Monday, November 16, 2015

Monument finally finds its way home

The new marker on Main Street in Blowing Rock
 The state historical marker next to the quaint Blowing Rock 1888 Museum has a little history of its own. This is its second home, which seems appropriate if you know much about Blowing Rock.
The same marker was originally erected 50 miles away in Roaring River, a quiet crossroads in Wilkes County named for a rushing tributary of the Yadkin River.
Marker N10 previously stood in Roaring River
(photo by Michael Wilcox)
Stoneman's troops passed through both locations (Blowing Rock twice), but the date on the marker and the reference to Gen. Alvan Gillem make it obvious it was intended for Blowing Rock when it was cast in 2012.
Our reference points: 
March 28, 1865, Blowing Rock: Gen. Gillem led Stoneman's 2nd and 3rd Brigades southbound from Boone through the Watauga Gap, which is where U.S. 321 now crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. The next day, those troops burned Patterson's Mill at the foot of the mountain and marched east along the Yadkin River. At Wilkesboro, Col. William Palmer and the 1st Brigade crossed to the north bank, but fast-rising floods stranded the rest of Stoneman's cavalry on the south side. The divided forces continued downstream on opposite sides of the Yadkin.
March 31, Roaring River: Following days of torrential rain, the Roaring River was living up to its name when Col. Palmer and his troops had to cross it—three days later than the date on the plaque that once marked the spot. The next day, the troops stranded on the south bank of the Yadkin (including Gen. Gillem) began fording the swollen river from Jonesville to Elkin and launched their invasion into Virginia.
April 17-18, Blowing Rock: After leaving Gen. Gillem in charge of mop-up operations east of the Blue Ridge, Gen. Stoneman passed through Blowing Rock as he headed northbound from Lenoir, leading a thousand Confederate prisoners to the Union headquarters in Knoxville.
One of the rebel prisoners was killed during the latter trip through Blowing Rock, according to this account written in 1891 by Albert Stacey Caison, who was captured twice by the Yankees, first at Gettysburg in 1863 and again back home in Lenoir on April 15, 1865.
     I was at home one month when Stoneman made his raid through the county and came to Lenoir. I was in the yard in my shirt-sleeves when I first saw the Yankees, and might have made my escape, but thinking they were our Home Guard, I deliberately walked around the house in full view of them, and saw my mistake when the guns were pointed at me, and I could only throw up my hands in token of surrender. I was carried right off, without a coat, and was all night without coat or blanket, and almost frozen. They issued no rations, but my mother was allowed to supply me with food. My sister went with my parole to General Gilliam and begged him to release me, but he refused to do it. This was Easter-eve, 1865. On Monday [April 17], we marched twenty miles up the Blue Ridge and camped at Yadkin spring, where we received our first rations—a half-ear of corn for each prisoner—for twenty-four hours. And this in a land not yet despoiled of provisions, where our captors had plenty to spare. I had some remains of my lunch, and did not want the corn; but half a dozen famished men were eager for it. Next morning we were turned over to [Col. George] Kirk and marched on to Boone.
     At Estes's school-house Lieutenant [John] Shotwell and two other men made their escape, and but for an open path to the school-house would have been safe. When discovered, two surrendered, and Shotwell was captured just as he gave a sign of surrender. Kirk, with characteristic cruelty, said, "Damn him; shoot him!" and his orders were obeyed; and this gallant young soldier was murdered right before our eyes and left lying as he had fallen. A friend of his begged to be allowed to go to him, and when permission was given he went and straightened his body and took $50 in gold out of his boot, intending to send it to young Shotwell's father; but was soon relieved of it by an officer, and Mr. Shotwell never saw it. I was one who went with this broken-hearted man in search of his son’s body many months afterwards. Murder and robbery was the order of the day with Kirk’s band. At Boone, while gathered around the courthouse, Kirk rode into our midst, called us “cowards, cut-throats, damned rebels,” and every vile thing he could think of, and threatened the most horrible vengeance if we attempted to escape.”
The Estes school-house probably was in the vicinity of the Chetola resort. Lot Estes bought 100 acres there in 1846, and he and his son L.W. "Len" Estes" built the original pond to power a mill shortly after the war. Estes developed one of Blowing Rock's first hotels, called Silverlake, and I presume the school was also on the property. L.W. Estes would have been about 24 at the time of the raid and 54 when he left Blowing Rock for Oregon, where his son settled. Estes "looked like General Grant," according to John Arthur's history of Watauga County. (If you know the exact location of the Estes school-house, please add a comment.)
The plaque was relocated from Roaring River to Blowing Rock in 2014 as a replacement for the original marker that was "scrapped" during highway construction.
Who knows why it was placed in Roaring River in the first place?
At least it's not the only Stoneman marker with issues.

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