Last Shots of the War

by Fred Ray on September 27, 2009 · 5 comments

One of our local columnists, Rob Neufeld, pens a short item on the last shots of the war, which were supposedly fired right here in Western NC. What caught my eye is that they were fired by sharpshooters under the command of Lt. Robert Conley of Company F, Thomas Legion on May 6, 1865.

On that day in 1865, Conley and his Sharpshooters left William Thomas’s Legion in Soco Gap to request reinforcement from Col. Robert James Love Jr. and his regiment at Balsam Gap. The news was that a Union force, the 2nd N.C. Mounted Infantry, had occupied Waynesville, burning the courthouse and the home of Robert Love, Waynesville’s founder. Following the fastest, though not the shortest path, Conley ran into a Union detachment and chased it back into Waynesville with bullets and bayonets.

The Yankees were actually Tennesseans and fellow Tarheels in blue commanded by the notorious and greatly dreaded Col. George Kirk. The Federals lost one man named Arwood and retreated back over the mountains.

Fitting that the sharpshooters, who were always the first in and last out, should fire the last shot. The sharpshooters of the Infantry Regiment, Thomas Legion were formed when that outfit joined Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley in 1864, and Conley, a 22-year-old lieutenant, was tapped to head them. There do not seem to have been any organizer sharpshooters before then, but the Army of Northern Virginia’s policy (of which Early was still a part) was to have at least 1/6th of each unit formally designated as light infantry sharpshooters. Conley had especially distinguished himself in the Valley at the Battle of Cool Spring (Snicker’s Gap).

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that this occurred a week before Palmito Ranch. The linked article makes clear, and I should have, that these were the last shots fired east of the Mississippi.

Conley’s sharpshooters typically numbered between 20 and 25 men.

Also meant to mention fellow writer Terrell Garren’s research page on WNC in the Civil War. Scroll down for an account of the above action. Also of interest in Garren’s extract of the Buncombe, Henderson, and Madison counties 1860 slave census.

The highlights are as follows: There were over 3,400 slaves in the three counties in 1860. Buncombe County had 1,902; Henderson County 1,339 and Madison County had 212. The largest slave owner was Mr. V. W. Woodfin who owned 114 slaves. There were 283 slave owners in Buncombe County, 206 in Henderson and 46 in Madison County.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen Graham September 27, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Given that this is a week prior to Palmito Ranch, someone didn’t fact-check properly.


terrellgarren November 15, 2009 at 8:55 am

Yes, I have informed everyone here about Palmito Ranch. When I refer to the supposed “lost shot” scenarios I always try to include the words “in the east.” Still, we have some credible folks who claim that Palmito Ranch was not a battle but rather a “racial incident.” This theory emerges from the fact that “colored troops” were sent to accept Confederate Commander Ford’s surrender. Ford had abeen promised that this would not happen. The shooting may have generated by this action on the part of the Union Army. Thus, one may argue that it was a “racial incident.”

I have checked with higher authority and believe that Palmito Ranchd does qualify as a legitimate battle, regardless of what role racial conflict may have played. Even so, I’d imagine without knowing for sure, that there were probably shots fired in Missouri or Arkansas or somewhere that were later than all of these “last shot” situations in my home area of western North Carolina.

Thank You,
Terrell Garren


terrellgarren November 15, 2009 at 10:15 am

Slavery in Buncombe, Henderson and Madison, North Carolina

I would also like readers to know that with the help of staff at Pack Memorial Library in Asheville, NC I have cross referenced my slave study with three other sources including A revised version of my study is now in place in several local libraries. There are improvements in the interpretation of 19th century handwriting. There are some small, maybe insignificant changes in slave totals for a few owners.

I also feel obligated to tell readers that contains a significant error rate. For example, has the name “Anderson” listed as “Andrew.”

The only place to buy it is the Henderson County Heritage Museum store in Hendersonville, NC. They sell it for $20.00 plus tax.

It is very revealing. It is most interesting to note that many slave owners in th mountains only owned one or two. But the most intersting thing to me was how many so called “Unionist” owned slaves.

Strange world.
Terrell Garren


terrellgarren November 15, 2009 at 10:23 am

No… they were not Kirk’s men. I can see why one might think so. The “dreded Col. George Kirk” was often involved in raids in WNC in the latter part of the war. But not this time.

Col. Kirk commanded the 3rd NC MTD Inf. not the 2nd NC MTD Inf. It was the 2nd NC MTD under the command of Col. Bartlett that was engaged with Conely’s Sharpshooters and the rest of Thomas’ Legion near Waynesville, NC in the last days of the War.

It is correct that most of these Union soldiers in both the 2nd and 3rd NC MTD Inf. were from East Tenn. and Western NC.

Terrell Garren


terrellgarren November 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm

One more thing and I’ll try to get off this topic. It just occured to me that I should explain where Col. Kirk and the 3rd NC MTD Inf. was at the time. Kirk was moving on Franklin where Capt. Stephen Whitaker (one of my distant ancestors) was in command of Stringfield’s Battalion of Thomas’ Legion. The battalion was camped at Franklin. After hearing of the Martin/Thomas/Love surrender at Waynesville, Whitaker surrendered to Kirk on May 12, 1865. That was essentially the “end” of the war in the east.

Terrell Garren


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