Relatives, friends and re-enactors re-dedicated a memorial to Col. George Wesley Clayton, who saved Asheville from the Yankee hordes in the Battle of Asheville on April 6, 1865.
Historian Jeff Lovelace believes that without Clayton’s successful defense of the town of 1,200 in the Battle of Asheville, the consequences would have been dire.
“The town would have been burned,” he said. “Every home would have been looted and pillaged and robbed. The womenfolk would have been terrorized. It would have been unpleasant to say the least.”
Clayton’s descendants and Civil War re-enactors honored his legacy Saturday with a burial site rededication service at the Clayton family cemetery on the grounds of the Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville.
I have seen Lovelace’s reconstruction of the battle, which is difficult as the terrain has changed quite a bit. There are a few earthworks left near the university but for the most part few traces remain. Apparently at the time the road passed thru a sort of gap. The Union force failed to scout the high ground and the ragtag Confederate defenders took them under fire as they approached.
Union Col. Isaac Kirby of 101st Ohio Infantry had set out from Greeneville, Tenn., with 900 troops and an estimated 200 partisans and Confederate deserters, according to the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
With word of their approach, Clayton, Asheville’s highest-ranking officer at the time, called upon the Home Guard to defend the city. The 44-member “Silver Grays,” who counted among their ranks a 60-year-old Baptist minister, were bolstered by about 250 more men that Clayton “bullied, argued or shamed” into taking up arms.
Clayton, a West Point graduate, gathered the men and two cannons and marched them to earthworks that overlooked the French Broad River.
“He was able to rally the troops and lead the defense of the city that day,” Lovelace said.
The victory, one of the last for the Confederacy, was temporary, and the city was occupied a few weeks later.
On this day in 1864 the Army of the Potomac lost one of its most popular corps commanders, Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick. In contrast to the bruising fights on May 8 at Laurel Hill and other locations near Spotsylvania Court House, things had settled down somewhat on the next day.
“Uncle John,” as his men affectionately called him, joined his chief of staff near the guns to oversee the deployment, forgetting his promise of an hour before. On the brow of a low hill 500 yards away, a Confederate rifleman, probably from Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps sharpshooter detachment, noted how the others deferred to two men who had just arrived. He adjusted the sights of his Whitworth rifle and began gently squeezing the trigger.
All this Federal movement drew “a sprinkling fire” from their opponents. Mixed in with the popping of the service Enfields, however, was “a long shrill whistle” of another type of round. Although no one was hit, some of the men instinctively dodged. “What! what! men, dodging this way for single bullets!” said Sedgwick, laughing. “What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Another of the whistling rounds passed close by, even as the general prodded one of the men with his boot. “Why, my man, I am ashamed of you, dodging that way,” he said. He repeated that “they couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” The soldier defended his actions. “General, I dodged a shell once, and if I hadn’t, it would have taken my head off. I believe in dodging.” Sedgwick, who was in a genial mood, chuckled and said, “All right, my man; go to your place.” The sharpshooter, now sure of the range, touched the trigger once more.
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