Tag Archives: North Carolina

The backwoods battles of the Revolutionary War

While Continentals, Redcoats, and militiamen were battling it out in the American Revolution, a related struggle played out on the frontiers of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia as settlers and Indians wrestled for control of the West.  This frontier war for land and independence doesn’t get as much scholarly attention as the conventional war to the eastward, which is why I was glad to see the release of Richard D. Blackmon’s Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier a couple of months ago. 

Blackmon demonstrates that colonial officials tasked with maintaining the Indians’ loyalty had long struggled with unscrupulous traders and land-hungry frontiersmen, and found their role even more difficult when those frontiersmen became rebellious colonists.  In the South, this responsibility fell on the shoulders of John Stuart, Superintendent for the Southern Department.  Both Stuart and his Whig opponents tried to secure the support (or at least the neutrality) of the southern tribes, which required supplying the Indians with the arms and powder on which they depended for hunting and persuading the tribes to expel agents working for the opposing side.

All-out war finally erupted on the frontier in the summer of 1776, after Stuart and his deputies failed to convince the Cherokees that a general assault on the settlements would only inflame white Whigs and Tories alike into reprisals.  The response from the Carolinas and Virginia was precisely what Stuart had feared.  Frontier militias rebounded from the attacks and marched into the Indian towns, burning crops and dwellings while engaging in battles with war parties.  These invasions of Cherokee country forced the tribe to trade land for peace, although a faction of warriors led by Dragging Canoe refused to lay down their arms and instead moved south to continue resistance against the settlements.

The Creeks, meanwhile, were divided over whether to join Britain’s war against the colonists, reluctant to take up arms without the support of British troops and supplies.  Pro-British Creeks did attack the Georgia frontier in 1778, although the Whigs kept part of the tribe neutral by supplying them with goods.  When British armies finally invaded the South, the Whigs faced the two-front war which they had long dreaded, but British military activity in that region was never as well-coordinated as advocates of a frontier strategy desired.

Ultimately, those Native Americans who cast their lot with England lost their military gamble, as British troops evacuated the southern posts they had been trying to maintain since the late 1770’s, leaving the Cherokees, Creeks, and other tribes at the mercy of an independent United States.  Although the war brought devastation and bloodshed to the frontiersmen (the Cumberland settlements in present-day Middle Tennessee and the Kentucky settlements proved especially vulnerable), it reduced residents of the devastated Indian communities to an especially precarious existence, and the final peace between the U.S. and England in 1783 proved to be a mere intermission in the contest for the West.

My only complaint about this book is a curious omission.  Blackmon’s description of the struggle between frontiersmen and Cherokees in 1776 is quite detailed, but it doesn’t really cover the summer attacks on the settlements in what is now northeastern Tennessee.  He does deal with the wrangling among Tennessee settlers, British officials, and Native Americans that preceded these attacks, as well as John Sevier’s later battles against the Chickamaugas, but readers interested in the early history of the Volunteer State may be disappointed that the siege of Ft. Caswell doesn’t get the same coverage as the Ring Fight, the defense of Boonesborough, and the Battle of the Bluffs.

That criticism aside, this book is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the American Revolution or the early frontier, utilizing both official documentation and eyewitness accounts of the major engagements.  Blackmon’s analyses of Andrew Williamson’s exploits and the negotiations at Ft. Patrick Henry are the best I’ve read.  Even if your knowledge of the war’s backwoods battles is extensive, it’s heplful to have a solid overview of the entire frontier war for the South in one volume, placed deftly in the context of the larger war as a whole.

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Filed under American Revolution, Appalachian History, Historiography, Tennessee History

Putting a face on Benjamin Cleveland

Some folks in Cleveland, TN have commissioned a portrait of the town’s namesake, Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Cleveland of North Carolina.  Don Troiani will be doing the painting.  The 300-lb. Cleveland commanded the Wilkes County militia at King’s Mountain and persecuted backcountry Tories with a zeal bordering on fanaticism.  As far as I know, there aren’t any contemporary likenesses of him, so this will be the first attempt at an accurate depiction.

My favorite anecdote about Benjamin Cleveland involves the capture of two horse thieves.  Cleveland hanged one and then offered the other a choice—he could either join his partner at the end of a rope or take a case knife, cut off his own ears, and never show his face in that neck of the woods again.  The guy took the knife, sharpened it on a brick, gritted his teeth, and set to work.  To quote the Joker in The Dark Knight, “Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.”

Speaking of the Carolinas, renowned Palmetto State historian Walter Edgar is retiring.  He’s a guy who takes public history as seriously as he takes scholarship, so here’s hoping he keeps writing and speaking.

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Bloodstains at Bentonville?

That’s what a forensic team is about to find out.  Pretty cool.

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If a Confederate monument falls in Reidsville, does it make a sound?

Yes, it does.  In fact, it raises quite a ruckus.

REIDSVILLE, N.C.—Mark Anthony Vincent says he was tired and distracted as he drove his van through this city early one morning last May to deliver auto parts, and dozed off. Mr. Vincent says he looked at his GPS just before 4:47 a.m., when the 1999 Chevrolet ran off the road and slammed into a 101-year-old Confederate veterans monument in Reidsville’s central roundabout.

The van struck the 32-foot-tall granite pillar, jostling a 6-foot marble statue of a Confederate soldier, which toppled onto the van and broke into at least 10 pieces. The soldier’s head slammed through the van’s hood, crushing the engine.

Example #28476193 of why cars and monuments don’t mix.  Watch where you’re going, people.

Many in Reidsville thought insurance would pay for a replacement and that would be that. Instead, two groups with different views of what the monument symbolized are squaring off in a debate over the statue’s future. The fight reflects the South’s continuing struggle over how to commemorate the Civil War.

No, it doesn’t.  It reflects the continuing struggle between heritage groups over how to commemorate the Civil War.  The other 100 million people in “the South” have other things to worry about.  Read on.

The statue’s owner—the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which collected $105,000 in insurance money for the piece—plans to repair the base of the monument, replace the statue and move the whole thing to a cemetery away from downtown. The statue’s broken pieces now lie in the city’s public-works yard.

City officials, who say they have no authority over the statue, applaud the UDC decision. “Once it’s down, I think it sends the wrong message to put it back up,” said James Festerman, the 69-year-old white mayor of a city that is 42% black. “I don’t want industries that might want to move here to think this is a little town still fighting the Civil War.”

Too late for that, dude.

The Historical Preservation Action Committee, a local organization that backs keeping the statute at its former site, has led numerous protests at the roundabout, with members and supporters often dressed in Confederate uniforms. It has gathered almost 3,000 signatures of support. A “Save the Reidsville Confederate Monument” Facebook page has more than 1,900 “likes.”

“How sad that the City is attempting to eradicate the history and memory of those that sacrificed so much,” one fan wrote on the Facebook page.

Look, if municipal authorities had ordered the monument torn down, then it would be a case of the city “attempting to eradicate the history and memory of those that sacrificed so much.”  The UDC claims ownership of the monument, they want to repair it and relocate it, and the city agrees with them.  Not exactly a case of eradicating history.

 The HPAC—which contends that either the city or the state owns the statue—joined with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national heritage group, to hire a lawyer to press the state to intervene. The state refused. Now the HPAC has started raising money for a possible lawsuit against the city or the United Daughters. The threat of legal action has left the statue’s repair and replacement in limbo.

The SCV is pitching in to call for government involvement to thwart a decision by the UDC.  There are so many levels of irony here that I’m getting dizzy.

Wait, it gets even more bizarre.

Conspiracy theories abound that Mr. Vincent, who is black and lives in Greensboro, about 22 miles from Reidsville, wrecked the statue on purpose, even though it almost killed him and destroyed his van. Police found no basis for such theories, Mayor Festerman said. Mr. Vincent has an unresolved traffic citation for the crash.

Yes, they’re accusing a distracted driver of a kamikaze attack on a monument.  Heritage controversies—the cure for all those occasions when life makes too much sense.

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Filed under Civil War, History and Memory

Sumner burial monument at Guilford gets smashed

A driver passing through Guilford Courthouse National Military Park this past weekend reportedly swerved to avoid hitting a deer and ended up crashing into the monument marking the final resting place of Gen. Jethro Sumner, whose remains were moved to the battlefield in 1891.

The motorist also knocked over a barrier and hit two trees, all while going only 30 mph.  Was this a car or an Abrams tank?

The marker may be damaged beyond all repair, and the NPS might end up relocating Sumner’s grave to a safer location, which would, of course, require an exhumation.  So this is kind of a big deal.

Oh, by the way—today is the anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, so this happened just in time for the park’s annual commemoration this weekend.

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Filed under American Revolution, Museums and Historic Sites

So you want to have a national heritage area

There’s an interesting controversy brewing in the Carolinas.

Advocates in North and South Carolina are fighting to have a region made up of 58 counties recognized as a national heritage area, specifically focusing on the contributions made by the Carolinas during the American Revolution.

The national heritage designation is a way to celebrate, protect and preserve what makes a region unique and can be used as a tool for tourism.

Examples of places with a national heritage designation include the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and Iowa’s Silo and Smokestacks National Heritage Area.

Sounds like a good idea to me.  So what’s the problem?

A recent National Park Service study was completed, and the counties were told they did not meet the necessary criteria for the designation.

In the published results, one of the reasons cited was that there is a lack of distinctive cultural traditions in North and South Carolina from the 18th century that have carried over into today’s everyday life. These distinctive characteristics must be readily apparent to an outside observer.

What, I wonder, would constitute a readily apparent and distinctive cultural tradition from the eighteenth century?  Knee breeches?  Smallpox inoculation?

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A group of reenactors wanted to do some good

…and rather than put up a flagpole, commission a statue, or get politicians to issue a resolution, they did something that actually needed doing.

RALEIGH — A coat worn by a North Carolina officer who was badly wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg has been stowed away at the N.C. Museum of History since 1914.

This week, a group of Civil War re-enactors will donate $10,000 to the museum so Collett Leventhorpe’s coat can be preserved and put on display for the first time.

The 1st North Carolina Volunteers of the 11th Regiment has already donated more than $18,000 toward preserving artifacts from the war to be featured at the museum. Among them was the battle flag Leventhorpe carried at Gettysburg, now on display at the museum.

After the flag, the 1st/11th re-enactors group, which has about 90 members from eastern and central North Carolina and Virginia, wanted to donate money for another project.

That rare conjunction of traits—not only the desire to do something and the gumption to see it through, but the wisdom to undertake something worthwhile.  Too bad there aren’t more folks like that.

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