A Regular for the Confederacy: John S. R. Miller, 1st NCST

[Author’s Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in the November/December 2003 issue of Military Images magazine. It has been updated with additional research for inclusion in this blog]

Many Southern born officers and enlisted men actively serving in the United States Army wrestled with conflicting loyalties in the months preceding the outbreak of the Civil War. Among these was a 30 year-old North Carolinian named John Starke Ravenscroft Miller. Stationed at Ft. Laramie, Nebraska Territory, Miller wrote his father back home in Caldwell County on February 5, 1861: “I am placed in a peculiar position; as a soldier I must bear allegiance to the Federal Government. I have sworn to serve the United States against all her enemies and opposers whatsoever. If called upon I might be compelled to battle against my own friends and relations and unless I am free of the Army, although it would be bitter indeed, I will not swerve from the path of duty.”

John S. R. Miller as a trooper in the elite 2nd U. S. Dragoons, ca. 1860. Photo courtesy Skip Smith, Lenoir, NC

John S. R. Miller as a trooper in the elite 2nd U. S. Dragoons, ca. 1860. Photo courtesy Skip Smith, Lenoir, NC

Miller had joined the 4th Regiment, U. S. Infantry on October 6, 1857. The reasons prompting his enlistment while in his late twenties are not known. Miller soon transferred to the cavalry arm and served with the 2nd Dragoons under Albert Sidney Johnston on the Mormon Expedition. Soldiering agreed with the young man, and he progressed rapidly. An estimation of his value to the service is shown by his promotion to Sergeant Major on May 11, 1861. Yet, after North Carolina seceded from the Union, Miller chose to align himself with his native state. In what was clearly a painful move, he requested his discharge from the U. S. Army and returned home.

Miller wasted no time in putting his prior military experience to use. He was initially appointed 3rd Lieutenant of the newly formed Washington Volunteers, which became Company “G” of the 1st North Carolina State Troops. However, his soldierly qualities quickly drew the notice of Naval Academy graduate Montfort Sydney Stokes, Colonel of the First. Miller was named 1st Lieutenant and regimental adjutant to date from May 16, 1861.

John Miller had four brothers who also served the Confederacy during the war: Captain Nelson Miller, Co. C, Avery’s Battalion; Pvt. Elisha Hamilton Miller, Co. F, 3rd NC Cavalry; Pvt. Julius Sidney Miller, Co. A, 22nd NCT, and Sgt. Anderson Mitchel Miller, Co. E, 6th NCST.

When the 1st N. C. was sent to Virginia following the Battle of Manassas, Adjutant Miller struggled to bring his unit to fighting trim. In a letter dated August 14, 1861 from near Richmond, he noted with some frustration: “I have been continually employed preparing the Regiment for action and bringing everything into working order. No one has drilled the Regt. at all but myself and the officers (Subalterns & Captains) are so incompetent (with one or two exceptions) that we will be in bad condition or order for an engagement. Our Lt. Col & Major know comparatively nothing of military affairs [and] Col. Stokes is away . . .” Miller proved relentless in his efforts. A brother officer in the First avowed: “As adjutant, in all the army, he had but few equals and no superiors in his position. He was not only theatrical but practical, and all the minutiae of his office seemed perfectly at his command. Years of drill in the ranks made him perfect in his bearing as a soldier and his appointment to the highest non-commissioned rank had given him the style of an officer that added to his well-proportioned form, dignity and grace.”

Miller was severely wounded while assaulting strong Federal positions along Beaverdam Creek near Mechanicsville, VA on June 26, 1862. The 1st NCST suffered heavily here. Modern photo by author.

Miller was severely wounded while assaulting strong Federal positions along Beaverdam Creek near Mechanicsville, VA on June 26, 1862. The 1st NCST suffered heavily here. Modern photo by author.

At Mechanicsville, Va. on June 26, 1862, the 1st North Carolina faced the test of crossing a makeshift bridge over the Chickahominy River and performing its first deployment while under fire. A private remembered how “the quick eye of Adjutant John S. R. Miller, who had served in the regular army, took in the situation and he galloped to the front, with drummer boys following with markers to indicate formation line [while] Ensign Obed Scott promptly placed [the regimental] colors . . . then the regiment double-quicked into position by companies just like on dress parade.”

The First proceeded to move forward against a formidable Federal line posted behind Beaver Dam Creek and was summarily slaughtered. Colonel Stokes was mortally wounded and every field officer in the regiment either killed or severely injured. Adjutant Miller was so badly wounded that it was thought for a time he would be forced to resign. He was not able to rejoin his unit until after the Maryland Campaign. In October, Miller was awarded the captaincy of Company “H.”

He was present with his company at both Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. On June 10, 1863, as the Army of Northern Virginia again prepared to move northward, Miller outlined his prospects for the upcoming campaign in a letter to his mother: “I scarcely think we will have a general engagement as the Yanks are disposed to play ‘shy’ as they have been so roughly handled that they can scarcely make up their minds and when they do they soon become [so] terror stricken that they show no courage or determination . . . Our troops are so accustomed to victory that it would be impossible to whip them. You need have no uneasiness about us at home as we are perfectly confident and with Lee to guide us are certain of success.”

Miller as Captain of the 1st North Carolina State Troops. Photo courtesy UNC Chapel Hill and Greg Mast

Miller as Captain of the 1st North Carolina State Troops. Photo courtesy UNC Chapel Hill and Greg Mast

Five days later, Captain John S. R. Miller was killed at the Battle of Stephenson’s Depot, Va., while pursuing General Robert Milroy’s fleeing Federals down the Shenandoah Valley. A note in Miller’s combined service record could well be his epitaph: “Universally admired as a gallant officer.” He is buried in his family cemetery at Mary’s Grove, N. C.

Of interest to collectors is Captain Miller’s surviving red-striped, bluish gray North Carolina issue blanket, now housed in the collection of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

by Bob Williams



A Northern Born Greek-American Tar Heel Confederate

Patterson_GeorgeThe Civil War produced more than its share of colorful characters. Many earned their reputations through glorious deeds of battle, high-flung oratory, or both. Others served quietly behind the scenes but through sheer uniqueness of personality and their influence on others were fondly remembered by their comrades. One such person was the Reverend George Patterson, Chaplain of the 3rd North Carolina State Troops. He might well qualify as the most diverse soldier to serve the Confederacy.

Born in 1828  Boston, Massachusetts of Greek-American parentage, George’s initial surname was Papathakes. This was changed at baptism to its Americanized counterpart, George Patterson. He received his early education in Wisconsin but later attended the University of North Carolina. Patterson also pursued his pastoral training in North Carolina and was ordained deacon in 1852 and priest in 1856. He served as rector of Grace Church in Plymouth, NC and from 1852-1861 acted as missionary to the slaves of massive Somerset Plantation in Washington County. Strangely contrary to his New England religious upbringing, the Reverend Patterson strongly supported the institution of slavery. In 1856 he published anonymously in Philadelphia a pamphlet entitled The Scripture Doctrine with Regard to Slavery. In it Patterson used numerous Biblical references to support his premise that there was scriptural justification for the practice.

It is therefore not surprising that Reverend Patterson responded to the tocsin of war by enlisting in 1861 to defend the new Confederacy. He was named chaplain of the 3rd North Carolina State Troops. Recruited primarily from the coastal plains of the state, the regiment compiled an enviable combat while serving with the Army of Northern Virginia. Patterson was deeply revered by the men of the regiment for his down to earth manner and willingness to share in all the vicissitudes of campaign. He was also known for his affinity to wear sturdy homespun butternut jeans. It was Patterson’s unfortunate lot to provide succor and last rites to 10 men of the 3rd NC executed for desertion near Orange, Virginia in late 1863. On a more uplifting note, the Reverend also performed supposed last rites on severely wounded Colonel Hamilton A. Brown of the 1st North Carolina following a major battle only to encounter the plucky Colonel several weeks later alive and well. Speaking of the chaplain one acquaintance noted: “Some of Reverend Patterson’s war stories surpassed anything in humor and pathos we ever heard, but his manner was so unique and his laughter so absolutely delicious that it would be impossible to tell them as he did.”

ChimbIn recognition of his distinguished war service Patterson was named in late 1864 as post chaplain of the huge Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond. His contributions to the spiritual well-being of the patients there earned him the notice of Varina Davis, wife of the Confederate president. She personally made for him a hand embroidered shawl which he wore and treasured for the rest of his life.

At war’s end Patterson settled in Wilmington  where he served successively as rector of two Episcopal churches from 1865 to 1881. The following year he moved to Tennessee and became financial agent for the University of the South at Sewanee. He then performed four years missionary work in Tyler, Tex., before returning to Tennessee in 1885.  There he served until his death in 1901 as beloved rector of Grace Church in Memphis. Patterson never married, having taken an oath of celibacy upon entering the ministry. The words of a close friend furnish a fitting epitaph for this colorful but little known Northern-born Greek American Tar Heel Confederate: “In his private conversations with people his ready wit and kindly way of saying things very plain made him a power . . . He did not hesitate to tell the whole unvarnished truth and although it cut to the quick sometimes, his way of doing it disarmed resentment.”

by Bob Williams




“Follow Me:” Hamilton Allen Brown of Wilkes Co., N.C.

[Author’s Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2003 issue of Military Images magazine. It has been updated with additional research for inclusion in this blog]

“Liquor flowed freely and there were ½ doz. fights.” Thus one Southern rustic described a late April 1861 patriotic rally in the mountain town of Wilkesboro, North Carolina, aimed at garnering recruits to defend a newly forming Confederacy. Two community leaders of pronounced stature, Montfort Sydney Stokes, Jr. and James Brown Gordon, led the gathering. Their efforts produced an exceptional company of men known as the Wilkes Valley Guards or Wilkes Volunteers. When the unit left Wilkesboro on May 27th with Stokes as its Captain and Gordon as 1st Lieutenant, a proud member asserted: “The company on that day numbered 110 and nearly every man was over six feet tall.” Also named 1st Lieutenant was Gordon’s younger stepbrother, 23-year-old Hamilton Allen Brown.

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Colonel Hamilton Allen Brown, 1st North Carolina Infantry
Courtesy, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

At Warrenton, N. C. on June 3rd, the Wilkes Volunteers officially became Company B of the newly formed 1st North Carolina State Troops. The First was one of ten regiments of “State Troops” authorized by law whose term of service was to be for three years or the duration of the war. Confederate staff officer McHenry Howard of Maryland, who would later come to know the First well, thought the organization exhibited “something of the espirit, called by some ‘uppishness,’ of regulars.”

Naval Academy graduate “Sydney” Stokes, judged by one observer to be “a splendid officer, well prepared to drill in regimental or brigade maneuvers,” became the regiment’s first Colonel. When Gordon soon transferred to the cavalry arm, Lieutenant Brown assumed the vacant captaincy of Company B, to rank from May 16th. For the balance of the war, Brown’s distinguished service career would be inextricably linked with fortunes of the 1st North Carolina Infantry.

Known to his intimates as Allen, Brown was born at “Oakland” in Wilkes Co., N. C. on September 25, 1837, the second son of a marriage between Hamilton Brown and widow Sarah Gwyn Gordon. His grandfather was a participant in the Revolutionary Battle of King’s Mountain. Brown attended the U.S. Naval Academy as a member of the class of 1858, but did not graduate. When North Carolina seceded, Governor John W. Ellis called on the Wilkes Co. native to help train new recruits. This must have proven interesting, since Brown spoke with a pronounced stutter. One member of the 1st N. C. irreverently described a command from Brown as sounding: “A-a-a-a-a—damn—a-a-a—damnit—pst—pst—pst—a-a—forward, Company B!” His verbal orders were said to be often unintelligible to an untrained ear. However, subsequent events would soon demonstrate that Brown’s speech impediment did not diminish his ability to lead men in battle.

In the 1st North Carolina’s baptismal engagement at Mechanicsville, Va. on June 26, 1862, the regiment was brutally mauled while assaulting strongly fortified Union positions along Beaver Dam Creek. Colonel Stokes was mortally wounded and all other field officers either killed outright or severely injured. Enlisted casualties amounted to more than 150. While witnesses described initial Southern efforts to reform after the battle as “pathetic,” Brigade commander Roswell Ripley noted in his official report: “Captain [H.] A. Brown, of the 1st North Carolina, rallied the troops of his regiment, with other officers . . . and led [them] until relieved . . .”

In subsequent battles of the Seven Days, particularly at Malvern Hill, the young Captain again distinguished himself. For his performance in the fighting around Richmond, Brown earned promotion to Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st N. C. to rank from July 8, 1862. That same month he traveled to Raleigh to acquire 300 new conscripts for the regiment, men, he said, who “proved to be excellent material for soldiers, brave and willing . . .”

Brown capably led the revitalized First thru the subsequent Maryland Campaign. The Tar Heels escaped harm’s way at South Mountain but sustained losses of more than 50% on the fringes of the Miller Cornfield at Sharpsburg. At Fredericksburg in December, Brown and his regiment played a minor support role in the Confederate third line of battle and incurred only minor injury from long distance fire.

In early 1863, the 1st N.C. was reassigned to a newly formed, mostly Virginia, brigade in what was called the old “Stonewall Division.” It was a move that displeased Brown. Wishing to be in an all North Carolina unit, he later warranted: “Trouble and discomfiture were necessarily entailed by such an arrangement . . . we were often neglected and sometimes forgotten in the distribution of army stores, clothes, provisions, etc.,” Perhaps of more importance to the young and ambitious officer, Brown further observed: “The field of promotion was also narrowed, and our achievements on the field frequently shared by others.”

Yet, the new mixed brigade performed well enough at Chancellorsville in May. Brown led them briefly near battle’s end after successive commanders had fallen. It proved to be the 1st North Carolina’s bloodiest engagement of the war. “We captured piles of fat knapsacks and fatter Dutchmen,” Brown boasted of the action. During Lee’s second invasion of the North, the First gained further laurels (and booty) at Stephenson’s Depot near Winchester. They were less fortunate at Gettysburg where attacks against sturdy Federal works on Culp’s Hill proved both futile and costly. Brown later asserted that with proper and timely reinforcements, he might have seized the Baltimore Pike in the Union rear on the evening of July 2nd.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow's New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

In the NPS commissioned painting by Rick Churms, Colonel Brown (brandishing pistols) is shown capturing Winslow’s New York battery in the Wilderness fighting. Photo by author.

At the Battle of Payne’s Farm in November 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Brown lost the middle finger of his right hand to a gunshot wound. When infection subsequently set in, threatening lockjaw, he was forced to relinquish command of the regiment for a time. While recuperating, Brown received well-deserved promotion to Colonel of the 1st North Carolina to date from December 14th. He spent the balance of the winter bringing his unit to a state of “perfect discipline and efficiency.” The Spring Campaign of 1864 was very nearly the new Colonel’s last. At the Wilderness on May 5th, he personally assisted in capturing two guns of Battery D, 1st New York Light Artillery in Sander’s Field. “It is . . . a fact known to the entire brigade that Colonel Brown, First North Carolina, with his own hands pulled the lieutenant in charge of the guns from his horse, and held possession of the horse until required to turn him in,” a witness recorded.

A week later, Brown suffered the most severe of his 13 war wounds. He was shot in both shoulders when the First was overrun in the “Mule Shoe” at Spotsylvania. All but 30 men of the regiment were captured, and her colors lost. The injured Colonel himself was captured and recaptured three times, “the last time from the enemy’s ambulance corps, who, in turn, were made prisoners,” he remembered. Brown’s wounds were deemed so serious that a nearby Chaplin conducted a burial service over him while he was still alive! In later years, Brown maintained that “hearing his own [funeral] . . . brought him back to life rather than laying him away.”

After a lengthy convalescence, Brown returned to the army in August 1864 to find his skeleton regiment reassigned to the North Carolina brigade of William R. Cox. Brown was given command of the newly formed sharpshooter battalion for Jubal Early’s Second Corps. He ably led the battalion through spirited engagements at Martinsburg and Third Winchester. In the latter action Brown narrowly escaped a severe wound when a bullet struck his pocket watch. He avoided capture by a Union cavalryman by begging off that he was too severely wounded to hobble to the rear. Brown then escaped to fight again. At Cedar Creek the aggressive Colonel spearheaded Early’s surprise assault on Sheridan and claimed the temporary capture of sixteen Federal guns. Following the disastrous Valley Campaign of 1864 the sharpshooter battalion spent the winter along the siege lines west of Petersburg. In March of 1865, Brown was captured in a free for all fight at Fort Steadman during “Lee’s Last Grand Offensive.” He was sent northward, ultimately taking the oath of allegiance at Fort Delaware on June 24, 1865.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Second Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Colonel Brown narrowly avoided capture at Third Winchester when the Confederate left flank was overrun by charging Federal cavalry.

Brown returned to Wilkes County after the war where, in 1868, he married his cousin Amelia Selina Gwyn. Later moving to Columbia, Tennessee, Brown became a “planter of modest means” and fathered four children. He died on April 9, 1917 and is buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in his native, Wilkesboro, N.C.

Of the courageous North Carolinian a later biographer wrote: “It was stated that Brown never ordered a man into battle, but instead always said, ‘Follow me.’” Hamilton Allen Brown clearly deserves an honored spot among the Fighting Colonels of the Confederacy.

By Bob Williams


Sidney E. King: Premier Historical Artist


Gallant charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery at Petersburg, June 18, 1864

Historical art prints of famous scenes from the War Between the States and other conflicts are all the rage now. Countless paintings by such fine artists as Don Troiani, Rick Reeves, Dale Gallon, Dan Nance, Mort Kunstler, Dale Gallon, Keith Rocco and others are readily available to history buffs. Thoroughly researched and superbly rendered, these works have done much to help us visualize how a particular battle or historic event may have played out. They have also helped refine our understanding of how the average fighting man of the time might have truly looked.

Yet, well before all the artists listed above came along there was a fellow by the name of Sidney E. King. If the name is not familiar, many of his works will be. They grace most of the National Park Service historic sites in the eastern United States. In fact, during his lifetime, King produced over 200 mural style paintings for the NPS. His story is an interesting one.

Born in Massachusetts in 1906, King knew from early on he wanted to be a painter. Those plans were nearly thwarted by the Depression. After losing a studio he had established the young artist eventually found a job as a sign painter. During WWII King camouflaged combat planes at Quantico, VA and designed aircraft insignia. Settling near Fredericksburg, VA, he continued to paint and eventually found gainful employment with the National Park Service. After that, his work commissions came fast and furious from many directions. King soon firmly established himself as an outstanding muralist noted for his meticulous research and historical accuracy. He proved a master of oils, acrylics, and water colors.

"Shoot and be damned!" The capture of Ft. Gregg, Petersburg, April 2, 1865

“Shoot and be damned!” The capture of Ft. Gregg, Petersburg, April 2, 1865

King became perhaps best known for his series of paintings of the Jamestown, VA settlement which were on display as early as 1957, when Queen Elizabeth II visited the US on the colony’s 350th anniversary. He also produced an outstanding series for the Yorktown National Battlefield Park. His Civil War related works include numerous murals for the Richmond, Petersburg, Manassas, Kennesaw Mountain, Gettysburg and Fredericksburg Battlefield Parks. Several of those paintings accompany this blog post. They are highly detailed and show actual occurrences and participants of the battles depicted.

King is also known for painting the largest mural ever to be rendered in the United States. Titled “Creation,” it measures 400 feet long by 75 feet high and covers the encircling walls of the dome on Mormon Temple Square in Salt lake City, Utah. He also illustrated many magazine articles and books including W. W. Hassler’s Colonel John Pelham: Lee’s Boy Artillerist and A Pictorial History of Jamestown by J. Paul Hudson.

Until the age of 92 the prolific Sidney King continued to paint six days a week and held two shows a year at his studio near Bowling Green, VA. He also taught art at Rappahannock Community College in Warsaw, VA. When he passed away at age 95 in Caroline County, VA, a true prodigy was lost.

So, next time you visit an eastern National Historical Park take a look around. There you are sure to find at least several superbly rendered paintings with the bold signature “S. E. King” standing as fitting memorials to this wonderful but little known historical artist.

The capture of Casey’s Redoubt at the Battle of Seven Pines, May 31, 1862

The recapture of Ft. Steadman, Petersburg, March 25, 1865

The recapture of Ft. Steadman, Petersburg, March 25, 1865







By Bob Williams


Cold Mountain Redux (Part II)

[Continued from Part I] Sometime after his return to Haywood County, Pinkney Inman met up with a man named James Swanger. He too was a deserter from the Confederate army. Swanger had enlisted early in 1861 at Waynesville and went off to fight with Co. L of the 16th North Carolina Troops. After serving in Virginia, Swanger’s company was transferred in October 1862 to Co. E of “Thomas Legion,” a famous unit of Cherokee Indian Confederate soldiers. However, by August 1863 Swanger found himself a deserter and outlier in Haywood County.

Being a deserter, outlier, or Union sympathizer in Haywood County at that time posed a fairly significant health risk. The local Home Guard, led by Captain Albert Teague, was notoriously efficient in rooting out deserters and disposing of Unionists. One story has survived that graphically details Teague’s ruthlessness in tracking down fugitives and Unionists. It tells of a fiddle player who was captured along with two other suspected Union sympathizers in the Big Creek area of Haywood County, which borders Tennessee and Madison County, NC. Big Creek was an extremely remote area of the county and regarded as a Unionist strong hold. Captain Teague, himself, had been fired upon numerous times while patrolling this inhospitable area and was determined to crush all resistance. During one such patrol Teague and his followers captured three suspects. Among them was a man named Anderson Grooms, renowned in the area for being an accomplished fiddle player. When apprehended, Grooms asked if he could bring his fiddle with him on the return trek back to Waynesville for imprisonment. Teague consented.

Bound together, the three prisoners were forced to cross over Sterling Gap to the Cataloochee side of Sterling Mountain, a distance of about 8 miles. Taking an unexpected turn deep into the forest, Teague ordered the men to stop, ostensibly for a rest. While resting, Teague ordered Grooms to pick up his fiddle and play a tune. At Teague’s instructions, Grooms began to play his favorite tune, “Bonaparte’s Retreat”. His performance was so stirring that it sincerely moved Teague and his men. The sound of “Bonaparte’s Retreat” was said to echo throughout the forest and valleys for miles. However, this would be the last song Grooms would ever play. Once completed, Teague had all three of the men summarily lined up and shot. Their dead bodies were left where they fell, Grooms still clutching his prized fiddle. From that day forward the tune of “Bonaparte’s Retreat” was known as “Grooms Tune” in that area of the county. Groom’s actual fiddle is now on display in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Former Confederates taking the Oath of Allegiance

Former Confederates taking the Oath of Allegiance

Meanwhile, shortly after meeting James Swanger, Pinkney Inman and he decided to go over the mountain to Tennessee and take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This does not mean they enlisted in the Union army. Rather, Inman and his cohort simply reaffirmed their allegiance to the United States and agreed to no longer bear arms against the Federal government. Back then, such action by an ex-Confederate soldier was often referred to as “swallowing the yellow dog.” Records indicate Inman indeed took the oath on December 12, 1864.

After swearing allegiance to the Union, Inman and Swanger began making their way back home from East Tennessee. They journeyed safely as far as an area near Bethel, North Carolina known as Big Stomp or Rice Mountain, a mere four miles from Inman’s home. At this point they encountered Captain Teague and his notorious Home Guard. Little is known about this incident except for its outcome: Teague shot and killed both Inman and Swanger. It is alleged that Teague possibly mistook them for Union soldiers, since they were said to be wearing “Yankee uniforms.” Considering the time of year, it is certainly plausible that Inman and Swanger were wearing blue Federal overcoats. These may have been acquired in East Tennessee or, more likely, during their previous war service. Such a garment would have been quite useful in the cold mountain climate.

Bethel Community Cemetery

Bethel Community Cemetery

Early the following morning word reached father Joshua Inman that his son had been killed by the home guard. Upon hearing this he and several other local men made their way up to Big Stomp. There they found the bodies of his son Pinkney Inman and his friend James Swanger. Legend has it that Joshua found them lying under a big white oak tree, near a “V” shaped rock. He gently wrapped the bodies in sheets and loaded them on sleds dragged by horses. Joshua took the bodies to the top of what is today Bethel Community Cemetery. It took the entire night to dig their graves. The graves were only marked with stones, with no indication of who lay buried in them.

History has lost the exact spot of Inman’s and Swanger’s graves. Legend has it that Pinkney Inman is buried beside his father, who passed away in 1872. Today Joshua Inman’s grave at Bethel Community Cemetery is well marked by a simple stone that has his name, date of birth and death on it; to his left lies wife Polly. If one visits Joshua Inman’s grave today, at his feet, a little further away than a foot stone should be, is a solid white stone. To the right of that stone is a black stone. These may mark the last resting places of Pinkney Inman and James Swanger.

The Inman family paid a high price during the war. Of the six sons who went off to defend North Carolina only two of them returned home alive. Lewis Hezekiah Inman successfully went across the mountain and took the Oath of Allegiance sometime before Pinkney did. Hezekiah and John made their way to Massachusetts and worked there until war’s end. The story of Pinkney Inman’s journey home and ultimate demise as told in “Cold Mountain” is truly a compelling one. However romanticized this story may be one must take into consideration it is but one instance of similar tragic scenarios played out amongst mountain families all over Western NC during this turbulent period.

View from supposed Inman and Swanger burial sites.

View from supposed Inman and Swanger burial sites.

Light and dark stones that may mark graves of Pinkney Inman and James Swanger

Light and dark stones that may mark graves of Pinkney Inman and James Swanger

Article and photos by Cody Fox


Cold Mountain Redux (Part I)

cold_mountainAnyone with even a passing interest in Civil War history is surely familiar author Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel “Cold Mountain.” The book and its subsequent popular Hollywood screen adaptation by the same name both richly describe and depict the struggles and adventures of protagonist Confederate soldier/deserter “Mr. Inman” on his homeward journey to reunite with love interest “Ada.” Not surprisingly, much of the story told by Frazier in his book and depicted Hollywood’s film version is fictional. Yet, research conducted by this writer has discovered that a significant amount of the story does indeed have some factual and historical bases. I offer below what I hope are some interesting contrasts between the fictional story of Cold Mountain and the historical facts surrounding this tale of war, survival, and renewal.

Cold Mountain, Haywood County, North Carolina

Cold Mountain, Haywood County, North Carolina

The “real” Cold Mountain is one of the highest peaks in Haywood County, North Carolina, rising to an altitude of 6040 feet. It is the 40th tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. The county seat of Haywood County is nearby Waynesville, which is also the most populated city in North Carolina west of Asheville. While there is no actual town of Cold Mountain as represented in the film, Waynesville is likely the town depicted as such. Then as now, it is the largest urban area of Haywood County.

The lead character in Charles Frazier’s book, portrayed by actor Jude Law in the movie, is only elusively referred to as Inman. The actual person on whom this character is based was named William Pinkney Inman. This is alluded to in the film when Law introduces himself to Nicole Kidman (Ada) as “W.P. Inman.” For the rest of the film and book he is simply referred to by his last name: Inman. When speaking of this person today in Haywood County, locals refer to him simply as Pinkney Inman.

W. P. “Pinkney” Inman was born in 1840 in the small rural community of Bethel, NC, located just south of Waynesville in the shadow of Cold Mountain. He was the sixth child of Joshua and Mary “Polly” Inman. The Inman family had inhabited the western bank of the Pigeon River since moving there in 1825 from Newberry, SC. The Bethel area today is little changed from how it appeared in 1840. It is still a lush valley full of farms and scattered houses with plenty of good bottom land. As a young man Pinckney Inman worked alongside his father and brothers as a farmer.

When the call for volunteers came in 1861 came to this tiny rural, mountain community there was no hesitation among the men of Bethel to enlist. Nor did the Inmans shy away from providing their share of young men. All six of Joshua and Polly’s sons would eventually enlist in the Confederate army and march off to defend their homeland. Pinkney, Joseph, and Lewis Hezekiah Inman enlisted together on June 29, 1861 in the “Haywood Highlanders,” which soon became Company “F” of the 25th North Carolina Troops. In June 1862 they officially became a part of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Around this same time the remaining Inman sons, Daniel Logan, James Anderson, and Joshua Ervin, joined the 62nd North Carolina Troops and were stationed in East Tennessee.

Here the Inman family suffered their first loss of the war. While serving in Tennessee the 62nd NC would see fighting at Cumberland Gap in late 1862. There all three Inman boys were captured and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago, IL. Joseph and Daniel Logan would succumb to disease in 1864 and die while imprisoned. Today their bodies are entombed in a mass grave just outside of Chicago. Fortunately James Anderson Inman survived this ordeal and lived to become a renowned pastor of the Universalist denomination of Christianity. To this day the Inman Chapel he helped create still stands in Haywood County.

Meanwhile, Pinckney Inman and his two brothers serving with the 25th NC were enduring fiery trials of their own in campaigns that would tatter the fields of Virginia. At the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1st 1862, Pinkney was first wounded. His injury seems not to have been severe since returned to duty two weeks later. On September 5, 1862, the same day Lee’s army crossed the Potomac into Maryland, Pinkney and Lewis deserted their unit. Why and where they deserted to is not known and actually the subject of some debate. Records show that Pinckney Inman returned to his unit on November 19, 1862 while the 25th North Carolina was stationed at Weldon. Some sources claim that Inman was nearly executed along with other deserters but eventually pardoned. Other local stories hold that Pinkney was captured at home after he had deserted his unit and was forced to go along with a detached company from the 25th NC to fight at the battle of Warm Springs in Madison County, NC. This appears to be mere oral tradition, however.

Confederate troops resolutely defend "The Crater" in Hollywood's version of "Cold Mountain."

Confederate troops resolutely defend “The Crater” in Hollywood’s version of “Cold Mountain.”

The Inman brothers seem to have served faithfully thereafter with 25th N.C. through the Battles of Fredericksburg, Drewry’s Bluff, and Plymouth, then onward to the Siege of Petersburg in 1864. According to an account from Lewis Hezekiah Inman, all three men saw action at the famous “Battle of the Crater” on July 30, 1864. This brutal engagement is vividly depicted in the opening scenes of the movie “Cold Mountain.” During the intense fighting brother Joseph was mortally wounded. He became, thus, the third Inman son to die during the war. Sometime in August, shortly after the Crater battle, Pinkney was wounded in the neck along the Petersburg siege lines. As of August 21, 1864 he was listed as wounded in a Hospital near Petersburg. Here is where the story on which Charles Frazier based his novel on begins.

In late-summer of 1864 Pinkney Inman was transported to a general hospital in Raleigh to recover from his wounds. While there, he decided that he had seen enough of the war and set out on his return journey home to Bethel. Although it is romantic to read about a 24 year old Confederate deserter nobly traveling hundreds of miles to reunite with his beautiful southern belle Ada Monroe, the truth is there was no Ada Monroe. This aspect of Frazier’s story is completely fictionalized. This does not, however, mean that love was not a motivation for Pinkney to return home. Apparently at some point, probably while absent without leave from the army, Inman took a wife. He was married to a woman named Margaret Henson, six years his senior. Together they had one daughter who was born on August 30, 1864, just days after Pinckney was severely wounded in the neck at Petersburg. The desire to see his recently born child may have been the motivating factor why Inman decided to leave the army that day. Maybe it was just that he was combat weary or had lost faith in the cause for which he was fighting. The true answer will likely never be known.

Sometime during the winter of 1864, Pinkney Inman successfully made it back to his beloved home.

[To be continued]

By Cody Fox