Fort Hamby on the Yadkin
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In March 1865, General Stoneman left East Tennessee, moving by the turnpike leading from Taylorsville, Tenn., through Wautauga county to Deep Gap on the Blue Ridge. On the 26th of March, he entered Boone, N. C., and on the 27th the column was divided, one division under General Stoneman marching 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 at Wilkesboro. Leaving Wilkesboro on the 31st, General Stoneman moved over into Surry County, going toward Mt. Airy. During the march through this section of the State, Stoneman’s men committed many depredations, and after leaving Wilkesboro a number of the lawless element of his command deserted. Shortly after this a number of men, some deserters from Stoneman’s command and other worthless characters, led by two desperate men, Wade and Simmons, completely terrorized a large portion of Wilkes County by their frequent raids.
In order to fully understand the situation, the condition of the country at that time must be taken into consideration. Almost every man fit for military service was in the army, and the country was almost completely at the mercy of the robbers. It was thought after Lee had surrendered and the soldiers were returning home, that these depredations would be discontinued but they were not.
These marauders were divided into two bands. One, led by Simmons, had its headquarters in the Brushy Mountains, and the other, led by Wade, had its headquarters near the Yakin 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 near the road which leads from Wilkesboro to Lenoir, in Caldwell county, 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 abettors of the band. From this position the Yadkin valley 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 point was chosen by Daniel Roone as a splendid military post to protect himself against the Indians. At any rate it would have been almost impossible to choose a stronger location, both offensive and defensive, than this. The house was built of oak logs, and was two stories high. In the upper story Wade had cut portholes 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 some dissolute women by the name of Hamby, and after Wade had fortified it, the name by which it was known was “Fort Hamby.” “The exact number of men engaged in these depredations is unknown though it has been stated on good authority to have at no time exceeded thirty.” (Hon. R. Z. Linney, Col. G. W. Flowers.)
Making this their headquarters, they began to plunder f he surrounding country, and from their cruelty it appears that their object was to gratify a spirit of revenge as well as to enrich themselves. 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 under their dominion. They plundered the best citizens, subjecting men and women to the grossest insults. Their cruelty is shown by this act. A woman was working in a field near Holman’s Ford, having a child with her. The child climbed on the fence and the men began to shoot at it, and finally killed it. Emboldened by their success in Wilkes County, they made a raid into Caldwell county on the 7th of May. Major Harvey Bingham, with about half a dozen young men from Caldwell and Watauga counties, attempted to route these murderers from their stronghold at 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 the approach of Bingham’s men until they had entered the house. Wade and his men announced their defenseless condition, and begged for their lives. No guns were seen, and they were, so Bingham believed, his prisoners. They gave Wade and his men time to dress, after which, at a moment when the captors were off their guard, they rushed to their guns, which were concealed about their beds, and opened fire on them. The result was that Clark, a son of General Clark, of Caldwell County, and Henley, from the same county, was killed. The others escaped, leaving the bodies of Clark and Henley.
Being encouraged by the failure to dislodge them, they began to enlarge the territory, which they were to plunder. About a week previous to this, Simmons with his band had crossed into Alexander County and had made a raid on Col. McCurdy, a well-to-do planter.
About this time Mr. W. C. Green, of Alexander county, who had been a Lieutenant in the Confederate Army, received news 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 to kill him (W. C. Green) if found. Mr. Green began to fortify his house, barring all the doors with iron. They also took five Negroes into their confidence and these promised to assist in defending the house against Wade. It was found out that they had in the house fire-arms enough to shoot eighteen times without re-loading. Weapons were also provided for the Negroes.
Wade started across the Brushy Mountains on. Saturday, May 13th, and reached Mr. Green’s that evening about dark. Mr. W. C. Green saw a number of men stop their horses in the road above the house, and he concluded that they were Wade’s men. He notified his father, and mustered the Negroes in the dining hall. All the lights were extinguished through the moon was shining brightly. Mr. J. B. Green stationed himself at the front door, with a revolver in one hand and a dirk in the other. Mr. W. C. Green took his position at a window commanding a view of the front gate and porch. The Negroes were stationed in the rear part of the house. Three men with guns approached the house in the 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 the houses he wished to plunder. The other members of the company took another route and surrounded the house from the rear, though this was not known at the time. Wade pretended that that they were confederate soldiers; that they had belonged to the cavalry and were now on their way home, having been detained on account of sickness. Mr. J. B. Green told him “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 from the rear and were trying to force an entrance. When this fact was made known to Mr. W. C. Green by one of the Negroes, he rushed to the rear, knocked out a pane of glass and opened fire on them, wounding one of the men. This unexpected turn of affairs seemed to frighten them and they all began to retire. Mr. J. B. Green and Mr. W. C. Green rushed into the yard and opened fire on them as they retreated. Wade and his men at the same time returning the fire. They retreated so rapidly that two of the men left their horses.
It was Sunday morning before the news was circulated. Mr. W. C. Green went to York Collegiate Institute and informed several men, and by 10 o’clock twenty-two men, almost all of them Confederate soldiers, had gathered, ready to pursue the robbers. In this party were several officers of the Confederate army and they were dressed in their uniforms. Col. Wash. Sharpe was placed in command of the squad and they started in pursuit. The first news from Wade was when they reached ‘Law’s Gap. ” Here it was found that Wade had camped in the Brushy mountains part of the night after the attack on Mr. Green, and about sunrise the next morning had made a raid on Mr. Laws and forced him to give up his money. He informed the party that two of Wade’s men were wounded. The pursuers 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 Holman’s ford to Fort Hamby. The ford was reached in the evening of May 14th, and after crossing the river, and traveling along the public road for 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 Col. G. W. Flowers was to approach from the north while the other part under Capt. Ellis, was to approach from the south, and then surround the house. In the enthusiasm of the moment all seemed to forget the danger. Col. Flowers’ men had gotten within 75 yards, and Capt. Ellis’ men within 20 yards of the house when its defenders poured a volley of minnie balls through the port holes.” (Hon. R. Z. Linney). James K. Linney and Jones Brown were killed. Linney had charged bravely across the field and was killed on the east side of the house; Brown was charging up the hill on the west side when he was wounded. Some of the men were compelled to jump from their houses and throw themselves on the ground in order to escape being shot down. Their horses became frightened and breaking loose from them, ran to where Wade’s men had their horses. Two of these horses were the ones captured from Wade at Mr. Green’s. These men did not recover their horses at this time.
Under the severe fire the men were compelled to retreat. The force was now divided, part having fallen back across the creek, and part having reached the pines east of the building. There was no chance to re-unite, 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 under the severe fire from the fort, the men were compelled to leave the bodies of Linney and Brown. Wade’s men afterwards buried them near the fort.
These men 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 started towards Fort Hamby. After crossing Cove’s Gap, a courier was sent back to Iredell County to request Capt. Cowan to raise a company and come to their assistance; 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, I ‘Come on; I am looking for you; I can whip a thousand of you.” It was dark when Holman’s ford was reached. Some one in the woods before the company ordered them to halt. The men thought that the order was from some of Wade’s band and was about to fire upon them, when it was found out that this was a company from Caldwell County, under the command of Capt. Isaac Oxford, on the same mission. They had encamped near the ford and had thrown out their sentinels. The two companies camped together that night, and the next morning marched up the river and crossed at a small ford. They came to the house of Mr. Talbert, who lived on the public road, and there they found a woman dying. She had been shot the day before, by the men from the fort while she and her husband were coming to the ford in a wagon, on the opposite side of the river from the fort —nearly a mile distant.
Crossed the River
Mr. Talbert begged the men to return, telling them that Wade was expecting them, and had sent for re-enforcements. He told them that it was impossible to dislodge him, and to make an attempt and fail would make it worse for the people.
Capt. R. M. Sharpe, of Alexander County, assumed command of both companies, numbering several hundred men. W. R. Gweltney was sent with a small body of men to reach a high hill, overlooking a creek (Lenoir’s Fork), and to remain there while all the others marched around to the north and east of the fort. Gwaltney’s men were to be notified by the firing of a gun, when the main body had reached their position. One or two men were seen to escape from the fort before it could be surrounded. They were fired at but escaped. The supposition was that they had gone to get re-enforcements from the other band. The companies had left their encampment before day, and by daybreak the fort was surrounded, the men being placed about twenty steps apart. The soldiers kept up the fire on the fort during the day and night. Wade’s men, returning the fire, shooting with great accuracy. The soldiers were compelled to keep behind logs and trees, or out of range of the guns. It seemed impossible to take the fort. “Some of the bravest men were in favor of giving it up, while others said death was preferable to being turn over by such devils.” (Rev. W. R. Gwaltney.)
This state of affairs continued until the night of the 19th, when the lines were moved nearer up, and about 4 o’clock in the morning Wallace Sharpe, W. A. Daniel, M. W. Hill, and J. L. Millsaps crept from their posts to a crib where the robbers had tied their horses and untied them, after which they were led away. From the crib these men crept up to the kitchen. It was found that some of Wade’s men had prepared breakfast, but were compelled to leave it. The kitchen was set on fire, and the flames soon reached the fortress. The fact that the building was on fire seemed to completely unnerve Wade’s men. “What terms will you give us?” cried out Wade. “We will shoot you,” replied Sharpe, from behind the burning kitchen.
It was now about daybreak, and some of the men surrounding the fort began to rush up. Wade made a rush towards the river, through a body of Caldwell men, who opened fire on him, but as it was yet a little dark, lie escaped. Four men were captured, Beck, Church, Loockwad, and one whose name cannot be ascertained. The flames, which had caught the fort, were extinguished, and in the house was found property of almost every description. Fine ladies’ dresses and bonnets had been taken for the dissolute women who occupied the house. About twenty horses were found stabled near the fort. Some of the property was restored 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 as summarily as they had disposed of Clark, Henley, Brown and Linney. Stakes were put up, and on the way to the place of execution they were given time to pray. They knelt down to pray, but the prayer was ‘ 10, men, spare us.” Wallace Sharpe replied: “Men, pray to Jesus. He alone can save you.” Capt. Sharpe requested W. R. Gwaltney to pray, but he replied that he never felt so little like praying in his life. Capt. Isaac Oxford said, “If you will hold my gun I will pray;” but instead of praying for the men, he thanked God that they were to be brought to justice and that none of the party had been killed. After this Rev. W. R. Gwaltney offered an earnest prayer for them, and then they were shot, I gas 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 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 quantity of ammunition.
Wade was seen in the vicinity several days after. 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 from the fort and had hid under the banks until night; that in searching for him the soldiers had frequently come within six feet of him.
On the way back to Alexander county Capt. Cowan, from Iredell, was met with a small body of men on their way to Fort Hamby. Also a company of Federal troops, then stationed in Statesville, were met on their way to the fort. They were told what had been done. “The captain ordered three cheers, which the men gave with a good will.” (Dr. W. C. Green.)
The bodies of Linney and Brown were brought back home for final burial.
Though all the desperadoes were not brought to justice, this completely broke up their depredations.
Robt. L. Flowers.