Thursday, April 23, 2015

Historical markers: They report, we deride

     Stoneman's Raid has so many historical markers that I'm not going to be able to fit them all into The Stoneman Gazette before we wind down our daily coverage May 13. 
     Today's blog is dedicated to random historical markers that:
      Did not make the cut on their special days, or
      Deserve further scrutiny, or
      Try to revise history, or 
      Amuse me.
     Without further ado 

Fort Mill, SC: Wishful thinking

     Two days ago, we told the Union version of the burning of the Catawba River railroad bridge, when the rebels fell for a far-fetched Yankee prank.
     In the interest of equal time, here's York County's version of the story: "Burning by Federals April 19, 1865, touched off sharp battle with Southern forces which resulted in Union retreat." Well, yes, after the Yankees burned the trestle, they took 325 prisoners back to their base in Lincolnton, if you want to call that a retreat. According to the Yankees' account, they expected a sharp battle after they burned the bridge, but the rebels asked for a truce instead. 
     Regarding the discrepancy in dates: The Union raid began on the night of April 19 in Lincolnton, but both sides record the bridge burning as April 21. The Confederate secretary of war claimed his own forces burned the bridge to keep it out of Union hands, which would make no sense in the context of a Union retreat.
     To me, the strongest evidence in favor of the Union version is that it was published in 1871, just six years after the fact.  The York County marker was erected 109 years later in 1980. 
     There was a retreat here at Nation Ford, but it was by Jefferson Davis, "enroute west to reorganize the Confederacy." 
Town erected this marker to replace one decommissioned by the state
Newton, NC: Was Stoneman here?

      According to a 2010 interview with the coordinator of the North Carolina Highways historical markers program, the Stoneman's Raid marker in Newton never should have been installed in the first place. "We got it wrong," he said. "It's no longer there; he missed Newton by 40 miles."
     Huh? Stoneman didn't personally go through Newton (he was 25 miles away in Statesville, 20 in Taylorsville, and 30 in Lenoir). But the marker was correctly worded to say that his cavalry (specifically, the Tenth Michigan regiment) was here, as the descendants and admirers of Confederate Lt. Charles Connor can attest.
     The 1940 marker in Newton was decommissioned in 1989, about the same time it was "accidentally" knocked down by a snowplow. (Sound familiar, Blowing Rock?) The United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated a new marker June 3, 2009 on the courthouse square in Newton. The inscription says: "On a Civil War raid through Western North Carolina by General George Stoneman, US Cavalry troops commanded by Col. William J. Palmer passed through Newton on April 17, 1865, burned the Confederate Commissary depot and the county jail, and shot and killed Confederate Capt. Charles F. Connor."
     Lt. Connor, 25, came from a prominent family. His father Henry Connor served 20 years in Congress and his grandfather William Hawkins was governor of North Carolina. He may have been at Appomattox when Robert E. Lee surrendered, and he was back home in Catawba County when the Tenth Michigan Cavalry occupied Newton for nearly a week. There are two stories of how he was killed. According to one account, Connor was chasing raiders out of the Catawba courthouse when one of them turned and shot him. Another version said Connor fled from town to avoid capture and was killed by a long-range shot.
     Lt. Connor's daughter married Rev. William Lander Sherrill (1860-1953), who wrote a history of Lincoln County and was one of the last surviving eyewitness to Stoneman's Raid.

Morganton, NC: Last artillery shot of the war

     The same day the Ohio cavalry invaded Newton and a Pennsylvania regiment took Lincolnton, the main body of Stoneman's troops (from Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee) ran into a skirmish at Rocky Ford, just outside Morganton, N.C., where U.S. 64 now crosses the Catawba River. 
     The Burke County home guard had one piece of artillery and perhaps 200 entrenched infantry, but they were no match for two brigades of Yankee cavalry and four cannons. The second shell fired by Union Lieut. James Atkinson knocked out the Confederate cannon. According to the regimental history of the 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, "we feel safe in saying [this] was the last hostile shot fired by artillery in the Civil War."
     The last gunshot of the rebellion is harder to pin down. (Some zealots would even suggest that it hasn't been fired yet.) One possibility is a skirmish in Greenville, S.C., four weeks after the surrender of Confederate forces in the Carolinas. We'll cover that incident in a sequel May 22.

Rutherfordton, NC: Pity the poor enemy

     Poor Rutherfordton had to put up with Stoneman's traffic coming and going for more than a week. The date on this marker on Washington Street refers to Gen. Alvan Gillem's ill-tempered brigades on their way to Howard's Gap after being defeated April 20 at Swannanoa Gap. Palmer's brigade came through April 25 and 28, the first time when he was a colonel and the second time after he had been breveted to general. In the intervening days, Rutherfordton would have been prey to the same desperadoes who accompanied the raid at the Carson House.
     On April 25, Pennsylvania Capt. Henry Weand described Rutherfordton: "It is a very ordinary town, and the two days’ stay of the Tennesseans did it no good. [Gen. Gillem's 3rd Brigade was composed of "Home Yankees" from Tennessee.] They stole everything they could carry off, put pistols to the heads of the citizens, persuaded them to give up their pocketbooks, and even took the rings off ladies’ fingers. The sympathy we used to feel for the loyal Tennesseans is being rapidly transferred to their enemy."
      The Tennesseeans were not totally to blame for Rutherfordton's woes. Weand wrote on the 28th that the 1st Brigade (representing Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan) "took up our quarters again in Rutherfordton, where the citizens furnished us horses and corn. They did not do so willingly. They supposed we had left them for good, and at once began bringing both into town from the places they had been concealed, and we got back just in time for them."

Green River, NC: Unlucky horseshoes

     Several of the markers along the path of Stoneman's Raid (like this one at Green River Plantation, on Coxe Road southwest of Rutherfordton) are Civil War Trails displays rather than old-fashioned state historical markers. You can read more about them at the North Carolina Civil War Tourism Council or Civil War Traveler.
     Gen. Alvan Gillem's 2nd and 3rd Brigades camped near here April 21-22, 1865, and Col. William Palmer's 1st Brigade followed on April 26. Some of these troops stabled their horses in the parlor, leaving the imprints of horseshoes on the floorboards. 
     Green River Plantation was built around 1805 by John McDowell Carson. His brother lived at Carson House near Marion, which was also raided by Gillem's troops and was the site of our "Emma's War" serial. Green River Plantation is open for tours by appointment and is often rented as a wedding venue.

If I had noticed the rainbow, I would have framed this photo differently.

Howard's Gap, NC: Yesterday's news

     It was 150 years ago yesterday when Gen. Gillem successfully crossed the Blue Ridge at Howard's Gap after being defeated two days earlier at Swannanoa Gap. (Howard's Gap is now the route of I-26 between Tryon and Hendersonville, and this marker is at the foot of the mountain on N.C. 108 in the Lynn community between Tryon and Columbus.)
     About the same time Gillem reached Howard's Gap, the Confederates began hearing that Gen. Joe Johnston had surrendered all rebel forces in the Carolinas on April 18. Contrary to what this marker suggests, most of the rebels refused to fight.
     It was the evening of Sunday, April 23, 1865, before Gillem received official notice of the surrender. By then, politicians in Washington had already rejected the terms that Union Gen. Sherman offered Johnston. The fighting was not quite over after all. If the Confederates had ignored the rumored surrender and stood in the gap against Gillem, Stoneman's Raid might have ended quite differently.

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