Rob Neufeld, a writer for the Asheville Citizen-Times, pens an excellent article about the closing days of the war here in Western NC. I have already linked to a previous article about the last Confederate victory here, but this time he takes up the sack of Asheville and the treatment of civilians in the area by the conquering Yankees.
It’s not pretty, although Neufeld is at pains to say the that the Confederates were not entirely above that sort of thing as well (it was they, for example, who perpetrated the the infamous Shelton Laurel massacre). The worst crimes were committed by the soldiers from East Tennessee led by Gen. Alvan Gillem, and many of these men may have felt that they had a personal stake in what happened.
After being repulsed by Asheville’s Home Guards at Swannanoa Gap, Gillem’s men headed south, and crossed Howard Gap into Henderson County. The cavalrymen were let loose in small detachments to demoralize the citizenry however they wanted.
Among the victims was Delia Russell Youngblood, Terrell Garren relates in “Measured In Blood.” She was his great-grandmother, a woman so traumatized by the attack on her that her granddaughters, whom Garren interviewed, had to keep constant watch over her.
Delia, who’d turned 18 the day of Gillem’s arrival, went home to retrieve valuables, lit a lantern and attracted the attention of several Union soldiers, who killed the two slaves she had with her, tied her up in a horse harness and gang-raped her.
Gillem’s next stop was Asheville, through which he passed under a truce, his men given “twelve pounds of cereal and ten pounds of meat apiece,” Chris Hartley recounts in “Stoneman’s Raid 1865.”
When President Johnson rejected General Sherman’s armistice agreement of April 18 in favor of a more punishing one, Gillem’s men (without Gillem) returned from their march home to sack every house in Asheville on April 26, violating a promise that they’d give two days’ notice of resumed aggression.
The other brigade commander behaved much better.
When Union Col. William Palmer, known for his strict application of courtesy, entered Lincolnton with his brigade on April; 16, a fired shot missed his head by inches. He ran down the shooter, a boy of 15, told him that his action could have unleashed much violence against innocent townspeople and turned him over to his mother, who promised to keep him in line.
As one historian noted, then as now, “Much depended on the personal character and disposition of the commanding officer.”
On another note, there is a good video of a modern rifleman shooting a period Martini-Henry with black powder. As the article notes, black power shooting is a whole different game than shooting with smokeless. I have a BP rifle myself of roughly the same period, an 1884 Springfield Trapdoor rifle, which I have shot with BP cartridges. After numerous tries I have gotten it to shoot very well at 50 yards and hope to move to longer ranges, although our range here in Asheville only goes to 200 yards. The video does show, however, that the old guns could shoot accurately at long ranges.