Small Stones, Big Stories

Fewer than ten Civil War monuments in North Carolina pay tribute to the state’s Union soldiers. Two are in Henderson County. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

If you blink, you’ll miss it. The monument at 245 Brickyard Road in Etowah, tucked next to the Etowah Children’s Center, hides between the shade of a bushy pine and a white wooden storage shed. A shoulder-high rectangle of common stones and cement, the marker is physically unremarkable.

However, among the many recognized Civil War monuments in North Carolina, fewer than ten pay tribute to the state’s Union soldiers. And Henderson County is home to two of those markers.

The original was the brainchild of James B. King, a Hendersonville native with ancestors in both Confederate and Union forces. A granite obelisk next to the historic downtown courthouse already honored Confederate troops, so King raised funds to erect a new monument by what was then the Etowah branch of the Henderson County Public Library.

A typewritten program fronted by a Union soldier’s belt buckle describes the marker’s dedication on Sept. 14, 1985. King offered welcoming remarks, followed by Boy Scouts from Brevard leading the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance. After military ceremonies and an address by former North Carolina state senator Betty Ann Wilkie, King announced a roll call of Union veterans.

More than 200 soldiers from Henderson and Transylvania counties joined the Federal cause, nearly all of them farmers. The 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry took men as young as John J. Blackwell, 17, and Joseph Hamilton, 52.

Michael C. Hardy of Avery County — the 2010 North Carolina Historian of the Year and the author of North Carolina in the Civil War and The Capitals of the Confederacy: A History, among many other books — says these soldiers took significant risks when they travelled to Union territory, primarily Eastern Tennessee, for enlistment. “Most of these people had never been out of their home communities — they didn’t have a clue where they were going,” Hardy explains. “It’s a two- or three-week journey from Hendersonville to Union lines, and regular Confederate regiments are patrolling the mountains, looking for these groups.”

Although the area was mostly pro-Confederate in sentiment, rugged Western North Carolina lacked the sprawling, wealthy plantations found elsewhere in the South. Therefore, some of the region’s small farmers didn’t recognize the Confederate cause.

“Unionism [here] is a complex story,” notes Hardy. Early in the war, those with Federalist sympathies were generally interested in preserving the Union, he says. Others were dissidents trying to escape the conflict altogether; still another group, an infamous “band of scoundrels and thieves” (as they were dubbed at the time), joined certain Federal regiments to loot and plunder a falling South.

But, significantly, the monument also recognizes “the women who carried on at home,” and Hardy emphasizes that their involvement should not be overlooked. By late 1863, Western North Carolina was on the front lines of the war; Union troops, the Confederate Home Guard, and roving bandits were all potential threats. “You never knew what the knock [on the door] in the middle of the night was going to bring,” Hardy says.

Although small in stature, the Etowah memorial quietly remembers an often forgotten part of the Civil War. Wilkie proclaimed at the dedication, “This monument won’t last forever.” And in fact, when the Etowah Library relocated, the county considered moving the marker downtown, but instead erected another, briefer stone at the courthouse (dedicated in 2008)— making it the second Union monument in Henderson County. What will last forever, Wilkie went on to say, “is the courage and dreams of these men.”

For more information, visit the website of historian Michael Hardy, www.michaelchardy.com. See ncmonuments.ncdcr.gov for a database of North Carolina’s Civil War monuments compiled by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

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