Monday, April 27, 2015

'Those Yankees can eat the dust off my feet!'

     On the old Drovers Road between Asheville and Charlotte stands Sherrill's Inn, now a stately private home and once a destination for travelers crossing the Blue Ridge. The inn (built in 1834 and open to to the public from 1850 to 1909) has old guestbooks that show former President Millard Fillmore stayed here in 1858 and future President Andrew Johnson in 1859.
Sherrill's Inn dates back to 1834.
     On April 27, 1865, Johnson was in his second tumultuous week as president, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson's administration had rejected the initial terms of surrender Sherman offered April 18 to General Joe Johnston, who commanded the largest Confederate army. When word of this reached Stoneman's cavalry on April 26 in Asheville, they looted the town under the pretense of forcing the Confederacy to kneel. Without telegraph lines, they had no way of knowing that very same day, Johnston had surrendered unconditionally, and Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth had been caught and killed. The war was all but over.
     Stoneman's largest brigade was commanded by Col. William Palmer, a Philadelphia Quaker. After the war, Palmer received the Medal of Honor for an 1864 battle in Alabama, built railroads across the West, became a major supporter of Hampton Institute to educate freed slaves, founded the city of Colorado Springs, and built an English Tudor-style castle called Glen Ayrie that is now home of a fine Christian organization I think he would have admiredthe Navigators.
     At this point, Palmer's 2,000 troops were acting as the rear guard for Stoneman's Raid. They were not in Asheville with the rest of the cavalry during the looting of April 26.
     On April 27, they marched up the Hickory Nut Gorge past Chimney Rock and Hickory Nut Falls. Five weeks into one of the longest cavalry raids in history, the soldiers were mesmerized by the tranquility and beauty of the spring-green mountains.
Elizabeth Cramer McClure, whose family once owned Sherrill's Inn, painted this image of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry riding through the Hickory Nut Gorge.
     Capt. Henry Weand of Norristown, Pa., wrote in his journal:
Our march today was through the grandest scenery we have looked on during our term of service. We went up through the Hickory Nut Gap in the mountains, along the Broad River up to its source. Towering above us, almost to the clouds, were the precipitous crags of the Hickory Mountains, and at High Falls the water drops 300 feet from the summit. It was so imposing that the usual chat of the riders was hushed, as they gazed with awe on the sight. As we rode along, we plucked the fragrant magnolia from the forest trees, and the wish of all was to stay longer with it, but that could not be done, and we went on up to the top, where plenty of forage was found.
     Just across the top of the gap is Sherrill's Inn, where Col. Palmer made his headquarters for the night. There is some reason to believe that it was here that he received a field promotion to general, signed by Lincoln himself on March 9, five weeks before he was assassinated. The brevet was timely, because on April 24 Stoneman ordered that Palmer take command of the raid, replacing Gen. A.C. Gillem. 
     Some say that Sherrill's Inn was part of the Underground Railroad, helping emancipated slaves and escaped Federal prisoners as they fled north across the mountains. If so, Col. Palmer might have felt welcome.
     Not all the hospitality was whole-hearted, however. According to Sherrill family traditions, one of the women who was cooking eggs for the soldiers emptied her shoes (or shook off her stockings) over the frying pan and declared, "Those Yankees can eat the dust off my feet and think it's pepper!"
     Palmer may have been still savoring his peppered eggs when he received orders to pursue Jefferson Davis, who had been seen heading south from Charlotte, just 100 miles away. On April 28, Palmer's cavalry rode back down through the gorge past Chimney Rock in a race to capture the fugitive Confederate president.
     The war was not over after all. 

Fort Mill, S.C.: Jefferson Davis crossed here April 27
York, S.C.: Jeff Davis slept here April 27

This Civil War Trails marker is on US74A across the road from the Sherrill's Inn

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