Slavery & War
In 1861, thoughts of progress and new ventures began to be overwhelmed by war. The Constitution of the United States, such an elegant, balanced document, possessed an obscene cancer that, seven decades after ratification, would metastasize into national catastrophe. By any measure, the three-fifths compromise came close to destroying the American political dream. For Fairview, the politics of war were confusing. North Carolina was a moderate Southern state, reluctant to secede from the Union. But the call for troops by Abraham Lincoln to put down the rebellion forced the hands of North Carolina unionists. The natural political cleavage in North Carolina separated the powerful planter class from the yeoman family farmer, who differed over ownership of slaves and the laws that protected the “peculiar institution” of slavery. In Fairview, only the Cane Creek Valley offered the opportunity for large-scale agriculture, and thus some demand for slave labor; most of the rest of the community was better suited for smaller subsistence family farming. In the 1840 census, there were 42 slaves (26 female, 16 male) in Fairview along with one male free person of color. Of these 42 slaves, five families owned 28.
To the extent that slave ownership determined one’s devotion to the Southern cause, the Fairview numbers were rather meager. But to the extent that the support of the war hinged on the political theory of states rights, and the protection of one’s family and property against an invading army from the North, yeoman farmers were as loyal as any other North Carolina citizen. In truth, most people in Fairview probably gave the State of North Carolina and the County of Buncombe a great deal more allegiance than the government in Washington. Defending one’s home and farm against normal chaos, human and otherwise (especially disease), put most everyone in a siege mentality even in good times, so the thought of a “foreign army” in the community would be troubling.
To try to understand the war in Fairview, a few stories may or may not be enlightening. When the new Confederate government called for troops, many of the young men of Fairview eagerly volunteered. Because of the travel patterns of the day, some volunteered in Fletcher, some in Swannanoa and Asheville, and some even joined their Rutherford and McDowell County friends.
1. At the beginning of the war, the Trantham family deeded their home and much land to a certain Peter Redmon in exchange for his serving as a replacement soldier. As the war dragged on, the Trantham sons had to serve anyway, but the land transfer remained a legal transaction.
2. Francis Marion Sherrill, the son of Bedford and Elizabeth Sherrill of Hickory Nut Gap, was commissioned an officer on Dec. 2, 1862 at the age of twenty-one, and died defending Atlanta on July 4, 1864.
3. A story records the experience of a man named Abner who had bad vision and also didn’t care to fight. When drafted, he reported, but when the recruiter called his name, he marched straight into a tree and knocked himself unconscious. The recruiter allowed as how “they could do without him,” and he went home.
4. Merritt Trantham joined the Confederate army and was captured by Union forces and put in a POW camp. In order to get out, he joined the Union Army and served the remainder of the war out West. When he returned, he refused to admit he had served in the Union Army but signed up and drew a Union pension to go along with his Confederate pension.
5. Lewis Garren waited as long as he could before enlisting. It was believed that if you were drafted you would be put on the front lines. He joined in Asheville on August 8, 1862 and was sent to Loudon, TN, with almost no training. Three months later he wrote his wife, Margaret Garren.
November 1, 1862
I take my pen in hand to let you know I am not very well at the present, hoping that these few lines will thereby reach and find you all well. I have not very much to write about. I have not been well for some time. I have had the diahrea and weaken down. I have rode on the wagons five or six days. All the rest is well but Lot [Whitaker] is not well. He stopped at a house 8 miles back. He started with the sick squad. I received two letters from you since we got to the Cumberland Gap. I was glad to hear from you all. We have been marching ever since we started to Kentucky. We have marched about five or six hundred miles since we left the Baptist Gap. We are now stopped at Lenores factory. I don't [know] how long we will stop. I have seen a great deal in Kentucky. I have heard the cannons roar in every direction though. The water was scarce. I got my blanket stolen. I sent by Miles Rickman to you to send me another. I hope this war will soon close, so we can get back home to see you all one more time. I want you and little Mary [Lewis's daughter] to do the best you can.
It snowed on us at the gap last Sunday. The snow was about half a leg deep. It is cold to lay out on the ground these nights. I want you to write as often as you can and do the best you can with the land. I want [you] to [be] satisfied if you can. I hope to get back soon. Tell all them to write as often as they can. Whenever we get stationed I will write often to you. So I must come to a close; so no more at present, but remain your dear husband until death.
Lewis died five weeks later in a hospital in Cleveland, TN.
6. David Clements [or Clemmons] lived in the Flat Creek area of Fairview. When he was 22 he was 6’4 ½” tall. He married his cousin Hannah Pinkerton early in 1861, and hoped the war would be over soon. He did not want to fight, but the pressure mounted. He volunteered with his friends in Marion, McDowell County, on Sept. 11, 1861. His son was born the following January. David was fighting in Virginia, and tried hard to get leave to see his son, but was unable and had his picture made and sent instead. Private David Clements, Ransom’s Brigade, was killed on December 13th, 1862. Hannah never remarried. She lived with her parents and grieved until her death.
7. Henry Garren was the sixth child of David Garren and Margaret Whitaker. The Garren farm was in the Cane Creek valley near the present day Taylor Ranch. The Garrens were leaders in the community, and the children were raised with high expectations. In 1861, Henry and his brother were managing a mercantile business in Hendersonville. He volunteered on May 5, 1861, at age 24, eager to defend the Southern cause. In August of 1862, he came back to Fairview trying to recover from pleuro-pneumonia. Four and half months later he returned to Virginia and was appointed Second Lieutenant. In the spring of 1863 he was sent back home to round up and arrest Civil War deserters. Two contemporary chronicles tell the tale:
Serepta Revis to Daniel Revis, June 7, 1863
“I have bad news to write you at this time, for the war has commenced here at last. Here was fifteen of Captain Case’s men came home, Three Staton, three Levi’s, Bob Beddingfield and several others . . . . There is a lot more deserters than there is military here . . . . Lt. Garren came back after them and got half of them back . . . . Lt. Garren took several men with him and went after Ruben and Ambrose Staton and one of them shot Garren and killed him. He didn’t live more than an hour and a half . . . .Then the men that was with [Garren] carried on, shot at Rube and Ambrose and wounded them . . . . [Ambrose] only lived one day and night, and Rube was wounded in the shoulder.”
Jasper Albert Revis to brothers John and D.W.
“Heard they had a little battle here the other day with boys that run away and the militia. Lt. Garren . . . came back after one of the boys that ran away . . . went to Rube Staton to retake him and Ambrose . . . they got to the yard . . . and Rube gathered his gun and shot Garren down and they gun fight out the door . . . . Men are running away [from the army] and coming home nearly every day, the county is full of [deserters] . . . .
8. Alfred Wesley Wright grew up on his father’s 363-acre farm near the present site of Echo Lake on Old Fort Road. The Wright family was uninterested in the war and hoped it would be over before it dragged them in. Alfred, several of his brothers and his father were hoeing corn when armed men arrived on horses and asked the father why his boys were not off fighting, and demanded that they put down their hoes and come immediately to sign up. George told them that they could not come right now, because he needed them to finish hoeing and get his farm in shape so that he could manage without them. The ‘recruiters’ replied that if they did not enlist in a few days, they would come back for them and they would be shot if they refused to go. Alfred and two of his brothers, with little training, found themselves in the “Seven Days War.” [The Battle of the Seven Days, with Malvern Hills the final battle. June 25th to July 1, 1862] A shell hit almost on top of Alfred, blowing off one his brother’s legs, who was screaming in agony behind him. He left him to escape the shelling and stumbled across his other brother in a ditch; when he reached down to pick him up his hair and part of his skull fell off. When the war was finally over, Alfred hurried home to see his wife and child, a child he had never seen. Alfred’s father was there to greet him, and to tell his son the sorrowful news that his wife and child had died less than a week before.
9. Dr. Robert Cooper, the grandson of Fairview’s first settler, grew up on his father’s farm of 533 acres on Cane Creek near Sharon Road. The Cooper family had prospered enough for Robert to attend the Medical College of Philadelphia. After the war he became the primary doctor in Fairview, and was much beloved in the community. The Coopers had slaves and were Democrats, and young Bob was proud to enlist in the army in the spring of 1861, and give himself wholeheartedly and unreservedly to the cause of the South.” He was a Second Lieutenant, and spent much of his time giving medical aid to the sick and wounded. At the Battle of New Hope Church, between Atlanta and Marietta on July 22, 1864, Lt. Cooper was doing all he could to hold the line in the face of a heavy skirmish. “Boys, hold your posts at all hazards. If anything happens, I will take you out by the right flank.” He caught a shot through the shoulder just above his heart a moment after uttering his command. Lying on the ground, he kept trying to lead his troops, finally turning over to drain the blood from his mouth. He lay there as the union army overtook the field. He heard a voice say, “There’s one who is a goner’ and another reply, “Yes, and a damned officer too.” He braced for the coup de grace from a union bayonet, but it never came. Cooper was picked up at 2:00 am with the litter bearers out gathering up the dead, and made it to a hospital in Atlanta. His chances of survival looked slim, but he demanded that the attending physician scrub, clean and disinfect the wound. He asked for a “swabbing out.” A swab was a slender piece of material resembling a whale bone with a knob on each end, and a medicated silken cloth attached that was pushed right through the wound while dragging the cloth. In time, Dr. Cooper recovered and returned to Fairview to practice medicine.
10. Leander Freeman, known as Lee, married Elminie Wright from the Flat Creek or Marlowe Town section of Fairview in 1858. Lee was forced to join the army, and at the Battle of Stoney River near Murfreesboro, TN was wounded and contracted Typhoid fever. Thinking he would die, Lee was sent home, barefooted. He recovered, and was determined not to go back to the army. He dug out a hole under his cellar with a tunnel that came up a good distance from his house to a flower box. He lived in his hole by day, and worked by night until the war ended, and even for a time after the war ended, as he had become so accustomed to his nocturnal existence.
11. William Ben Whitaker was studying to be a lawyer when the war began. He wrote this letter to his father from a camp near Berryville, VA on Nov. 2nd, 1862.
… I write you a few lines this morning as Henry Garren expects to start back today. We have moved our camp since I wrote you last, some 12 or 15 miles, but I do not think that we will remain here very long. I received a letter from a friend in Richmond who belongs to the 54th Regt. a few days ago and he said that brother, James, was there some two weeks before he wrote, but was gone and he did not know where, he did not say anything about his wounds but said he had no money, and he loaned him five dollars. There is a grate deal of talk about Small Pox but I have not seen any cases of it yet, but I suppose that it is among some of the Troops . . . . I will get Henry Garren to go through Richmond and see if he can find James and send him some money and pay the five dollars that he borrowed . . . . I also send you five hundred dollars . . . . Mr. Garren thinks that he will come back to the Regt. before long and I want you to get some things and send me . . . . Some socks, a vest, a good Blanket or two and a pair of boots no. 7 large size or small 8, a pair of woolen gloves and a dark shirt or two . . . . Your son, W.B. Whitaker.
W.B. Whitaker was killed at Fredericksburg, VA on Dec. 13, 1862.
12. Another Whitaker, John, returned home from the war in late 1862 and died soon after of blood poisoning. He was buried at the Cane Creek Cemetery, with his dog following the coffin to the gravesite. After the burial, the dog refused to leave, and refused any food or water. If someone tried to pick him up to take him home, he would try to bite him or her. In time, the dog died of starvation.
Union troops did not appear in Fairview until the very last days of the conflict. Col. William J. Palmer, leading a contingent of cavalry as a part of Stoneman’s raiders came up the beautiful gorge from Rutherfordton to Hickory Nut Gap on April 26, 1865. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, and Joe Johnston formally surrendered the last force of consequence in eastern North Carolina on the day of Palmer’s arrival. He made Sherrill’s Inn his headquarters while his men camped out in the open fields of Gerton and Fairview. The Sherrills had prepared for the Yankees, hiding valuables such as hams and silver behind a false wooden wall in the old log cabin, built 65 years before by John and Nancy Ann Ashworth. The story of General Palmer’s benevolent appearance in Asheville is well imagined and told by my respondent in his book The Secret of War.
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John C. Ager
This essay is a kaleidoscopic collection of stories reflecting the early history of the Fairview section of Buncombe County, NC. In large part, the writer is more journalist than researcher. I am indebted to Bruce Whitaker for his lifetime of effort to document the history of families in my community, and freely credit him as the source of the material that follows
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