The rain and hail tapered off overnight, and the morning of March 22 opened fine and beautiful at Strawberry Plains. Roll call came before sunrise for some because foraging duties beckoned. The rest of the division stirred soon afterward. By 8:00 a.m., Stoneman’s men had left their soggy camps behind. The division took up a line of march paralleling the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, a strategically important line that had once borne supplies to Confederate armies in Virginia. Stoneman and Gillem did not plan to push the men this day; they wanted to cover only about fifteen miles to Mossy Creek, where they would marshal their forces and instill their organization. By mid-afternoon, the column had passed through Friends Station and New Market and bivouacked in the Mossy Creek area. There the Cavalry Division of the District of East Tennessee took shape for the campaign ahead.
The value of marshaling the division at Mossy Creek, which was still close to Federal lines, had much to do with the political situation in East Tennessee. The region was thick with opposing sentiments and bloody guerilla conflict, so the raid’s leadership wanted their men well in hand for any problems that might arise. At the bottom of the region’s struggles were tradition and history. Most residents of East Tennessee had little interest in and little to do with the slavery-centered power base in the western part of the state; indeed, the distinction of East Tennessee had fueled an on-again, off-again desire to carve the area into a separate state. This also explained the region’s later disaffection with the war, to the point that many called it the “Switzerland of America.” When 1861 rolled around, few East Tennesseans supported secession, even after Lincoln’s call for volunteers turned others reluctantly against the Union. On the contrary, the arrival of Confederate forces sparked a strong reaction in support of the Lincoln government. In November 1861, Unionists burned five important railroad bridges between Bristol and Chattanooga. It only got worse under the April 1862 Conscription Act, which made white males between eighteen and thirty-five subject to military service. Confederate authorities came down hard, and loyalists resisted by running, hiding, and sometimes by fighting. Those who ran lived to fight another day. By one count, more than thirty thousand East Tennesseans enlisted in the Union Army, some in the Cavalry Division of the District of East Tennessee.
The geographic center of the Confederacy, East Tennessee had further strategic value. The region was the gateway to Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley beyond. East Tennessee also guarded the flanks of Confederate strongholds in Virginia, Western Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. And it was a fertile region that could supply the needs of thousands of soldiers with the help of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad. Witnessed one Confederate officer, “The country … contains as fine farming lands and has as delightful a climate as can be found…. Cattle, sheep, and swine, poultry, vegetables, maple-sugar, honey, were all abundant for the immediate wants of the troops.” In recognition, main force armies had occasionally trod the banks of the Holston and French Broad Rivers in hopes of securing East Tennessee. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s was the last Confederate army to visit.
The big question was the raid’s objective, since Stoneman had made no formal announcement about his plans. “We are evidently going on a very extensive expedition,” thought a horseman from the 11th Michigan, but he had no idea where. Cavalryman Charles F. Weller, hearing premature rumors that Lee had evacuated Richmond, weighed in. “The object of the expidition is not yet known but I think we are going for the Sunny South R.R. which is now Lees only outlet from Richmond,” he wrote. If that was merely a guess, the twenty-year-old son of a Methodist minister knew one thing for sure. “We will in all probability have some hard servace to perform during the comeing six months they have not given us good horses & Spencer Carbines for nothing,” Weller predicted. Ohioan Joseph Banks, also eager to know their destination, listed the Shenandoah Valley, Lynchburg, Richmond, and Saltville as possible targets. Another Michigan man hesitated to guess because he knew the division’s leadership didn’t want him to know. “The object of the expedition was kept a profound secret,” he complained. “If any one but General Stoneman knew it, the knowledge was not allowed to get to many of the subordinate officers.” Trooper Paul Hersh came a little nearer the truth. “Of course, I can say nothing as to the destination, but rumor has it that we will … raid into North Carolina, where we will form a junction with a cavalry force from the coast. Time will 'tell the tale.'"
For more, see Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
From Knoxville, Tennessee, on March 21, 1865, General Stoneman made the announcement. “I have the honor to report,” he told Gens. George Thomas and U.S. Grant, “that my whole command is on the road, and that the advance will be at Morristown, fifty miles from here, today. It is a long, rough, bad road where we are going, and every precaution and care has been and must continue to be taken in order that our horses may not be broken down in the first part, which is over a country destitute of subsistence. I will keep you advised as long as I am within range of the telegraph or courier communication.”
With that, Stoneman's 1865 Cavalry Raid had begun. Over the next 60 days, it would pierce deep into the heart of the Confederacy, and bring the Civil War home to dozens of communities in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia that had not seen it up close before. It would also become one of the longest cavalry raids in U.S. military history. In their wake, the raiders left a legacy that resonates to this day, even in modern popular music such as The Band's ''The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.''
Read more in Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
I was nervous when I dialed the phone. It’s not every day that I have a reason to call FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Come to think of it, this was only time I have ever called FBI headquarters!
I was calling because a friend had told me about an FBI agent who was an expert on the Confederate cavalry. I was writing a book about North Carolina cavalrymen in the Army of Northern Virginia, so I had to talk to this expert. (Stuart's Tarheels: James B. Gordon and his North Carolina Cavalry was released in 1996.)
The phone rang. My heart beat faster and my palms sweated a little more when someone answered the phone. “Horace Mewborn, please,” I said, half expecting to be shaken down over the phone. But no challenge came, and in a few minutes a man came to the phone.
It was Horace. I shakily introduced myself and explained why I was calling, and he could not have been more gracious or helpful. In his deep eastern North Carolina voice, he gladly offered suggestions and agreed to check his files for me. As if it was perfectly natural for a stranger to call the FBI office out of the blue to talk about Civil War history.
So began a friendship that lasted until December 14, 2019, when Horace passed away after a battle with cancer.
Horace Mewborn was born May 7, 1941, in Kinston, North Carolina. After graduating from Campbell College, he served for seven years in the U.S. Army. Commissioned second lieutenant upon graduation from OCS at Fort Benning in September of 1966, he went on to Airborne School, Special Forces School, Language School and Ranger School. He served two and one-half tours in Vietnam as part of the Fifth Special Forces Group, earning a Combat Infantryman's Badge, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star in the process, among other awards. During his last tour in the Republic of South Vietnam, he was assigned as the personal escort for Martha Raye, who became his life-long friend.
After leaving the army, Horace graduated from East Carolina University with an accounting degree and then joined the FBI. Among his assignments with the FBI were tours of duty as a domestic terrorism specialist in New York City, Washington D.C., the Hostage Rescue Team, and FBI headquarters. He retired in 1990.
Horace was indeed the Confederate cavalry expert he was touted to be, and he was particularly knowledgeable about John Mosby, the "Gray Ghost." He wrote several books and articles on various cavalry-related topics, including Stuart’s ride around the Army of the Potomac, Mosby’s Rangers, and the Beefsteak Raid of September 1864. He was a frequent speaker at symposiums and Civil War Roundtable meetings, and also a regular guide on many battlefield tours. He was also instrumental in starting New Bern's Civil War Roundtable and played a key role in the preservation of the New Bern Civil War Battlefield.
I spent many a pleasant hour talking with Horace. He told me about his Green Beret days; in my mind's eye, I can still see the period photo of Horace and his fellow soldiers hanging in one of his bedrooms. He said less about his days in the FBI, but I know he worked some very tough cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing.
But most of all, Horace and I talked about Civil War history. He was an unflagging supporter of my own work. He read my manuscripts, offered research suggestions, invited me to speak at events, and provided a place for me to bunk on research trips to D.C. or eastern North Carolina. (The archives was a second home for him as no one could out-research that man.)
Horace was a humble, quiet, and friendly. A man with a runner’s body who always ate a healthy diet, he was always there for me (not to mention countless others). We spoke just a few days before he passed away, and in our conversation Horace was more interested in me and my family than his own plight.
Here’s to a good man, who served his country and helped us remember. Rest In Peace, my friend.
Donations in Horace's memory can be made to the preservation of the New Bern Civil War Battlefield, c/o New Bern Historical Society, 511 Broad Street, New Bern, NC 28560.
In September, I had the honor and privilege of speaking about my latest book, The Lost Soldier, at the National World War II Museum. The facility is amazing and the staff is packed with talented people, including Jason Dawsey, historian-in-residence, who joined me on stage to talk about the book.
The timing was just as perfect: September marked the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Huertgen Forest battle - a battle that would ultimately last six months, involve 125,000 American soldiers, and cause some 30,000 casualties.
Pete Lynn of Kings Mountain, North Carolina, was one of those casualties. His story is told in The Lost Soldier.
C-Span covered the event, and you can see it here.
Signed copies of The Lost Soldier: The Ordeal of a World War II GI from the Home Front to the Huertgen Forest are now available from the National World War II Museum! Click here for details.
Based in downtown New Orleans, the National World War II Museum is an absolute treasure. Housed in five pavilions that sprawl across a six-acre campus, the museum bulges with historical exhibits, a period dinner theater, and restaurants. I believe it is the best museum of its kind anywhere. You could spend days while perusing everything the museum has to offer. Not to mention the fact that New Orleans itself is a great city.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the museum on several occasions. On one of those visits, I was humbled to meet a man who won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Normandy Campaign. Afterward, he toured the museum in a wheelchair while his grandson pushed him through the various exhibits. It was moving for me; certainly it was for the old soldier as he saw depictions of those dark days that he endured, with his grandson at his side.
It is an incredible honor to see The Lost Soldier featured by the museum’s gift shop. It is also fitting, for every day the museum honors the generation that fought and won World War II. Pete Lynn, who served in the 28th Infantry Division in Europe, is a prime example of that generation. Drafted at the age of 32 in March 1944, he left his family behind to do his duty. He made the ultimate sacrifice that November in the dark, horrific Huertgen Forest.
For more details, visit here.
Shopping for Father's Day or other special occasion? Or do you just need a new book to read? I'm excited to announce that the publisher of Stuart's Tarheels: James B. Gordon and his North Carolina Cavalry is running a special website promotion through June 30, in honor of the company's 40th anniversary. All orders will be discounted by 25%.
You can find Stuart's Tarheels here - and be sure to check out the other great books on the site while you are there.
To enjoy this special savings, use the website coupon code ANN2019.
D.H. Hill hated any and all things Yankee. His writings are littered with anti-Yankee statements. Even the word problems he created for an algebra textbook leaned decidedly against those who hailed from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Anything that supported his world view was worth repeating. In the December 1866 (No. II, Vol. II, p. 147-148) issue of his magazine, The Land We Love, he published a story that South Carolina cavalry general Wade Hampton apparently told him:
“From a well-known cavalry officer, we get the next incident,” Hill wrote. “The day after the great battle of Spottsylvania C.H., General Lee was standing near his lines, conversing with two of his officers, one of whom was known to be not only a hard fighter but a hard swearer, but also a cordial hater of the yankees. After a silence of some moments, the latter officer, looking at the yankees with a dark scowl on his face, exclaimed most emphatically, ‘I wish they were all dead.’ General Lee, with the grace and manner peculiar to himself, replied, ‘how can you say so, General. Now I wish they were all at home, attending to their own business, leaving us to do the same.’ He then moved off, when the first speaker waiting until he was out of earshot, turned to his companion and in the most earnest tone said, ‘I would not say so before General Lee, but I wish they were all dead and in hell!’ When this ‘amendment’ to the wish was afterwards repeated to General Lee, in spite of his goodness, he could not refrain from laughing heartily at the speech, which was so characteristic of one of his favorite officers.”
Where did this hate come from? It is a topic I am exploring in my research into the life of General Hill.
In the spring of 1864, Major General D.H. Hill volunteered to serve on the staff of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard as an aide-de-camp. Beauregard trusted Hill's judgment and put him to work in the trenches outside of Petersburg, Virginia. Hill was frequently in the front lines as he advised other commanders, adjusted defenses, and briefly commanded a division. Such duty introduced the Davidson, N.C. resident to the the dangers of siege warfare. In the trenches of Petersburg, a man could die by simply exposing himself to the enemy. Famous for his fearlessness on other battlefields, Hill knew better than to be reckless at Petersburg, but everybody did not share that sentiment. After the war, Hill wrote the following, referring to himself in the third person:
"Upon another occasion, while the writer was looking through a port-hole on a part of the lines where the hostile works were not fifty yards apart, his hat blue [sic] off and fell into the open space between the two lines. A hat was a consideration in those days, but no amount of money would have induced me to have gone after my lost slouch. A soldier offered to get it — I protested, but he was off and soon returned with the hat. ‘How did you get it?’ ‘Oh! I crawled on my hands and knees — the Yankees shot at me six or eight times, but they did not hit me and it’s all right.’ I have not infrequently seen men raise their hands over the breastworks saying that they ‘were feeling for a furlough.’”
From ‘The Haversack,’ The Land We Love V (September 1867), 422.
Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill was not at Gettysburg, but many of the men who served under him did fight in that battle. One of Hill's comrades and artillerymen, Thomas H. Carter, was one. In a letter he wrote to Hill in 1885, he described his memories of the famous July 3 attack remembered today (incorrectly) as Pickett's Charge. Carter had a ringside seat for the charge, so it was still etched indelibly in Carter's mind despite the passage of over twenty years:
"I consider the charge & capture of the works at Seven Pines by your command," Carter wrote, "under all the circumstances, the most difficult & dangerous that I saw during the war, except the charge of Pickett's Division at Gettysburg. I had the honor to witness this charge, at Gettysburg, almost in full, having but a few long range guns at work, and I can say in all sincerity, that I believe there is nothing in all the annals of war to equal it. The distance was nearly, or quite, a mile over an entirely open and ascending ground to a crest actually ablaze with the fire of infantry & artillery! And yet the line went up-up-up, & disappeared in the cloud of smoke left by the now silenced & captured cannon, having carried their whole front! I declare to you, that even now, after the lapse of nearly a quarter of a century, I cannot recall the scene of this unparalleled feat of arms without the choking sensation in my throat and the tears in my eyes. My heart will be as cold as death can make it when it fails to kindle at the recollction of the scene & the thrill of joy & pride when I heard through the cloud the unimitable & immortal Confederate cheer on the heights of Gettysburg! But alas! They were not supported. Flesh & blood could do no more & soon a scattered few came back thro' the same cloud of smoke they had entered so gallantly a short time before, and all was lost save honor!" (Source: Thomas H. Carter to DHH, July 1, 1885, D.H. Hill Papers, #32032, Library of Virginia, Richmond.)
And like Thomas Carter, we still remember Gettysburg, and many other battles like it, over 150 years later - because that terrible Civil War still has meaning today.
I've had the privilege of visiting Chicago often over the years. It is a great city, with its amazing restaurants ... beautiful sights ... fascinating museums ... massive buildings .... and much more. It's pretty hard to beat a trip to Wrigley on a summer afternoon to see the Cubs, or a meal at Harry Caray's.
I must admit, however, that January is not my favorite time to visit Chicago - but my most recent trip was an exception. Yes, the year was barely three weeks old. It was gray. The thermometer hovered in the twenties and thirties. Snow still lay on the ground, and another snow storm threatened while I was in the city. People walked the streets in fur-lined parkas.
But the trip was still great, because I got to appear on Author's Voice.
The Author's Voice is a streaming interview program that is produced and broadcast from the Windy City. The program has hosted many wonderful authors over the years, and it was my honor to be on the program for a second time.
Here's a link to this year's program, in which we discuss The Lost Soldier. Enjoy!