Terrell T. Garren fights his war with records and archives. And after studying more than 1,500 records of men from Henderson County who fought in the Civil War he concludes that oft-told tales of broad Union support here is based on myth.
"Henderson County, at the time the Civil War started, was a Confederate stronghold," he writes in the first sentence of his new book, "Measured in Blood: The Role of Henderson County in the American Civil War." "... Hundreds of men voluntarily joined the Confederate Army in first few months of the war. Not a single man from Henderson County joined the Union Army during the first two and a half years of the war."
From the first page, Garren leads the reader on a 569-page journey to support his theme that Union sympathy dissolved the minute Lincoln ordered the United States army to invade the South, that local men joined the South's army willingly or were drafted and served, and that instances of Union army service are almost entirely cases of desertion, oaths to the Union to win freedom from prison, "bounty fraud" committed by unscrupulous young men or fraudulent post-war attempts to gain Union pensions.
In this assertion, Garren seeks to dismantle the generally accepted version of history in the N.C. mountains and Henderson County that for a variety of reasons Unionism was substantial. To this day, local families tell of ancestors who wore blue; cemeteries are dotted with Union headstones.
Garren's research is not the first to call into question the degree of Union support in the Blue Ridge mountains. His own "Mountain Myth" (2006) laid the groundwork for "Measured in Blood" by exploring the prevalence of slavery here. Although the mountains generally did not have plantations requiring large crews of slave labor, its families owned slaves in about the same proportion as other counties in the South, Garren says. Similar reporting is contained in John Inscoe's "Mountain Masters: Slavery and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina; Race, War, and Remembrance in the Appalachian South" (1989).
"Measured in Blood" will be startling to some followers of local history, however, for the prosecutorial zeal Garren brings to the subject.
"The whole story of Unionism in Henderson County is a myth and in some cases it's intentional," Garren said in an interview at his mountaintop home in Mills River. "We have long heard that Henderson County is a Republican county because it was Union during the Civil War. That is absolutely false, and provably so.
"What happened is Henderson County was a Republican county because of what happened immediately after the war. People in several North Carolina counties — I want to emphasize this is an opinion, I can't prove this part of it — but they wanted to get Union troops out of their counties. So people agreed to switch to Republican if the Republicans would agree to get the troops out of their county."
Does he have documentation of that? No, he says. He knows of documentation of the pattern in Wilkes County.
It's on "opinion" like that Dr. George Alexander Jones is prone to pounce. In his office at the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society, Jones fielded a visitor's questions about Garren's thesis, which takes the 92-year retired Baptist minister to task for promoting "the Union myth."
"Has he covered when they voted on secession? Who won?" Jones says. "Henderson County voted not to secede."
Jones has crossed swords with Garren before over previous books that also challenge Jones's view of strong Union support from numerous Henderson County families.
"As a historian I don't have much respect for him," Jones says. "Instead of letting history tell the story, he sets up a proposition and uses all the facts he can gather to prove it. ... There's a big pocket of Union soldiers in the Crab Creek area and in the Dana and Upward areas. I haven't promoted the 'Union myth' but I am able to see that there were two sides, which he doesn't."
Invasion turned county Confederate
Garren doesn't deny Union sentiment before the war. But war itself, he says, erased it.
"In the pre-war period, sentiment for the Union was strong in Henderson County and in the rest of Western North Carolina," Garren wrote. "Many people who later served as Confederate leaders supported remaining in the Union until the bombing of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The day after the battle word reached the people that President Abraham Lincoln had called for 75,000 troops to invade the South. There is no evidence that a single person in Henderson County supported Lincoln's plans to invade the South."
Garren builds his case on numbers, with the advantage of more complete and searchable Civil War records from the U.S. National Archives and Library of Congress. His Henderson County casualty count: 109 Confederates and four Union soldiers killed; 1,373 Confederates served, 158 Union. On top of that Garren invented a scoring system designed to measure the magnitude of service. It's fair to say that if a young man was killed, he made the ultimate sacrifice; if he merely signed a paper to pocket a $200 bounty and then deserted before firing a shot, he'd get few points. The Garren Sacrifice Point System gives the Confederate side 96.7 percent of the total points — 2,805,851 to 96,268.
Garren's work on slavery (with a Henderson County slave ownership list, a valuable source for local historians), his military unit histories, and individual stories that root out myths of Union service make up his brief against the idea that the county was roughly equal parts North and South.
Yellowed records of Union service tucked away in family Bibles, he says, have a variety of origins and reasons.
"After the war, the Southern Claims Commission was formed to compensate people who lost property by seizure of destruction," he says. "You had to prove that you were loyal to the Union before the war, during the war and after the war. Many claims were filed, none were granted."
If the claimants had true Union service, he argues, they would have won payment. Others attempted to gain pensions.
"Basically everybody was so mad and so disgusted by that war that any way you could survive was OK," he says. "I don't say that every guy that went into the Union Army was a crook; they weren't, they were survivors, because the Confederates were bound and determined to fight to the death and they meant it, the Union was bound and determined to kill 'em all and they meant it."
Roots on Bearwallow Mountain
Garren traces his Henderson County roots to James Garren, who had two sons and "owned Bearwallow mountain and down the sides of it." John traveled down one side and settled in Fairview. Andrew, the author's ancestor, went down the other and settled on Hoopers Creek.
A graduate of Western Carolina University, Garren taught school and served as an assistant principal at A.C. Reynolds Middle School in Asheville before Jamie Clark hired him to run his campaign for Congress. Clark, a Democrat, won in 1982, lost in the Reagan landslide of 1984, won again in 1986 and 1988. Garren served as chief of staff for three terms.
After Brevard tree farmer and banker Charles Taylor ousted Clark in 1990, Garren and his wife, Maria, owned and operated a 20-acre KOA campground off I-40 in Candler. He sold it just before the real estate crash of 2008. "I've always been lucky," he says. "I could fall out of a car and probably land on a bundle of money."
Garren's mother was a Youngblood, which gives him an additional slew of cousins in the Fletcher area. An aunt on the Youngblood side, Burdette Youngblood Horton, planted the seed that made Terry Garren take up arms against a version of history he thinks is biased and wrong. The story was that Burdette Horton's grandmother was brutalized by Union soldiers toward the end of the war.
"I do what I do because it needs to be done," he says. "There sure isn't any profit in it. My aunt told me a story on her deathbed in 1989. It changed my life. I've now spent 23 years digging into it. I was a believer in the Unionism myth. I even carried on with some of the stuff I'd been told. But every time I went to the record books and started looking, what's this... As the years went on I kept seeing more and more of these guys getting paid good money, and some of them didn't go over to the Union army until the last few weeks of the war."
Whether one cares about who fought for whom 150 years ago, Garren's book is a valuable contribution to local libraries and local history readers.
His accounts of military units' war service are fascinating and well-written. In an attack at Malvern Hill on the James River in Virginia in July 1862, the 25th and 26th regiments "pushed forward under as fearful fire as the mind can conceive," wrote General Robert Ransom, who commanded the brigade.
"By the end of the day, approximately 300 men from Western N.C. lay dead or wounded on the field," Garren writes. "A substantial portion of the casualties were men from Henderson County. It may be the single worst day in the history of Western N.C. The only competition for such a negative distinction would be the first day of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863."
Of particular interest, too, is Garren's four-page account of the historic Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher. Co. H of the 25th Regiment, known as the Cane Creek Rifles, mustered there on July 15, 1861. The church was used as a Confederate assembly point throughout the war, a place where "from the mountainsides and coves men would come with their rifles and horses" to join a newly organized company, according to a church history.
"In effect Calvary Church could be considered the headquarters of the Confederate authority in the area," Garren says. As such it could fairly be deemed a military installation and subject to hostilities. The legend has been passed down that Gen. Stoneman during the infamous Union raid of April 1865 camped his men in the churchyard. Appreciating "the beauty and spirit" of the church, the general ordered his men "to take special care not to disturb or destroy anything." (Garren's research shows that Gen. Stoneman did not lead "Stoneman's raid" in Henderson County but that a cavalry unit under his overall command and led by another general invaded the area.)
Garren v. Jones
In his eight-page final chapter, "Saving Our Monuments," Garren delivers his harshest critique. He challenges Dr. George Jones's adherence to the "Unionism myth," which is fine. Historians will fight. But Garren goes beyond a straightforward attempt at correcting the record and shows disproportionate antagonism toward Jones. He openly questions Jones's motives in "promoting" the idea of Union support and in the process has some of his facts wrong. Garren says Jones "served as a pastor in eastern North Carolina during the civil rights movement and witnessed the horrors of racial discrimination." Jones did serve his community honorably by leading a human rights board and keeping racial peace in a region known for the opposite; it was in Beaufort, S.C., not eastern North Carolina.
Garren reports on Jones's decision, along with then-Henderson County Commission chairman Bill Moyer, to move the "Dixie Highway" Robert E. Lee memorial from the front of the Historic Courthouse to the back (on Church Street) before the renovated Courthouse reopened in 2008. Jones wanted to discard Gen. Lee entirely, Garren says, before Moyer forged the compromise. When it comes to the Robert E. Lee memorial not belonging in the front yard, Jones is steadfast.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans "wanted to put it in the middle of the sidewalk," he says. "We wouldn't do it. It's that simple."
Jones "displayed his overwhelming bias toward the Unionism Myth during his speech at the rededication" of the Historic Courthouse in 2008, Garren says. Jones used the example of John G. and Lynch Young as "brother against brother." While Lynch Young does have a Union headstone, he first volunteered for the Confederate Army, deserted, joined the Union Army, deserted again, and finally enlisted once more in the Union Army for a large bounty. The Youngs "were never in opposite armies at the same time."
That hardly seems to constitute "overwhelming bias toward the Unionism Myth." It seems to be a difference in interpretation.
Garren has the advantage of searchable Internet records to disprove many Union connections. Jones has the equally powerful asset of 90 years of living memory and a lifetime devotion to discovering and preserving his county's history. It's a shame to see an unpleasant fight over what should be a common goal: knowing who we are and how we got here.
Controversy never hurts book sales. Garren has done meaningful work that contributes greatly to our understanding of Henderson County's role during the most traumatic upheaval in American history. "Measured in Blood" is worth reading and worth owning. If it makes us fight over history, at least we're reading history. That is no bad thing.