Sunday, March 29, 2015

'Stoneman has just swept through the country'

Fort Defiance was built in 1788 by Gen. William Lenoir and was spared by Stoneman's Raid in 1865

    When Walter Waightstill Lenoir opened this letter from Joseph Caldwell "J.C." Norwood, it may have been the first details he had heard about Yankees invading Happy Valley, the land settled by his grandfather. Read it through his eyes, and then we'll sort it out.

Lenoir 2nd Apl 1865
Dear Walter,
We are just through with a scene of alarm & very great danger. Stoneman has just swept through the country with 10,000 cavalry towards Wilkesboro, Salem, Salisbury, Greensboro, Hillsboro & Raleigh — & we fear there will be no adequate preparation made to meet him. 
About dark on Tuesday evening last the heart of the column reached the Factory & in a few minutes the people around were under guard & the command in camp! They were equipped in the very best manner, & under the severest discipline & were not allowed to plunder to any great extent or commit any acts of violence. They left about 3 O’clock next day Wednesday (29th) except 2 companies that were left to burn the Factory — which they did with great coolness and method. They also set fire to the storehouse & grainery &c. Most of the store-house the cotton house Tanery & oil escaped. The little office joining the store was burned — the last of them left by sundown.
They reached Wilkesboro next evening about dark taking it by surprise also — we hear that Just. Findley’s house was burned — but hope it is a mistake — many of them said that a large body of infantry was behind — we suppose has gone towards Virginia. 
So complete was their guard that they were all taken by surprise down the river & lost all of their horses and mules except Genl Patterson’s one little pony which they couldn’t catch & Rufus’ one which happens to be out of the way. I have not seen Rufus being afraid to leave home — A soldier who was there upon their arrival & made his escape gave us the facts about 2 O’clock that night — And went on to the station. 
We did all we could in the way of hiding necessaries & running off negroes & stock but none of them came home. While at the Factory they made cousin Rufus’ room their head quarters & treated him courteously — behaved very seedily at Cousin Ed’s, the Fort & other places — but committed no violence. They told cousin Rufus that the secessionists down the river would fare badly. We suppose that their next stop would be Elkin or Janesboro. 
The force which passed the Factory — six thousand was commanded by Guilam. Stoneman joined him at Holoman’s Ford with 4 thousand. It is said a third column passed through Jefferson & camped over the river from Wilkesboro. I hope that is not so. 
About two days before a considerable number of negro men left for Tennessee — & have not been heard from since including 4 from the Fort. 1 Genl. Patterson’s 12 E. Jones & 5 from here. Elias John Turner Jones and Wash — from the fort-Larkin Erin Jerry & Joe — I have not heard too many went with the cavalry. Some of the officers cursed the negroes & wished them all in Hell.
We had been for some time before under constant apprehension about tory or robber raids & I have been serving on guard at town every third night & have been as much as two weeks with out taking off my clothes. We are always in danger except when a portion of Avery’s command is here which is not very often — Home guard no account.
A few days before these troubles commenced. I rec. your War Song & other piece we were all very much pleased with them especially the song of which I had the girls to make a good many copies & distribute it pretty generally — & I was about to send it to 3 of the papers — but will wait now until the Storm is passed.
Yours affect'y
JC Norwood

     Norwood was trying to make sense of the scene on Tuesday evening, March 28, 1865, when 1,400 Union cavalry came pouring over the Blue Ridge and flooded into the tranquil and seemingly secure Yadkin River valley. Another 600 arrived the next morning.
     The people who lived and worked around Patterson Cotton Mill had no reason to fear the Civil War would come to their doorsteps. Grant and Sherman were hundreds of miles away, and the impenetrable Blue Ridge guarded their back. 
     Where had all these Yankees suddenly come from? 
     It turns out they had fought that same morning in Boone, 20 miles north. As soon as Boone was subdued, Gen. George Stoneman divided his forces and dispatched two of his three brigades under Gen. Alvan Gillem (Guilam in the letter) to head south, cross the Blue Ridge at Blowing Rock, and raid Patterson Mill.  
     The 2nd Brigade arrived about nightfall, helped themselves to a community storehouse of corn and bacon, and left orders for the 3rd Brigade to burn the mill to keep it from being used to support the Confederate war effort. (Rufus Patterson may have been selling cloth to both sides, so it's possible that some of the Union raiders were wearing his products.)
     More than half of the Federal troops at Patterson Mill, including Gillem, were "Home Yankees" from Kentucky or Tennessee. It's interesting that Norwood describes them as being so well-disciplined, because the Tennesseeans under Gillem soon earned a reputation for looting and worse.
Walter Lenoir

     The recipient of the letter, Walter Lenoir, was a lawyer from an influential familytwo of North Carolina's counties were named for his grandfathers, William Lenoir and Waightstill Avery. Fort Defiance ("the Fort" in the letter) is the homestead built in 1788 by William Lenoir. It was spared by the raiders and has been turned into a museum that is open for tours
     Walter Lenoir opposed slavery and supported Gov. Zebulon Vance in his efforts to avoid secession. After war broke out, Lenoir volunteered as a Confederate private. Within months he rose to captain under Stonewall Jackson, only to lose a leg after being wounded Sept. 1, 1862, in the Battle of Chantilly, Va. 
     The fact that Norwood overestimated the troop numbers tells us how intimidating the cavalry could be. It's intriguing that Norwood anticipated Stoneman's move into Virginia, which is more than the Confederate leaders did. On the other hand, there was nothing to his rumor of a "third column" coming through Jefferson.
     The raid on Patterson Mill raised great alarm in the town of Lenoir, only six miles away. Norwood and his neighbors must have felt like they had dodged a bullet when Gen. Gillem turned east and followed the Yadkin River toward Wilkesboro. But it was only a brief reprieve. By Easter Sunday, April 16, Stoneman's Raid would be back, occupying the town of Lenoir and turning the St. James Episcopal churchyard into a prison camp.

This Civil War Trails historical marker says the raiders burned Patterson Mill on March 30, but most sources, including Norwood's letter, date it March 29.

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