Lenoir History: ‘The damnedest little rebel town…’

After Lee Surrendered to Grant, Lenoir was scene of raid by Union General George Stoneman

LENOIR, N.C. – Southern Appalachian Counties, while generally having far fewer slaves in the 1860 U.S. Census than Tar Heel counties further east, still had numerous residents that took up arms against the Union. Some communities were downright stubborn. Lenoir, according to reports from Union troops, was one such town.

Slave population (by percentage of county residents) in 1860 in North Carolina according to the U.S. Census.

For instance, according to the 1860 U.S. Census of slave counties, about 15 residents out of 100 were slaves in Caldwell County. Meanwhile, in Jones and Bertie counties in the far east – much more suitable for sprawling plantations and closer to ports – roughly 60 out of 100 residents were slaves.

Yet, Lenoir was willing to put up a fight for the cause, and did so determidly.

Laura Norwood wrote to her uncle, Walter Lenoir, that Union cavalrymen called Lenoir, “the damnedest little rebel town they ever saw.”

On April 15, 1865 – six days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Va. and the same day that President Abraham Lincoln died from his wounds caused by assassin John Wilkes Booth – Lenoir residents were startled as two Union cavalry brigades operating under the command of General George Stoneman entered town on their raid through the mountains.

He imprisoned approximately 900 citizens at the old St. James Episcopal Church and used the building for a hospital. According to accounts from citizens, those inside were “old men, boys and soldiers recuperating.”

This Wayside is just a block north of St. James Episcopal Church in downtown Lenoir

Afterwards, resident Joseph C. Norwood wrote, “We are just through with a scene of clear and very great danger.” Noting that the soldiers were “well-equipped,” he conceded that the soldiers were, “… under the severest discipline and were not allowed to plunder to any great extent or commit any act of violence.”

Laura Norwood wrote to her uncle, Walter Lenoir, that Union cavalrymen called Lenoir, “the damnedest little rebel town they ever saw.”

Though the Civil War had essentially ended when Lee surrendered to Grant, the troops stayed until April 17, eventually ending up in Asheville on April 26 when Stoneman ceased hostilities – the same day that Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered nearly 100,000 troops to Union General William T. Sherman near Durham, N.C. That surrender ended most hostilities across all fronts of the Civil War.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2022.

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