Reminiences
by
John C. Pickens

Pertaining chiefly to The Second North Carolina Mtd. Infantry, and incidents and anecdotes of the members while serving the Union cause in the Sixties.

Toward the beginning of the end of that memorable contest, all the various organizations of Union troops accredited to that state, were merged into three regiments, namely: The First, The Second, and The Third Mounted Infantry. Each composed of white soldiers. If those loyal regiments were every recognized and enrolled on the military records of the state that they helped restore to the honorable position, it is now so proud to occupy, I am ignorant of the fact. Be that as it may, we are fully recognized at the capital of the great country we helped to sustain in its pristine grandeur.

The Second North Carolina Mtd. Infantry was organized at Knoxville, Tenn., in September 1863 and served until the close of hostilities.

Our first Lieut.Col. was originally a lawyer from Connorsville, Ind., and later Captain in the Fifth Indiana Cavalry, named J. Albert Smith

After his resignation in 1864, our next and last Lieut.-Col. was a regular army man Lieutenant from The Third U.S. Artillery and a graduate of West Point; named William Chambers Bartlett.

It seems that our regiment was not a full regt. and not entitled to a full colonelcy.

Our first military excursion after organization, was a "joy ride" from Knoxville to Greenville via a freight train and when it seemed inclined to ignore the speed laws we would get off and try to hold it down to proper units, when going up-grade.

At Greenville we were disembarked and headed south toward our native Dixie and visions of buckwheat cakes and sorghum cheered us onward.

We later found that our destination was a noted health resort known as "The Warm Springs" just over the state line in N.C.

The object of our being sent there was, of course, to benefit our health as we might be subject to back ague, besides a bathe would be beneficial, in those warm springs, with plenty of soap.

But when we got there, the landlord had gone out for a few days on a visit to some friends up the river. He had kindly left us the steaming springs and the magnificent hotel, including some very nice beds etc., but we had to do our own cooking. We proceeded to make ourselves very much at home and were really beginning to enjoy our "outing" when our meditations were rudely disturbed by an unearthly yelling up the river road in the direction of Marshall. At first we thought it might be our absent landlord returning in a hilarious mood with something good to eat.

But we soon learned that we were about to have some hostile visitors in the form of Confederate Cavalrymen. What their plans were we could never decide for there was a wooden bridge to cross before they could reach the Hotel and the railing was only about three feet high and one or two falling horses would cause a blocking and confusion that would hurl many over the low railing to destruction.

It developed that Major J.W. Woodfin, who led the cavalry, did not intend to charge across the bridge for on reaching the bridge, he waved his sword, the signal to "halt" and immediately fell from his horse, shot dead by some of the men who were on that side. Col. L.M. Allen, who accompanied the expedition as a volunteer, was by the momentum of his horse carried too far to turn with safety, retreated up a ravine and escaped while the main body wheeled and retreated the way they came.

Col. Allen barely escaped with his life for he had to abandon his horse and having a lame foot and using a high heeled boot and being obliged to leave it and go barefoot, it was found by the Laurel boys, who had a grievous feeling (just or not) against him and would surely have gilled him if captured. Major Woodfin's body was turned over to his friends when they came for it the next day. He had a very fine embellished sword which was kept by Geo. Kirk and lost by him in fording the Watauga River, two years later. John W. Woodfin was a well known lawyer of Asheville and a brother to Nicholas W. Woodfin, also a wealthy lawyer and large slaveholder. John was first a Captain in the First N.C. Cavalry and when killed was a Major in the Fourteenth Battalion, N.C., I believe.

This was the first encounter with C.S. Troops of the "2nd N.C. (Union) Mtd. Infantry, and occurred on Oct 20th, 1863. To properly punish us and to avenge the death of Woodfin and the defeat of his detachment it was decided to send a larger force including artillery to attack us both in front and rear, all under the command of General R.B. Vance, brother of Gov. Z.B. Vance. A strong force of infantry under Major Chas. M. Roberts and Col. Love, was detached to go round by the Spring Creek valley, in time to support Gen. Vance in a simultaneous assault upon our positions. In pursuance of this policy, Vance had moved his force down the river road and encamped for the evening before the intended attack early the next morning of Oct 23rd (?). If this arrangement had been executed with vigor, results might have proved disastrous for our undisciplined outfit. But, fortunately for us "The well laid plans of mice and men, Oft gang aglee." We had with us acting as Major, one Geo. W. Kirk (later Col of the Third N.C. Mtd. Infantry) who was quite a raider and he, getting one of his restless spells, took a few reckless riders and went up the river looking for something or other. Before long Kirk come back with two men on each horse, riding double, and each extra looked as if he had lost his way somehow.

It later developed that Kirk and his riders were going at such speed that they misunderstood an invitation to halt and found themselves beyond a picket post and plump into a camp of artillery and other troops. Kirk very prudently decided to come back and tell us what he had found up there at the time, bringing a few prisoners to prove it. These prisoners informed us that their camp was a part of the force that was to kill a few of us next morning and take the balance of us to a better health resort than we were now at, namely Andersonville, in Georgia. They said a strong force had been started to go around an come in, and attack us in our rear, via the Spring Creek Valley. But the artillery camp took such a fright at Kirk's impudence, and that it went back home to think the matter over and stayed till we got done bathing and left peacefully. But the force of infantry that had been sent to attack us in our rear were ignorant of the retreat of the main body and they came on and struck those of us who were waiting especially for them. We had quite a lively fight with these brave fellows until finding they were not supported by the expected artillery etc. they too gave up and retreated. A few were killed here on both sides including our Adjutant George, and a Confederate Lieutenant named Hyatt. Soon after this affair, we were ordered back to Tenn. as Longstreet was moving to besiege Knoxville.

We found ourselves cut off from Knoxville and were forced to fall back to Cumberland Gap, by hard marching. From that time on until the spring of the surrender of Lee and Johnston, we, the 2nd N.C. Mtd. Infantry remained as a part of the garrison of the Cumberland Gap stronghold. The garrison consisted of a battalion of the 11th Tenn. Cav. under Lieut.-Col. Reuben A . Davis; the 34th KY. Infantry; part of the 91st Regiment, including a Battery of Artillery, etc. During our long detention there, we were engaged in scouting, guarding outlying mills, stockades, bridges and picket duties, etc. Owing to inadequate transportation and the siege of Knoxville, food was very scarce and we were reduced to extremities sometimes and I have a dim recollection of parched corn, for a day or two.

About the first of February, 1864, a detail of thirty of use were sent to join the 11th Tenn. Cav. to guard some mills about five miles up the Powel's Valley Road leading to Jonesville, Lee County, Va. The Tennessee Battalions were camped on the open road and were about 250 strong. Our small force of 30 was camped on a spur at right angles from the valley road, leading down to the mill on the creek. Learning that we were there and of our plan to camp and pickets, Gen. W.E. Jones and Vaughn decided to surround us a night with some eight hundred cavalry, consisting of Jones Cavalry Brigade, assisted by General Vaughn. This movement seems to have been entirely unsuspected by our commanding office, Lieutenant-Colonel Davis, and the attack was a complete success.

So, on the morning of Washington's birthday, after a quiet night of sleep and pleasant dreams of home, chick and biscuit, we were aroused by the cheerful call of Reveille and were obediently tugging at out bootstraps, when -whoe-e, hoo- pop-pop-pop crash-crash-crash came the sound of battle up on the road. Then the call of our brave Lieutenant Roddy Shelton, "Fall in, Fall in", which same we did with all due enthusiasm not dreaming of the real fate looming before us. But before we could form a line, behold there came the 11th Tenn. over and through us, scattering our little line like sheep off and down across the creek, in a panic-stricken hunt for safety. But all in vain, for standing there in front of us was a solid rank the enemy waiting for us to rush into their embrace.

I, the writer, seeing we were hopelessly surrounded, and no immediate prospect of a compromise, and having a loaded gun on hand, I turned to a small corncrib nearby and resting my trusty Springfield on the projecting corner as a rest took deliberate aim at the head of a pursuing column of cavalry and not waiting to see the result of my shot, I climbed into that little crib and assumed a horizontal position for meditation.

I had a farfetched hope that our troops at the Gap might come to our relief soon and shoo these fellow away before I was discovered. Buy my dream proved elusive, as a cavalryman soon spied me in my cozy refuge and with as much dignity as if he had been a lawful employee of Uncle Sam, delivered this ultimatum "Come out of thar Yank". I didn't want to come out just then, and I had some quick thinking to do and just remembered in time to save a shot from a menacing revolver, that I was too seriously "wounded" to comply.

"Oh yes" was the sympathetic response, and my friend rode away. I had hopes of recovery if I could only get good home treatment. But soon another brave cavalryman came with the same identical invitation "Come out of thar, yank," and I was still very unwell. At last one came who was probably a surgeon, I must have looked very bad and my voice was getting weaker. at my usual reply, he kindly promised to send an ambulance for me. The prospect of an ambulance did not cheer me up as much as one might think for I was resting rather cozy as it was; but soon quite a party of them came and said "Yank we will have to get you out of there, we are going to burn some wagons outside and you may get smoked." P lead that I preferred a little smoke to the hazard of moving but in vain was my plea, nurses and doctors are that way. So, in they climbed and began to lift up the poor wounded "Dupe of Lincolnism" and suddenly one exclaimed, "I don't see any blood." So, just then, the cat escaped from the bag and I didn't pursue. But the profanity, good old Virginian cussing, was sulphurous. One gallant descendant of his heroic ancestor was so convulsed with righteous indignation at my speedy convalesces that he borrowed my overcoat.

A sympathetic woman from the millhouse was waiting outside with a steaming pot of coffee and declaring that the next wounded Yank she made coffee for would be wounded sure enough. So ended the affair of Wyreman's or Gibson's Mill of Feb 22nd 1864.

We were marched on foot to Bristol Va., and there entrained for Richmond and Belle Isle Prison. After one month's imprisonment, we were placed on boat and sent to City Point and there transferred to a U.S. Boat and sent via Hampton Roads to Annapolis and Baltimore; to Camp Chase parole camp. There we enjoyed a few pleasant months until regularly exchanged. Then returned to our regular duties of scouting , picketing and now and then a lively brush with Confederates and bushwhackers, until the Spring of 1865, when we bed adieu to old Cumberland Gap and once more began to dream of home cooked stuff, including sorghum, etc. But before leaving the Gap for the south, we had some varying experiences of more or less excitement and danger, some of which may be of interest to the readers.

Very soon after our return to duty from Parole Camp Chase, Ohio., a detachment of our 2nd NC boys were ordered on a scout up the Jonesville Road to that village and we camped there overnight. Next morning a squad was ordered to go into the town and burn a S.S. Tan yard and then we started on our return march for the Gap. We were well on our way when we discovered that we were being followed by a large body of cavalry clad in grey and butternut. Some of the swerved to our right and some to our left while other fired into our rear, but keeping at a safe distance for we had a volunteer "rear guard" that had responded to the call of our Major A.J. Bahney. We did not accelerate our speed but simply continued at an ordinary walk and shooting whenever we saw something to aim at.

The enemy, being mounted were able to get ahead of us and select a favorable ambush and fire at us when we came along. Of course, they could easily have go in our front and forced us to fight them in earnest but they seemed to prefer bushwhacking tactics. Finally our Major got tired of this and perhaps he was apprehensive that some of us might get hit, so he sent out some skirmishers to meet them in their ambuscades. Then deciding that we wouldn't fight fair anyhow, they let us go in peace. Judging by these we saw, our numbers were about equal. One of our men had a flesh wound in his bootleg. His name was Bob Ramsey, of Bull Creek, the same Bob that had a pugilistic encounter at the Gap with Jesse Barrett, the drummer of Co. B., while his brother Lieut. John E. Barrett refereed the combat. Ramsey won by a knock-out to the great humiliation for the referee.

The commander of the aforesaid Jonesville Road Affair on the rebel side, was Col. Alex Vandeventor, of the 50th Va. Cav. I had a very pleasant correspondence with a brother of Col. Vandeventor since I am in California. He as presence in that affair and he jocularly remarked in one of his letters that we "oughtn't have fought so hard as we were only trying to shoo us back to the Gap."

On another scout up to Jonesville, Va. I was so careless as to get captured again and this time I was alone, just scouting on my own, while my command returned homeward. Was held in camp a few days and treated like a favored guest, but when they started to take me to the railroad and Richmond, I left them one night and returned to my own comrades at the Gap after a few days absence, somewhat wiser if no better.

About the time of Lee's surrender, our Regiment left for Greenville, Tenn. and thence up the Watauga River to Boone, N.C. There we took charge of the captured garrison to Salisbury and took them to the East Tenn. R.R. As we escorted them down the Watauga, A Texan officer attempted an escape through one of the dense laurel thickets and was pursued and shot by some of our Laurel Creek boys. Another Texan officer asked permission to return to the body of his comrade, I was one of the guard, that went with him. Arriving at the body, this officer knelt and shed a few tears and cut a lock of his comrade's hair, then he cut a seam of his trousers and extracted some gold coins. I am glad to record that none of us interfered in that matter. I have often though how useless that attempt at escape, for no doubt he as on the road to speedy release.

Returning to Greenville Tenn., we were soon ordered southward and our destination was Asheville, N.C., which was surrendered to our Colonel Barlett. From Asheville we moved to Waynesville via the Hominy Valley. While encamped at that place a small affair occurred that the post war press were pleased to dignify it by calling it a "gallant affair" and "The last gun of the war east of the Miss River." Etc.

First comes the Confederate version by the officer in command as published in the Atlanta Constitution and coped by the Confederate Veteran, to wit:
"I was taking my command from --- to --- when we encountered a force of Federals near Waynesville. I immediately ordered a "charge" with the result that we killed an Ed Arrowood who was later buried in the Federal Cemetery at Asheville." (Observe that this was after Lee and Johnston had both surrendered, as this officer well knew).

Now comes the Federal version "That gallant action."
Four boys of Company "B" of the 2nd N.C. Mtd. Inf., named as follows,

  • John C. Pickens
  • Patterson Rees
  • Calvin Mayner
  • Ed Arrowood
were taking a short walk near their camp, knowing the war was ended and everybody happy, were astounded at being fired upon by concealed persons from a rocky wood nearby. Ed Arrowood began yelling with the pain of a flesh wound.
No enemy was visible but the three unhurt boys fired at the location of the ambush, one shot but no sign of anyone was seen. So that was "The last gun" fired then or after, and by those three "Tar Heels" in simple self defense, at a hidden band of outlaws, of apparently twenty in number who made no further demonstration.

QUERY

  • Wherein appears the "gallant action?"
  • Where was the "Charge?"; where is Ed Arrowood's grave?
  • Where is that "Federal Cemetery?"
  • What other "gallant action" is recorded of that bush-ranger band in the annals of chivalry?
  • What sangumary field attest their heroic deeds?
  • What honor is due the ones who waited for Pace and then grasped for the fringe of distinction while the brave men of Lee and Johnston wended their weary war-worn steps for home.

All Honor to the Brave, self-denying, patient soldiers who fought and bled for what they felt was a just cause and then laid down their arms and went to the building up of shattered homes; but these lurking false pretenders (who hung back and allowed Gen. Vance to be defeated and captured for want of their support shine best in shooting from concealment, especially if numbering some five to one of their foe.

Of those four boys who were attacked by these strictly Indian methods, three are still living and Edward Arrowood lived to good old age.

  • Patterson Reese at Mars Hill, Madison County, N.C.
  • Calvin Mayner at Forrestville, Tenn.
  • John C. Pickens at "Soldiers Home," Los Angeles County, California.

The above reference to Gen R.B. Vance, who was captured at the Red Banks of Chucky, Tenn., implies that his defeat was because of the failure of support by Thomas' Legion and Henry's Battalion, of the Western N.C. forces. (See Official Records' War of the Rbellion; Volumne 32 and pages 76-77-137)

Soon after the little affair of "The Last Gun" at Waynesville, our regiment, the 2nd N.C., returned to E. Tenn., and were mustered out August 16th, 1865.

I can recall only a few of the names of my Company "B".