Monday, April 6, 2015

Meanwhile, back in Boone

Deep Gap, where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses over U.S. 421, was one of four mountain passes around Boone that were fortified by Gen. Stoneman's rear guard.




     Because of its strategic location between mountain passes, Boone was the one place Gen. George Stoneman chose to occupy, not just raid. If he ran into trouble east of the Blue Ridge, Watauga County would be his escape route.
     Unfortunately for the residents of Boone, the occupation under Col. George Kirk was far worse than the original invasion by Stoneman. All you need to know is expressed in the subtitle of Matthew Bumgarner's book, Kirk's Raiders: A Notorious Band of Scoundrels and Thieves.
     Or just listen to Boone native Betty Councill Folk, the neice of of Jordan Councill Jr., "the father of Boone." When she met some of Stoneman's raiders April 12 in Salisbury, she had no idea that Stoneman himself had spent the night of March 28 in the Councill homestead, and she would have been appalled if she knew how Kirk was now treating her aunt.
     Mrs. Folk's account was published in the Farmer and Mechanic newspaper on Nov. 8, 1910, and headlined, "Stoneman's Raid Was Riot of Ruin":
She happened to be in Salisbury when the place was captured and a party of officers rode up to the house where she was staying. The ladies being alone and perhaps seeming a little uneasy, one of the officers remarked: "We are Yankee soldiers, but we are gentlemen. Don't be alarmed." Mrs. F., knowing they had passed through Watauga, and feeling anxious to hear something from her father, ventured to inquire if the raid had destroyed much in Boone, where her father resided. He replied: "No, madam, Gen. Stoneman's men are above doing anything mean, but you have some Yankees under Kirk. We prepare the way for them, and they follow us and do the dirty work."
     Col. Kirk already had a fearsome reputation in western North Carolina before he arrived in Boone April 5 or 6, 1865, barely a week after Stoneman left. He was soon joined by Gen. Davis Tillson. Together they had 1,600 men in Watauga County and another 1,000 in neighboring Johnson County, Tenn. That included 420 men from the First U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery who were stationed at Shouns Crossroads, near Mountain City, Tenn.
Col. Kirk (right) with his
 brother and father.
     Gen. Tillson ordered Col. Kirk to fortify the mountain passes around Boone. Two hundred men were sent to Blowing Rock, where they tore down a summer house for the lumber to build Fort Rollins, near where the Green Park Inn now stands. Another hundred built a one-acre palisaded fort at Deep Gap, where some of the trenchwork can still be seen. Other outposts were specified near Meat Camp and Sampson Gap (possibly Daniel Boone's old route through Cooks Gap or Bamboo Gap). Both the Watauga and Johnson county courthouses were turned into forts, with rifle slots cut into the walls in Boone.
     Several of Kirk's men were from the mountains around Boone. (One of them was Mose Triplett, whose daughter still receives a Civil War pension, 150 years later.)
     These Home Yankees had been hunted by the Home Guard, and they were eager for retribution. "Kirk's men seemed to have a special spite at Boone and the citizens of Watauga County," wrote Robert Beall of Lenoir in a 24-page report on Stoneman's Raid.
     The Yankees were ravenous for food, and the countryside had already been foraged exhaustively. Families hid what little food they still had in stumps, holes, and trap doors. One family reported being robbed 18 times in 14 days. "From their 'forts', the men roved over the surrounding area, robbing murdering, and committing crimes to no end," historian Michael Hardy wrote.
     Kirk was no better than his soldiers. He took over Jordan and Sarah Councill's house, where Stoneman had stayed March 28. When Stoneman returned April 18, he found that a fine house had been trashed. The yard was full of hides and feathers, and it reeked of putrid meat. Kirk had kept Mrs. Councill a prisoner in her own room. Stoneman wasn't sure how to respond. "Well, Mrs. C," he said, "I suppose you hardly know whether you are at home or not."
     The residents weren't the only ones who suffered. Five of the Yankees died in a 13-day span, three of them from typhoid and another from measles. Two field hospitals were set up to treat the sick. At least three Yankees are buried in the slave section of the old Boone cemetery.
      Both sides were probably relieved on April 23 when Kirk was ordered to relocate his troops to Ashevillethe same day Stoneman's Raid arrived there.


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