Civil War markers compete with handed-down ‘truth’

Rob Neufeld Visiting Our Past
May 6, 2009

Last week’s story about the rounding up of 17-year-olds for the Junior Reserve in 1864 brought to light 2nd Lt. Gideon Orr, who at age 36 served in the 41Battalion of the N.C. Militia for Home Defense. I got a call from Gideon’s great-great-grandson, Barry Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth has his ancestor’s commission paper. It is signed by Gov. Zebulon Vance, who created the state militia after Richmond Pearson, a state Supreme Court associate justice, had ruled that citizen militias could not enforce conscription in the Confederate Army.

To get the document, Hollingsworth had to buy it — from the woman selling the estate of his late aunt, who had held onto it in fear of it becoming a commercial object. For Hollingsworth, the War Between the States is his gateway to his ancestors, whose graves he searches out.

“I have a little granddaughter,” he says, “and I want someday to show her who her ancestors are.”

Hollingsworth grew up watching the 1950s TV show “The Grey Ghost,” a romance of Col. John Singleton Mosby, a Confederate guerrilla fighter. “As the preacher said about Jonah and the whale,” Hollingsworth noted, “it might not have been totally true, but it makes good preaching.”

Truth and how we remember the Civil War are the subjects of a May 21 talk by John Inscoe, author of “The Heart of Confederate Appalachia.” Inscoe will speak at the dedication of Buncombe County’s Civil War trail markers, part of a seven-state program funded in North Carolina by the Tourism Development Authority and the Department of Commerce.

Inscoe points out the role that women have played in providing accounts of the Civil War. In Asheville — a Confederate stronghold within a more divided region — women were victims of lawless raiders and Union occupiers. This played out vividly two weeks after the surrender at Appomattox when Stoneman’s raiders, led by Brig. General Alvan Gillem, sacked Asheville in violation of a truce.

Sarah Bailey Cain, an Asheville woman, wrote in her essay “The Last Days of the War in Asheville” about “villainous looking men” who “rushed into her parents’ house, ransacked it, beat her father and then fired shots at him.” Women developed the theme of the “Lost Cause,” which highlighted selective aspects of the war, Inscoe relates.

Rebecca Lamb, whose research for a master’ degree in of liberal arts at UNC Asheville supplied text for Buncombe’s Civil War trail markers, explains the effort to show new facets. Six of the first 13 markers implemented by the Buncombe County Heritage Council are devoted to African-Americans. For instance, there’s the one at Asheville’s Public Works Building on South Charlotte Street.

“Slaves made up more than 15 percent of the county’s population,” the marker reads in part. “They worked as waiters, maids, grooms, cooks and trail guides at the Eagle Hotel here. … Union Gen. George Stoneman freed the city’s slaves when he came through in April 1865.”

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