These pages are dedicated to the memory of all the men from North Carolina that fought in the Civil War.
THE HISTORY OF FORT HAMBY THE LANDMARK, STATESVILLE NOVEMBER 15, 1895 By Robert L. Flowers In March, 1865, General Stoneman left eastern Tennessee, moving by the turnpike leading from Taylorsville, Tennessee into Watauga County to Deep Gap in the Blue Ridge. On the 26th March, he entered Boone, N.C. and on the 27th the column was divided; one division under General Stoneman marched towards Wilkesboro while the other, under General Gillam, crossed the Blue Ridge at Blowing Rock and went to Patterson in Caldwell County and then joined Stoneman in Wilkesboro, not leaving Wilkesboro until the 31st March, when General Stoneman loved over into Surry County going towards Mount Airy. Stoneman’s men committed many depredations, destroying a great deal of property. A certain element of his command found this a good country to plunder and on leaving Wilkesboro a number of them deserted. Shortly after this, a number of lawless men, most of them deserters from Stoneman’s army, together with other worthless characters, Wade and Simmons, terrorized a large portion of Wilkes County by their frequent raids. In order to fully understand the situation, the condition of the country must be taken into consideration. Almost every man who was fit for military service was in the army and the country was almost completely at the mercy of this band of robbers. It was thought that when Lee surrendered and the soldiers were returning home, that these depredations would cease but they did not. These marauders were divided into two bands: one led by Simmons had its headquarters in the Bushy Mountains and the other, led by Wade, had its headquarters near the Yadkin River in Wilkes County. The bands at times operated together but it is principally with Wade’s band that this article is to deal. The house which wade had chosen and fortified was situated near the road which led from Wilkesboro to Lenoir and about a mile from Holman’s Ford where the valley road crosses the Yadkin River. The house was situated on a high hill, commanding a fine view of the Yadkin Valley and of the valley road for a distance of a mile above and a mile below the ford. The house fronted the river on the south while the rear was protected by the “Flat Woods” belt in which there were sympathizers if not aiders and abetters of the band. From this position, the Yadkin Valley as far as Holman’s Ford and the surrounding country for at least half a mile in every direction could be swept and controlled by Wade’s guns. There is a legend that this hill was selected by Daniel Boone as a splendid military post to protect himself against the Indians. At any rate, it would have been almost impossible to have chosen a stronger location both offensive and defensive, than this one. The house was built of oak logs and was two stories high. In the upper story, Wade had cut port holes for his guns which were army guns of the most improved type and could command the approaches to the house from all directions, making it indeed hazardous to attempt to reach it. This house belonged to a widow named Hamby and after Wade had taken possession and fortified it, it was known as “Fort Hamby”. The exact number of men engaged in these depredations is unknown though “it has been stated on good authority to have at one time exceeded thirty”. (Hon. R.Z. Linney) Making this their headquarters, they began to plunder the surrounding country and from their cruelty it appears that their objective was to gratify the spirit of revenge as well as to enrich themselves. Their cruelty is shown by this act: a woman was working in a field near Holman’s Ford having a little child with her. The child climbed on the fence and the men in the fort began to fire at it and finally killed it. They marched as a well drilled military force, armed with the best rifles. It was only a short time before they brought the citizens for many miles around in every direction completely under their dominion. They plundered the best farms, subjected men and women to gross insults. Emboldened by their success in Wilkes County, they made a raid into Caldwell County. On the 7th May, 1865, Major Harvey Bingham (late of Statesville), with about a half dozen men from Caldwell and Watauga Counties, attempted to route the marauders from their stronghold in Fort Hamby. On Sunday night, after their raid into Caldwell, Major Bingham made a well planned move on the fort at a late hour of the night. For some reason, Wade and his men were not aware of their approach until they had entered the house which they found unfastened. The men announced to Bingham their defenseless condition and begged for their lives. No guns were seen and they were, as Bingham thought, his prisoners. They gave Wade and his men time to dress after which, at a moment when their captors were off their guard, Wade and his men rushed to their guns which were concealed about their beds and fired upon them. The result was that young Clark, a son of General Clark of Caldwell County and Henly of the same county, were killed. The others escaped leaving the bodies of Clark and Henly. Being encouraged by the failure of Bingham to dislodge them, they began to enlarge their territory that they wanted to plunder. About a week previous to this attempt to capture them, Simmons with his band had crossed into Alexander County and made a raid on General McCurdy, a well-to-do planter. About this time, Mr. W.C. Green, who had returned from the army after the surrender, received word from a friend in Wilkes County that Wade had planned to move into Alexander County and make a raid on his father, Rev. J.B. Green and kill him (W.C. Green) if found. The house was fortified, the doors and windows being barred. They also took five Negroes into their confidence and received from them the promise to assist in defending the house against attack from Wade. They found they had firearms enough to shoot eighteen times without reloading and they also provided weapons for the Negroes. They were determined to resist an attack to the best of their ability. Wade started across the Bushy Mountains on Saturday, May 13 and reached Mr. Green’s that evening about dark. W.C. Green saw a number of mounted men halt on the road above the house and he immediately concluded that they were Wade’s men. He notified his father and mustered the Negroes in the dining hall. All the lights were extinguished though the moon was shining brightly. J.B. Green then stationed himself at the front door with a revolver in one hand and a dirk in the other. W.C. Green took his position at a window commanding a view of the front gate and porch. The Negroes were stationed to protect the house from attacks in the rear. Three men with guns approached the house in front, one of them being Wade, who had on a bright Confederate uniform, which he always wore on his raids, posing as a Confederate soldier when necessary to gain admission into houses he wished to plunder. The other members of the band had taken another route and surrounded the house in the rear, though this was unknown to the occupants at first. Wade pretended that they were Confederate soldiers, that they belonged to the cavalry and now were on their way home having been detained on account of sickness. J.B. Green told him that he lied, that he knew who he was and that he could not enter his house except over his dead body. Some of the men had by this time come up in the rear and were trying to force entrance. When this fact was reported to W.C. Green, he rushed to the rear, knocked out a pane of glass and opened fire upon them, wounding one. This seemingly unexpected turn of affairs appeared to frighten them and they began to retreat. J.B. Green and W.C. Green rushed out and opened fire on the band as they retreated, Wade and his men all the time returning the fire. Their retreat was so rapid that they left two of their horses where they had tied them. It was found out afterwards that five of the men had remained in W.C. Linney’s store, just below Mr. Green’s house, and had not taken part in the attack. It was Sunday morning before news of the raid was circulated. W.C. Green reported the fact at York Collegiate Institute and several soldiers from there volunteered. By 10:00 22 men, most of them Confederate soldiers, were ready for the pursuit. There were in the company several Confederate officers and they were still wearing their uniforms. Colonel Wash. Sharpo was placed in command of the company and they started in pursuit. The first news of Wade was when they left “Law’s Gap”. Here it was found out that Wade had camped in the Bushy Mountains part of the night after leaving Mr. Green’s and that about sunrise he had made a raid on Mr. Laws and had compelled him to give up his money. He informed the men that two of Wade’s men were wounded. They followed the trail and found that five miles from Wilkesboro, Wade’s men had left the public road and had taken a shorter route by way of Hix’s Mill and Holme’s Ford to Fort Hamby. The ford was reached on the evening and after crossing the river and traveling along the public road about half a mile the pursuing party left the public road and followed a private road which led to a creek at the base of the hill on which the Hamby house stood. “In the plan of attack part of the company under Captain G.W. Flowers was to approach from the north while the other, under the command of Captain Ellis, were to approach from the south and then the two parties were to surround the fort. In the enthusiasm of the moment all seemed to forget the danger to which they were exposed in marching up to the house. “Colonel Flowers’ men had gotten within 75 yards and part of Captain Ellis’ men within twenty yards of the fort when Wade’s men poured a volley of Minnie balls through the port holes.” (Hon. R.Z. Linney) James K. Linney and James Brown were killed. Linney had charged bravely and was shot in the head when on the east side of the house. Brown had charged up the hill on the west side when he was wounded in the thigh, dying soon afterwards. A few of the men were compelled to jump from their horses and throw themselves on the ground in order to keep from being shot. Their horses became frightened and breaking loose from their riders, rand to where the robbers had tied their horses. Those of the horses that escaped were the ones Wade’s men had left behind at Mr. Green’s. The soldiers were compelled to leave their horses. Under the deadly fire from the fort, the soldiers were compelled to retire. The force was now divided, part having fallen back across the creek and part having reached the pines east of the building. There was little chance to reunite and after waiting until dark, the men withdrew, some reaching Moravian Falls that night. These met the others at “Squire” Hubbard’s the next morning. In retreating, the soldiers were compelled to leave behind the bodies of Linney and Brown. Wade’s men buried them near the fort. The soldiers returned to Alexander County and raised a large company, a strong force having been brought from Iredell County under the command of Wallace Sharpe. On Wednesday the force set out towards Fort Hamby. After crossing Cove’s Gap, a courier was sent back to Iredell County to request Captain Cowan to raise a company and come to assist them; also another courier was sent to Statesville to an encampment of Federal soldiers to inform them of the condition of things and to ask their assistance. Before reaching Moravian Falls, they received a message from Wade, saying “Come on. I am looking for you. I can whip a thousand of you.” It was dark when Holman’s Ford was reached and some one in the woods in front gave an order to halt. The soldiers thought it was Wade’s band and they were about to fire on them when it was found out that it was a company from Caldwell under the command of Captain Isaac Oxford on the same mission. They were encamped and had out their sentinels. The two companies then camped together that night and before day formed a line of march. Moving up the river, they crossed at a small ford and reached the main road where Mr. Talbert lived. There they found a woman who was dying. She had been shot the day before by the men from the fort when she and her husband were coming to the ford in a wagon on the opposite side of the river nearly a mile distant. Mr. Talbert begged the men to go back. He told them Wade was expecting them and had sent for re-enforcements. He told them it was impossible to dislodge the band and to attempt it and fail would only make the conditions worse. Captain R.M. Sharpe of Alexander County assumed command of both companies. W.R. Gwaltney was sent with a small body of men to reach a high hill overlooking a creek (Lenoir’s Ford) and to remain there while the main body marched around to the north and east of the fort. The fire of a gun was to notify Mr. Gwaltney that the company had reached its position. Before the house could be surrounded, one or two men were seen to escape from the house. They were fired upon but got away. The supposition is that they had gone to notify members of the other band and that they would come to assist Wade. By daylight, the fort was surrounded. The men were placed about twenty steps apart. The soldiers kept up a fire on the fort and at intervals during the day and night while Wade’s men returned it, shooting with great accuracy. The soldiers were compelled to lie between logs and trees or out of fire of the guns. It almost seemed an impossibility to take the fort. “Some of the bravest men were in favor of giving up while others said death was preferable to being run over by such devils.” (Rev. W.R. Gwaltney) This state of affairs continued until the night of the 19th when the lines were moved up nearer. About 4:00 in the morning Wallace and Sharpe and W.A. Daniel crept up behind the kitchen and set it on fire. The flames from this soon reached the fort and the sight of the fire seemed to completely unnerve Wade and his men. “What terms will you give us?” cried out Wade. “We will shoot you”, answered Sharpe from behind the burning kitchen. It was now almost daybreak and several men began to rush up. Wade made a rush towards the river through a body of Caldwell County men who were advancing. He was fired on but on account of the darkness got away. This was a great disappointment. Four men were captured—Beck, Church, Lockwood and another whose name could not be ascertained. The flames which had caught the fort were extinguished. In the house was found property of almost all kinds. Fine ladies dresses and bonnets had been taken for the dissolute women who had taken up their abode with them. About twenty horses were found staked near the building. Some of the property was returned to the owners. The men who were captured plead for a trial according to the course and practice of the courts. They were informed that they would be disposed of summarily as they had disposed of Clark, Henly, Brown and Linney. Stakes were put up and on their way to their execution they were given time to pray, and they knelt down but the prayer was “Oh, men, spare us.” Wallace Sharpe replied “Men, pray to God, do not pray to us. He alone can save you.” Captain Sharpe requested W.R. Gwaltney to pray, but he replied that he never felt so little like praying in his life. Captain Isaac Oxford said “If you will hold my gun, I will pray”, but instead of praying for the men, the thanked God that they were about to be brought to justice and that none of their party had been killed. At that time, Rev. W.R. Gwaltney offered an earnest prayer and they were tied to the stakes and shot “as nearly in strict conformity to military usage as these old Confederate soldiers under the excitement of the occasion could conform to.” After the prisoners were shot, the fort was again set on fire. When the flames reached the cellar, the firing of guns was like a hot skirmish. Wade’s men had stored away a great many loaded guns and a large amount of ammunition. Wade was seen in the vicinity of the fort a few days later. He claimed to have been a major in Stoneman’s command and a native of Michigan. He said that he had escaped to the Yadkin River and had remained under the banks the entire night. He also said that in searching for him, several times men had come within six feet of him. On the return to Alexander, Capt. Cowan, from Iredell, was met with a small body of men on their way to Fort Hamby and also a company of Federal troops stationed at Statesville were encountered on their way to the fort. They were told of what had been done. “the captain ordered three cheers which was given with great good will.” (Dr. W.C. Green) The bodies of Linney and Brown were brought back home for final burial. Although all the men were not brought to justice, the depredations ceased to be committed. Robert L. Flowers