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:
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.