wasted no time in putting Lowe to work; before the end of June balloons took their place in military history when Lowe and a sketch artist ascended near Bull Run to observe the Confederate Army.  In August General George McClellan authorized Lowe to build seven balloons for the army,[iv] and Lowe invented a portable hydrogen generator to allow the balloons to be filled with gas on the battlefield.

On August 29th Lowe began providing McClellan with information on the Confederate fortifications being built on the Potomac five miles south of Washington.  Lowe’s daily observations of Confederate activities attracted immediate artillery and rife fire from southern troops, but at their regular altitude of 500 feet, they were usually out of range.  In November Lowe, observing across the Potomac from the airship Constitution,  reported to army headquarters that “We had a fine view of the enemy’s camp-fires during the evening, and saw the rebels constructing new batteries…”[v]   “A hawk hovering over a chicken yard could not have caused more commotion than did my balloons when they appeared,” Lowe wrote.  “As soon as it became inflated so the rebels could see it,” a young Union officer wrote, “they commenced throwing shells at it… [one] shell passed directly over our heads… and exploded the instant it struck the ground.”[vi]  Union soldiers made bets on whether the Southern artillerists would actually hit a balloon, but the closest shots only nicked the observer basket or the tether ropes.[vii]  The balloons were such enticing targets that Lincoln’s biographer Carl Sandburg called Lowe “the most shot-at man in the War.”[viii]  Despite being such a frequent target, there is no evidence that any Confederate shot ever pierced the silk envelope of a balloon; however, it may sometimes have appeared so.  Major Porter Alexander, Chief Engineer and Signal Officer of the Confederate army, wrote on September 8th that “We sent a rifle shell so near old Lowe and his balloon that he came down as fast as gravity could bring him.”[ix]  Perhaps something like this is the factual basis of the story.

Unfortunately, there is one other major discrepancy.   The federal Balloon Corps never had a multi-colored airship.  Lowe’s silk envelopes were evidently white or gray, emblazoned with the name of each balloon and decorated with appropriate paintings such a bald eagle, the United States flag, or a portrait of George Washington.[x]  Varnished and reflective, a Union balloon “glistened… like a ball of silver suspended in the air.”[xi]   In fact, the only accounts of brightly colored silk balloons are of the two Confederate balloons Gazelle and Nimbus, built in 1862.  The Gazelle was made in Savannah, Georgia by Capt. Langdon Cheves (1814-1863), who purchased silk dress material from local merchants without regard to color or pattern.  Its bright plaids and flowered designs gave the Gazelle a distinctive patchwork aspect that caused General James Longstreet in his war memoir to author the myth that the balloon had been sewn from “all the silk dresses in the Confederacy.”[xii]

Whether or not some important aspects of the story are verifiable, it still opens a window on a barely-remembered aspect of the war, in which Randolph County’s companies in the 22nd Regiment were heavily involved.  [ To be Continued in the next entry–]

[Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island involved the escape of Union POWs in a Confederate balloon… not made of silk dress material in this illustration!]

[i] The Genealogical Journal of the Randolph County Historical Society, Vol. V, No. 4, Fall 1981, p.35.

[ii] Gail Jarrow, Lincoln’s Flying Spies: Thaddeus Lowe and the Civil War Balloon Corps.  Honesdale, Pa.:  Calkins Creek, 2010, p. 70.

[iii] Thus the Enterprise was not only America’s first military airship, but the only Enterprise ever to have been an actual guest at the White House.  If Gene Roddenberry had only known…

[iv] Mixing naval history with pro-Union sentiments, Lowe’s airship fleet was made up of the Union, Intrepid, Constitution, United States, Washington, Eagle and Excelsior.

[v] “TSC Lowe’s Official Report,” in The War of the Rebellion, series 3, Vol. 3, p. 266.

[vi] Letter from Benjamin Steven to his parents in New Hampshire, 30 Nov. 1861.  Benjamin C. Stevens Papers, Duke University Library Special Collections, Durham, NC.

[vii] Jarrow, op.cit.

[viii] Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Vol. 1 (New York, 1939), page 493.

[ix] Letter from E.P. Alexander to A.L. Alexander, 8 Sept. 1861, quoted in F. Stansbury Haydon, Aeronautics in the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 1., p. 206.  (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1941).

[x] Jarrow, p. 45.

[xi] Gilbert Adams Hays, comp.  Under the Red Patch: the Story of the 63rd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers (Pittsburgh, 1908), p.76.

[xii] James Longstreet, “Our March Against Pope,” in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 2, p.513.  (New York: Century Club, 1888).

The True Lost Cause: The Battle for Peace in February, 1861

April 11, 2011

Fort Sumter from the Battery in Charleston.

April 11, 1861 was America’s last day of peace.

On April 8th, President Lincoln’s envoy to the Governor of South Carolina announced the President’s intention to resupply the besieged garrison at Fort Sumner with food and water, threatening to prolong indefinitely the stalemate that had begun the previous December 26th.  The implication of Lincoln’s action was that, if war was to come, then the Southern firebrands who had advocated for a state’s right to leave the Union would have to turn push into shove.

The cascade of fear and anger that had begun with Lincoln’s election in November had almost run out of steam by April, 1861.  South Carolina, ever fast to take offense, led the way on December 20th, followed by Mississippi (Jan. 9), Florida (Jan. 10), Alabama (Jan. 11), Georgia (Jan. 19), Louisiana (Jan. 26), and Texas (Feb. 1).   But there the flood tide had run out, and in the months since it seemed that overwrought tempers and heated words had cooled and even begun to recede.

The rock on which the initial secession wave broke was the Upper South, the border states possessing a majority of the southern populace, natural resources and industry.    Even there the vocal minority of men of property and power had advocated for secession.   But Unionists held back the flood, pointing out that the United States had been created by state constitutional conventions, authorized by a vote of the people, which then ratified (or not, in the case of North Carolina), the U.S. Constitution.  They argued that secession, more simply known as “Disunion,’ could only be achieved by following a similar process.  They hoped this delaying tactic would provide time to think, consider the consequences, and allow the possibility of compromise and new understanding.

On February 9, 1861, Tennessee voted on whether to send delegates to a State Convention to decide on secession.  88,803 votes were cast for pro-Union candidates and 22,749 votes were cast for Secession candidates, but the actual proposal for a secession convention was defeated by a vote of 69,675 to 57,798.

On  February  13th a convention assembled in Richmond to determine whether Virginia should secede from the Union.  More than two thirds of the delegates refused to vote for secession.

On Feb. 18th, the day that Jefferson Davis was inaugurated president of the Confederate States, the citizens of Arkansas approved holding a convention to consider the question, but when an ordinance of secession was put to a vote on March 16th, it was rejected by a vote of 39 to 35.

Anyone reading the returns of the election of 1860 could have discerned the pro-Union sentiments of the voters of North Carolina.  When the final vote totals were published in the Greensboro Patriot on February 14, 1861, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, the Southern Democratic candidate, had received the most votes (48,533); second was John Bell of Tennessee, the Constitutional Union nominee (44,039); and far behind was the Democrat Stephen A. Douglas (just 2,690 votes).   When their totals are combined, more than 97% of North Carolina voters arguably approved the pro-Union positions of Bell and Breckinridge.  (Abraham Lincoln probably didn’t get a single vote in Randolph County during the election of 1860; the new Republican Party had not garnered enough votes in the previous election to even be allowed on the North Carolina ballot.)

On January 29th the North Carolina General Assembly scheduled a referendum on whether to call a secession convention.  “Whereas, the present perilous condition of the country demands… that the sovereign people of this State should assemble in Convention to effect an honorable adjustment of existing difficulties whereby the Federal Union is endangered, or otherwise preserve the honor and promote the interests of North Carolina; and Whereas, this General Assembly, on matters of such grave import, involving the relation of North Carolina to her sisters in the Confederacy, is reluctant to adopt any settled policy without the sense of the people in whom, under our governance, all sovereignty resides, being first ascertained.” [The act was  published in the Feb. 14th edition of the Greensboro Patriot.   The Yoda-like sentence structure of its preamble is a potent combination of florid Victorian language and turgid legalese.]

The act required the Governor “to issue a proclamation commanding the Sheriffs of the respective counties… to open polls… on the 28th day of February, A.D. 1861, when and where all persons qualified to vote… may vote for or against a State Convention:  those who wish a convention, voting with a printed or written ticket, ‘Convention,’ and those who do not wish a convention, voting in the same way, ‘No Convention.’”

At the same time, potential delegates were to be elected in case the Convention was approved.  Further complicating the process, even if the Convention met and approved an Ordinance of Secession, the bill still would require ratification by yet another vote of the people before it could take effect.

Campaigning against the Convention- against “Disunion”- began immediately in The Patriot, the old-line Whig newspaper serving Randolph and Guilford counties.  On Thursday, February 6th, the editor wrote “TO THE POLLS!  The bill calling a Convention, having provided that it shall be left to the people to say, through the ballot-box, whether or not they desire said Convention, we hope and trust that every man who loves his country, who desires the perpetuity of this Union, will resolve, if possible, to be at the polls and record his vote against a Convention.  Let no one be deceived:  The real question is Union or Disunion…. Let no one say, that it is useless to vote… It may be, and we think it probably that a majority will be cast for a ‘Convention,’ yet it is of the utmost importance, that as large a vote as possible should be cast against a Convention, for every vote so cast will be a vote for the Union…”

On January 31st, Jonathan Worth, leader of the Randolph Whigs and newly-elected to represent the county in the state House of Commons, issued “a circular to his constituents” which took a strong stand against the Convention.  “Every artifice will be employed to make you believe that the Convention is to be called to save the Union.  Believe it not…. If war begins, it will probably be brought on during the sitting of the Convention.  It is now the policy of the disunionists to postpone hostilities till President Buchanan goes out and President Lincoln comes in.  They will probably court a fight as soon as Lincoln takes the reins…. Believe not those who may tell you this Convention is called to save the Union.  It is called to destroy it.  If you desire to preserve the Union, vote ‘No Convention.’” [Worth’s Circular was excerpted in the Patriot of Feb. 6, 1861, and printed in full in the Feb. 14th issue.]

The last issue of The Patriot before the referendum (Feb. 21st) was full of articles and editorials seeking to get out the vote of faithful Whigs.  “The 28th of February, the day which perhaps will decide the fate of the Union, is close at hand.… Let every man then who loves his country be at his post… There is a battle to be fought.  A battle upon the result of which hang the destinies of this Nation.  The enemies of our Union have been marshaling their forces.  The hand is already uplifted to strike down the flag of our country!  Union men, to the rescue!  To the rescue!  …Believe not those who tell you, that the question is, whether North Carolina shall go with the North, or the South.  The issue, and the only issue, is Union, or disunion… If we are but true to ourselves, the stars and stripes will yet continue to wave over the freest and happiest people upon whom the sun ever shown.”

The editorial quotes multiple stanzas of a poem,

“Stand like an anvil, when the stroke

Of stalwart men falls fierce and fast,

Storms but more deeply root the oak

Whose brawny arms embrace the blast.

Stand like an anvil, when the sound

Of ponderous hammers pains the ear;

Thine, but the still and stern rebound

Of the great heart, that cannot fear.”

“The Convention will be the first step toward revolution…” another editorial blasted.  “The vote…will be the most important ever polled in North Carolina.  We hope and trust the people will follow the example set them by Tennessee… [and say] in a voice that cannot be misunderstood, that this Union ‘must and shall be preserved.’”

When the great day of battle arrived, the voters of North Carolina joined in electoral combat at the polling places, and the forces of Union achieved a narrow victory, rejecting the Convention by a vote of 47,705 (No Convention) to 47,611 (Convention).   The traditional Piedmont Quaker counties overwhelming voted for the Union and against the Convention.  Chatham County cast 283 votes for the Convention, but 1,795 against it.  In Guilford County, the margin of victory was 25 to 1.  And in Randolph, editor E.J. Hale exulted in the Asheboro Herald of March 3, 1861,  “Listen to the thunder of Randolph!


“No Convention……………..2,436!

“The honest democracy of this county have showed that they love their country better than their party; and the Whigs, who detest the accursed doctrine of secession, have made their action conform to their principles, by voting against convention—the instrument, solely relied upon by secessionists to make their heresy effectual, and impotent to do anything else.”  [The Asheboro Herald is a newspaper which has not survived, except as copied in the Greensboro Patriot of March 14th]

Alongside the results of the referendum printed in the March 14th Greensboro Patriot was the inaugural address of President Lincoln, delivered on March 4th , and agreeing with the pro-Union sentiments of North Carolina voters in his assertion that “the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy.”

The final canvass of the Randolph County vote was 2,570 to 45, a ratio of 57 pro-Union voters to every one pro-Confederate secessionist.   That lop-sided proportion struck newspapers in eastern North Carolina as fishy… the New Bern Progress [quoted in the April 11, 1861 Greensboro Patriot], headed its editorial “Something Wrong.”

“There must be something wrong in the vote cast in Randolph county for and against Convention.  In 1856 Randolph cast for Bragg and Gilmer 1842 votes, in 1860 for Ellis and Pool she gave 2015 votes; in November for President she gives 1589; and in February 1861, six months later, on the question of Convention, they run up to 2514, showing a clear gain since August last of 497 votes.  Now when you consider that the vote in August last was by far the largest ever polled in the state and that every county strained its full strength, we come deliberately to the conclusion that there is something wrong about the Convention vote in Randolph… We hope the matter will be sifted and that we will have new light on the subject.”

The editor of the Fayetteville Observer, in a lengthy defense of the Randolph vote, replied [again, quoted in the Patriot of April 11th], “We have heard what perhaps the Progress has not– the county of Randolph was more thoroughly canvassed, and the people more thoroughly aroused, at the late elections, than ever before.  They are attached to the Union, and they felt that the Union was in danger.”

The terrible irony of this rousing defense of the pro-Union vote in Randolph County is that it was published on the last day of peace.  Early that next morning the hungry defenders of Fort Sumter saw their supply ship approach, and be turned away by the start of a two-day bombardment by the Army of South Carolina.

On April 15, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation, calling for as many as 75,000 troops to crush the rebellion.  That call to bear arms against fellow Southerners was too much for the upper South states.  On April 17th, Virginia’s Secession Convention (still in session since January) saw former Governor Wise seize the podium and announce that he had ordered the state militia to capture federal installations in the jurisdiction, and pulling out a pistol, dared the Convention to stop him.  Within minutes the delegates had voted 88 to 55 to recommend disunion to the state’s voters.

Arkansas voted to leave the union on May 6th.   The last state to join the Confederacy, on June 8th, was Tennessee, and even then eastern half of the state overwhelmingly voted against it.

On May 1, 1861, the North Carolina General Assembly bypassed the voters to call directly for a Convention.  The Convention delegates passed an Ordinance of Secession on May 20th, but the eager Confederate Congress, already meeting in Richmond, had “provisionally” admitted the state to the Confederacy three days earlier.

This past February I told a group of local high school students that February 28th was the anniversary of one of the most important votes ever taken in Randolph County:  to secede and join the Confederacy, or to stay with the Union.  How did they thing their ancestors of 1861 voted? How would they have voted?

Without hesitation, they all voted to join the Confederacy, “of course.”

It is a huge loss when the modern residents of Randolph County have no idea of the true struggles of their forebears during the “Civil War” period.  It is a terrible mis-use of history that teaches children some muddy “big picture” and completely loses the details.

We still fight a war of words over what to call the conflict that began April 12, 1861.  The “winning” side prefers to call it “The Civil War;” unreconstructed Southerners insist it was “The War Between the States.”  The poet Walt Whitman simply called it “The Secession War,” and that best describes what happened in North Carolina.  One of the bravest battles of the war which would last 4 years and kill more than 600,000 Americans  was the very nonviolent, yet very verbal battle for the Union which was fought in Randolph County in the spring of 1861.  As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the breakdown of peaceful conflict resolution, no finer memory of the Quaker heritage of our county can be found than in its struggle to preserve, not destroy, the United States of America.