Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Guess where NC's last rebel came from!


1949 portrait of Uncle Teen Blackburn, when he was 106.
HAMPTONVILLE, N.C.
      One of the last good eyewitnesses* to Stoneman's Raid was Alfred "Uncle Teen" Blackburn, who was 109 when he died in 1951. In an interview in 1938, Blackburn described the raiders coming through Yadkin County, "riding three abreast … on the narrow dirt road that runs a few feet in front of my house … burning everything along the way."
     As I have studied Stoneman's Raid, Uncle Teen may be the most fascinating character I've encountered. Try to reconcile these two facts:
     
He was the last surviving Confederate veteran in North Carolina. 
     He was born a slave.
     Yes, the last rebel soldier in North Carolina owed his freedom to a war he lost.
Statesville Record and Landmark,
 Dec. 17, 1951
     When talking about Uncle Teen, legend sometimes clouds the truth, but I believe that much can be documented.
     Alfred Blackburn was born April 26, 1842, on the Hampton and Cowles plantation in the Hamptonville community of Yadkin County, North Carolina. One account says he was the son of a white man and a Cherokee woman. Another historian describes him as a black man. He was a house servant until his master (possibly his father or his half-brother) joined the 21st North Carolina Regiment in 1862. Teen accompanied him as a “body servant,” serving two years in the Confederate army as a cook and helper.
    Uncle Teen's strength and courage were legendary. He did not carry a gun, saying “a knife is handier,” and he liked to tell how he used a saber at the Second Battle of Bull Run to fight off a Yankee and save the life of Captain Blackburn.
     When August Blackburn was furloughed because of injuries, they both returned home to Yadkin County. 
     The raiders Uncle Teen witnessed around April 1, 1865, most likely would have been 100 mounted troops from the 11th Kentucky Cavalry, dispatched by Stoneman from Jonesville to burn Buck Shoals Mill, Troy Mill, and Eagle Mills.
     Uncle Teen exaggerated when he said they burned everything along the way, because the nearby plantation where he was born still stands. In fact, Stoneman's raiders rarely burned private homes, though they plundered at will.
     After the war, Uncle Teen tried his hand at farming, mining, and law enforcement before taking a contract job as a mail carrier. He walked the 25-mile round trip from Jonesville to Hamptonville three times a week for 40 years, which would be over 150,000 miles afootthe equivalent of walking around the world six times. Then he got a mule, and finally a horse and buggy, and he didn't retire until he was 100. At 108, he was still walking a mile a day to visit a country store.
      At 38, he married a teenager who some say was a distant cousin of the western explorer Kit Carson. They were proud parents of five well-educated children. His oldest daughter was 101 when she died in 1984.
     Uncle Teen died December 16, 1951. That would be 109 years, seven months, and 20 days. For the last nine months of his life, he was recognized as North Carolina's last Confederate veteran, drawing a monthly pension of $26.26. (NOTE: Wikipedia is wrong on the date of his death, and Findagrave may have him in the wrong cemetery, too.)
     Though the Yankees delivered him from slavery, he was always a rebel at heart. Historian Lewis Brumfield has found a copy of Blackburn's 1941 taxes, and at age 99 he listed his occupation as "Confederate Soldier (Retired)."


*Last eyewitnesses to Stoneman's Raid

     I've found three eyewitnesses to Stoneman's Raid who outlived Alfred Blackburn.
     The last was John H. Pearson (1852-1954), who was not quite 13 years old when the raiders swept into Morganton, N.C., in 1865. Gen. Simeon Brown made his headquarters in the Pearson home across the street from the Burke County courthouse, while his troops searched for John's father, who was accused of killing a Yankee. Meanwhile, young John watched from a second-floor window of a neighbor's house. He died June 2, 1954, just 11 weeks short of his 102nd birthday. 
     Rev. William Lander Sherrill (1860-1953) was five when Stoneman's Raiders invaded his hometown of Lincolnton, N.C., and 70 years later he described it a newspaper column that he compiled into Sherrill's History of Lincoln County. Rev. Sherrill married the orphaned daughter of Capt. Charles Connor, who was probably the last Confederate officer killed in action. Rev. Sherrill was 93 when he died July 14, 1953. 
     William Allen Magee (1846-1953) was a bugler with the 12th Ohio Cavalry. He was the next-to-last combat veteran of the Grand Army of the Republic when he died Jan. 23, 1953, at age 106. 


Last veterans of the Civil War

     The last Union veteran was James Hard (1843-1953), a New Yorker who died 48 days after Magee at age 109. He once met President Abraham Lincoln in a White House reception and voted for Lincoln and Eisenhower in elections 88 years apart.
     In terms of lifespan, Hard (40,052 days) lived one week longer than Blackburn (40,045).
     When Blackburn died, there were a handful of other centenarians who claimed to Confederate veterans, but almost all of them have been discredited by census records. In hindsight, it appears that Uncle Teen was the next-to-last Confederate veteran, dying 15 days before an Alabama man named Pleasant Crump (1847-1951). Crump served in Lee's army until the surrender at Appomattox, and as he returned home to Alabama it is quite possible that he was among hundreds of rebels paroled by Stoneman's troops.

§§§§§
MOVING TARGETS: We're not absolutely sure when and where Teen Blackburn encountered the raiders. The way he describes them so close to his house, I think April 1 at Hamptonville is most likely. Two other possibilities:
  • Windsors Crossroads, about four miles southwest of Hamptonville, where Blackburn is quoted on a Civil War Trails marker. 
  • One historian suggests the mills may have been burned April 10 or 11 when the raiders passed through Huntsville. The proximity makes sense, but not the timing—by then Stoneman was concentrating his forces to attack Salisbury April 12.
I'm satisfied that the raid Blackburn witnessed originated April 1 in Jonesville, where Gen. Stoneman and two brigades were waiting for floods to subside on the Yadkin River. Side raids like this were common during Stoneman's Raid, and some have not been well-documented. Buck Shoals Mill was on the South Yadkin River between Hamptonville and Windsors Crossroads, and the mill pond and ruins are still visible. Troy Mill and Eagle Mills were on Hunting Creek about six miles southeast of Windsors Crossroads and between the modern routes of I-77 and US21.

The Hampton plantation still stands and is said to be the oldest house in Yadkin County. From US421, take US21 south and turn right on Hamptonville Road. Just before that turn-off is an unpaved dead-end where he lived: Teen Blackburn Road. His home burned in 2003.

2 comments:

  1. Stoneman was stationed at Camp Cooper Texas before the war where he commented "This is God forsaken country and Lord knows when I may get out of it again". Lee was also stationed there where he noted it was the hottest place he had ever been. Cynthia Ann Parker was returned there after her "rescue" after many years a captive by the Comanche.

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  2. Was Stoneman personally involved in the Cynthia Parker episode?

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