Civil War marker for Stoneman’s Raid installed at Polk County courthouse

Published 3:46 pm Thursday, February 26, 2009

The markers provide detailed information about the event and some of the key local people who were involved.

Mitch Bowman, Director of Civil War Trails, installed the marker at the Polk County Courthouse and and the one on Coxe Road by Green River Plantation. The new locations are listed on their web site, and will be included in brochures and other marketing materials.

During the Civil War, Polk County sent a total of 303 men into the conflict, according to a historical account written by Clarence Giffin in 1955. He says the county also sent a number &dquo;into the armies of the United States, but there is no way today to pick these out of the other thousands enlisted in the Union cause.&dquo; During the war, an &dquo;underground&dquo; railroad ran through Polk County.

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The skirmish between Confederate forces and a band of Stoneman&squo;s &dquo;Raiders&dquo; at Howard&squo;s Gap on April 23, 1865 became known as Stoneman&squo;s Raid. The following is information from about Stoneman&squo;s Raid.

In late March 1865, Union cavalry under Major General George Stoneman, commander of the Union army &dquo;District of East Tennessee,&dquo; marched throughout western North Carolina during one of the longest cavalry raids in history. About 5,000 men under Stoneman&squo;s command entered North Carolina with a mission &dquo;to destroy and not to fight battles&dquo; in order to expedite the close of the Civil War.

Stoneman&squo;s raid coincided with the raids of Gen. William T. Sherman in the eastern sections of the state, stretching local home guard and militia units thinly across the state and forcing Confederate commanders to make hard choices on where their men were needed most.

Stoneman divided his men and sent detachments throughout the region, securing the destruction of the region&squo;s factories, bridges and railroad lines. The army relied heavily on local citizens for food and supplies, often emptying storehouses.

Stoneman&squo;s raids in North Carolina lasted from late March until May when they left to assist in the search for Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he fled the collapsed Confederacy.

The men had marched more than 1,000 miles during the raid and historians credit their march with assuring the death of the Confederacy as they captured artillery pieces and took thousands of prisoners while destroying Confederate army supplies and blocking a line of possible retreat for both Lee and Johnston&squo;s armies.

After hearing rumors of the end of the war, Stoneman&squo;s men remaining in North Carolina under the command of General A. C. Gillem marched toward Asheville. The Union forces reached Swannanoa Gap on April 20 and were met by a Confederate blockade. Gillem was forced to flank the Confederate position, placing his men 40 miles south of the Swannanoa Gap, on April 21. The flanking movement effectively placed Gillem and his men in the heart of the Confederate backcountry.

Gillem and his men continued moving further toward Asheville, meeting slight resistance because word of Johnston&squo;s surrender had reached Confederate forces in the region and many refused to fight any longer. Gillem did, however, meet some resistance on April 22 at Howard&squo;s Gap. Prior to news of the surrender, the force at Howard&squo;s Gap had been equal to Gillem&squo;s and may have effectively ended the raid. Gillem&squo;s men pushed their way through the skirmish and continued their raid en route to Asheville.