Meanwhile, in Palmer’s camp, the sound of “Boots and Saddles” broke the early morning stillness of April 1, 1865. Colonel Betts began day twelve of the raid by ordering his Pennsylvanians to once again test Roaring River. This time the raging stream proved fordable. Pickets were called in – one, Frederic Antes, was relieved at about 9:00 a.m. – and the eastward procession began anew. The day was pleasant and warm; the sky above was clear; and the countryside made a favorable impression. Betts described it as “a very woody country, with few houses,” and “a very barren country with but few inhabitants.” Weand was particularly taken by the terrain. “On April 1st we marched through an immense pine forest. It was the finest piece of timber land I ever saw.”
By 4:00 p.m., the Federals had put about ten miles of empty countryside behind them, and the quiet streets and modest buildings of Elkin were at hand. The town impressed one horseman as a “small but thriving” community that fortunately for them was not thriving with Confederate defenders. On Big Elkin Creek, a tributary of the Yadkin that flowed through town, sat the only structure of military value: the Elkin Manufacturing Company, a small cotton mill that had been in business for almost twenty years. Owned by the Gwyn family, the concern employed about sixty people, mostly young single women who boarded with local residents. The mill had manufactured Confederate uniforms for most of the war, so it was conceivably a legitimate target.
Forty-year-old Richard Ransome Gwyn managed the mill. A frail man who had not fought in the war, Gwyn tried to protect his operation. According to tradition, he met the Federals at the mouth of Big Elkin Creek and offered them the hospitality of his home. He also offered to secure food for his guests. Palmer accepted and established his headquarters in Gwyn’s home, which sat on a hill near the factory. The Pennsylvanian was apparently pleased by this gesture, and also by the fact that Gwyn was a fellow Mason. To this day, some say that Palmer placed a guard around the cotton mill to prevent its destruction.
The men also enjoyed their visit to Big Elkin Creek – particularly their opportunity to fraternize with the factory’s female employees, who welcomed the visitors with “quite a reception.” Flirting became the main pastime at the mill. Meanwhile, the men found ample supplies inside the factory, the local general store, and a nearby grist mill. Quartermasters lost no time in seizing and distributing bacon, flour, butter, honey, lard, molasses, chestnuts, and tobacco. It was a case of perfect timing, because rations had not been issued in a week. The only problem was finding the time to prepare the food. A Pennsylvanian wrote, “We miss our ‘hard-tack’ very much, now that it is all gone. In place of it flour and cornmeal are issued, which usually is mixed with water and fried, but if we stop long enough the colored women bake it for us, and how good it tastes!”
Palmer recognized that the haul at the mill would not satiate his ravenous brigade, so he sought other food sources. He found a couple of other mills in the area and put them to work, and soon had three mills grinding meal. His troopers also added about five hundred bales of cotton to the list of captures.
Thanks to these foraging successes, the people of Elkin suffered comparatively less than their neighbors in Wilkes and Watauga. Old Man Dickie Gwyn, Richard’s father, was one of the few who made an unwilling contribution to the cause. Federal troopers took all the corn, fodder, and straw from his home, Cedar Point, which sat on a hill west of Big Elkin Creek. The raiders did not molest Gwyn’s bacon or his horses, and his cattle escaped as well. Thus satisfied, the Federals camped for the night in and around Elkin.
Mallaby’s signal corps unit, still divided by the river, did its job and kept communications open. The signalers south of the Yadkin left the Wilkesboro area at 7:30 a.m. and reached Jonesville around noon. Meanwhile, across the river, the flagmen said goodbye to their lady friends, but only after enjoying a good breakfast and picking up horses to replace the ones they had left on the other side of the river. These cavalrymen also followed the Yadkin River eastward, crossed Roaring River at a deep ford, and finally caught up with the 10th Michigan. By 1:00 p.m., the two detachments were able to raise their flags again and start sending messages. When suppertime rolled around, Frankenberry was able to take a break. Camping beside Palmer’s headquarters near Elkin Factory, the Pennsylvanian tore into a supper of fried meat and a large biscuit. As he ate, Frankenberry listened to the mill grinding away and admired the hundreds of bales of cotton stacked nearby.
For more, see Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
Excerpt from Stoneman's Raid, 1865, (c) Chris J. Hartley