The Civil War and its aftermath had more affect on Henderson County and its people than any other event in the county’s history. It is also the event with the most historically inaccurate written histories.
In North Carolina there was no Republican Party and had not been for many years. Abraham Lincoln was not on the ballot in any Southern state. He chose not to be placed on the ballot. The Republican Party was not on the ballot in any Southern state.
On the ballot in Henderson County: Stephen Douglas, Northern Democratic candidate; John C. Breckinridge, Southern Democratic candidate; John Bell, Constitutional Union Party.
Henderson County vote: 496 for Bell, 425 for Breckinridge, 4 for Douglas. At the time of the vote, Transylvania County was still part of Henderson and Jackson counties.
Breckinridge won Haywood, Jackson, Polk and Rutherford. Bell won Buncombe and McDowell. Madison County’s votes were thrown out.
About 1,224 men from Henderson County served in the Confederate Army by the war’s end. They fought in every major battle of the Civil War except the Battle of Shiloh.
About 158 men from Henderson County joined the Union military. All joined after September 1863. By this time, the Confederate Army had lost the Battle of Gettysburg and many people knew the South could not win the war. They all joined after the Union began offering bounty payments. None of the men who joined the Union fought in any major Civil War battles nor were they involved in any serious combat as part of the Civil War. The majority joined the 2nd N.C. Mounted Infantry and some later joined the 3rd N.C. Mounted Infantry, both organized in Tennessee. Six men joined Tennessee units organized by the Union.
Some Confederates joined the Union to get out of Union prisons. Beginning in 1864, Confederate men in Union prisons were given the option of joining the Union Navy, with no combat required (U.S. draft law did not pertain to the Navy and there was a shortage of men) or join U.S. Cavalry units fighting the Indians in the West. Three men joined the Union Navy from Union prisons and seven men joined cavalry units from Union prisons. Some of those who joined cavalry units did fight against the Indians and one died in the Dakota Territory.
Civil War Deaths
Confederate: 93 killed in battle (includes died from wounds received in battle); 8 killed on the home front; 48 died in Union prisons; 121 died from disease while serving in the Confederate Army; 3 died of accidents while serving in the Confederate Army; 37 died of unknown causes while serving in the Confederate Army; 32 died or disappeared during or immediately after the war. Deaths: 342.
In 1860 there was not a category entitled Missing in Action. There is no record of these 32 men from Henderson County anywhere in the nation after the war. They either died or disappeared during the war or on their way home from the war or Union prisons.
Several men from Henderson County who fought in the Confederate Army lost limbs or were blinded. The total number is not known. Some men died at home after the war of their wounds (these are not counted in the total of Civil War deaths). Other men died within a couple of years after the war of illnesses contracted during the war. This total is not known. A significant number of men who were confined in Union prisons suffered serious health issues for the rest of their lives.
Union: 0 killed in battle; 4 killed on the home front; 1 died in a Confederate prison; 1 executed by Confederate Army (Confederate deserter serving as Union spy); 12 died of disease while serving in the Union Army; 1 died of an accident while serving in the Union Army. Deaths: 19.
Total Confederate Wounded and POWs (who did not die during war): 483
About 75 percent of the men, who fought in the Confederate Army, from Henderson County either died, were wounded or were prisoners of war. Only 174 Confederates who served through the war did so without wounds or confinement in a Union prison.
Confederates who deserted and did not join the Union – 96 (more than half in late 1864 and early 1865)
Sick and/or furloughed/ failed to return to regiments – 18 (all were in 1864)
Confederates listed as “deserted to the enemy,” “probably captured,” “captured” and/or “confined” and known to have survived the war; released within a few days or weeks after taking Oath of Allegiance and who did not return to regiments and did not join the Union (earliest 1-10-1864, latest 4-12-1865) – 60
Confederates who joined Union to get out of a Union prison – 12
Men who joined the Union from September to December 1863, 101; joined Union from January to June 1864, 14; joined Union from July to December 1864, 17; joined Union from January to April 1865, 11.
Deserted the Union Army – 30
Deserted the Confederate Army and joined the Union – 79
Not eligible for mandatory Confederate service until after the Battle of Gettysburg – 44
Never eligible for mandatory Confederate service – 4
No Confederate record found – 17
Fathers with sons of junior reserve age who joined together – 7
Had brothers, fathers, sons who died in Confederate service (sometimes several) – 19
At least one slave, George Mills, followed his owner into battle. George Mills is buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville.
At least one free black, Butler Owens of Edneyville, enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861. He is buried at St. Paul Cemetery in Edneyville.
Three years of extensive research has found no slaves from Henderson County who joined the Union Army. There is evidence to indicate a slave owned by the Drake family joined the Union in April 1865 (end of the war).
Starvation and Diseases
During the Civil War, there was serious starvation and related diseases in the county. Only women, the elderly and children were left to raise the crops. The vast majority of the county’s residents were subsistence farmers.
Crime in Henderson County was rampant. Many women were raped and one murdered. Deserters from both the Union and Confederate armies hid out in the mountain areas, many in Henderson County. Some men from the Union Army who escaped from Confederate prisons and did not return to their units also hid out in the county. These deserters from both sides robbed, pillaged, vandalized and committed other atrocities, such as rape, against the local people in Henderson County throughout the Civil War.
April 5, 1863 – (It was February 1863 when the Union began sending recruiters into the county) Susannah Sophronia Clark Barnwell was brutally raped and murdered in her home where she slept. Her three small children, one an infant, were in the home alive when the body was discovered. The infant, Jefferson Davis Barnwell, died within a few weeks of her death. There is a summary of the special coroner published in the Henderson County Heritage Book Volume II. Note this is a summary and not the actual report. Joseph Holbert was the special coroner. The summary states that she was found in bed the next morning with a gash over her left eye, breaking the skull, according to Dr. Fletcher, who came to the house with other men before the body was moved. The men believed she was killed with an ax. There were bruises on her head and breast and arm made with a mall. The summary says her husband was in the Civil War at the time. That part of the summary is not correct. The actual report and following court documents state that her husband had witnesses stating he was with them in Asheville the night she was murdered. Joshua David Barnwell paid for a substitute to fight for him in the Civil War and returned home a year before his wife was murdered. At the inquest, witnesses said on the evening of April 5, 1863, she was sitting on her front porch with a hymnal in her lap singing hymns. That was the last time anyone saw her alive. The inquest report states her two oldest children went outside early the next morning. “The two faithful slaves” asked where their mother was. The children stated they could not waken her. The slaves went inside and found her dead. A story of her murder is in the book “The Secret of War” by Terrell Garren, page 152-154. There was no indication she fought back. The men at the inquest speculated that she was told by whoever committed the murder that he or they would harm the children if she did.
June 10, 1864 – (Note that it was in June 1864 that the 3rd N.C. Mounted was recruiting) Andrew Johnstone was eating dinner with his family when six men showed up at the house, Beaumont, in Flat Rock. After eating dinner with the Johnstones, one of the “bushwhackers” shot and killed Andrew Johnstone. His 13-year-old son retrieved the pistol that his father was attempting to draw, and then killed two and wounded another of the attackers. Later, Company E, of the 64th North Carolina Troops was sent to Flat Rock to help maintain order. The company camped on the front lawn of the Farmer Hotel (today’s Woodfield Inn).
April 21, 1865 – Balous (Balis, Baylus) McKendrick Edney was killed at his home off Mills Gap Road in Edneyville. Much of what has been written and told about Balis Edney has been distorted through the years. Edney was elected state senator in 1858. He was the son of Rev. Samuel Edney. B.M. Edney was considered one of the leading orators in the state and one of WNC’s most famous lawyers who traveled throughout WNC for court cases. He was a good friend of governors and other state leaders, including Zeb Vance, and was appointed as consul to Palermo, Italy. About 10 years before the start of the Civil War, a family dispute among descendants of Asa Edney (his uncle) began over his will. Balis Edney represented one side of the Asa Edney family in a lawsuit that lasted for many years. The animosity generated by the law suit and its aftermath, particularly the distribution and sale of property, including slaves, definitely affect the interpretation of Balis Edney’s history. Of the myths and stories told in some family genealogy histories and other written texts about Balis Edney, it is stated that he was “killed by his own men.” This statement is easily proven false. Civil War historian and author Terrell Garren has conducted extensive research with documentation proving these claims as false.
Balis Edney was devoted to the Confederate cause. On May 15, 1861, a group of Henderson County men met and organized a company with Edney as their captain. The men named themselves “Edney’s Greys.” There were 190 men in Edney’s Greys. These are indisputably “Balis Edney’s men.” Edney had clashes with some Confederate officers once the Army went on the march. He resigned in May of 1862 after a year of service in the field. He returned to Henderson County and spent the rest of the war in Henderson County assuming various roles for the war effort.
The only record of his death appears in the Samuel Edney family Bible that was passed down through the generations by descendants of Rufus Edney, a brother of Balis Edney. The quill pen inscription in the Bible is difficult to decipher. It has recently been studied carefully. It is apparent that someone in the past misread the date of his death. It was mistakenly read to indicate that the date of his death was April 4, 1865. The actual date is April 21, 1865. According to the wording in the Bible, “B M Edney was killed by a bunch of robbers on the night of the 21st of April 1865 in the old field above J C Costons about 10 oclock.”
In his book, “Measured in Blood,” author Terrell Garren writes about the death of Edney. He makes the following points:
Gen. George Stoneman’s Union Army was defeated at Swannanoa Gap on April 20, 1865. Union Army Gen. Alvan C. Gillem went back to Rutherford County and began planning an attack through Howard Gap into Henderson County. There were Henderson County men in Gillem’s unit, some serving as spies. There were local spies with the Union cavalry units in WNC. When asked who in Henderson County might lead a response to the attack, the most likely person was a well-known, political statesman and orator by the name of Balis Edney. The Union Army was camped in force at Rutherfordton on April 21, 1865. Edney lived on South Mills Gap Road in Edneyville. To move up through the mountain passes from what is now Lake Lure into Edneyville could easily take place in a single night.
Descendants of Rufus Edney were told in oral histories that Confederate deserters and Union sympathizers shot him. One descendant: “Yes indeed, the Yankees shot him, some say his own men shot him, they did not. It was Union soldiers that killed him.”
According to Garren’s research, at about 10 p.m. on the night of April 21, 1865, Balis Edney was the first casualty of the Union Army’s invasion of Henderson County. The Union Army entered Henderson County on the morning of April 23, 1865, about 34 hours after Balis Edney was killed. There was no organized Confederate effort to meet them.
About half of “Balis Edney’s men” were either dead, severely wounded or in Union prisons. The vast majority of the remaining men were staggering home after the collapse of Lee’s Confederate Army in Northern Virginia. They had fought through four years of horrific combat and participated in the largest battles of the war. Balis Edney’s men were not present at his home when he was killed.
April 22, 1865 – Henderson County’s first sheriff Robert Thomas was killed. Thomas was a well-known and respected leader in the county. On the night of April 22, his barn was set on fire. When he came outside to defend his property, he was shot and killed. Tradition states that outlaws, most likely deserters from either the Confederate or Union armies, killed Thomas. The date of this incident should be carefully noted. It was one day after the death of Balis Edney and the night before the Union Army entered Henderson County.
Over the years the following statements have been made about Henderson County during the Civil War:
. The county was pro-Union
. More or an equal number of men fought for the Union
. Brother fought against brother
. Most of the county’s men deserted from the Confederate Army
. The war had little affect on local residents since no battles were fought here
It is more than obvious from statistics and documentation (above) and within the timeline that these statements are not true or factual.
The Unionism claim in Henderson County is founded primarily on myths and legends, and mistakes made due to a lack of documentation and primary source research. The myths and legends, over the generations, are exaggerated and distorted.
The Appalachian Mountain people are well known for the passing of stories, folk tales and legends. Families passed their stories orally from generation to generation. Many of the stories related to Unionism in Henderson County are a direct result of these stories.
Almost all books on Henderson County history promote the Unionism myth either accidentally or intentionally. Many of these writers picked up on legends and myths recorded elsewhere and believed them to be true. Other writers did not conduct extensive primary source research using National Archives and state records.
Today, researchers have access to better documentation and more accurate resources. Early writers such as Sadie Smathers Patton, Frank FitzSimons, Lenoir Ray and J.T. Fain did not have access to Union and Confederate military records. Today, detailed information on individual soldiers is available on the Internet and more easily and accurately researched at the N.C. Office of Archives and History and the National Archives. In 1961 the N.C. Office of Archives and History began publishing “N.C. Troops.” It was initiated as a Civil War centennial project and is still ongoing. Eighteen volumes are currently completed.
Click on the following links for information on the men who died serving in the Confederate Army, the Union Army and a listing of the battles of the Civil War in which men from Henderson County fought.