STONEMAN'S RAID: SALISBURY AND THE YADKIN RIVER BRIDGE
Facing the Yanks at Grant's Creek
The people of Salisbury awoke
at first light on April 12, 1865. The distant sounds of
exploding artillery shells announced that Stoneman's dreaded raiders
had, at last, reached their doorstep. The Yadkin House
[Mansion House] hotel shook with every volley, and the glass window
This day, and part of the next, would be the most terrifying they would
ever know. As Margaret Beall Ramsey later recalled, "Truly
'the despot's heel was at the door.'"2
For months, Salisbury had
braced for the invasion of Union troops. William T. Sherman
was marching through the eastern part of North Carolina. Time
would tell that Joseph E. Johnston would surrender at Bennet Place on
April 26th, and that Sherman would not reach the Piedmont.
Major General George Stoneman,
an imposing figure, commanded the Union army's "District of East
Tennessee". At the head of a cavalry force numbering 5,000 to
6,000, he left the Knoxville, Tennessee area on March 21, 1865, headed
for western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia. His
objective was to destroy Confederate supplies and supply lines - the
East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, the North Carolina
Railroad, and the Danville-Greensboro line.3
From the beginning, Stoneman had Salisbury, the fifth largest city in North Carolina4,
in his sights. The overcrowded, death-ridden Confederate
Prison here was infamous, and Stoneman saw himself as the hapless
prisoners' liberator. The Confederate arsenal and store
houses were irresistible targets. And the Federals had waited
a long time to destroy the vital railroad bridge over the Yadkin River.5
Stoneman had edged closer and
closer as his forces raided Boone and Wilkesboro. From there,
they headed north toward Virginia. This unexpected move
precipitated a change in the defenses of the North Carolina
Confederates. Troops which had been sent to defend Salisbury
were moved out to cover Greensboro and Danville. General
P.G.T. Beauregard, Johnston's commander in western North Carolina, was
so confused by Stoneman's maneuvers that he thought the latter two
cities to be targets up until the time Stoneman entered
Salisbury. On that very day, Beauregard ordered 1000 soldiers
to Salisbury, but they would arrive too late.6
"On April 9 - the day of
General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House - the bulk of
Stoneman's command reunited in North Carolina."7
Out of touch owing to the destroyed telegraph lines, from Germantown,
north of present Winston-Salem, he detached Palmer's brigade east of
the Yadkin to destroy stores and railroad lines in Salem and around
High Point and Lexington. Stoneman, with the main force of
about 4000, crossed the Yadkin at the Shallow Ford and moved down the
west side of the Yadkin through Mocksville. The night of
April 11th found them twelve miles north of Salisbury, unstoppable in
their southward march.8
By first light (5:30 am),9
Stoneman, with Miller's and Brown's brigades and the artillery, found
themselves opposed by a rag-tag assemblage of Confederates at Grant's
Creek, about 2 and 1/2 miles north of Salisbury. While
Stoneman estimated the Confederate force at 3,000,10
local accounts place no more than 500 there, including 200 "galvanized"
Irish recruited from the Federal prisoners, invalid soldiers gathered
from the hospitals, junior reserves, local citizens, and even a few
non-military Confederate government employees.11 Barrett estimated their number at between five and eight hundred.12
Brigadier General Bradley T. Johnson, Salisbury's commander, had been
called to Greensboro, and command fell to Brig. Gen. William M. Gardner
and John C. Pemberton, defender of Vicksburg. They did have
the terrain, some breastworks, and 18 artillery pieces to their
The Blue and Gray faced each
other at the old (Old Mocksville Road) and new (West Innes Street)
Mocksville road crossings of Grant's Creek, and at the Statesville Road
where Confederates had removed the planking of the bridges.
As artillery and rifle fire filled the air, in the distance could be
heard trains heading west and south from Salisbury. The
Confederates were evacuating their supplies!15
Not to be denied another escaping train, Stoneman ordered troops 2 1/2 miles up Grant's Creek.16
This distance, measured from the Old Mocksville Road, would take them
to the railroad bridge over the creek and the Old Plank Road
beyond. Here they stopped another fleeing train, finding the
sword, uniform, papers and family of slain Confederate Lt. Gen.
Leonidas Polk.17 Meanwhile, other Yankee detachments crossed Grant's Creek farther downstream.18 Outflanked on both sides, two hours19
after the first shots at Grant's Creek were fired, the Confederates
were routed, and a running battle moved toward and into the streets of
Given their positions at the creek and contemporary accounts,
Stoneman's raiders, four deep, entered down three roads: the
Old Mocksville Road and Shober's Bridge on Henderson [North Ellis]
Street, West Innes Street, and the Old Plank Road.21 It must have seemed to the residents of Salisbury that the Yanks were coming from all directions!
The Seizure of Salisbury
Margaret Beall Ramsey, a young
widow, like many other Salisbury women whose husbands were away or
dead, was alone with her three children and a few servants.
Looking out her second story window, she described "missles ... flying
thick and fast around and upon the house. ... Thousands of cavalrymen
were in hot pursuit of our Confederate soldiers, through yards, gardens
and fields on to the Town creek [south of Salisbury]."22
Harriet Ellis Bradshaw echoed,
"The roadway was jammed with a surging mass of mounted soldiers and
rampant horses spurred to a breakneck speed to overtake General
Beauregard's withdrawing troops. It was frightening,
curiously thrilling, to see the capless cavalrymen standing erect in
their stirrips as they rode, brandishing bared sabres in hand as they
let out earsplitting yells."23
As Stoneman's Raiders reached
the center of town, "The Mayor of the town stood on the corner of the
street in front of the hotel, holding the flag of truce in his hand, up
high over his head. Along came one of the Yanks, waving his
sword and cut down the flag, howling and swearing at the top of his
Capt. Frank Y. MacNeely, who
had returned to Salisbury, was shot and
killed. Lt. Stokes of Maryland shot Capt. Edwards25
one of the Union officers who charged him. He fled, pursued
by Union soldiers. Reining in his horse suddenly, one of them
passed him, only to be the second to die by the Lieutenant's
gun. Stokes then made good his escape.26
Civilians fled with their
belongings and flooded the road south toward Gold Hill. "In a
short time, [the road] was strewn with harness, bags, and other things."27
Years later, J. J. Bruner, the editor of the Carolina Watchman,
admitted that he "'lit out' that morning, after the town was given up,
and only saw things from a hill top on the south side of town creek.'"28
The Carolina Watchman presses were destroyed by the Raiders, and the
paper did not resume publication until the following January.29
Beyond Town Creek, the
Confederates lost their pursuers and vanished into the woods.
From there, they made their way to join York's forces above the
Yadkin. Bradshaw related, "The rebel troops quitted
Salisbury, fell back to a new position to defend a railroad bridge
spanning the Yadkin River."30
As the last of the Confederate
soldiers disappeared, the federals pitched camp on "Murphy's Woods",
later called "Herrington Heights", across Town Creek from
Salisbury. They built a large officers' quarters of pine
poles chinked with mud, as well as bake ovens.31
Having driven all Confederate
defenders from Salisbury, Stoneman began the work of
occupation. Miller's brigade was sent to destroy the railroad
bridge over the Yadkin River, six miles east of town.32 It fell to Simeon Brown's brigade to destroy everything in Salisbury that supported the Confederate cause.
Foremost to Stoneman was the
liberation of the prisoners at the Salisbury Prison. Unknown
to him, all but those too sick to travel had been shipped out to
Wilmington and Richmond in February, and the prison itself had become a
All that remained was for the Raiders to burn the buildings.
"No one was sorry when the Yankees made a bonfire of the evil-smelling
empty, dolorous prison, the scene of so much unalleviated suffering and
so many deaths. This chapter could only be appropriately
closed in a purification by fire."34
Before they would leave, the
Raiders would burn the prison, barracks, hospitals and surrounding
buildings used by the Confederate government; the arsenal, steam
distillery, and buildings used by the Central and Western
Railroads - office, passenger shed, car shed, 2 freight depots, large
machine shop, several steam and locomotive engines. An
expensive private tannery was also burned.35 A fire was put out before it destroyed the Rowan county courthouse and all its records.36
Stoneman's second-in command,
Brig. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, recorded "from the
preceding afternoon up to [2:00 p.m. on the
13th], the air had been constantly rent by the reports of
exploding shells and burning magazines. For miles around the
locality of the city was marked during the day by a column of dense
smoke, and at night by the glare from burning stores."37
"The great conflagration was
seen at a distance of 15 miles, and explosions of shells and kegs of
powder conveyed the impression to many anxious watchers many miles away
that fierce battle was waging."38 Indeed, the fire and explosions were reported 25 miles away in Statesville.39
A. M. Rice of Unity Township recalled his mother waking the
children. "Look out the window, the Yankees are burning
Throughout the day, Union
soldiers and camp followers went from house to house, searching through
every room, closet, and drawer. Amidst threats, they took
food and liquor. They demanded silverware and pocketwatches,
but found few valuables, which had been hidden away.41
Dr. Summerell's wife had buried her silver spoons in old shoes
underneath a row of grapevine cuttings. The doctor had taken
his pocketwatch, in the toe of a sock, to one of his patients at the
County poorhouse. She had sewn it inside her skirt.
Horses were taken to the woods behind Macay's millpond.42
Mrs. Francis E. Shober, of North Fulton Street, according to the family
Bible, had given birth to a baby boy "Born on the fateful day of
Stoneman's visit." Within the folds of the baby's diaper she
had hidden her most valuable possession, a diamond
ring. The family silver had been buried
among the ties of the nearby railroad tracks.43
Decades later, county records were found concealed in the walls of the
courthouse. Many of Salisbury's citizens asked General
Stoneman for protection, which he granted when he could. The
home where Harriett Ellis Bradshaw was a child of eight, ransacked
earlier in the day, had been given a guard. When the guard
left, he carried with him a Confederate flag "which had been hauled
down from the entrance of the Yankee prison. Fastened to a
short pole set up against the ouside frame of our front door, the flag
had rippled its rebel folds all the day long."44 In 1962, this flag found its way back to North Carolina.45
Palmer's troops, from east of
the Yadkin, arrived in the afternoon. They were sent out
again to destroy the railroad to Charlotte.46
Dr. Rumple, Mr. Wiley and his
school, James E. Kerr, "together with a long list of our best
citizens" were captured and imprisoned for the day.47
"No one thought of sleeping
that night. ... We were made to start and tremble
every moment at the terrific and unbearable explosions of shells at the
arsenal, which continued for 36 hours at least."48
By the next morning, immense
amounts of military and civilian supplies had been hauled out of every
warehouse in Salisbury and piled onto Innes and Main Streets.
In these last days of the war, Salisbury had become the "Storehouse of
the Confederacy." Supplies had been concentrated here "from
Columbia and Charlotte, Richmond and Danville. ...
Besides these, Governor Vance had deposited a large amount of state
They filled four blocks, and were soon set afire, where they surely
smoldered for days. Poor people, both white and black,
carried away what they could.50
Miller's brigade, unable to capture or destroy the Yadkin bridge, returned to town in the morning.51
As their final act, about 2:00 in the afternoon of the 13th, the Raiders exploded the magazine and rode out of Salisbury.52
When Stoneman left,
Salisburians considered themselves fortunate, in comparison to Columbia
and Fayetteville, that the town had not been completely
destroyed. Margaret Beall Ramsey's closing comment was that
"Salisbury ... may well afford to hold Stoneman's name in grateful
The Battle at the Yadkin Bridge
miles east of Salisbury, the railroad bridge over the Yadkin River was
vital to rail transportation for the Confederacy, and was a
strategic target for the Union. Perhaps as early as 186354,
construction of earthen fortifications to guard it had begun.
These fortifications, on a high bluff on the north side of the river
covered the entire hill, now bisected by modern highways.
They protected the railroad bridge and Locke's (Beard's) bridge, as
well as roads east. The high bluff provided both military
superiority and a commanding view. Certainly, the
fortifications were extended in anticipation of Stoneman's arrival.
UNION PRISONERS OF WAR CROSSING THE YADKIN RIVER ON PLATFORM CARS
Toward Salisbury, N. C., February 24, 1864, Robert Knox Sneden
In the summer of 1864, Capt.
George W. Kirk led a band of raiders from Morristown, Tennessee into
western North Carolina. "He did not accomplish the principal
object of the expedition - that is, the destruction of the railroad
bridge over the Yadkin River; but made arrangements to do this
secretly, it being impossible for him to do it by force."55
These secret arrangements may
have been with a band of deserters and Union sympathizers in Yadkin
county. On February 12, 1865, Bradley T. Johnson in Salisbury
reported: "It is said that a large number of deserters are
collecting in Yadkin [county] for an attack here. A few
cavalry will disperse them." 56
A report by Brig. Gen. Davis
Tillson, April 9, 1865, noted the importance of destroying the Yadkin
bridge: "At Boone information was received that General
Stoneman was at or near Wilkesborough, N. C., on the 30th ultimo,
moving down the Yadkin River, with the supposed intention of destroying
the important railroad bridge over the Yadkin River." Tillson
noted that if Stoneman were unable to accomplish this, his own forces
would do so.57
Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard had
prepared for Stoneman's approach. On March 31, 1865, he
ordered: "Be careful enemy do not destroy railroad bridge
across the Yadkin. Protect it with field-works. One
or two batteries have been ordered to you."58
On April 3rd he added: "Light battery at Yadkin bridge must
be placed on south side of river should proper positions be found."59
This order was re-iterated, too late, on April 12th: "Yadkin
bridge should be well guarded on both sides, especially on south side
On April 6th, Beauregard advised "the immediate construction of
tetes-de-point at railroad bridge on Yadkin and Catawba; also at
nearest fords to each said bridge."61
The fortifications were said to have been laid out "by a Lieut. Beauregard, a nephew of the late general."62 Originally known as Camp Yadkin,63 over the years they have been called Fort Beauregard,64 Fort York, and York Hill.
"General [Zebulon] York of
Louisiana, with ten or twelve hundred men - Home Guards and
'Galvanized' Irish - defended the bridge."65
"York was getting well up in years, and having lost an arm he was known
by the sonbriquet [sic] of 'One Wing York.'"66 C.D. Simmerson's eye-witness account numbers the Confederate troops at 10,000,67
but Beall's estimate is probably more accurate. According to
Simmerson, Captain Frank Smith, of Alabama, and Capt. Henry Clement
commanded Confederate troops at the fort.68
"Two of the biggest Confederate cannons had been placed to control the
approaches to the railroad bridge, Mr. Simmerson said, and these big
guns mowed down trees on the Rowan side of the river...."69
If Stoneman had any hopes of a
surrender at the Yadkin, they were dashed when "York sent him word that
he would hold the works against 10,000 Yankees."70
Col. John K. Miller's brigade arrived at the river about 2:00.71 Miller's brigade was made up of the 8th Tennessee and 13th Tennessee,72 and numbered 1,000 men.73
A Union officer approached the bridge on horseback to survey the
situation. "The officer was promptly shot off his horse."74 "At the first advance, so the older inhabitants say, sixteen of the blue coats were killed or mortally wounded."75
Miller sent back to Salisbury for the artillery, which arrived about 3:00.76
Stoneman's artillery battery carried with them four Parrott guns (Peter
Cooper, Professor of Anthropology at Catawba College has found a
fragment of Parrott shells at this site), and possibly a few other
pieces.77 "18 pieces of artillery with caissons, forges, and battery wagons complete"78
had been captured earlier in the day at Grant's Creek. Both
Confederate and Union forces had access to the ammunition at the
Salisbury armory. The stage was set for an all-out artillery
assault - the Union blue on the south (Rowan) side of the river, the
Confederate gray on the north (Davidson).
Margaret Beall Ramsey recorded,
"A strong force concentrated to attack this railroad bridge.
Heavy cannonading at the river bridge continued until dark [7:30].79
The raiders, thinking the bridge too strongly fortified returned to
Salisbury, destroying the railroad as they went. A few
Confederates were wounded, and one or two killed."80
The Confederates "had their
well-placed cannon, shooting solid shot of great dimension, backed by
withering rifle barrage from their impregnable fortress, so that
Stoneman's men gave up their assault as a bad job and turned back ...."81
One Tennessean who was there called it "a sharp fight which compelled them to retire."82
The following morning,
"Stoneman's pursuing cavalry was coming back to Salisbury after a
battle lost. But no wild cheers, no war whoops of victory
marked their return to the town. General Beauregard's
defenders had saved the Yadkin River railroad bridge."83
Brenizer wrote that it was "a remarkable thing to relate that 'THEY DID NOT BURN THE BRIDGE!''"84
Several days later, Robert
Herriot, of Bachman's (German) Battery, described the battle's
aftermath: "... In proceeding South we crossed the Yadkin
River on the railroad bridge, which was planked. The river is
deep and narrow, with high banks at the bridge, and here was done most
of the fighting when Stoneman was repulsed. There was much
debris lying around - broken caisons and limbers, dismounted field
pieces[.] I noticed one piece that had been struck on the
edge of the mouth and dismounted."85
The two forces were fairly
evenly matched in number and firepower. But the Confederates
held the advantage of position and fortification. The
earthworks of Camp Yadkin stood the test, and provided the Confederates
with their last victory in North Carolina.
In the Days Following
With the Confederacy collapsing
around him, President Jefferson Davis, his Cabinet, and the Treasury
fled south - to Greensboro, Lexington, Salisbury, Concord, Charlotte,
and on to South Carolina and Georgia. On Easter Sunday, April
17, 1865, Davis reached the Yadkin River. The ferryman had
left, and Henry Mills, of Stanly County, was the only man at Camp
Yadkin who could manage a flat. He recalled that "the ferry
was 150 yards from the railroad bridge." (This distance could
refer to either the Yadkin Ford ferry below the railroad bridge or the
Confederate ferry above it.) Mills recalled ferrying 500
horsemen and an ambulance carrying a red-haired woman with three
children, whom he mistook for Davis' family. "The President
was the last one to go over. He asked me to be careful and
not touch his horse with the pole. He did not speak to me as
an inferior, but very kindly as to a friend. Oh, how we boys
did love him. When we got safely over the river, he thanked
me and gave me a silver dollar which I have always kept."86 This scene was captured by an artist for the Illustrated London News.87
President Davis soon reached
Salisbury, where the remains of Stoneman's fiery devastation still
smoldered. No one offered an invitation for the distinguished
guest, until he was taken in by Thomas G. Haughton, rector of St.
Luke's Episcopal Church.88
On the 18th, he sent a telegram from Salisbury arguing against
disbanding "the battalion of Virginians now at Camp Yadkin."89
Evidently at least some of York's forces were disbanded, for Henry
Mills recalled Company I, supporting forces of men over 45 from Anson,
Stanley, Montgomery, Moore, Chatham, Randolph, and Davidson counties,
being disbanded that day.90
When the Confederate forces in North Carolina finally capitulated
several weeks later, the 40th Alabama Infantry, consolidated with the
19th and 46th, was surrendered at the Yadkin River bridge.91
Although word didn't reach the
south immediately, the day following Stoneman's departure from
Salisbury was the momentous day of Abraham Lincoln's assasination at
Ford's Theater. The entire nation, north and south, soon
reverberated with shock.
As the war finally ended,
Salisbury was occupied by U.S. Troops. Beaten, devastated,
and impoverished, the south began the long, slow process of
recovery. The stories of what happened at Grant's Creek,
Salisbury, and Camp Yadkin were nearly forgotten under the dust of the
The author gratefully acknowledges Wayne Boone, Chris Hartley, and Steve Walters for their painstaking research and assistance!
© 2003, Ann Brownlee
3 Van Noppen; Hartley, 1990 and 1998; Boone
4 Brawley, 1/8/1964
6 Hartley, 1998; United States, War Department (hereinafter referred to as OR), 1-47-III p. 791
7 Hartley, 1998
8 Van Noppen; Hartley, 1990 and 1998; Boone
9 First light on April 12, 1865 occurred about 5:30 a.m. U. S. Naval Observatory
Gen. Alvan Gillem reported the Confederate forces at 3,000, with 18
pieces of artillery. He reported capturing 18 pieces of
artillery with caissons, forges, and battery wagons complete, 17 stand
of colors, and between 1,200 and 1,300 prisoners. OR
1-49-I p. 324
11 Beall; Hartley, 1998; Stewart
13 see Gillem's report OR, 1-49-I pp. 333-334
14 Bruner, 4/9/1889
15 OR, 1-49-I p. 333
16 OR 1-49-I p. 333
17 Hartley, 1998
men of the 11th Kentucky under Lt. Col. Slater were sent up the
creek. Major Donnelly, 13th Tennessee Cavalry with about 100
men was sent below the Old Mocksville Road, and Lt. Col. Smith, with a
party of dismounted men, were sent still farther down Grant's
Creek. OR, 1-49-I p. 333
19 7:30 according to Bruner 4/9/1889; 8:00 acording to Beall
20 OR, 1-49-I p. 333
21 OR 1-49-I pp. 333-334; Spencer
25 Old North State 8/11/1871
27 Bruner, 4/9/1889
28 Bruner, 4/13/1882
29 Brawley 5/9/1965
32 OR 1-49-I p. 334
36 Van Poole
37 Gillem reported destroying the following stores:
10,000 stands of arms
1,000,000 rounds of ammunition (small)
10,000 rounds of ammunition (artillery)
6,000 pounds of powder
75,000 suits of uniform clothing
250,000 blankets (English manufacture)
20,000 pounds of leather
6,000 pounds of bacon
100,000 pounds of salt
20,000 pounds of sugar
27,000 pounds of rice
10,000 pounds of saltpeter
50,000 bushels of wheat
$15,000,000 Confederate money
medical stores, valued at over $100,000 in gold, OR, 1-49-I p. 334
39 Brown, p. 174
40 Brawley 6/13/68
43 Brawley 2/15/70
46 OR 1-49-I p. 333
47 Bruner 4/13/1882; Ramsey
50 Bradshaw; Beall; Dunn
55 OR, 1-39-I, pp. 233-234
56 OR, II-8, p. 212
57 OR, 1-49-I p. 338; OR, 1-49-II p. 331
58 OR, 1-47-III p. 729
59 OR, 1-47-III p. 746
60 OR, 1-47-III p. 791
61 OR, 1-47-III, p. 761
62 Bruner 2/27/1890
63 OR, 1-47-III p. 810
64 Bruner 2/27/1890
66 Bruner 2/27/1890
70 Bruner 2/27/1890
72 OR, 1-47-I p. 325; Boone
75 Bruner 2/17/1890
77 Brown, p. 175; Boone; OR 1-47-III pp. 740, 747, 752, 756, 757
78 OR, 1-49-I p. 334
79 Ramsey; Dark on April 12, 1865 occurred about 7:30 p.m. U. S. Naval Observatory
84 Brown p. 175, Brenizer
86 Brawley 3/4/2979
87 Illustrated London News
88 Brawley 3/25/1973
89 OR, 1-47-III, p. 810
90 Brawley 3/4/1979
91 Confederate Military History, vol. VIII, p. 180
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Cherry, Kevin, "Map of Salisbury Drawn During Battle." Salisbury Post. May 23, 1959.
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Herriot, Robert, Confederate Veteran, Volume 30, p. 102. (quoted by Wayne Boone, "General Stoneman")
"Mr. Jefferson Davis and his
party retreating across the Pee-Dee River, North Carolina, at the fall
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