publisher colophon
  • Executions, Justice, and Reconciliation in North Carolina's Western Piedmont, 1865-67

In the closing weeks of the Civil War, Americans on both sides of the conflict sought to come to terms with a death toll unprecedented in the nation's history and unfathomable to its antebellum sensibilities. The Confederacy's white population had suffered particularly staggering losses: approximately one-quarter of the South's population of white men eligible for military service perished. Amid such widespread mortality, exploring the circumstances that surrounded the deaths of five men from piedmont North Carolina—men nearly anonymous to contemporaries and historians alike—may seem inconsequential. Indeed, the first public mention of the deaths of Samuel Kelly, David M. Huff, James Flynt, Jacob Loss, and a fifth person named only as "Spears" showed little concern for the identities of the departed. On March 29, 1865, the Salem (North Carolina) People's Press noted only, "Some five men, we learn, have been shot in this [Forsyth] county (two of them from Yadkin,) by the military: We know nothing of the circumstances in connection with the shooting, except that some of them were executed for desertion."1

Yet when members of the 1st Battalion, North Carolina Sharpshooters executed their five victims, they engaged in a battle over loyalty that began during the Civil War and ended almost two years after its conclusion.2 Among those executed were two deserters, two white men with known unionist sympathies but no record of service to the Confederacy, and a free black man. The March 1865 executions resulted from a bitter and longstanding conflict between supporters of the Confederacy and unionists, deserters, and draft-dodgers in Forsyth County. When the commander of the 1st Battalion's Company A, Capt. Reuben E. Wilson, and his subordinates shot five men without trial and in broad daylight on March 15, 1865, leaving their bodies unburied along a public thoroughfare, they attempted to demonstrate the Confederacy's continued power in Forsyth County by punishing men they deemed disloyal—both to the cause of southern independence and to the community in which they resided. By including [End Page 31] a black man among their victims, the perpetrators of the Forsyth County shootings confronted one of the Confederacy's central contradictions: they recognized that the contours of loyalty extended beyond the boundaries of citizenship. By early 1865, deserters, unionists, and African Americans had all struck resounding blows against the Confederacy's national project.3

Three weeks later, the first organized Union forces arrived in Forsyth County, coinciding with the breakup and surrender of the Confederacy's major field armies. Throughout the South in the spring of 1865, communities experienced a transition in legal authority from the Confederacy to the United States that inverted wartime relationships between national loyalty and local power. With the Union victory, Confederate officials changed from enforcers of government authority to unlawful rebels and presumed traitors to the United States. In Forsyth County, unionists and deserters who had feared the Confederacy's power to compel obedience lost no time in exploiting the change, imploring Union military officers as well as court officials in North Carolina's provisional and state governments to prosecute the perpetrators of the executions. When North Carolina's Reconstruction legal system examined the Forsyth County shootings and tried Wilson and his subordinates for murder, the need to soothe seething wartime tensions and rebuild the relationship between local courts and communities would lead both local courts and the state legislature to declare the months surrounding the Confederacy's destruction beyond the temporal scope of their authority. Even as questions of wartime loyalty figured heavily in postwar social and political conflicts, North Carolina's governing bodies chose to construct the Civil War and Reconstruction as discrete, separable legal periods. Unionists and others seeking redress for wrongs that occurred late in the war would find that their cases fell into a void between collapsing Confederate governing institutions unable or unwilling to hear their complaints and a restored U.S. authority that valued reconciliation over retribution.

The turbulent process by which the Confederate government lost—and the civil and military offices of the United States and reconstituted state governments gained—the legal authority to govern localities has received little direct attention from scholars of the Civil War and Reconstruction.4 Historians have examined the role of local courts in African Americans' post-emancipation struggles to claim civil and property rights; they have also shown how courts used the legal institution of marriage to reinforce the power of white men at the expense of women and African Americans in the Reconstruction South. They also have begun to highlight those moments during the war when black people were viewed as owing loyalty to the military and government, rather than just to slaveholders.5 [End Page 32] Another vein of scholarship has explored changing conceptions of citizenship and the evolution of constitutional law following the Civil War within the realm of high court cases and precedents. The Forsyth County executions and the court cases they generated, however, touch only tangentially on these areas of scholarship. Instead, they constitute an instance of local courts serving as venues for the postwar contestation of wartime loyalty and its consequences.

This study of one community's struggle to resolve questions of wartime loyalty and justice in the postwar period coincides with a larger trend in recent historical literature on the mid-nineteenth century. Just as scholars of slavery have viewed emancipation as a fractured process, which emerged in different ways and at different times depending on the region in question, recent literature on the Civil War has shown that the formal end of the conflict represents an imperfect endpoint for many of the war's pressing issues. In particular, questions of loyalty and community identity in contested areas, whether North or South, continued to resonate into the Reconstruction years. Since conventional divisions of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras draw principally on national political and military events, the continuities carried over from the war into peacetime appear most visible at the local level. With respect to questions of the judiciary and its role in addressing wartime issues, scholarship has tended to focus on free African Americans' experiences in seeking redress from state and local courts. As the Forsyth County shootings and their subsequent cases demonstrate, however, whites too turned to the judicial system to vindicate their definitions of loyalty and its permissible consequences as well as to settle wartime scores.6

By March 1865, the 1st Battalion, North Carolina Sharpshooters had seen arduous service as part of the Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. The unit's officers and men came primarily from the North Carolina piedmont, including Forsyth and the adjacent counties of Stokes and Yadkin. Since its creation in April 1862 from two companies of the 21st North Carolina Infantry, the unit had fought in most of Robert E. Lee's major battles, including Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.7 The battalion's accumulated experience, and its special status as a sharpshooters' unit, led many of its members to regard themselves as diehard soldiers. Captain Wilson, who had suffered wounds to both an arm and a leg during the Second Manassas campaign, declared that he would gladly sacrifice his health and his life for the Confederacy.8 In spite of his impaired physical capacity, Wilson wrote, "As for myself I cant do the Confederacy as much [End Page 33] good as I wish to but just as I am I'm willing that the balance of my days shall be spent in the war rather than submit on any terms."9

Wilson's attachment to the Confederate cause extended beyond concern for his own duty. He, like other Civil War soldiers on both sides, derided men fit for military service who avoided the armies by purchasing substitutes, obtaining exemptions, or draft dodging.10 Even militarily eligible men with patriotic opinions who avoided service could provoke soldiers' diatribes. In his attitudes toward those he branded as shirkers or disparagers of the Confederate cause, Wilson epitomized the contemptuous attitudes that countless officers and men held. When a rumor that infirmities had caused Wilson temporarily to abandon command of his company reached family members in Yadkin and Forsyth, casting doubt on his full commitment to the Confederate cause, he responded angrily. Such rumors undermined morale at home and at the front and had the power to "fret [him] almost to death." If he could catch those who spread any kind of falsehood that threatened support for the war effort, Wilson vowed to "give them their dues" and "arrest every disloyal man we can find."11

Expressions of anger such as these would not distinguish Wilson from innumerable officers and men on both sides of the lines during the Civil War. Wilson, however, showed exceptional zeal in acting on his sentiments. While recovering from his wound in the spring of 1863, Wilson devoted his energies to campaigning for stricter laws to punish those who deserted or avoided conscription. Writing to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, Wilson complained that North Carolina's Supreme Court prevented state militia officers from enforcing conscription laws and returning deserters to their units. Although still a convalescent, Wilson volunteered to endanger his recovery by arresting deserters in his home county of Yadkin if the secretary would grant him the authority.12

Wilson's eagerness to combat shirking and desertion remained with him on his return to active duty in 1864. His attitude, and the 1st Battalion's irregular organization (detached from a regiment), meant that Wilson's men in Company A frequently found themselves assigned to duty assisting the office of the provost marshal, who bore responsibility for enforcing army regulations including those against desertion. For example, the battalion's muster rolls indicate that while participating in Brig. Gen. Robert Hoke's January 1864 campaign to capture Union outposts in eastern North Carolina, the unit was attached to the office of the provost marshal of Kinston.13 While there, the men of the battalion on provost duty may have participated in the hangings of the twenty-two North Carolina soldiers captured in Union uniforms and carried out by order of Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett in one of the most notorious acts of the Civil War.14 [End Page 34] The battalion's experience in assisting the provost martial perhaps lingered in the mind of General Hoke, in whose brigade (and later division) the battalion served. In September 1864, while engaged in the siege of Petersburg, Hoke detached the battalion to Brig. Gen. Laurence Simmons Baker, commander of the Second Military District of North Carolina, to apprehend deserters in that state.15 Thus, by the time the battalion received orders to travel to Yadkin and Forsyth Counties in March 1865, its men and their commander had ample experience pursuing fugitives from Confederate service.

Figure 1. A youthful-looking Captain Reuben Wilson, dressed in his Confederate uniform, gazes directly at the viewer in this photograph. Courtesy of the Greensboro Historical Museum Archives.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

A youthful-looking Captain Reuben Wilson, dressed in his Confederate uniform, gazes directly at the viewer in this photograph. Courtesy of the Greensboro Historical Museum Archives.

What explains Reuben Wilson's zeal for the Confederate nation and his dedication to its service? In many ways, Wilson's relationship to the Confederacy and to the war itself was typical of his class and generation. As young men from well-to-do families in a South where economic opportunity depended increasingly on inheritance, Wilson and his peers found limited opportunities either to find adventure or to distinguish themselves in civilian life. The days of slavery's expansion into the cheap, abundant, and fertile cotton land of the Old Southwest had gone as Wilson's cohort reached adulthood. The frontier society of Alabama and Mississippi that had brought young men of their fathers' generation a chance for both [End Page 35] wealth and adventure had hardened as land became settled and plantation slavery took root.

When tensions between North and South culminated in the formation of the Confederacy, young southern white men found in the new government much more than a proslavery ideology free from northern political interference. The establishment of the Confederacy and its subsequent need for military service promised adventure and opportunity for distinction in ways that peacetime life could not match. Thus young Confederates committed themselves deeply to the promise of nationhood and absorbed their nation's destiny as a critical component of their identities. Even in 1865, with defeat imminent, these men largely remained, in the words of Peter S. Carmichael, "a group of young men so driven by hatred, so infused with religious zeal, and so fearful of enduring the humiliation of defeat, that they lost touch with . . . military reality."16

Reuben Wilson's circumstances coincided almost precisely with those likely to produce an ardent Confederate nationalist. Twenty-one years old at the war's outbreak, Wilson lived in the shadow of not only his father George, a successful Forsyth County physician, but also two older brothers, Henry and Angelo Wilson, who had left home to establish their own households by the war's outbreak. The 1850 census lists Reuben's younger brother George as "dumb," which could have connoted a number of possible developmental or health conditions, any of which would have exempted him from military service.17 Reuben Wilson therefore found himself the only one of four brothers both physically capable of serving in the Confederate army and without any established sense of personal independence. To him, service to the Confederacy in its army represented both an opportunity for personal distinction and an explicit familial obligation. Four years of privation and two major wounds had only hardened his sense that southern citizens owed the Confederacy any sacrifice it might require.

Civilian residents of Forsyth and Yadkin counties had also encountered desertion and its consequences prior to March 1865. Both counties contained populations with limited investments in slavery and skeptical of a war for southern independence. In 1860, just before North Carolina joined the Confederacy, Forsyth contained 10,928 free residents, while Yadkin claimed 9,278. Of 2,155 free families in Forsyth, 304, or 14.1 percent, owned slaves, while Yadkin's 1,699 free families included 162 slaveholders, for a ratio of 9.5 percent.18 The two counties also included large numbers of antislavery Moravians, Quakers, and Wesleyan Methodists, religious groups that opposed slavery and professed pacifism.19

While many residents of Forsyth and Yadkin Counties ardently supported the Confederate cause for the duration of the Civil War, others either [End Page 36] lost their enthusiasm as the war progressed or opposed it outright. Men in the latter groups refused to volunteer, resisted conscription, and often deserted when the opportunity arose. North Carolina led all Confederate states in numbers of deserters, with more than 24,000 of its men absconding from the army during the war. While Yadkin and Forsyth lay outside of the strongest unionist influences found in far western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, desertion and resistance to conscription were rife. According to Mark Weitz, the "piedmont counties to the east of Yadkin" experienced so much desertion that "people could no longer distinguish between armed deserters, unionist guerillas, and outlaws."20 The two counties, moreover, lay outside the major areas of campaigning for Union and Confederate forces until the last months of the war. Neither county saw an organized body of Union troops—much less a pitched battle between opposing forces—until Maj. Gen. George Stoneman's cavalry command arrived in early April 1865, just days before the surrender at Appomattox. As Mark L. Bradley has noted, these conditions combined to render North Carolina's western piedmont counties ideal havens for "Unionists, deserters, and draft dodgers, many of them preying on helpless civilians."21

Situated near North Carolina's mountain unionist strongholds and away from the danger of large bodies of soldiers, Yadkin and Forsyth saw frequent incidents involving both home-grown resisters to Confederate authority and those from outside who saw the counties as a place of refuge. In the words of Daniel Sutherland, "southerners who opposed the Confederacy clashed with rebel neighbors in violent contests for political and economic control of their communities" in which national loyalty had profoundly local implications. In 1862, for example, county officials from Yadkin appealed frantically for Confederate troops to reclaim order from organized bands of deserters that threatened orderly elections. On February 12, 1863, at the Bond School House in Yadkin, two members of North Carolina's Home Guard and at least two men avoiding military service (whether as deserters or draft dodgers) died in a chaotic firefight. Forsyth County obtained a similar reputation for disloyalty to the Confederate war effort. In October 1864, reports—most likely exaggerated—circulated throughout the state that "about 400 of the officers and men belonging to the Home Guards of that county have gone, with the intention of going into the lines of the enemy, since the recent call [into the ranks of the army]."22

Despite the presence and activity of deserters in Yadkin and Forsyth, many civilians showed strong allegiance to the Confederate cause. Either from personal dedication to Confederate nationhood or out of a desire to support fathers, husbands, sons, and neighbors who enlisted in the [End Page 37] armies, some of these residents backed the war effort and abhorred those who hindered it. Other civilians in the western counties, however, viewed the Confederacy with indifference or hostility, which provoked the ire of Confederate loyalists. Julia Jones, aunt of Reuben E. Wilson and mother of James Jones, who served in the 1st Battalion, lamented that "men . . . trying to escape the bullets and balls . . . seem to be very highly favored in this section." For Jones and other Confederate loyalists, the presence of men avoiding military service was compounded by the sympathy that they received from portions of the community. "Those that are to hunt up skulkers & deserters," she advised her son, "do not do it and remain on friendly terms with all."23

When the 1st Battalion arrived in Forsyth and its neighboring counties in March 1865, desertion and the lawlessness it spawned had reached a critical level in the eyes of soldiers and civilians. As the war neared its conclusion, Union armies pushed into the heart of North Carolina for the first time. Residents panicked at the imminent threat of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's advance, with its destruction of Georgia and South Carolina chronicled—and exaggerated—in newspapers and in community rumors. A despondent Julia Jones wrote that she feared "the day is not distant when we will be an overrun if not a subjugated people." By demonstrating the cracks in the edifice of the Confederate military, Sherman had taken from "the majority [of citizens] . . . the will to be free," she argued.24

Sherman's successes encouraged armed bands of deserters, who feared no threat from a dissolving Confederacy, to increase the depredations they visited on civilians. Beverly Jones, husband of Julia Jones and father to James, recounted the fate a neighbor suffered at the hands of one such band. "The deserters," he declared, "have had things quite their own way, in this county stealing and burning. Mr. Eldridge's barn was burned last week, and his Hay Fodder Straw &c. and but for his making [off] at the time would have burnt his horses wagons carriage harnesses &c. They go from house to house, and take what they please and force the citizens to give them anything they want, and Strange they have not met with any person bold enough to Shoot." Even Bishop George F. Bahnson, leader of Forsyth's Moravian congregations, admitted that the "state . . . is swarming with deserters." Pursuing them was "a service I do not like very much, but it must be performed by somebody."25

Attacks by deserters compounded the chaos and sense of fear that pervaded North Carolina's western piedmont at the conclusion of the Civil War by provoking Confederate authorities to ruthless measures beyond the bounds of law. As has been well documented, North Carolina's mountainous Madison County had witnessed Col. Lawrence Allen lead the 64th [End Page 38] North Carolina Infantry to torture families, destroy property, and kill any man suspected of aiding unionist guerillas in January 1863. While large-scale, extralegal atrocities by regular army units rarely happened in North Carolina, Home Guardsmen and militia officers attained a reputation for stealing the property and abusing the families of men suspected of desertion, especially in areas where armed bands predominated. The Salem People's Press, while acknowledging the "numerous and aggravating outrages" that deserters had committed in Forsyth County and its environs, nevertheless condemned a squad of Senior Reserves when they "trespassed upon the premises of defenseless women and old men." The newspaper voiced a question on the minds of many residents of piedmont North Carolina: "Where," its editor asked, "is the civil law?"26

In the most extreme cases, former hunters of deserters and recalcitrant conscripts found themselves actively pursued by their erstwhile prey. Just as the collapse of Confederate military power emboldened bands of outlaws, it also decreased the eagerness with which provost officers, Home Guardsmen, and others charged with the highly dangerous task of capturing fugitives undertook their task. The initiative therefore passed from local Confederate authorities to increasingly confident and desperate groups of unionists, deserters, and others who resisted Confederate state power.27 In the counties of Forsyth, Stokes, and Yadkin, one such group led by an infamous deserter known as "Dial" routinely targeted civilians and military authorities alike. Three weeks before the battalion's fatal encounter with its victims in Forsyth, men in Dial's band tracked two Confederate officers to a home in Stokes County, fatally shooting one of them, a Lieutenant Moore.28 While most casualties occurred in confrontations when Confederate officials tracked deserters, this case gained widespread attention because deserters had turned the tables, seized the initiative, and attacked two officers.

The notoriety of Dial and his band had reached the 1st Battalion by the time it began to hunt deserters in Forsyth. Pvt. James B. Jones wrote to his siblings, "Dial & Freeman are certain to be killed if caught." Not only would the civilian population feel relieved at having a threat removed from their midst, but the soldiers in the field would function better as a unit if they felt that families and communities were more secure. "It certainly would be a great blessing to the command if Dial could be caught," Jones acknowledged, and "it would be a greater [one] to know that he was executed."29

Orders to pursue deserters in their home counties elicited conflicting responses from the men of the 1st Battalion, North Carolina Sharpshooters. Jones expressed wrath against the area's deserters for their behavior toward the civil population. "Deserters will stand but little chance of being [End Page 39] pardoned now," he confidently predicted, "as there are many & they have committed so many depredations on the people that Courts Martial will shoot all."30 Other members of the sharpshooters recognized that many of the deserters and draft dodgers targeted in the battalion's expedition were former friends and neighbors deserving of consideration. Henry Bahnson, the son of George F. Bahnson and a private in the battalion, understood and sympathized with the factors that might cause a person to evade military service. "Many of the poor conscripts had been torn away from their helpless families," he recorded in his postwar memoir.31

More than just the attitudes of the 1st Battalion stood in conflict during the expedition. The timing of the battalion's expedition left it and its commander subject to a host of powers and restrictions under Confederate military regulations. The Confederate Articles of War, under which all members of regular and volunteer military forces operated when on duty, explicitly forbade desertion. Article 20 declared, "All officers and soldiers who have received pay, or have been duly enlisted in the service of the Confederate States, and shall be convicted of having deserted the same, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as, by the sentence of a court-martial, shall be inflicted." Article 23 prescribed the same sentence for men found guilty of aiding or inciting deserters.32 On March 8, 1865, however, in one of its last legislative acts, the Confederate Congress, concerned by military officials' abuse of authority in dealing with civilian populations, abolished the jurisdiction of provost-marshals and their deputies except within an army's immediate occupying area.33 Though at the time of the act's passage nearly every foot of territory remaining in Confederate possession could reasonably be considered within army lines, and the act passed in the midst of the battalion's mission, its substance casts some ambiguity on the authority Wilson and his men held in pursuing their assigned task.

The battalion began its expedition by rounding up Confederate deserters, placing them under guard, and returning them to their original units for trial and punishment. Through the sharpshooters' efforts, the People's Press reported that "a number of deserters have been arrested and sent on to their commands, from this county and Yadkin."34 Disregarding the controversial act of the Confederate Congress, the existence of which may never have come to the attention of the battalion or Captain Wilson, the unit acted within the law when it returned captured offenders to their units for trial. Article 64 stipulated that courts-martial requiring at least five officers, or (after October 1862) regularly constituted military courts, possessed the sole authority to try and sentence those charged with desertion under the Articles of War.35 In addition, when Gen. Robert E. Lee dispatched the 1st Battalion, along with other units of the Army of Northern [End Page 40] Virginia, to North Carolina, he gave explicit instructions to "take no prisoners" from among any deserters who resisted Confederate forces. "The immunity that . . . lawless organizations" of deserters and draft evaders gave to deserters by protecting them from arrest and prosecution "is a great cause of desertion," explained General Lee in a letter to Governor Zebulon Vance, "and they cannot be too sternly dealt with."36 If the 1st Battalion had shot men who actively resisted their coming, Lee's orders would have provided ample justification.

No sanction in the laws of the Confederacy, however, provided for the actions of the battalion on March 15, 1865. Article 67 of the Confederate Articles of War forbade any officer or soldier from imposing a capital sentence without the defendant first receiving trial and conviction by a general court-martial or military court.37 Designed to protect volunteer soldiers from draconian professional officers in a nation that mistrusted the power of standing armies, this article explicitly prohibited summary executions by commanders of detached units. None of the battalion's victims appears to have received trial or conviction in the compiled roster of the courts-martial of the Confederate Armies; nor did any subsequent evidence suggest that they ever received due process under the Articles of War.38 Furthermore, no evidence suggests that any of the battalion's victims resisted their capture or had acquired a reputation for violence against Confederate authorities in a community where notorious draft resisters and deserters regularly appeared in newspapers and private communications. Neither legal sanction nor the imminent threat of violence from the captured men can explain the decision of Reuben Wilson and his accomplices to carry out the executions or their choice of victims. Instead, Wilson's personal hatred of deserters and unionists, the impending failure of the Confederate cause, and the reputation of the battalion's victims as "disloyal" men within their community offer a more compelling set of motivations for the shootings.

The circumstances in which several members of the battalion, under Wilson's direct command, shot Huff, Kelly, Loss, Flynt, and Spears remain murky. No narrative from witnesses has survived to describe the shootings, nor did the perpetrators ever record or publish their version of what took place. The most detailed reconstructions of the events come from two sources, a letter from two Forsyth County residents to Gen. Jacob Cox asking him to bring Wilson to justice and the indictments against several members of the battalion later filed in courts of law. The letter alleges that Wilson "did have executed without any due form of civil or military law . . . without trial or court martial or any investigation" his five victims, who he killed with "wanton cruelty . . . not giving one minutes notice of his [End Page 41] intention to execute them" after taking them from the jail in which they were being held to a nearby patch of woods.39 Written in dramatic prose that described the killers' actions as occurring "feloniously, willfully, and with malice aforethought," the indictments identified individuals responsible for shooting each of the sharpshooters' victims. In the cases of David M. Huff, James Flynt, and Samuel Kelly, single shooters placed rifles "against and upon the breast" of their victims: Henry Hester for David M. Huff, Moses Woodhouse for James Flynt, and Nathaniel Crowder for Samuel Kelly. Thomas Close, William Henshaw, and James Jones all shot Jacob Loss, while Reuben Wilson supervised the killings.40

Determining why the battalion executed these four men and their fifth companion faces similar evidentiary obstacles. All of the men resided in Yadkin, Forsyth, or Stokes Counties; the battalion therefore executed natives of North Carolina's western piedmont, rather than vagrants or deserters passing through the region. Of the four, only Samuel Kelly appears to have performed military service for the Confederacy. His service with the 38th North Carolina indicates a recidivist deserter: in August 1862 and June 1863, the 38th's muster rolls list Kelly as either absent without leave or as a deserter. Though Kelly returned to the regiment on both occasions, he missed the major battles of Second Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg. After regimental recordkeeping broke down in October 1864, his service record ends without noting his discharge, death, or surrender with the rest of his regiment.41 Official records indicate that at the time of his death Jacob Loss was "a free man of colour" but do not reveal whether he held any service with the Confederacy as a laborer.42 The status of David Huff and James Flynt relative to the Confederacy remains unknown. Census data from 1860 shows James Flynt as a twenty-two-year-old farm laborer.43 David Huff does not appear in the census rolls for Forsyth, Stokes, or Yadkin, but the records of the Friedland congregation of the Moravian church report that he was born on April 5, 1833.44 Both Flynt and Huff, therefore, fell into age groups that would have made them prime candidates for military service and conscription.

The victim's military status alone, however, does not explain why Wilson and his subordinates shot Kelly, Huff, Flynt, Spears, and Loss. Of the five, only Kelly and perhaps Spears belonged to the category of deserter, and the Articles of War gave Confederate forces no mandate to execute those who avoided military service rather than leaving their posts once enrolled in the army. Racial identity may have led to Loss's execution, as sources do not identify him as an outspoken unionist or community agitator. Moreover, as the People's Press and local correspondence indicated, the battalion captured a number of deserters and suspected draft evaders and [End Page 42] returned them to Confederate authorities, choosing to shoot only Kelly, Huff, Flynt, Loss, and Spears. The members of the 1st Battalion's decision to execute their victims publicly and leave the bodies unburied on a roadside, combined with their selection of victims, most likely emerged from multiple motivations.

The execution's public nature and display of the victims' corpses indicate that Wilson and his companions wished to make an unambiguous statement about the endurance of Confederate authority and the consequences for any who resisted it. Historian Mark Weitz finds that by the end of the Civil War, "the Confederacy had become a place where . . . unwillingness to agree with the cause could be deemed desertion," and the men of the 1st Battalion likely attempted to enforce this extreme vision of loyalty and disloyalty on their community.45 The men of the 1st Battalion may also have conducted the executions as a result of their staunch loyalty to the Confederate cause, which seemed perilous as Confederate military fortunes crumbled in March 1865. Wilson and his subordinates embodied a group Jason Phillips has termed "diehard Rebels," men whose attachment to Confederate service and belief in ultimate victory both staved off recognition of imminent defeat and made its consequences too painful to contemplate. As Phillips notes, "by 1865 even the most confident diehards expected a bleak future." For Wilson and perhaps for his men, the frustration and bitterness that resulted from the belated realization that their units, families, and selves had sacrificed on behalf of a doomed cause may have prompted them to extract the ultimate sacrifice from Kelly, Flynt, and Huff, who in the eyes of diehard Confederates had escaped contribution to the war effort and undermined community solidarity. As a free black man, Loss embodied the worst fears of Confederate diehards: that African Americans and Union occupiers would subjugate white southerners and visit economic, physical, and sexual horrors upon them.46

In many ways the Confederacy's success or failure had class implications, a point of division reflected in southerners' loyalty to the Confederacy. Confederate leaders identified the preservation of slavery and racial inequality as a fundamental objective from the war's first days, and Joseph Glatthaar has found that volunteers in the Army of Northern Virginia were 42 percent more likely to belong to slaveholding families than the general white population of the South in 1861. Though that differential decreased for the mix of volunteers and conscripts who joined the army in 1863 and 1864, men from slaveholding families remained overrepresented in the army relative to the general population. Peter Carmichael similarly attributes enduring Confederate loyalty principally to men from Virginia's wealthier families. Moreover, anti-Confederate sentiment blossomed most [End Page 43] strongly in mountain counties whose political and economic fortunes stood at odds with those of plantation slaveholders. In North Carolina, as Mark Weitz observes, battles over Confederate identity often pitted "the propertied class versus yeomen and laborers."47

Yet the identities of the shooters and their victims show inconsistent allegiances based on economic standing. Reuben Wilson, James Jones, and Moses Woodhouse came from some of Forsyth and Yadkin's wealthiest families, while Henry Hester and William Henshaw subsisted as farm laborers and held almost no personal property. Nathaniel Crowder belonged to Forsyth's lower-middle class, having accumulated almost one thousand dollars in real and personal property as a trader. Of the victims, Jacob Loss and David Huff do not appear in the 1860 census, while Samuel Kelly and James Flynt both belonged to farming families who owned land consistent with middling property owners in Forsyth County.48 That three of the executioners and none of the victims hailed from Forsyth's highest economic echelon reflects a correlation between high levels of wealth and attachment to the Confederacy. The mixed class identities of the other shooters and their victims, however, suggest that Confederate loyalty and fears of impending defeat present clearer motivations for the killings than class antagonism.

In Forsyth and its neighboring counties, community responses to the killings centered on three themes: the reputations of the victims, the nature of the killings, and the moral culpability of the executioners. Of the victims, Huff and Flynt stood at the center of public interest. R. P. Leinbach of the Moravian congregation at Friedland speculated that the battalion may have believed David Huff complicit in the attempted jailbreak of a "J. Huff." Leinbach thought David Huff innocent of the charge and declared himself "sorely distressed for poor David Huff and his deeply afflicted family." Leinbach confessed that he "[could not] learn the crimes of the others" but clearly believed Huff did not deserve to die at the hands of the battalion.49

James Flynt, by contrast, possessed a reputation as a militarily eligible member of a disloyal family; in the eyes of many, therefore, Flynt was a shirker. In an era where the reputation of one family member might redound to the benefit or harm of others, Flynt's uncle, William H. Flynt, had acquired a notorious reputation as a county sheriff and tax collector for the Confederate government. In his mid-forties, William Flynt would have skirted perilously close to eligibility for Confederate conscription by the war's end. A sinecure as a Confederate government official, however, exempted a man from military service. In a postwar pardon application to President Andrew Johnson, Flynt admitted with frankness the allure of [End Page 44] such an exemption. He had accepted the post of tax collector "principally for the reason that he was thereby exempted from all military service," Flynt wrote in July 1865, not out of strong Confederate convictions.50

Whether his pardon application expressed his true sentiments about the Confederacy or attempted to appease President Johnson, Flynt had earned a wartime reputation for his willingness to force other men to do their military duty while abstaining from service himself. The wife of a soldier from Forsyth noted that a neighbor serving in the army "wouldden to got to come A toll . . . if William Flynt haden [hadn't] to come after him" in his capacity as sheriff.51 The extended Flynt family therefore represented precisely the sort of citizens who provoked Reuben Wilson's wrath, sacrificing nothing while leaving others to bear the Confederacy's military burden.

Wealthy residents of Forsyth County with a strong sense of Confederate loyalty shared Wilson's contempt for the Flynt family's lack of contribution to the war effort. Still, even those who objected to his family's ambivalence toward the fate of the Confederacy expressed surprise that James Flynt had been arrested and shot. Alexander Jones, younger brother of James and a student at Hillsborough Military Academy at the time of the shootings, found himself "surprised to hear of Allen Flynt's son being shot as a deserter; I knew they were all disloyal; but did not think they would take to the woods."52 Whether Jones's surprise stemmed from the extent of James Flynt's disloyalty or from Flynt being caught and shot is unclear, but either possibility suggests that the Flynt family's reputation for disloyalty did not extend to active resistance to Confederate authority. Referring to the death of James Flynt, Alexander's mother Julia expressed "pity" for "some men who are mislead by bad designing men," the latter presumably referring to James's uncle William.53 Deep doubts about the culpability of the victims therefore existed in the minds of the affected community.

The methods of the killings drew criticism from those who were critical of, supportive of, and ambivalent to the battalion's mission. R. P. Leinbach recorded that he "was shocked" to learn of the summary execution of five suspected deserters without trial or evidence. Such brutality defied the order and civil society that Leinbach had cultivated as minister to his congregation. He questioned what the killings said about Forsyth and its community, given that both the victims and the perpetrators came from the same environs: "To what are we coming?"54 Julia Jones, who hated the disloyalty to the Confederacy that she found in her community and whose son participated in the killings on March 15, nevertheless wished that the battalion had never returned to Forsyth to carry out the executions.55 Bishop George Frederic Bahnson, though he found hunting deserters [End Page 45] disagreeable, initially welcomed the battalion's arrival: "It contains a number of our Salem boys [including Bahnson's son Henry]. They all looked remarkably well." The lack of respect shown by members of the battalion for the bodies of their victims disturbed Bahnson; when "the bodies [were] left unburied by the roadside," he "felt a considerable degree of indignation against such measures."56 Whether or not members of Forsyth's community sympathized with the sharpshooters' victims, they recoiled from the violence and, according to some, savagery that the battalion had shown in carrying out the killings.

If the people of Forsyth and its environs disliked the method of the killings, opinions on the moral responsibility of the perpetrators ranged from vacillation to condemnation. Bishop Bahnson believed that the battalion had acted under orders from superiors, perhaps referencing Lee's instruction to take no prisoners among deserters who resisted Confederate civil and military authorities. If true, this mitigated the executioners' culpability in Bahnson's eyes. "Today the Battalion left again, having been engaged in hunting deserters both in this county and in Yadkin," Bahnson noted on March 22. "Several deserters had been shot in our neighborhood by order of Captain Wilson. It is said that his orders were to proceed in this way." Bahnson reserved written judgment on the killers because of his incomplete information, instead blaming the circumstances: "Surely we live in evil times!"57

Both Bahnson's wife and his Moravian ministerial colleague took a far more condemnatory view. For them, Wilson and his men had usurped divine authority in undertaking the summary killings. Judgments such as those came under the purview of God, not of men. Louisa Amelia Bahnson wrote, "It is a great comfort to know that there is one, wise and allseeing God . . . who hath said 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.'" Though she did not write directly of the Forsyth shootings, she certainly foreshadowed them: "It seems to me, that those who least deserve it, suffer most by this horrible war."58 R. P. Leinbach echoed the same biblical injunction in his diary on March 18, 1865, and upon the battalion's return to Virginia, added that he "should not like to be in the place of their infatuate commander."59 While both Bahnson and Leinbach concurred on the reservation of vengeance to God, Leinbach added a direct indictment of Captain Wilson, whom he deemed directly responsible for the shootings.

Perhaps the most surprising judgment passed on the killings came from Julia Jones. As Reuben Wilson's aunt and correspondent, she frequently expressed admiration for her nephew's bravery and sacrifice during the war. In corresponding about the shootings, she initially expressed a qualified disapproval that rendered no blame. While she accepted that [End Page 46] the shootings were "I presume right according to military law," she wrote to her son Alexander, "I cannot help feeling distressed to see the country in such a state." Upon further reflection, however, she allowed her true feelings to overcome her loyalty to her nephew. "Perhaps I ought not express myself," she hesitantly began, "but I do think it was wrong to shoot those Flynts."60 The deed, she feared, would lead to divine judgment on not only the direct perpetrators but also the community that had raised them.

Of the soldiers and officers of the 1st Battalion, only those who participated left any direct reference to the killings. In his memoirs, however, former private Henry A. Bahnson recorded the lasting images that an execution of unspecified deserters left in his memory. "One military execution was enough for me," Bahnson declared. When the executioners fired, he recalled, "I had shut my eyes, but they opened in spite of me, at the sound. The breast bones of the poor wretches seemed to fall in, an ashy pallor spread over their faces and necks, their heads sank forward, their shoulders collapsed two of them shuddered convulsively for a second or two, then hung like their companions to the stakes, inert and lifeless. In awful silence we marched back to camp, and the gruesome spectacle lingered long in our memory."61 The sobering spectacle of ritualized killing, and not a sense of justice fulfilled, served as the primary legacy Bahnson took from witnessing the execution of deserters.

Though the Civil War as a contest between armed nations came to an end by the spring of 1865, North Carolina did not simply forget the Forsyth County executions. Officials at the national, state, and local levels sought to discover the full chronicle of the killings and to bring those they deemed responsible to justice. In the last week of April 1865, U.S. military officers arrested Reuben E. Wilson and confined him in Richmond's Libby Prison, which had gained notoriety during the war for holding captured Union officers.62

In the interlude before his several court appearances, Wilson remained in the custody of the United States Army. Wilson's captors and his defenders alike invoked wartime loyalties and sentiments as they sought to determine whether sufficient grounds existed for Wilson to stand trial as well as which judicial body could rule on the case. Wilson's captors—Union military officers—depicted the 1st Battalion's victims as "Union citizens in North Carolina," refusing to grant that the government of North Carolina as a Confederate state had the right to expect allegiance from its residents. Wilson's relatives, meanwhile, viewed the case as nothing more than a vindictive attempt by Union officials to gain retribution on staunch Confederate loyalists. William A. Hauser, one of Reuben Wilson's uncles, feared that a bloodthirsty military commission would convict Wilson [End Page 47] without any regard to the facts of the case. "These military commissions before which he will be probably tried are organized to convict," Hauser declared, and they "rarely disappoint their masters."63

In December 1865, Wilson appeared in Raleigh before Judge Daniel Fowle of the Third Judicial Circuit, Provisional Government of North Carolina. Believing that Wilson's case would resolve itself along wartime lines, his family was sure that, even if the case could be moved from military to civil jurisdiction, Wilson would find difficulty securing an acquittal. If tried before a military commission, Wilson would find himself "in the hands of men worse than a mob"; a civil trial would likely place him before North Carolinians loyal to the Union and looking to punish their ex-Confederate neighbors. To William Hauser, it "seemed perfectly fiendish" that family enemies in the state "should visit their spite upon . . . [an] innocent child."64

Though convinced that Wilson, in addition to being innocent of any wrongdoing, "was certainly very gallant, brave & patriotic" as well as "always generous & noble hearted," his family believed that Confederate loyalty, rather than specific guilt, would decide the issue. They therefore strategically enlisted the aid of a powerful and well-connected attorney to represent Wilson—one who could simultaneously serve as passionate advocate and avoid the taint of radical anti-Union sympathies. In John A. Gilmer, Hauser believed that he had found "a man of decided ability & a good selection."65 Prior to secession, Gilmer had served as a congressional representative, during which time he obtained a reputation for moderation and cool thinking. Upon his election, President Lincoln reportedly approached Gilmer to offer him a cabinet position as a way to conciliate with the states of the Upper South. Though he had served in the Confederate Congress, Gilmer's reputation as a political moderate followed him into Reconstruction. In a postwar pamphlet, he professed a commitment to "peace, harmony, justice," and "a permanent and rational restoration of the Union."66 If anyone could effectively represent Wilson before the provisional court, Wilson's family believed, Gilmer was that man.

Judge Fowle, however, found himself unsure about the limits of his own authority. The case of the Forsyth County shootings seemed to fall into a void between the effective end of Confederate rule and assumption of civil power by the provisional government in the summer of 1865. Fowle understood his position to be a perilous one. He had served the Confederacy during the war and been captured while a lieutenant colonel in the 31st North Carolina Infantry. After his exchange in August 1862, he served as both a legislator in the North Carolina House of Delegates and, briefly, as the state's adjutant general. Fowle therefore needed to balance his Confederate [End Page 48] past with his present occupation as a jurist in North Carolina's provisional government. While he dared not provoke the wrath of the state's interim governor, the ardent anti-Confederate William W. Holden, by freeing a Confederate officer who had murdered unionist civilians, convicting Wilson would instantly brand him as a traitor to friends, family, and colleagues who had supported the Confederacy. On December 9, 1865, he therefore issued an opinion that abnegated all responsibility in the case. He declared it "unnecessary for the purpose of this decision, to discuss either the law or the facts of the case, so far as they bear upon the alleged crime." Since the court had established "that the time of the alleged offenses was on or about the 15th day of March, 1865," Fowle refused to accept jurisdiction for the case. He ruled that "the Provisional Courts, had no power to try offences, when the offence was committed prior to the 29th May, 1865," and committed the case to the "next regular term" of the Forsyth County Superior Court.67

In securing a transfer of venue from the provisional courts to a local jurisdiction, Wilson's advocates believed that they had achieved a substantial victory. In Forsyth, while wartime loyalties would remain at the surface of the case, Wilson stood a much likelier chance of appearing before a sympathetic judge and a jury of his neighbors. While the stakes increased when the court indicted not only Wilson but also 1st Battalion members James Jones, William Henshaw, Moses Woodhouse, Thomas Close, Henry Hester, John Sapp, and Nathaniel Crowder for the alleged murders, the defendants could employ a new rhetorical strategy.68 William Hauser encouraged the Jones family to adopt a two-part plan designed to engage Confederate nationalism while also assuaging unionists.

Military service and obedience to Confederate authority comprised the plan's first part. "Our courts have more than once decided recently," Hauser assured his relatives from his home in Louisville, Kentucky, "that for any acts of war committed by a Confederate soldier he is excused by the orders of his superior officers & even if he exceeds his orders. And such in fact is the law every where."69 On his uncle's advice, James defended himself with the rhetoric of duty to the Confederacy. "It is well known to all those who were present at the execution and arrest of the negro [Jacob Loss] that I did nothing more nor less than any soldier would have done under similar circumstances," Jones affirmed. "I had enlisted in the cause of my country; & in order to acquit myself with honor, & do justice to the cause, obeyed all orders emanating from my superiors." Furthermore, Jones continued, "Every man in the service of the Confederate States during the war, who had been in a Court detail or assisted in the arrest or execution of deserting negroes, renegades or, any of this class of men could be indicted with as [End Page 49] much propriety as those who were at [the] last Court. As for this Gen. Lee & all his inferior Officers & men could be indicted."70

Having established the defense's message to those with remaining Confederate sympathies, Jones and Hauser each encouraged their family members to undercut unionist malice with patronage and graft. Jones suggested that his father "cultivate friendship," with unionists "without dishonoring ourselves," for "although the principles of such men are vile & their enmity great . . . it is better to have the good will even of a dog."71 Hauser made this point even more explicitly in a letter to Beverly Jones: "Would it however not be prudent for you to employ Starbuck or some other of the most influential Union [men] about Salem to have the indictment against James dismissed?" Hauser assured Jones that "A little money (& I suppose that is all they want) would mollify the wrath of the bloodhounds very much. It is by the use of this means and other soothing applications that men in the west escape punishment for the most flagitive [sic] crimes. If you employ Starbuck and some others of the cotiree as I have indicated that you will be posted by them as to what is going on."72 In advocating these measures, he hoped to buy the sympathy of influential community members not only with hard cash but also with reconstructed networks of kinship, neighborhood, and paternalism that had dominated antebellum North Carolina community relations.73

Trial records for the Forsyth County Superior Court session in the spring of 1866 indicate that Hauser's two-pronged strategy proved adept. Witness lists, which included the names of those who testified and whether they appeared on behalf of the state or the defendants, reveal divided loyalties. While most former battalion members called to testify appeared for the defense, several testified on behalf of the state. Thomas A. Close and William Henshaw attempted to exonerate themselves by appearing against Reuben E. Wilson, establishing the lack of a united voice on the part of the defendants.74 Seeing no hope of empanelling an unbiased jury in the same community where the executions took place, the Forsyth County court removed Wilson's trial to nearby Rockingham County and continued the cases of the other defendants until the fall term of the court.75

In Rockingham in the late fall of 1866, a jury convened and, in the space of a single-day trial, found Wilson not guilty on all counts of murder. Ironically, Judge Fowle, now in his capacity as a superior court justice, presided over the case. While no documentation exists to illustrate his handling of the trial, in this case he served as an officer of North Carolina rather than the Federal government and, had he chosen to do so, could have dispensed with his earlier balancing act. Though they left no record of their deliberations—if, in fact, they deliberated at all—the Rockingham [End Page 50] jury, free of the local and personal ties that prevented a Forsyth court from trying the case, perhaps rendered exactly the endorsement of Confederate national identity that Wilson and his allies had sought. The jury contained at least six former Confederate soldiers, men who might easily have empathized with Wilson's predicament and loathed the disloyal men whom he had targeted.76

The case of Wilson's subordinate defendants who remained in Forsyth County's jurisdiction, however, took a final turn that failed to resolve questions of guilt or innocence. Before charges could be heard before a jury in late 1866, the North Carolina state legislature passed an extraordinary law granting "full and complete amnesty" to Union and Confederate soldiers alike who had committed "homicides, felonies, or misdemeanors." It further stipulated that any soldiers accused of such acts would be assumed to have acted under orders unless proof to the contrary existed.77 The legislative act clearly embraced the case of the defendants of the 1st Battalion, and when they appeared before Judge E. J. Warren in the 1867 spring term of Forsyth County's Superior Court, the judge accepted the defendants' pleas of "amnesty" and released the remaining men of the 1st Battalion.78

In a North Carolina Supreme Court case upholding the amnesty act, Justice Edwin Reade attempted to convince the residents of his state that retribution and grievance should give way to healing and reconciliation: "Those who were in command had to compel obedience, and were sometimes too imperious; those who had to serve were worn out and irritable, and sometimes resistant; the rapacious plundered and the innocent suffered." He continued, "While so many have injuries to revenge," Reade conceded that "quite as many have errors to regret." He foresaw a "great public good" if "the past can be forgiven and forgotten."79

The amnesty act brought proceedings in the case of the Forsyth County shootings to an end. It did so, however, only by abandoning the search for truth in favor of social harmony. Although the legislature and the Supreme Court could bring recriminations over the war to a legal end, they could not heal the wartime rifts within North Carolina's broader society, of which the Forsyth County executions comprised a principal part. Several factors together transformed the search for justice in the case of the 1st Battalion, North Carolina Sharpshooters into a rhetorical battle over Confederate loyalty. Tensions sown through frequent conflicts among deserters, civilians, and the Confederate military during the war years refused to die simply because peace had arrived and Reconstruction began. A North Carolina court system, uncertain of its jurisdiction and unwilling to see wartime tensions persist, forsook its opportunity to explore fully the death and potential murder of its citizens, including a free black man. [End Page 51]

The trials transformed some ex-Confederates from tentative supporters of reunion to retrospective Confederate nationalists. Foremost among these was Capt. Reuben E. Wilson. In the war's immediate aftermath, Wilson had written to his family in western North Carolina. In his letter, Wilson encouraged former Confederates to take the oath of allegiance to the Union.80 He emerged from his trials a changed man; an anonymous handwritten note appended to one of his calling cards declares that he "always wore his Confederate uniform" after 1866.81 Others decided to leave the community altogether; of Wilson's fellow defendants, only Henry Hester appears in Forsyth County by the time of the 1870 census.82 In a similar vein, the text of the funeral sermon preached for David Huff spoke to the futility of false reconciliations. Taken from Numbers 23:10, it reads, in part: "Let me die the death of upright ones."83

Neither the end of the Civil War nor a series of court rulings succeeded in distinguishing the upright from the reprobate or addressing the wartime grievances of former enemies. Instead, the trials demonstrated that despite its destruction, the Confederacy held validity in the minds of postwar judges and jurors as a judicial entity with the authority to compel loyalty from its citizens. In light of his explicit appeals to Confederate nationalism, Reuben Wilson's exoneration showed that the return of the United States' legal authority in North Carolina's communities would not fulfill the demands of local unionists, who sought to use the courts as a venue to redress their sufferings at the hands of Confederate officials. Rather, aware that the reaction to the Forsyth shootings revealed a deep well of bitterness and anxious to reunite local communities and begin the work of Reconstruction, North Carolina's courts and legislature refused to indemnify former Confederates for actions they took under the aegis of Confederate authority. That refusal equated to a concession that legal institutions in the postwar period would not revisit questions of wartime loyalty, even if the consequences left the deaths of five men unanswered for. For North Carolina's courts to reclaim their position as impartial dispensers of justice, they effectively declared that military power, rather than accountability before the law, would govern the three months spanning the collapse of the Confederacy and the restoration of civil government under the United States.

David C. Williard

David C. Williard is completing his Ph.D. in history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His dissertation research examines Confederate soldiers' relationships to southern society during and after the Civil War.


. The author wishes to thank Joseph T. Glatthaar, William Blair, Col. Gregory Daddis, Adam H. Domby, and Doug Brown and Vann Evans of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History for their valuable assistance.

1. "1st Battalion N.C. Sharpshooters," Salem (N.C.) People's Press, March 29, 1865. Letters, court documents, and local histories give various iterations of Jacob Loss, [End Page 52] including Jacob Goss and Jacob Soft. See for example Frances H. Casstevens, Tales from the North and the South: Twenty-Four Remarkable People and Events of the Civil War (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2007), 269.

2. One of the five men shot does not appear in the trial records, correspondence, or newspaper accounts of the shootings and their aftermath. "Spears"'s identity comes from a letter two Forsyth County citizens wrote to Gen. Jacob Cox, asking for Wilson's arrest and trial in May 1865. Census rolls and military records offer inconsistent results for men with the surname "Spears" from Yadkin and Forsyth Counties. William Shultz and John Nissen to Jacob Cox, May 10, 1865, in "R. E. Wilson," Confederate Soldier Service Files, NARA 270, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

3. The evolution of Confederate policy toward African Americans receives treatment in both Mark E. Neely Jr., Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999), 137-43, and Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 302-7. Each author finds that as the war progressed, Confederate civil and military officials began to expect black men to demonstrate their loyalty to the Confederate cause, and punished disloyal African Americans—slave and free alike—as deserters.

4. This statement echoes Michael Vorenberg's observation that "much is still left to be done in the study of the legal significance of the Confederacy's national government" and his accompanying suggestion that new research "might fruitfully explore the relationship between law and society in one Reconstruction-era community." Michael Vorenberg, "Reconstruction as a Constitutional Crisis," in Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Post-Bellum United States, ed. Thomas J. Brown (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 155.

5. See Roberta Sue Alexander, North Carolina Faces the Freedmen: Race Relations during Presidential Reconstruction, 1865-1867 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1985); William A. Blair, "Justice versus Law and Order: The Battles over the Reconstruction of Virginia's Minor Judiciary, 1865-1870," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 103 (April 1995): 157-80; Laura F. Edwards, Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997). See also Neely, Southern Rights, and McCurry, Confederate Reckoning.

6. Recent works that consider the carryover of wartime questions into Reconstruction include Thomas J. Brown, ed., Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Post-bellum United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Laura F. Edwards, "Status without Rights: African Americans and the Tangled History of Law and Governance in the Nineteenth Century U.S. South," American Historical Review 112, no. 2 (2007): 365-93; Paul D. Escott, ed., North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); and Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller, eds., The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America's Continuing Civil War (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010).

7. Louis H. Manarin and Weymouth T. Jordan, eds., North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster, vol. 3, Infantry (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1996), 70. [End Page 53]

8. Casstevens, Tales from the North and the South, 258-59.

9. Reuben E. Wilson to Julia Jones, March 8, 1864, Jones Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina (hereafter cited as SHC).

10. For a survey of soldiers' attitudes toward militarily eligible men who stayed at home, see James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 141-47. See also Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2007), 168, 201-5.

11. Reuben E. Wilson to Julia Jones, March 8, 1864, Jones Family Papers.

12. Casstevens, Tales from the North and the South, 259.

13. Manarin and Jordan, North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, 3:68.

14. For information on the Kinston executions, see Donald E. Collins, "War Crime or Justice? General George Pickett and the Mass Execution of Deserters in Civil War Kinston, North Carolina," in The Art of Command in the Civil War, ed. Steven Woodworth (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 50-83, and Lesley J. Gordon, "'In Time of War': Unionists Hanged at Kinston, North Carolina, February 1864," in Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence in the Confederacy, ed. Daniel Sutherland (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999), 45-58. A civilian hangman oversaw the executions of the deserters, and the only documentation that indicates that Wilson or other members of the battalion in Kinston played a part in the execution proceedings is a postwar notation in Wilson's Confederate service file alleging that he "hanged fifteen (15) men belonging to the U.S. Army near Newbern, N.C. under alleged orders from General Pickett." See notations of Capt J. M. Schoonmaker, August 2, 1865, in "R. E. Wilson," Confederate Soldier Service Files.

15. Manarin and Jordan, North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, 68.

16. Peter Carmichael, The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 207. A number of scholars share Carmichael's views on the deep connection young people felt for secession and Confederate nationhood. See William L. Barney, The Secessionist Impulse: Alabama and Mississippi in 1860 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), Gary W. Gallagher, The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), and David Herbert Donald, "A Generation of Defeat," in From the Old South to the New: Essays on the Transitional South, ed. Walter J. Fraser Jr. and Winfred B. Moore Jr. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1981), 3-20.

17. "Forsyth County, North Carolina," Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History), 268.

18. Census data and calculations taken from the Historical Census Browser, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, University of Virginia (mapserver.lib.virginia. edu) (accessed July 15, 2010).

19. William T. Auman, "Neighbor against Neighbor: The Inner Civil War in the Central Counties of Confederate North Carolina" (PhD diss. University of North Carolina, 1988), 15; Adam H. Domby, "'Loyal to the Core from the First to the Last': [End Page 54] Remembering the Inner Civil War of Forsyth County, North Carolina, 1862-1876" (MA thesis, University of North Carolina, 2011).

20. Mark Weitz, More Damning than Slaughter: Desertion in the Confederate Army (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 190.

21. Mark L. Bradley, Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009), 7.

22. Daniel Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), x; Philip Shaw Paludan, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004), 71; Frances H. Casstevens, The Civil War and Yadkin County, North Carolina (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997), 85; "Disloyalty in Forsyth," Salem People's Press, October 27, 1864.

23. Julia Jones to James B. Jones, June 3, 1864, Jones Family Papers.

24. Julia Jones to Alexander Jones, March 3, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

25. Beverly Jones to Alexander Jones, March 12, 1865, Jones Family Papers; George F. Bahnson to Charles F. Bahnson, March 6, 1865, in. Bright and Gloomy Days: The Civil War Correspondence of Captain Charles Frederic Bahnson, A Moravian Confederate, ed. Sarah Bahnson Chapman (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003), 168.

26. Paludan, Victims, 85; Joseph T. Glatthaar, General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (New York: Free Press, 2008), 417; "1st Battalion N.C. Sharpshooters."

27. For the complex problems desertion posed for North Carolina troops in the final year of the Civil War, particularly with respect to enforcement, see Glatthaar, General Lee's Army, 411-13, 417.

28. "Murder," Salem People's Press, March 2, 1865; Beverly Jones to Alexander Jones, March 12, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

29. James B. Jones to "Brother and Sister," February 18, 1865, Jones Family Papers. Confederate soldiers caught Dial in Forsyth and shot him just days before the first elements of the battalion arrived in the county ("Shot," Salem People's Press, March 2, 1865).

30. James B. Jones to "Brother and Sister," February 1865, Jones Family Papers.

31. Henry A. Bahnson, Notebook 2, 38, Henry Bahnson Papers, SHC.

32. Jack A. Bunch, Military Justice in the Confederate States Armies (Shippensburg, Penn.: White Mane, 2000), 142.

33. William M. Robinson, Justice in Grey: A History of the Judicial System of the Confederate States of America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941), 360.

34. "1st Battalion N.C. Sharpshooters."

35. Robinson, Justice in Grey, 362-63, 367-68; Bunch, Military Justice, 148.

36. Robert E. Lee to Zebulon B. Vance, March 9, 1865, in Governor's Letter Book, January-March 1865, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C. (hereafter cited as NCDAH).

37. Bunch, Military Justice, 149.

38. Jack Bunch, Roster of the Courts-Martial in the Confederate States Armies (Shippensburg, Penn.: White Mane, 2001). [End Page 55]

39. William Shultz and John Nissen to Jacob Cox, May 10, 1865, in "R. E. Wilson," Confederate Soldier Service Files.

40. Record Book, Forsyth County Superior Court, Spring Term 1866, 1390-1404, Forsyth County Criminal Action Papers, NCDAH.

41. Casstevens, Civil War and Yadkin County, 234.

42. Record Book, Forsyth County Superior Court, Spring Term 1866, 1369, Forsyth County Criminal Action Papers.

43. U.S. Census Bureau, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, ser. M653, roll: 897, HeritageQuest Online, (accessed March 30, 2010).

44. C. Daniel Crews and Lisa D. Bailey, eds., Records of the Moravians in North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2000), 12:6732.

45. Weitz, More Damning than Slaughter, 242.

46. Jason Phillips, Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 152-56, 160, 179.

47. Glatthaar, General Lee's Army, 20, 359; Carmichael, Last Generation, 179; John Inscoe and Gordon McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Weitz, More Damning than Slaughter, 192.

48. U.S. Census Bureau, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, ser. M653, rolls 897, 919.

49. Private diary of R. P. Leinbach, March 18, 1865, in Crews and Bailey, Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, 6601.

50. William H. Flynt, "Application for Presidential Pardon," Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons, 1865-67, National Archives and Records Administration, Publication M1003.

51. M. A. Zimmerman to J. C. Zimmerman, October 19, 1862, in North Carolina Civil War Documentary, ed. W. Buck Yearns and John G. Barrett (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 266.

52. Alexander Jones to Julia Jones, March 30, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

53. Julia Jones to Alexander Jones, March 19, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

54. Private diary of R. P. Leinbach, March 18, 1865, 6601.

55. Julia Jones to Alexander Jones, March 19, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

56. George Frederic Bahnson, "Salem Diary," March 22, 1865, in Crews and Bailey, Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, 6561.

57. George Frederic Bahnson, "Salem Diary," March 22, 1865, 6561.

58. Louisa Amelia Bahnson to Julia Jones, January 9, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

59. Private diary of R. P. Leinbach, March 18, 22, 1865, 6601.

60. Julia Jones to Alexander Jones, March 19, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

61. Henry A. Bahnson, Notebook 2, 38-40. Henry Bahnson Papers.

62. Casstevens, Tales from the North and the South, 268.

63. William A. Hauser to Julia Jones, July 22, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

64. William A. Hauser to Julia Jones, October 9, 1865, Jones Family Papers. [End Page 56]

65. William A. Hauser to Julia Jones, October 9, 1865, Jones Family Papers. For information on Gilmer's career in the House, see Daniel W. Crofts, "A Reluctant Unionist: John A. Gilmer and Lincoln's Cabinet," Civil War History 24 (September 1978): 225-49.

66. John H. Gilmer, "War of Races" (Richmond: n.p., 1867), 3.

67. "State vs. Reuben E. Wilson," Salem People's Press, December 23, 1865.

68. "Forsyth Superior Court," Salem People's Press, April 21, 1866.

69. William A. Hauser to Beverly Jones, April 1866, Jones Family Papers.

70. James B. Jones to Beverly Jones, April 21, 1866, Jones Family Papers.

71. James B. Jones to Beverly Jones, April 21, 1866, Jones Family Papers.

72. William A. Hauser to Beverly Jones, April 1866, Jones Family Papers.

73. For the nature of North Carolina community relations before the Civil War, see Robert Kenzer, Kinship and Neighborhood in a Southern Community: Orange County, North Carolina, 1849-1881 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987).

74. Record Book, Forsyth County Superior Court, Spring Term 1866, 1388, 1363, Forsyth County Criminal Action Papers.

75. "State vs. R.E. Wilson," Minute Docket, Forsyth County Superior Court, Spring Term 1866, NCDAH.

76. "State vs. R. E. Wilson," Minute Docket, Rockingham County Superior Court, Fall Term 1866, NCDAH.

77. Paludan, Victims, 109.

78. "State vs. Crowder, Hester, Woodhouse, Sapp," Minute Docket, Forsyth County Superior Court, Spring Term 1867.

79. "State vs. Blalock and Others," North Carolina Supreme Court Reports (Raleigh: Nichols, Gorman & Neathery, 1868), 61:243-47.

80. Reuben E. Wilson to Julia Jones, May 13, 1865, Jones Family Papers.

81. "Major R. E. Wilson," Calling Card, Jones Family Papers.

82. U.S. Census Bureau, Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, ser. M593, roll 1137.

83. Private diary of R. P. Leinbach, July 9, 1865, 6606. [End Page 57]

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.